On our second day in Sapa, our guide Huong came prepared with hiking sticks and a word of advise: if you don’t intend to buy or give money to the Red Dao tribe women, ignore them and don’t answer their questions. He had seen the amount of pouches and wrist bands I had purchased from the Black Hmong women the day before and guessed that I had enough of the souvenirs. I turned to Mike and said I needed the women more than they need me. How was I to navigate the slippery slopes without their assistance? And I really didn’t mind giving them some money.
These Red Dao women (in photo above) were already lined up in front of our resort before we even emerged. There had been complaints from guests about harassment from these women that Sapa Ecolodge management reached an agreement with them. Sapa Ecolodge built a shelter opposite the resort for them and they are not allowed into the resort and must respect the guests.
As soon as we started walking, a group followed, asking for our names and introducing themselves. It was hard to ignore them as they were really friendly. I started answering and Aaron gave me a nudge. I whispered to my son that it’s okay. We need their help.
And was I right. The path we took, even though it was flat, was wet and muddy. It was really difficult walking. We were sliding the whole time and I cursed my jogging shoes for its lack of grip. My fellow women companions were in rubber boots and slippers and had firmer gait than me. They helpfully took my hands as soon as my hands started flaying for balance and I was grateful.
Huong took us through the rice terrace and scattered villages. The only brick houses were the school painted bright yellow and hospital. I had bought exercise books, pencils and erasers for the school but on that weekday, the school was closed. On route, we saw a mother with her little girl and we handed the girl a book and some pencils.
We visited a Black Hmong’s house. There was a fire-place surrounded by beddings. The mother was sewing and two brothers and their cousin were playing. The only electronic, a TV, blared in the background. Huong took out the books and pencils and passed to the boys. He encouraged the oldest to write his name on the book, which he obliged with neat handwriting.
I was surprised that most of the families here have few children, two at most, and like us urban folks, they want to give the best to their children they lament the high cost of having more children. But I suspect the TV in the room also plays a big part in contraception.
We stopped at a house for picnic lunch, which Huong had packed from the resort. The baguette with ham and butter was too much and I shared with my new friends, who had settled down to sew while we ate. One of them ran off to her house nearby to get her kids, two wide-eyed, good-looking school-aged children. She told us she got married to her husband when she was 15 and he 13. We passed the children the rest of the books and pencils/erasers, with Huong telling them that the erasers are not for eating.
After lunch, it was shopping time. I didn’t really need anymore souvenirs but decided that by merely giving them money would be insulting them. So I bought a few more bags from my friends. I was rewarded by being admitted into their group with my red headgear. (The Red Dao women shave their forehead… which I didn’t.)
Hiking in Sapa was a breath of change from my urban life. The air is fresh, the scenery beautiful and folks awesome. Isn’t it amazing that we women and mothers are the same everywhere, wanting the best for the family and keeping the family together? The heart-shaped pond we saw says it all.