My favorite memories of Vietnam are from my program’s excursions. We were based in busy Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam’s economic capital – but we also spent two weeks in the rural Mekong Delta and three weeks in central and northern Vietnam. The excursions allowed us to meet new people and experience the diversity of the country.
This photo was taken in the Mekong Delta where we spent an afternoon at Rừng Tràm Trà Sư – a protected mangrove forest and bird habitat in the An Giang province. After learning about mangrove ecology and the park’s many species of plants and animals, we took a boat tour to observe the park for ourselves. The beauty and serenity of the mangrove forest was overwhelming. As we were navigated through the water on the boats, our tour guides directed our attention to egrets nesting in the trees, other birds flying overhead, and lotuses blossoming in the water.
After meandering through the busy streets in Lisbon’s city center, our tour guide led us to the Old City, which is a less traversed, more residential area of Lisbon. With heavy Arab influence, the pathways were narrow, the colors vibrant, and the commotion constant. Parakeets hung out of each and every window, greeting us with chirps and squawks, while local children kicked soccer balls along the walls, stained with running water and bleached with evidence of sun-kissed afternoons. When we were leaving the city, I turned around and captured this moment – a moment where the sun lit up copper rooftops and bounced onto the myriad of clothes dangling from quivering wires. Having washing machine and dryers was something that I took for granted; not once in my 21 years of life did I ever think I’d have to hang my clothes outside to dry, a task that seemed more tedious and risky than anything else. Never did I think that hanging clothes to dry could be so beautiful, with light enhancing the bright colors of the shorts, shirts and pants that billowed in the breeze. The clips, gripping the clothes tightly, matched the intense hues of the clothes, which stood out against such a rustic backdrop.
Clothes can tell us so much about a culture, and the fact that the residents of the Old City hang their clothes out to dry epitomizes a difference between the American and European lifestyle. Most people in the United States care way too much about their designer clothes to let them hang precariously on a wire, where any passerby, including the pesky wind, could snatch an article or two; yet this Portuguese family, along with a plethora of others, hang their clothes out on these wires across the city, a sign of trust and familial community. With the privilege of washers and dryers, we may overlook the beauty of simplicity, community, and what our clothes say about us to those around us. When I look at this clothesline, I want to know who wears that baggy sweater, who runs around in those patterned shorts, and where I can find myself a pair of those tie-dye leggings.