New Beginnings and Fewer Grey Hairs

Here’s a short list of things that delighted, surprised and scared me the first month of life as a Field Correspondent.

#1: Birthday of my Dreams
I spent February 2, 2015, my birthday, on board the most beautiful river boat I had ever laid eyes on. My original plan was to tough it out alone in a Vietnamese border town like a “real journalist.” The place is known mostly for its fish farms, and therefore its smell, and I would have been there on my birthday, which could only add to the intrepid tale; however, when I got the invite to spend a few days on the Mekong river, try the pool and cruise from Vietnam into Cambodia, I caved instantly.

#2: Three Little Girls and My Grey Hair
We stopped in a small village on my birthday morning. I stepped over the plastic bags tangled along the shore and into a twisty labyrinth of concrete sidewalks and open porches. I left our group of 20 to look around on my own. I was happy to find lots of families sitting out with their babies, because babies turn awkward cross-cultural moments into an easy-going babble of cooing and laughter. Fussing over a baby has no mother tongue, and it’s a good way to spend an hour.

On my way back through town, I found 3 little girls, aged 7, 8 and 10, practicing a dance for the Chinese New Year. They sang quietly and twisted their fingers up to the sky. When they first saw me, in the courtyard of a Buddhist temple, they scattered, but curiousity quickly got the better of them. They came closer, giggling the whole way, until I realized they wanted touch my hair – which is very curly and decidedly not Asian. So I sat on the curb and soon felt their tiny fingers combing through my brown curls. A moment later I felt a quick sting combined with an extra giggle and one of the girls held a piece of my hair – one of my new grey hairs – in front of me for inspection. She looked proud holding her unlikely prize. When I smiled and laughed they all went to work pulling out hairs and holding them up for my approval. I’d seen other women doing this around their homes, so I supposed I was being included in the ritual.

I can’t say for sure that it was the hair treatment, but as the girls grabbed my hands and toured me around the neighbourhood, I certainly felt younger.

photo by Jon Ives

#3: On getting started
Perhaps you’ve had this experience: beginning something new (like this job) – you can’t wait to get started! – but you find yourself stalling. Strange. Why would you put off a journey you’ve been so looking forward to?

For me, the moment I step over that imaginary start line is the moment I must exchange the possibilities in my imagination for the realities of the world. I have been daydreaming about the new journey for so long, it scares me to start on the real thing.

Since I last wrote you, I’ve been to Vietnam and Cambodia, to war museums and killing fields, to rivers and swimming pools, markets and villages. I didn’t know what to begin writing because I forgot that there is no such thing as the right place to start.

Thank goodness for an old friend who reminded me to start simple. “Shine a bit of light into someone’s day,” he said.

I hope I did.

photo by Jon Ives

This woman made space for me on her bench. She’s smiling because she just showed me the two packets of pharmaceuticals in her pocket. I’m not sure why there were so many pills, what they were for, or why she showed them to me, but she sure got a kick out of it.

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