Last year, as I planned my second trip back to Vietnam, a question bothered me. How can I find a way to thank the Vietnamese people for their kindness and love that they had shown me on my last trip? The answer came in the mail. It was a check made out to me for money that I had never planned for. My plan is to give some money to the poorest people I had seen in Vietnam. The hill tribes. They have many names depending on what part of the country you are in. They all pretty much live in mountain areas. The hill tribes have a different culture from the Vietnamese who live along the coast. They live in houses on stilts and dress in colorful clothes. They wear beads and some wear dog tags from the machines left behind during the "American" war. They don't know what they are, only that they are shiny metal. Mostly they live off the jungle. They sell wood and whatever food they can find. The A Shau Valley, January 2002. Known as The Valley of Death by both sides during the war. The road in is not in good shape but there are signs of a lot of road work going on. The valley is now a beautiful, peaceful place now. High hills covered with jungle and a small river along the road. At last we come to a hill tribe village. It is very far from the tourist trail and just the place I was looking for. But how am I to give money to these folks without a mob scene? My wonderful tour guide has the answer. Away from the village center she asks questions of the people. How many people in your family? If you had some money what would you buy? And so on. So the money went to the most needy people. It all was very nice and it was great my idea worked out. The village people are probably still talking about the day the foreigner came and passed out money! Change for them is on the way. A road through the mountains from north to south is being built more or less, along the old Ho Chi Minh trail for two reasons. One is that during the rainy season, the road along the coast is closed by floods and mud slides. Two is the road will be tied to Laos and Cambodia for trade reasons. The tourists will be not far behind. These changes will be both good and bad for the hill tribes. One thing for sure is that their lives will change forever. It is in a way sad but is not life about change?
. . . Jim
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