trek to hiep with marilyn

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
the story of marilyn and i traveling to a remote ethnic vietnamese village in vietnam in 1959 with our parents while we were young children

Submitted: January 20, 2017

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Submitted: January 20, 2017



 Some of the most exciting adventures my sister, Marilyn, and I experienced as children happened during the Christmas season. In Vietnam, Christmas always centered around the church; not the family. So during Christmas, our family traveled to ethnic Vietnamese villages often by foot. Ultimately we wanted to share the Christmas story especially to those who never heard it before. Most years we visited the Koho tribes people.

In 1959, we lived in the remote Vietnamese village of An Diem which gave my parents a launching post to bring the Gospel to the Katu tribes people. Dad built a house there with running water something very few of the surrounding people had ever seen. People from all around would make special trips to get a tour of the house. Flushing the toilet was their favorite part.

That year Marilyn and I had our one and only opportunity to visit a Katu village. Our family became the first western missionaries to visit these people so we were the first two white children to visit them in a village. Among the Koho, dad was able to drive his Land Rover to most of their villages; but, because room in the vehicle was limited, Marilyn and I would walk with the tribal Christians who traveled with us. The Katu, however, lived in areas unreachable by any automobile, so mom and dad walked too. They appeased evil spirits they feared using blood from people they murdered in enemy villages. For this reason they protected any approach to their villages from unwanted visitors by setting poisoned-arrow traps around their villages. No one could enter without a guide.

As I wrote above, in1959, Marilyn and I took our only trip to a Katu village. The previous year we traveled to an outpost where Vietnamese and Katu people met to trade goods with the Vietnamese. There, we held a Christmas feast. The almost naked tribal people came down from their mountain villages to celebrate and to hear the Christmas story told to them for the very first time. Unlike other Ethnic Vietnamese tribes, The men who are very short came carrying nine-foot spears. They would not leave their homes without it. But this year we went to Hiep, one of their villages high up in the mountain.

For the first part of our trip we left our home in An Diem and went up river in a sampan (skiff) to the Vietnamese outpost. The boat was propelled by Vietnamese workers using long poles. At the front of the boat they would push their pole into the bottom of the river and walk down the length of the boat causing the boat to move forward. When they got to the back, they would pull the pole out of the water and walk back to the front and stari the process over and over. On the return trip, however, the boat was propelled by the flow of the river.

The river ran in a deep narrow valley between mountains with untouched jungles rising up on both sides. The sunny day helped make the trip better and the only sounds that came, came from the flow of the river, the splash of the poles, and the chatter of the jungle animals including gibbons and birds.

Perhaps,12-year-old Marilyn appreciated the uniqueness of this exotic experience. I don't remember as a 9-year-old boy thinking this was anything special while it happened; but now, I consider it probably my most memorable experience. Very few people from the west can tell a story like this. I do remember this about Marilyn: she could not see the beautiful wild chickens foraging for food among the trees. We would point to them and say, “There, can't you see them? They are right over there.” But, she couldn't. Poor Marilyn needed glasses we found out then too late. Ask her, she might tell you how she felt about it.

This was also our only experience of wild gibbons. In the day-time a person might see them “. . . swinging from branch to branch for distances up to 15 m (50 ft), at speeds as high as 55 km/h (34 mph). They are a very small ape like animal with extremely long arms. Their bodies grow to no bigger than a new born baby. In the early mornings not only could we hear the wild roosters crow, but we could hear the gibbons sing. Their songs which sounds like a high soprano singing “oi, oi, oi” could be heard over a half mile away. These songs also identify which specie of gibbon is singing as well as where they hail from. (We experienced the gibbons but the information here also comes from Wikipedia).

After the boat landed at the Outpost we started walking. At first we walked on a path where razor sharp elephant grass grew up to 10 feet high on both sides. Mom warned us not to touch the grass as its sharp edges could have seriously cut us. Then for two hours we climbed straight up the side of the mountain in a dried out water run. The return trip took less than 30 minutes. Part way up we had to stop remove our socks and shoes and literally pick off tiny blood sucking leaches that somehow made there way into our socks and shoes. They were not a few. Other than the hard climb, that was the only ruination of the trip. Even seeing the poisoned-arrow traps waiting to destroy us was exciting. Thankfully our guide showed us where to walk.

Finally we arrived at Hiep. The village was located in a clearing cut into the side of the mountain. The few houses stuck out from the side of the sharp incline from which they were built. The front part facing away from the mountain was fully open with the sides all enclosed and the back side buttressed to the ground. They all formed a circle with one house in the middle where we stayed. A path led away to a waterhole which received its water from a bamboo pipe that ran somewhere up the mountainside to its source. Below the village the side of the mountain ran steeply back to the river below. On the other side a mountain rose straight up. We could see the village of Yep there which if we could walk on air was about a kilometer away. My parents visited that village on an earlier trip while Marilyn and I were away at boarding school.

That night we sat around a fire located in the center of our hut eating food the locals provided. Mom told us not to ask questions about what kind of meat we ate and she pointed at various animals hanging over the fireplace being smoked. Rats, snakes, monkeys and suck like hung there. I don't know about Marilyn but I really enjoyed my meal being famished after the long trek. Seated pm the floor, we ate from steaming bowls of rice using chopsticks to select meat and vegetables from larger bowls placed in the middle between us. We carefully ate something from every bowl so that we did not offend anyone of our varied hosts who provided the food.

The next day we rose to the chill of the morning air and the sight of mist rising from the jungle. We heard the roosters crow and gibbons sing. The memory lingers as few mornings will ever match that one. We soon returned back down the mountain to our boats to take us home again never to return.

© Copyright 2018 eddy irwin. All rights reserved.

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