"Free Time"

One of the most common questions we have been asked since coming here has been:

“Do you have freeeeeee tiiiiiime?”

Sophie and I have started to repeat it even in our sleep, we are asked it so often.  There is no time, day or night, which seems to be off limits for meeting students out of class, and we haven’t learnt yet how to say no.  As a result, we are so tired that yesterday, with a confused expression, one of the students asked, “What iz that black mark under eye?”.  Sophie had to carefully explain that our bodies were reacting to getting up at five a.m. to keep them all happy.

It is difficult to say no to a group of people who are so kind and welcoming.  They are trying to show us their lives: inviting us into their families and providing lavish meals and interesting conversation.  We practice English, and hopefully we are helpful.  When I have to tell them our schedules are full and their faces fall with incomprehension, it definitely feels bad.

We have only been here a week, and have been astounded by their kindness.  Their honesty and openness is refreshing, and they seem such happy people because of it.  There is no such thing as ‘saving face’ in Vietnam.

They have welcomed us into their community and there is nothing that is too much trouble.  In return, I want to help them with their English, which is of course the reason why I am here.  Yesterday, after class, a beautiful girl from a Bahnar minority village gave Sophie a leaving present: a handwoven jacket and skirt.  The traditional dress had taken a week for her to weave.  She had estimated Sophie’s size, and it fitted perfectly.  It was very moving, and we both feel we have done little to deserve such kindness.  What we have to do seems so little compared to what is needed.  I hope that in the future, there is some way I can continue to help and have been trying to think of ways in which I can achieve this.

So, I write this post to remind myself that when we are asked the question about ‘free time’, no matter how tired we are, how much difference we can make.

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