The Mekong Delta, Southern Vietnam

The river is their use-all depository, but they would never dream of disposing of rice husks here, because that would pollute the water. It is filthy, they know, but clean enough to bathe in. Clean enough for the catch of the day, “elephant-ear fish”, a local delicacy sold for cheap. That is, if you consider $8 a fish cheap. Fortunately it feeds more than one.

It is the old system here: most things are made by hand, and machines are hand-operated, in a short assembly line. Steaming coconut candy is served, and we watch how the locals make the ubiquitous rice noodles.

Honeybees contribute to our tea, and we have delicious tropical fruits while tasting local music too. Did I mention there was a python? There was a python, and that was not my happiest moment.

Let us take a ride along the smaller tributaries in a tiny canoe. Is this real life, or for tourists only? But if tourists drive the economy and their livelihoods, is that not real life?

At sunrise we visit a floating market and, invited onto the pineapple boat, we view the hustle and bustle of a small economy in action, dripping sweet peeled pineapples in hand. The ice cream of the Mekong. A young girl learns from her mother how to peel these fruit, accepts the payment for them – one day this may be your livelihood. I hope you have a choice in the matter. I hope you attend one of the floating schools we see. I hope you will be happy. I hope the Mekong will not claim you, the way she claims other little ones who accidentally ingest too much of her water.

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They tell us that when their children get sick, mothers try to do the nursing. Nothing is free here – not the methods of the traditional healer and certainly not the Western-trained doctor. So they rub hot coins on baby’s tummy, give some lemon-honey tea and hope for the best.

Their houses balance precariously on stilts and the water laps gently at their floors. They say that in the rainy season (there is no cold season here) many houses flood. It looks serene, but I know that it cannot be too serene in a house made of thin tin sheets at the riverfront, prone to pest and plague.

I was a tourist here for two days and perhaps I lost my heart to the Mekong and her people. But I get to return to my clean drinking water and hot showers, and they do not.

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