It started last Saturday with a meandering walk along the promenade in Danang on a clear soft morning, and it ended last night in downtown Saigon thronged by huge crowds celebrating the Moon Festival. In between, I managed to lose two debit cards – my lifeline in a country that doesn’t live on credit or the extension of it – while at the same time the center of the country was being ravaged by a typhoon.
Just when I was feeling truly sorry for myself it all came into perspective. This week the blue sky in Danang turned ugly as the Ketsana Typhoon hit central Vietnam and took down almost everything in its path leaving that part of the country under water and without power. This is not an area where building codes address things like the 100 year flood or construction is ever much more than some piled bricks and a galvanized tin roof. Over 100 people died during the storm, and a school for ethnic minority kids in Kon Tum province built by East Meets West was cut off by a raging river where there was once a trickle of a stream. Those kids and their teachers are still marooned. They had enough food to hold out for a couple of days, but we are going to have to mount some kind of rescue mission to get them connected to the world again.
I’m very proud of the people of EMW this week. Everyone has a very full plate, but once the storm passed Danang and long before the power went back on they were mounting a full scale disaster relief effort and letting everything else go to the back burner. People and businesses are pitching in with money, food, and strong backs to deal with the devastation. My co-worker, Van Ly, canvassed everyone in her Rolodex to see if she could find help – and she did. The effort is ongoing. It will be a long time before the region recovers. Many of the people here are subsistence farmers in the rice growing areas and live day to day. The rice paddies are out of business with the flooding and the farmers have nothing to fall back on. It’s a true tragedy.
Life goes on and while the center of the country deals with Ketsana thousands of people crowded downtown Saigon last night to celebrate the Moon Festival, a mid-autumn celebration for children. With one of the highest birthrates in the world Vietnam is teeming with kids and they were all downtown last night sporting balloons and sandwiched between their parents on motorbikes – sometimes 5 to a bike. It was noisy, chaotic, fun and friendly. It was really just an amped up version of Saigon daily life.