Now I've never had a family reunion before, but I think that seeing the girls again was the next best thing. Throughout the year, I feared that the exact moment I see them again would not be as impelling as I imagined it to be. Perhaps they wouldn't remember me? What if I forgot their names? What if we didn't "click" this time? All of these tormented emotions of doubt cycled in my mind as we took an hour bus ride from the centre of Ho Chi Minh City to the girls' private home.
I waited (impatiently) for the girls to return from school. My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating. The unforgiving heat added to my anxiety. Alas, our group decided to meet the girls halfway from their walk home from school (merely a 10 minute walk from home). I was delighted to see three of the girls that I had met last year, yet only one of them remembered my name! I wasn't offended. As I said in last year's posts, I recognize that the girls have changed my life more than I could ever influence theirs.
D. right away remembered me and instantly recalled our adventures from the previous year, like going to the beach, staying at the resort hotel, and collecting shells. C.L. looked at me with bewilderment, and suddenly, she recalled how I displayed their sea shells in a jar in my room. I realized at that moment that it was more meaningful for the girls to have me treasure the gifts they give me than spoiling them with materialistic things. M. shied away as she could not recall who I was.
Like any other family reunion, often you get to meet family members you've never seen before (or so I would reckon from watching movies). This time, I met a new girl named T. At first glance she seemed intimidating. Perhaps it was because she was older. The older ones are harder to sway with gimmicks and toys. I often catch her stare at me from across the room with inquiry and disproval. It was as though she was sizing me up. Was I worthy? Or was she scared? I offered a shy smile, and to my content, she often returned one but kept her distance. We were two fools throwing and catching smiles for two days! Finally, she approached me on the second day and asked to braid my hair. I yearn for their love and attention as much as they want mine. I joyfully agreed and it was rainbows from then on.
I brought balloons and origami play with the younger girls. Like I said, they are much easier to sway. They are very much glowing with their innocence, joy, naivety, and longing for affection. Their energy often overwhelms me... in a good way! It took no time for us to bond. This is what family reunions must be like! Without hesitation, they even warm up to Andrew who is a) a male and b) a foreigner who does not speak Vietnamese at all! M. in particular took the opportunity to practice her English with him. Adorable! Even during play, the girls are respectful to each other, they share with one another, they assist each other. They just melt my heart in every way possible.
It gets easier for me to put aside their past and focus on the fact that they are just children who want to have fun. I remember feeling a constant knot in my heart when I fixated on their tragedy rather than their vibrant future. I have grown to appreciate that they need my positive support, not my pity. They are not pitiful children. They are the most bright and beautiful children I have ever met.
That's not to say that I am now naive to their struggles. I learn of H. who just recently joined our OBV family from Hanoi. Like any other teenager struggling with the quest of love, acceptance, identity, and self worth, she is further burdened by a shameful past. She suffered what I believe was a psychotic break when she believed that her peers learned of her years of sexual abuse. She hopped on a bus (even though her school was steps from home), travelled to the other side of the city, and sat at a bus stop for hours. She did not remember where the OBV home was or who her OBV family were (including Father Martino). All she could remember was her old telephone number in Hanoi. She spent two days isolated in her room trying to recover from this amnesic episode while our group was visiting.
I also learn of Th., who was rescued from Cambodia. Living her life without knowing her parents, her real name, or her birthday, she was passed around from shelter to shelter with the name, "Th". Being one of the only Catholics in the house, she does not receive communion. At merely 11 years of age, she explains to Father Martino that she is not worthy of communion, because she has betrayed the 6th commandment "Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery" and she cannot forgive herself. What a sin! Not against Th., but against the adults who have led her to believe that she has consented to sex! It is not her wrongdoing! It was rape! My blood boils once again.
I recognize that many of the girls suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, adjustment, and personality disorders. I can see it more-so now that I have gotten to know them better. Some are emotionally labile while others can be manipulative to obtain the attention they want (and perhaps rightfully deserve after years of abuse). They are by no means normal girls. They will never be normal. They have been robbed of such normality. What a godawful crime.