Walking on a dusty country road in a Vietnamese village under the torrid midday sun was indeed exhausting. The blazing heat nearly suffocated us three, when each step seemed to get heavier. That was one of many times I brought my two best friends to this special place, in which I sought my composure, likewise found my determination. If only I could fill that place with all bumper stickers saying “No abandoned hope allowed”. It is, to me, the coziest house on earth – the home of 15 children aged 1 to 7, infected with HIV/AIDS.
Once we saw our destination from faraway, our three sweltering faces quickly wreathed in smiles again. A familiar signboard carved: “HIV/AIDS children‘s villages” shrouded by a green mantle of wild bushes was just 5 meters in front. As we entered the gate, the suffocative smell of antiseptics quickly filled our nostrils, causing tears well up in our eyes. We came when it was the kid’s lunch time. Their exuberant laughter overlaid the atmosphere, perhaps overlaid also the blatant existence of this deadly pandemic disease inside those innocent eyes. All my fatigues vanished just like magic when they smiled and waved at me. Moms, the great mothers of the kids, also welcomed us with their warm hugs as always.
As we got used to the place and its people, we quickly mingled with groups of kids and started to sing songs with them. I helped my friends clean up and prepare their beds for naps after lunch. Despite my tiredness, I was, without any doubts, very happy, for my mission finally completed. There I could witness not only the evanescence of my friend’s fears of interacting with these children - their used-to-be repugnance, but also an affirmation to my triumph – their used- to -be absurdity.
I still recalled the first time I brought them there, when a Mom asked us to help her feed a baby when she went to the administration area to answer a phone call. The baby was Linh, the youngest one of the center. Her black round eyes twinkled with amusements when she saw us. I started to fondle Linh’s hair to delight her. Then, she would open her mouth to be fed. We all enjoyed the gay atmosphere until Linh burst out laughing with her mouth still full of soup. She began to vomit and choke as the rice soup was everywhere on her face, mostly inside her nose, whilst our faces went pale because of panic. I quickly wiped off all the soup on Linh’s face, and tried to think as fast as I can of what to do. Linh wanted to cry, but it seemed that something in her nose blocked her breath. Like being motivated by an invisible force, I suddenly put my mouth near her nostril and smoothly sucked the thing out of her nose. My friend’s face stiffened anew at my action. Ultimately, at the moment Linh uttered a loud cry, I felt like all my nerves just stopped shaking. Some Moms rushed in to see what had happened, then kept saying thanks to me for saving the kid’s life.
Nonetheless, on the way back home from the center that day, when I told my friends that it was actually the biggest success in my whole life, they, in contrast, said that what I did was absolutely disgusting. I could not forget those blank stares and cold words that the kids would anyway die soon. It was in fact painful to listen to their mordant comments although I tried to explain that a happy day for us is the same for them, if not more precious. Nevertheless, at that time, they thought that it was just cliché and non-sense. Their mind, of course, refused to understand, but that fact did not really irritate me. I believed that they needed time to understand what I had said, and more importantly, I also had enough time to prove to them that my deed was not a sheer insanity, but an accomplishment that I was always proud of.