Gretchen Murphy

Gretchen Murphy (Survivor Corps in Vietnam): Gretchen has considerable experience of volunteering with human rights prior to her fellowship. Her jobs included working with Amnesty International’s International Justice and Accountability Program, and served at International Service for Peace (SIPAZ) in Chiapas, Mexico where she researched the impact of international organizations on indigenous nonviolence movements. Gretchen also interned at International Crisis Group in Washington DC. Where she focused on the role of new media in advocacy and the role of media in creating change. At the time of her fellowship, Gretchen was pursuing her Masters degree at American University’s School of International Service. After her fellowship, Gretchen wrote: “I witnessed some of the most genuine forgiveness I have ever seen. Although I did run across the occasional angry person (often rightfully so) ALL of the survivors I met were nothing but generous and welcoming to me. It was incredibly humbling.”

Motorbikes and Markets – First Impressions of HCMC

03 Jun

I read about the overwhelming abundance of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City prior to coming to Vietnam, but no amount of reading prepares one for trying to cross the street with a stream of honking traffic flying straight at you.  The general rule of thumb is to walk at a steady pace and let drivers maneuver around you-easier said than done.  It is hard to quell my impulse to stop abruptly when I see a moving vehicle heading rapidly in my direction.  Nonetheless, in the not-quite 48 hours I’ve spent here I am beginning to get used to the bustle of Vietnam’s largest city.  Since arriving I’ve been acclimating to the time difference and the heat while taking care of some logistical tasks such as registering with the consulate.  It has been an interesting, albeit confusing, few days.  Communication is difficult-part of me definitely feels like the silly American speaking to people in English and expecting a response-but I have found other ways to communicate and I am attempting to learn some Vietnamese phrases.  That said, I am looking forward to heading up to Dong Hoi to begin work at the LSN-V office.  Compared to HCMC, Dong Hoi promises to be quite tranquil.

Statue of "Uncle Ho"
Statue of “Uncle Ho” in central HCMC

Walking around HCMC I have begun to see the stark contrast between the old and new, rich and poor.  With a booming economy, Vietnam has been very successful at reducing poverty.  In 1975 roughly 80% of the population was living in poverty; recent estimates put the current poverty level at under 20%–quite an impressive transformation in a relatively short amount of time.  This morning I walked over to the Ben Thanh Market, one of the largest indoor markets in the city.  As soon as I entered the market I was hit with sensory overload-the bright fruit stalls and the numerous vendors selling Pho offered much to see, hear and smell.  Yet on the periphery of the market, the lingering poverty was apparent.  At this point I am still in processing mode-taking in all that is going on around me now that I’m finally here.

Bright, Tropical Fruits at Ben Thanh Market
Bright, Tropical Fruits at Ben Thanh Market

Soon I will leave HCMC’s busy streets and head up to Dong Hoi via the Reunification Express, a train line that runs the length of the country.  It is a long ride to Dong Hoi-some 20+ hours-and although there are relatively inexpensive flights that would get me within driving distance, I thought the train would be a great way to take in some of the country I might not otherwise have the chance to see.  I will certainly be taking some pictures and posting them here, so check back soon!

Posted By Gretchen Murphy

Posted Jun 3rd, 2009

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