The Guilt of Fear

July 2015, Ho Chi Minh City. Ho Chi Minh, a thriving economic city in Southeast Asia, looks spectacular with skyscrapers and nightlights. Who knows what lurks behind the scene? Who has seen another side of the city? Photo Credit: Nhi Tong.

July 2015, Ho Chi Minh City. Ho Chi Minh, a thriving economic city in Southeast Asia, looks spectacular with skyscrapers and nightlights. Who knows what lurks behind the scene? Who has seen another side of the city? Photo Credit: Nhi Tong.

 

 

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Tears fell down my cheeks and landed on my pillow. The image of two skeletal kids, clothed in worn-out T-shirts and pants, sitting on the edge of the sidewalk watching the traffic roar past their innocent eyes, haunted my mind.

The memory of that July summer night came back to me, vividly and emotionally, four months later, when I received the first days of Track A training from World Youth Alliance. It is an enlightening experience to read those philosophical texts, connecting abstract ideas with lived experience, coming to terms with my own inner values.

It was around 10 pm at night, on my vacation trip to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. My cousin was driving me home on her motorbike, hair rustling in the wind. Mesmerized by the beauty of the bustling, rich city that seemed reluctant to sleep, I scanned every detail of the street and suddenly saw the two children sitting to my right. The motorbike, halted at a red light, left me a short moment to observe them: the kids seemed to be siblings: the female child was about eight and her brother around six. The girl’s dirty and unkempt hair was tied carelessly behind, leaving thin locks of hair on her forehead. The boy pouted sulkily beside her, his feet moving back and forth. Resting her hand on his thin shoulder, the little girl patted him, almost unconscious of her own affectionate gesture. She gazed out at the passers-by who quickly looked away when meeting her eyes.

Forty-five seconds of waiting; a red light had never been so long. My heart and mind exploded with questions, feelings and assumptions about them. “Are they street kids? Are they beggars? Why are they sitting on the sidewalk at this hour? Do they have a place to stay? Will they be harmed and kidnapped? Should I help them? How should I help them? What should I tell my cousin? Will they accept my help? Will I appear as a creepy stranger who scares them? Is offering help to them a sensible thing to do considering the complexity of street kids’ plights (they could be working for a gangster) and my inexperience dealing with them?”

A part inside of me wanted to ask, “Hey, kids, why are you here at this late hour?” But, to my own dismay, I sat numbly on the motorbike, listening to my cousin’s tales of the city. The light turned green and all the motorbikes started roaring. I turned my head around until their small figures were lost behind thousands of tiny dots of light coming from the motorbikes.

Incomprehensible feelings seeped into my heart and lingered – until now. I did not understand the nuance of my feelings, but they drove me, and I applied for the WYA internship, to promote human dignity and make changes in the world. I came to WYA to contribute; little did I foresee that I would also receive a wealth of knowledge after only one day of Track A Training.

Our discussion on human dignity enabled me to become conscious of my nature as a struggling-caring being, which I had never thought about. Because I am a human being, I will always lead an essentially struggling life weaved with all sorts of problems and concerns for inequalities and suffering. I care, so I struggle. And that is alright. Only by being torn apart, will I be able to find the incentive to keep working in solidarity to promote human dignity around the world.
Written by Nhi Tong, a current WYA North America intern in New York City.