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The Power of Friendship & Buses in Vietnam

Boris Thaser via Flick.com (CC BY 2.0)

When a lost item results in finding something even greater. 

We were halfway through the 90-minute bus ride from Haiphong to Hanoi when I had the "oh shit, I remember what I forgot" moment: My computer charger. I had recently starting blogging for Verge and told my friend I would make her a website for her wedding, so it was an unfortunate realization.

Travel is teaching me to keep things in perspective. Things happen. Material possessions can be replaced. You need to be kind to yourself. That said, I was nursing a bit of a hangover from a Halloween party the night before. I was irritated because I knew the oversight would have been avoided if I was operating at 100 per cent. 

A simple, local solution

I started to brainstorm. Maybe I can find a replacement in Hanoi, buy one online and have it shipped to a future destination, ask my mom to bring one when she visits, or just ship my computer home and call it a loss. We only had one day in Hanoi before leaving the country, so it wasn't worth it to make the trip back to Haiphong. The scenarios I came up with all had the same conclusion: The charger was gone.

My phone suddenly lit up with a message from Kiely, a friend we made in Haiphong. She worked as a teaching assistant at the centre where we taught English. She was part of the group chat I texted to confirm that my charger was indeed at the volunteer house.

"If you need your charger, I can send it to you tomorrow by bus.” Whoa! This option never even crossed my mind.

Vietnam's multi-purpose bus system

Bus transportation is a convenient and affordable way for people to travel in Vietnam. It also provides reliable transportation for goods. We have been on many buses that stopped along the way to deliver items to people waiting on the side of the road: bags of rice, boxes of live chickens, bundles of fresh fruit, and other less obvious packages.

By the time we arrived in Hanoi, I had a plan for getting my charger back. I should say, Kiely had a plan. “I'll text you tomorrow with the name of the bus station and the time you need to be there.” I thanked her profusely. She made it seem so easy. I felt jazzed about getting to participate in a system that seemed foreign before.

A mistake usually turns into a good story

The package from Kiely arrived the next day. Not only was it delivered by bus, but a motorbike shipper brought the package from the bus station directly to the address where I was having lunch. The shipper was on the phone with Kiely when he pulled up. She had been in communication with the bus driver and shipper throughout the journey to make sure it arrived.

It cost $6 to get my computer charger back, but the value of the experience cannot be captured in dollars. Thanks to Kiely being able to speak English and Vietnamese (and her selfless generosity), I benefited from a local system that was previously inaccessible largely due to the language barrier. What initially appears to be a mistake usually turns into a good story.

Local friendship: A door to local culture

Before we left Haiphong, we had gone to Kiely's house for dinner. Her mom made us a delicious vegetarian meal. Kiely stopped eating meat six months ago after meeting foreign volunteers who were vegetarian. Kiely values the opportunity to exchange culture and ideas with people from other countries.

Travelling with purpose opens doors to connection and friendship that aren't found on the list of the “Top 10 Things to See” in a country. If you open yourself up to others, they will often let you in and open themselves up in return.

Tucked into the package with my computer charger, Kiely included a vegetarian rice snack pack. 

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Alana Jenkins

Alana Jenkins quit her job as an Office Manager for a mental health agency in Saint Paul, Minnesota to travel and volunteer in Southeast Asia and Europe. She is volunteering through Workaway and seeking immersive local experiences.

Website: www.instagram.com/diysabbatical/

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