From the moment we arrived on the island, there was an overwhelming sensation of feeling welcomed and embraced. As soon as we arrived from the boat ride to the island, we were greeted by the community. They all smiled from ear to ear as they were eager to help us bring our bags from the boats. From this moment on, I slowly began to notice the little things that gave the community its unique character. Our first meal on the island was chicken, which we learned was a luxury to eat and was their way of welcoming us with a treat. Our homestay families each greeted us with huge smiles and kind faces. We biked to our homestays, the places we would be calling home for the next week. This bike ride let us explore the community and see a brief glimpse of what their life looks like. Along the bumpy path, children on the sides of the street smiled and waved yelling “HELLO” – no one expected them to know our language so this immediately enhanced the sense of comfort and welcoming. Each person had a different homestay family, but what was universal was how fully they embraced each of us with open arms. Despite language barriers, we have been able to communicate through the language of play and compassion. In my, homestay, the little moment that stuck with me was that my homestay dad noticed how hot we were from the journey and made an effort to move the electric fan from room to room as we moved throughout his house. Electricity is not common here, making it all the more generous for him to do this. We may not have had a common language, but this small act of kindness spoke volumes. We left the homestay to explore the community a bit. We ended up meeting with another homestay’s kids. The family openly welcomed us into their home. With the kids, we played, we laughed, and we ran to our hearts content. At one point, they climbed a tree to get some fruits. The little girl, Lina, took the seeds out of her fruit then offered it to me. Again, without knowing each others language we were able to have so much fun and these kids showed such consideration offering us whatever they had and playing knowing so little of each other’s languages.
Another moment that I will always remember from today was our first sunset. The sunsets here are incredible and it was unbelievable to take a moment and appreciate all the colors reflecting off of the Mekong river. I walked over to put my toes in the water to see a group of kids playing in the water. The little boys were jumping around playing while the girls were washing clothes. Everyone was laughing with big smiles on their faces. The boys took all their clothes off – unfazed by our presence. In this moment, it was amazing to reflect on the lifestyle of the community. It is not where you are or what you have that brings happiness but instead how you choose to live. Resources or wealth do not necessarily equate to happiness. As visitors, we need to acknowledge that our lifestyles back home might be different but we have so much to learn from our time here. This is the life this community knows, and while they may not have the same resources or technology or superficial goods we know too well back in Canada, their way of life is equally as beautiful and meaningful. You have to take a moment to appreciate the little moments like these to see the beauty of a place: the beautiful colors of the sunset, the calm Mekong, the sound of laughter along the shore, your toes chilled in the cool water. This place is truly beautiful and you have to stop and appreciate these little moments to truly understand the character of this place and these people.