After a long but not so tedious plane journey (the numerous empty seats meant I could stretch out and sleep) I touched down in Hanoi. Visa in hand, I made my way through the not very long but incredibly slow immigration process and headed down to collect my luggage. ‘Little Viet’, the local Project’s Abroad representative greeted me as I came out the other side and although I should have been expecting it, the heat hit my pale British skin very hard. As Viet called a taxi from outside, I took shelter in the air-conditioned arrivals hall.
A ‘ten minute’ journey to the volunteer house swiftly became 45 minutes as it was clear that in fact the airport was not close to the city centre despite Viet’s proclamations. The concept of time in Hanoi seems to be a grey area – later on in the week my boss was also ‘only ten minutes away’ and strolled in an hour later as if clocks just work differently in Hanoi… Although I have never seen such a congested city as Hanoi (and I come from London!), I have also never seen so many motorbikes and cars manipulate their way so easily through the traffic. As I looked out the window of the cab I saw some fascinating sites. Mopeds rushed past with tiny children on them (some four or five to a bike) with no helmets and some stacked high with cages of living fish or birds. At this point I thought: ‘I am definitely not in Europe any more’.
We finally arrived at the house and to my utter relief Viet informed me that he would return to collect me for induction at around 2pm, meaning I could sleep for the next few hours. Or so I thought…
About an hour after I arrived at the house, I found myself locked in one of the bathrooms. A broken handle on the door meant there was no way out and having left my phone in my room I began to realise I might be stuck in there for the next four hours. Fortunately a housemate had decided to take a day of work and she heard my loud banging on the door from the floor above. After having told me I was ‘too large’ to climb through the window, as she herself had done when she came to my aid, she called on Viet to come and help. Viet then also climbed through the window and attempted to do what I had been trying to do for the last hour: simply ‘unlock the door’. Unsurprisingly, it did not work and finally it was agreed I should just climb through the window – something that I could have done an hour ago.
After a long nap, Viet returned again to the house to take me out around the local area. The cityscape of Hanoi is a mismatch of buildings both old-fashioned and modern. Everywhere you go looks difference and it is this that sets the city apart from others I have visited. I was able to get an even better view as I drove to the Project’s Abroad office with another coordinator, Riyaad, to start my induction.
The induction, as you’d imagine, consisted of the rules of the house and the project, safety and emergency details and an overview of the activities and trips to do in Hanoi. This was followed by a brief meeting about a water sanitation presentation that all the volunteers were to give local children as part of a REACH community program. As I had just arrived, I was not expected to attend which was a bit of a shame because events such as these are always interesting to write about.
The evening’s activity consisted of a meal out in the city of Hanoi and an open-mic night. I had hoped that my first meal would be traditionally Vietnamese but unfortunately I was outvoted and it turned out to be traditionally American (Burgers and chips), although still delicious. The open-mic night was unexpected, particularly as it had been portrayed as karaoke. It took place in a small library room that was hidden away down an alleyway. We were served homemade iced tea made from kumquat and we sat on the floor and watched as Vietnamese performers took the microphone and created some amazing sounds.