Rachael Juhan in Vietnam
Rachael Juhan in Vietnam
In the hills of Sapa and surrounding areas live a handful of ethnic minority groups that are now the main reason of foreigners' journeys to this destination. This, too, is how I discovered Sapa, and was instantly determined to explore more of the culture than a two-night homestay could provide. All this curiosity and enthusiasm resulted in my spontaneous offer to teach English to Ta Van Village in Northern Vietnam.
Aside from a few summer camp positions, I have never taught before. Never developed a curriculum, evaluated progress or managed a class. The last few years, between finishing college and living in bustling cities like Washington, D.C., and Hanoi, I did everything I could to keep occupied and have grown accustomed to the crowds and convenience
of places where I could do anything, anytime. Both of these apprehensions will most certainly be confronted if I move to this countryside village.
While spending the hour and a half waiting for my ride to arrive to take me to the village, I find myself doing two things: lamenting the fact that I took full advantage of my backpack's weight capacity, and trying to talk myself out of this wild idea. Although I am longing for the seclusion, the cheerful children and landscape, I am also doing a good job of convincing myself otherwise... until I look up. My taxi awaits.
My mountain descent from the town of Sapa begins with a motorbike, a member of my new host
family and a loose helmet shaped like a baseball cap, fitting more like a receding hairline of those who wear them than the potentially life-saving device for which it was designed. Down a mountain road -- made up of bits and pieces of pavement, but mostly filled with dust, divots and waterfalls spilling into the pathway -- we go. This road scattered with large tour vehicles, motorbikes, local children playing and wandering buffaloes with their herders, is the connectingroute between Sapa and the ethnic minority villages in the valley below. Half an hour is not that long on the back of a motorbike—but add thirty-five pounds of luggage balanced
between the handlebars and the driver's crotch, another fifteen on my back and navigating the aforementioned road, all while mentally replaying this decision and anxiety, and it becomes more of a thrill.
As we hug and wind against the mountain, I cannot help but think if you happened to go off it the fear would kill you five times before you had a chance to make it to the bottom. At one point, my helmet was bumped and blown backwards, leaving only my wobbly chinstrap
clinging to my neck, similar to how a safari hat with a drawstring is worn when not in the blistering sun. These are the scenes that keep me laughing—and the locals as well. But when this is what you are greeted by upon arrival to your new home, previous concerns and how you got there all seem so far away.