Our First Day in Can Tho, Vietnam

I woke up this morning to the familiar sounds of the boats motoring upriver on the Mekong Delta in Can Tho, Vietnam. One of the first things I read this morning was a quote about travel from Anthony Bourdain. He wasn't talking about medical missions, but he could have been.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
--Anthony Bourdain

We arrived last night after 30-plus hours of travel from San Francisco, the last six of which were on a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to our "home" in Can Tho. We have a big crew -- there are 27 of us here with another joining us tomorrow.

We usually arrive on a Sunday and immediately start work at the hospital the next day. It was nice to have today to get settled and wander a bit. For some of us, it's about visiting familiar places -- the tailor, the fabric market, favorite restaurants. For others, it's an entirely new place to explore.

This is my fourth trip to Vietnam since I started traveling with the IEP team seven years ago. It's always interesting to see how much the city changes in the two years between trips.

There are now two karaoke boats moored across from the hotel. What was a shell of an old hotel next to our hotel is now a tall, glass light show. There's a pedestrian walkway across the river with all sorts of lights. And Grab, the Vietnamese scooter version of DoorDash, is seemingly everywhere with green helmeted and jacketed riders delivering things around the city.

But other aspects remain the same. The sounds and smells of the city. The boats on the river. The food. The same women sell the amazing sweet rice dessert on the sidewalk near the Nam Bo restaurant at night. The vendors at the fabric market who remember some of us from years past. The energy.

We, as a team, have our own energy. This morning our conversations were about tomorrow's activities. We'll start with a welcome meeting with the hospital staff. Then, some of us will start unpacking and organizing the 20 totes of medical equipment that we brought with us. The rest of us will focus on the patient evaluations--we'll gather information and take pictures, then the doctors, residents, and our physical therapist will evaluate the patients for possible surgery.

It will be a busy day, but an energizing one. I'm looking forward to the exhaustion that comes at the end of a day of connecting people and their families, knowing that we will be able to help many of them and make a difference in their lives.