I arrived in Saigon late in the evening, collected my bags and headed out into arrivals. Initially, I didn’t see anyone from VPV so had a brief moment of panic. But then sure enough, Hiep emerged from amongst the crowds. He was very friendly and we hailed a cab and began our hour journey to district 7, where the volunteer house is situated. It was a dark, grey, gloomy evening, humid and then sure enough it started to rain. The house appeared to be in the middle of nowhere in a quiet, residential street.
Upon arriving to the house, Nicholas (another volunteer) came down to help Hiep with my rather heavy suitcase. As he jokily asked- what was inside my bag? Stones? There was no way I was getting my suitcase upstairs, amen for guys. Other then Nicholas, there was one other volunteer in the house, Thelma. Nicholas was from Germany and was going to volunteer for a year, Thelma was from Iceland but living in Amsterdam with her boyfriend. She was going to volunteer for six weeks and meet her boyfriend and travel around Vietnam. The house was big, four floors. On the ground floor, VPV had their office, the second floor was the kitchen and lounge area. The girls dorm room was on the next floor and the boys above this. So this was it, I had made it to Saigon in one piece.
Next day, both Thelma and Nicholas went to their project. I had breakfast at 8 and my induction starts at 8.30. This is when I first met Dang and I knew instantly that him and I were going to be great friends. His English accent was impeccable, I thought he was British but was later informed that he had been private schooled with British teachers, hence the accent. He gave me information about VPV, Saigon in general and the projects. With the induction over in a hour, I had a break for about half an hour and then it was lunch time. Given the heat, lunch is served at 11, earlier than back home, after which it’s siesta time. Staff sleep for 2-3 hours before commencing work again in the afternoon. It’s not just the staff at VPV but most other businesses, the city comes to a brief halt. However, in the more touristic parts like district one, most businesses remain open.
The afternoon consisted of a brief walking tour. Both Dang and Truc accompanied me to show me the local supermarket bus stop, school, football ground, pharmacy and market. Of course, my brain tried to take it all in but I remembered next to nothing. All I remember is the humidity and then the downpour. All the motorcyclists’ were prepared and whipped on their rain jackets. The cars continued and most pedestrians ran for the nearest shelter. All three of us got drenched, head to toe and eventually came back to the house in a taxi. This was my first day and I was both baking and soaking wet. With the rain and heat came cockroaches, like I had never seen before. I certainly hadn’t been told about cockroaches being as big as rats and flying! I was shocked and given how much I hate creepy crawlies, I began to question how long I would survive. They seemed to be in the lounge, bathroom, bedroom even the kitchen. Thankfully Thelma had no problem picking them up and flushing them down the toilet. God bless her, for the two months I was there, I didn’t have to kill a single cockroach.
It was hard to sleep in the heat, we had fans and a mosquito net but it was still hard. The city wakes up just before sunrise, various announcements being made, selling food and used household items. If that doesn’t wake you, the roosters and chickens will. Breakfast for the volunteers is a baguette with jam or butter. Most people head out to work on a motorcycle, the streets are swamped with them and then you have the mini buses and the odd cars. Most people don’t walk, there are limited pavements and well it’s simply too hot to walk. I was initially worried that I would get lost however, this changed to, I would be run over while trying to cross a road.
Initially I was volunteering at two projects. On Monday and Wednesday mornings, I taught English at Shelter 8, a project for orphaned boys. Classes ran from 9 till 10:30. On Tuesday and Friday mornings, I taught English to children at the Vinh Hoi school. Classes ran from 9:30 until 10:15. I later started volunteering at a pagoda Thursday morning and at a women’s project in the afternoon. Other afternoons, I volunteered at Ky Quang Pagoda orphanage, supporting children with physical and psychological disabilities. In total I volunteered at five different projects during my two months in Saigon and would have happily spent longer.