Vietnam 2019

13th January 2021

[16:23, 19/01/2021] Hannah
I guess maybe how it broadened your perspective on the world.

Words and Photography Lauren Hextall / In-HAUS Copywriter

In 2019 we were allowed to travel. We were allowed to put our finger on a map, pack a bag and go. And this is exactly what me and my 2 best friends did ( with quite a few months of working and saving between the map and bag part ). Our finger landed on Vietnam.

We wanted to see the world, meet new people and learn. Never did we anticipate how we would learn. I expected to pick up new languages, find new dishes and come home with beautiful garments, all of this happened but became the least exciting things we bought home with us. It was our stories that have been the most giving thing we took.  
We travelled around many religious areas, a lot were Buddhist, some Muslim and others Hindu. What we noticed about them all, was the deep level of respect amongst their communities. From removing footwear in indoor spaces to covering skin in places of worship, there was a beautiful sense of subservience. This did not feel forced, oppressive or negative. Rather it felt gracious and humble. To come from a culture with quite a level of arrogance and entitlement, in a digital age where ‘wants’ becomes confused with ‘needs’, it was a refreshing attitude to be a part of and we had gratitude for these people sharing their ways with us.

It was a paradox of beauty and heartbreak watching the every day lives of some of the families we stayed with. Their individual accessibility to things like travel and finances were very low and there were clear compromises that showed the heavy difference to Western lives. I do not feel sorry for these people, they are too strong for that, but I am sorry. The way these communities react to destruction is nothing but admirable. The work ethic we saw in every single person we interacted with was miraculous. Still, I am furious at the Western world for inflicting these circumstances, for making others lives harder, for having disturbed these corners of the world. And for having a form of dominance gained as if the West is ‘better’, but here is my definition of better:

Better is living in communities that actively reduce waste, sparely very little of the food they use. I remember the first time I saw a Vietnamese lady grasp a heavy, sharp chefs knife and spiral round a pineapple, giving it only seconds to say goodbye to its outer layer ( if you do not know how the Vietnamese cut their pineapples, google it, you’re doing it wrong ). She then likely sold the pineapple, put a 10kg basket on her head, picked up her bags and continued working.
It’s her world.
We are all simply living in it.

‘Better’ to me is valuing family. When we were in Bali a taxi driver showed us his family temple, in Balinese Hinduism each family has their own temple to worship in. It seemed so moving to me that their time to be devote, their time to be at peace, is exclusively with their family. He told us he missed his wife because he works so much. But he could be sure he would see her at their temple.

And ‘better' to me is community. We were blessed to be able to visit the Gili islands in Indonesia, something we would not have been able to do the year before. The islands had just experienced an earth quake that took many lives and homes. Even when we were being told of the disaster it was said in quiet, hushed tones as the repercussions were still so raw. We could see the ruble in the streets but we couldn’t see their spirits broken. They were rebuilding each other themselves, a skill I fear we may not possess in the West.

Sustainability is not independently about preserving our resources, it is about preserving our people. Western dominance has caused so much harm to so many countries it would be impossible to recite the list of crimes in this text. What I can put is, whilst you support reduction in plastic, support destruction of white supremacy. It is not sustainable to abuse financial power, weaponry power, to inflict any form of pain on places that we should, instead, be learning from.
Travelling around South East Asia gave me just a glimpse of the gold this earth has to offer. It breaks my heart to know this is susceptible to change if we do not change our treatment of our planet. David Attenborough said ‘It is not about saving our planet, it is about saving ourselves.’. How I interpret this is like this: I needed the experiences I gained is South Asia, I needed to be reminded of priorities, shown my privileges and have mental images of Elephant Waterfalls. To have access to our world is an honour, but the landscapes and the people will not remain if our behaviours do not change. Sustain our nature and sustain our people.

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