Ninth Watsoversary – Hanoi, Vietnam

Nine months have passed and it’s almost May. Here is another quarterly report full of complicated feelings and more insecurities than I’d like. Enjoy.

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Dear Watson Foundation,

I’ve been hiding out in my room for the past three days. It started off as me needing some rest after a very fast-paced week and a half in Vietnam, but it soon turned into the “project avoidance” you warned me about. Let me explain.

I arrived in Hanoi on April 10th and stayed with a Couchsurfer and her family. Thao is only a few years older than me and she lives with her mom and her younger sister inside a very small house. The week I spent living there brought me back to the time when my mom, my sister, and I first moved to the U.S, and lived very similarly to Thao and her family. We shared tight quarters, making one bedroom fit three and transforming it from our dining area to a studying space. Our beds were creatively constructed every night and folded up and put away during the day. We learned to find privacy while we were in the same room; we found a rhythm to our lives and our living that only we understood and appreciated.

Thao’s home was exactly like this, which was both a blessing and a curse. I loved being able to witness the home and life these three women have built together and be a part of it, but I’ll be honest that it was also really challenging to adjust to what that meant: no personal space and no control over my own schedule. I woke up before 6am so I could fold up my bed that blocked the entrance to the house, and was unable to rest when I wanted to because my sleeping area was also Thao’s mother’s classroom and where we ate our meals. I missed a lot of sleep and bypassed comfort, but in the end staying with Thao opened up Vietnam for me in a way I could’ve never done on my own.

Thao introduced me to many of her friends and family who were all extremely kind and invited me to their homes. On my first day I was on a motorbike–scared to death–and by the end of the week, I had visited three other homes, ridden across the city, and eaten amazing home cooked meals, including a special lunch commemorating the death of Thao’s grandmother. Over the weekend, I traveled to a different city and met more of Thao’s friends at the beach and afterwards ended up traveling to Sapa for a few days with one of them.

Upon my return I finally got a room of my own and slept the entire day. Not only was I physically tired but emotionally drained as well. Although I wasn’t doing interviews or working with an organization, I learned a lot about women’s lives through the time I spent with them and by simply paying attention to what was happening around me. A lot of it was difficult for me to take in and ended up making me feel powerless and hopeless about women and our lives. Our future. Our ability to be free.

This emotional drainage was only worsened by the chaos of being a foreigner in a loud city roaring with motorbikes. Aside from my week in Morocco, this is my first long-term stay in a country where I don’t speak the language. Everything around me is new and different, which is just as exciting as it is scary. It’s also exhausting to do simple things like order food or cross the street. Put all of this together and it’s easy to understand why I wouldn’t want to leave the comfort of my bed.

Today I finally acknowledge that I was hiding behind fear and decided to push beyond it. I forced myself to walk around the city—despite the crazy motorbikes and the noise— and get some dinner. I even enjoyed a ca phe sua da, an iced coffee with milk at a lovely café by my house. When I returned home, I was able to talk to my host Kim and her eldest daughter for the first time. I told them about my project and three hours later, we were still sitting in the kitchen sharing our stories.

This is why the Watson is so special. It has encouraged me to constantly challenge myself like never before and to realize that there is no better way to live my life.

I did this in Argentina as well. I spent 9 weeks learning new things including crotchet, Pilates, and Urban style dancing. I also spent most of my time with mujeres militantes, militant women who engage in activismo callejero, street activism. Women who use their voices and their body to claim public space and demand their freedom. These women allowed me to experience how liberating a loud and raging feminism can be. Together we marched, held banners, passed out flyers, danced with fists held high, and sang songs of protest.

On International Women’s Day, I marched with my compañeras, the women of MuMaLa, painted and bare chested—pretty outrageous for me. Outside of gaining some body confidence, the best part of that whole experience was having feminist women by my side. Before the Watson, I spent way too much time isolated from other women and people who didn’t expect me to excuse or defend my feminism. In Argentina I was welcomed into a community that built up my confidence and fueled the fire I need to keep on fighting.

A tough week in Hanoi may have destabilized me for a bit, but the lessons I’ve learned these past nine months haven’t been lost. I am excited for the last weeks left on my journey and I’m ready to make them as fulfilling as the last 40 that have already passed.

Thank you for the last 9 months!

~Mayra

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Learning Vietnamese with a cafe menu.

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Further down the street is where all the Bia (beer) is drunk.
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You see what I mean?!
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I made a friend, Linh, who took me to a “pottery village” 30 min from the Old Quarter via bus 47.

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Exhibition on street vendors (female profession) @ the Women’s Museum.
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Past nine months are visible on my feet–the fact that I keep showing my feet on this blog is totally unintentional!

Here’s to three :O more months!!

 

 

 

 

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