|Gabon, Vietnam and Growing Up (page 2)|
Gabon, Vietnam and Growing Up
Before leaving for Vietnam, my husband and I learned all we could about the country. This was not difficult as resources are plentiful. The shared history of the U.S. and Vietnam has gone a long way toward putting the country on the map for Americans, though the focus for most is the War. The nine-year-old daughter of a friend e-mailed me while we were in Vietnam, asking whether the country was as safe as her hometown in North Carolina. She wanted to know whether we heard gunshots every day. I told her that the War ended in 1975 and that the U.S. State Department considers Vietnam to be one of the safest countries in the world. The crime rate is very low and there is almost no violent crime. The American War is part of the past for the Vietnamese Americans are having a harder time coming to terms with what happened. The relationship, though based on conflict, forms a foundation on which to learn more. More books by Vietnamese, Vietnamese exiles in the U.S., and American researchers of Vietnam are coming out every year. We continue to learn about the country from several angles.
I DIDN’T ADAPT EASILY to life in Gabon. I flouted some social mores. I am blond, pale and thin, though strong, and healthy Gabonese women are vigorous, rounded and capable. Gabonese women wear several light, colorful pagnes cloths wrapped around the body at home and in the village. Although I didn’t dress in an overtly sexual way, I wore Gabon-made sundresses which showed lots of flesh, like the Gabonese. The problem is that I am not as amply built as the women there. I looked different in my clothes and attracted attention.
IN VIETNAM, I HAD NO such problems. As a mid-life mother and wife, I was not in the dating market. My role was cut out for me. Having children was a great social ice-breaker in Vietnam as it is everywhere. Mine were 4, 5 and 15, and they provided a topic of conversation, a reason to smile, a basis for understanding among the people we met.
Exploring the country
IN GABON, MOST OF US PCVs were young and free-spirited. All of us had come for the adventure, with a measure of altruism added. Peace Corps accorded us plenty of independence. My location in-country was a rough and tumble town called Lastoursville on the “route economique.” There was one muddy Main Street on which Muslim commercants sold dry goods, one impoverished produce market, and one public water pump. You had to go to the post office and wait for hours to make or take a phone call. Many truckers passed through and you could always see brawls on Saturday nights.