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1. The first time I visited Mr. Nhanh, he was lying in bed covered in a bamboo mattress. I shuddered at the sight; it is usually something we only do to dead people. Not sure if he was awake, I talked with his wife. She started telling me right away how he was not mentally stable and got mad at everyone. At that point, Mr. Nhanh sat up, and so I asked him directly: “Grandpa, how are you?” His wife kept insisting that he wasn’t lucid, and Mr. Nhanh started crying. I couldn’t bare looking at him as I felt like he completely understood what was being said about him. Ignoring the wife, I addressed Mr. Nhanh: “Grandpa, what happened to you? Why can’t you walk anymore?” Not taking the clue, the wife took over and I had to try my best to hide my annoyance at her. Mr. Nhanh cried louder, and a few moments later, he started uttering some broken words. Little by little, still sobbing, he said he was depressed that he had been getting weaker every year and that this year, he can’t walk anymore. He was so frustrated with his conditions that sometimes he couldn’t sleep for a few days. That is not strange at all; losing mobility takes such a heavy toll, both physical and mental. And my guess is that for whatever reason, the wife took his bad mood as a mental illness. Mr. Nhanh thought he was too old to use a wheelchair, but he could actually still stand up by himself, which is a good sign. I was really hoping getting a wheelchair would give Mr. Nhanh more hope in life and put him in a better mood.

I came back to visit Mr. Nhanh 2 months after he got the wheelchair. His wife greeted us. By that time, I’d already forgotten how annoyed I had been with her. And so we chatted; I asked after Mr. Nhanh’s health and whether the wheelchair was of any use to him. The wife said she had to put it up because Mr. Nhanh tried to use it and that wasn’t safe as he was not lucid. She said they sent him to a hospital where they announced him mentally ill and sent him home. And now she medicates him with sleeping pills so that he would not bother her. Mr. Nhanh was sleeping in a small dark room. I didn’t wake him up and had to take his wife’s story, even though honestly I found her not credible.

 

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2. Hoa had a stroke 4 years ago when she was 41. It left her right side paralyzed, and also took away her speech. She lives with her husband and their two sons. The older quit school 2 years ago to work, and the younger just quit last year at grade 8. When I came, her husband was busy with some other visitors. The men were talking loudly among themselves, while I sat quietly with Hoa trying to communicate, asking what she was and was not capable of doing. Her condition is far from the worst of what I’ve seen, but the sadness in her eyes was overwhelming and made me tear up. We held hands for a long time.

I came back to visit. Again we sat with each other and held hands. I was showing her some light exercises that she could do to her paralyzed fingers. I’m not sure how much she understood. I also asked about how life has been, and not sure how accurately I understood her signing. I thought she meant her husband and sons don’t take great care of her, but I wanted to believe that she was actually saying something else. She smiled a couple of times, but the sadness is still there, whole.

 

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3. I went to work in the province and didn’t get back until after dark. It was pouring and I was worried that there would be no xe ôm (motorbike taxi) at the bus stop when I got off. Luckily, one passed by right then. He wore a mask so I couldn’t see his face and see how old he is. But from the wrinkles by his eyes and the pepper hair, he must have been around my dad’s age. It was already 7, dinner time. I wanted to ask why he was still working at that hour. But the rain was falling heavily, and the wind was gusting, so I kept quiet. He asked for 30,000 VND, the normal price that I pay when it’s nice and sunny. I gave him an extra 5,000. All these working men and women, in their 50s and 60s, even 70s, picking up trash, driving motor taxis in the storm, vendoring steamed corns till midnight. Ôi dân tôi. My people. Still so much suffering.

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