Everything became blurry. That’s when I realized this is not just a classic case of pink eye.
Vietnam, the country with great coffee, fascinating landscapes, and ancient history. Maybe one day I’ll get to see this side of the country.
To Me, Vietnam is A Dirty, Infested Place Where I Got Trachoma
I know, I went to a third world country and, gasp, there were third-world standards. I’m not saying it’s Vietnam’s fault, you know what, I’m not gonna justify myself.
So WTF happened?
Well, we went to this place to teach English. The same process I’ve already done in Colombia.
No, I didn’t expect the Hilton hotel, I mean there was no hot water in Colombia either so whatever. Here I am justifying myself again. Anyway.
We arrived in Hai Phong around 6 pm, it was already night time at this point. The taxi driver gave me this look of confusion but I assigned it to general confusion and thought nothing of it.
I noticed we were leaving the city lights and entering this dark neighborhood with no one out on the street.
“I hope our neighboorhood has lights,” I said, more joking than not.
This Is Where You Guys Sleep
Then, a little worried, the taxi driver dropped us off in this alley. We looked around and saw nothing but garage doors, all closed. The smell of sewer reached all our senses.
The driver (nice guy) called our contact from his phone. I heard a garage door opening. This random guy appeared out of the darkness.
“Hi,” I said too.
“We…we…we’re the new workaways.” Either Jay or I mustered. I can’t remember.
“I’ll show you the school,” he said.
All our correspondence was with a woman, who wasn’t there.
“Take your shoes off.”
In Vietnam shoes are like the devil, you take them off everywhere. I get it, I do. I mean I don’t get why eating dogs and rats are not “the devil” too, but I also hate feet, so we agree there. Anyway.
We took our shoes off and he showed us this class, and everything seemed okay. The kids were great, the school looked good. His personality was that of dry seasonless chicken that someone forgot in the oven for like three hours, but I’ve dealt with worse.
“I will show your accommodation” he whispered.
Jay, me, and our heavy backpacks followed.
Suddenly, he started running in front of us.
Yea man, running.
“What the fuck is happening”
So what could we do but run after him? We sprinted to this place (to this day I don’t get what happened there) and he stood in front of the garage doors.
He opened the garage.
- a car (normal)
- a kitchen
- a wooden sofa with no cushions
- a piano
- a set of stairs
- zero windows
- white, fluorescent light
- two refrigerators
- a motorbike
It’s like someone created a list of things they want and then just threw all those things in one room (with no windows.)
“There is another teacher here” he pointed to a room.
Ok, cool, that’s fine, it’s what we were told.
“My family and I sleep in this room” he pointed.
Hm. No one mentioned anything about this… how many people live in this place with no windows?
“This is for you” he opened the door.
Drivin Through the Gated Residential
We entered the room and I noticed curtains. Curtain=window, I thought to myself.
The smell of mold prevailed the before mentioned sewage scent.
He left us to take in the surroundings. We looked around, then at each other. Defeated.
Two beds. I sat on the bed expecting a bed, but I was greeted with wood (not the fun kind.) I looked down and saw the “bed” is just a massive board.
The blanket stank. The pillow used to be white in like 1984.
I opened the window to get some air in and another two surprises showed up there.
First, bars. Bars on windows. Ok, this is a thing in all of South America, no big deal.
Second, the window was blocked by a piece of wall. You couldn’t open the window.
If hell has lighting it’s white and fluorescent.
The entire house was soaked in this kind of light. The entire neighborhood never saw any sun too. Just grey, polluted air.
The man with no personality asked us to wait for him so can show us where to eat. We wanted to find it ourselves but he insisted and said he’ll be back in 15 minutes.
He shut the garage door, locked the gates and left us no way to get out.
So we waited.
Three motherfuckin hours later this dude showed up and was all like:
“Oh, you waited for me?”
You Have To Be Home By Ten
“There’s a curfew here. Ten o’clock.” He mentioned casually as we were eating.
Last time I had a curfew I was twelve.
“The police arrest you if you’re out after ten.”
I don’t think I would’ve stayed out past ten anyway, but knowing I’m not allowed was irritating. Also, not knowing if this was true or something he just imposed on us so we don’t wake his family up with the very loud garage doors was extra irritating. I googled “curfew in Hai Phong” and found no evidence to support his claim.
We met his wife, who had a lot more personality and was quite lovely, and his great kids. It didn’t seem as bad at this point, but then we went to sleep.
And Then There Were Bugs
I tried falling asleep on my board of a bed but the mosquitoes were relentless.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ — mosquito
This piece of shit buzzed next to my ear every time I closed my eyes.
I must have killed ten of them just that first hour, but every time I killed one, two new bitches showed up.
(Fun fact: All the mosquitoes that bite humans are females.)
Mosquitoes were the least of my problems. Something was crawling in these boards that decided to invite all their friends to a dinner party that was my body.
It wasn’t bed bugs (the bites looked different), I can’t tell you what it was, but it enjoyed some fine dining every single night I “slept” there.
The first sleepless night ended and we decided to explore the place we’re in, to feel a bit better.
Some sort of construction was in place and the whole neighborhood was torn down to pieces.
Unable to walk anywhere due to the massive amounts of dust and noise, we stayed at the coffee shop we found next to the house. On our stroll, we did find a ton of dog and cat restaurants.
“Vau, vau, meow meow — good for you!” the man advertised his business to us.
“Nah bro, we’re good”
Fevers And Rashes
The teaching part was fun. I loved the energy and enthusiasm of the students.
“We can manage this” we lied to each other. “It’s fine. It’s just a month.”
I opened the closet and found that this is where all these mosquitoes live during the day. Hundreds of mosquitoes just flew all over the place living their mosquito dream in this closet. I realized that no matter how many I kill, there’s always more right here, in this room.
It’s a sad truth to come to terms with.
Night two hugged us with its darkness and here they were again.
And their crawly friends came back to bite the life out of me.
I didn’t sleep, again.
Day three dawned and I realized I feel a little off. Like I’m getting some sort of a fever.
And fever I did get, combined with a nasty rash that spread over me like the bubonic plague.
Unable to teach, I stayed in this insult of a bed. The family was nice to me, I can’t say they weren’t. I couldn’t sleep on this fuckin board so I shifted around, tried to do something, only to be met with a wave of a fever that pulled me back down to the ground. That third day I spent mostly dreaming of a clean place. I had visions of Mr. Clean holding my hand as the itchy rash spread over me and the dirt (not the amazing Motley Crue book turned movie) took hostage of my skin.
“I wish I was in Petra’s apartment right now” I mumbled through the fever.
My best friend's apartment is always sparkling clean so I guess my mind went to her place.
“Or like, Antarctica, with the scientists.”
Antarctica seemed like a place where no bug can survive.
Anyway, you get it.
Night three showed up as nights tend to do. At this point, I had developed a fear of the dark (I had a constant fear that something’s always near). I knew the creepy crawlies waited for nightfall to ruin me mentally, and now I also had a fuckin fever to deal with.
They returned on schedule.
Fried Chicken and Half Hatched Eggs
Day four arrived after a long, sleepless night. Jay had also lived on little to no sleep. He was spending his time between covering my classes and trying hard to find food that wasn’t a cat, dog or a pigeon. Bahn Mi had lost its charm and Pho just didn’t taste as interesting as it once used to.
I “woke up”, Jay was in school and I had a class to teach too. I wanted to teach it because I felt somewhat guilty and I was going to lose my mind in this garage. I still had a fever but I managed to put on some clothes.
The bathroom was filled with toilet paper covered in shit and it smelled like it too. The floor was wet. Mosquitoes ran the place like the mob.
I went downstairs and the lady asked me how I was feeling.
“Oh, I’m good, I’m good. Great.”
She touched my forehead.
“Oh no, no you’re still sick. Sit down, have something to eat.”
She came out with some noodles and this green thing. Inside…
Maybe if I didn’t spend sleepless nights in a moldy room with no window under a fever while being bit by countless crawling bugs and mosquitoes I wouldn’t have been so put off by this.
But I was tired, hungry and sick. This wasn’t the breakfast I could deal with at that point.
I respectfully declined. I appreciate the sentiment but it’s a no from me girl.
My skin was covered in this stupid rash. Jay brought back fried chicken again, with some fries. It tasted like sadness.
The thought that the night is coming scared me but night has to come.
Night four came upon us and by this point, I was sure I‘m going to fall asleep because I was so sleep deprived my body would surely just do it on its own.
Sleep chose not to grace me with its presence. Sleep left Hai Phong and was on the plane to Europe.
I was going crazy in this room trying hard to think of reasons why I should stay here for a month.
Day five was the day of the Christmas party.
Some old racist lady told Jay to hide his hair and look presentable for the party. Then they put him a Santa suit that was too small for him, but whatever, he had fun with it.
The racist lady put us up so the Vietnamese kids can take photos with the foreigners, whatever, the kids were adorable.
She told Jay he should cut his hair about sixteen times.
Then, something interesting happened. We met some other teachers. These other teachers lived in a normal neighborhood, with no curfew, in their place. I mean generally, their living conditions were much better. Knowing we were here with the shit and the bugs and they’re over there living their best life (just a regular life without rashes and bugs) was the final straw.
We had to go.
We packed our bags and left the next day (after yet another sleepless night.)
As we were on our way to Hanoi I felt like we had just left prison.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
Hi, Trachoma, Nice to Meet You.
We got an Airbnb in Hanoi and of course, the damn thing also had no window. Whatever at least there were no bugs and there was hot water.
We spent a couple of days recovering and then one day I woke up with what I thought was pink eye.
I never had pink eye before but it sure looked the part. It was kind of embarrassing but I figured it’s probably from all the dirt I was surrounded with and it’ll go away.
It didn’t go away, it got angry.
My eye started to swell up and shut down and this feeling of the sand inside it would not just fuck off. I googled, my friends googled, we all googled but could not figure out what the hell kind of pink eye is this.
Some crazy looking sticky yellow liquid filled it up (so attractive) and I started to lose my vision.
Ok, it was time to panic.
I got a lot of advice from the people on the street on what’s happening to me and a lot of misdiagnosed help.
Nothing was helping and I couldn’t see anything past what was right in front of me anymore. I walked around wearing sunglasses like I was Elton John.
It was my dad that found what seems to be the problem. He sent me the message panicking to get help right away because it seems like I have what is the “leading cause of blindness.”
So I went to the doctor and got some meds. He gave me everything on the list, I got like seven different types of pills. It seemed to help a little but not too much. All these meds messed me up in a different way, but the thing that was hurt the most was my mental state.
As I walked around Hanoi with my shitty droopy eye I couldn’t enjoy anything in Vietnam anymore. I had to go home.
I looked at Jay and noticed, his eye was getting red too.
Since for so long, I didn’t know what I had, I didn’t know the symptoms of Trachoma only show up a week to two weeks later. I also didn’t know it was contagious.
We arrived in Croatia broke and broken.
I went to get this checked out and the doctors agreed with my dad’s google diagnosis.
Trachoma, spread by flies or contact with infected people.
Usually in rural, dusty areas.
It doesn’t exist in Europe or North America but still available to enjoy in SE Asia and Africa.
Well, thanks a lot Hai Phong.
We were used as a case study for a couple of doctors and their students. They turned our eyelids inside out, one by one.
I didn’t mind.
Do what you need, just give me the antibiotics.
Today is day eleven.
We are almost free of Hai Phong’s grip.
I’d say I can see the end in sight but my vision is still shitty.
Maybe my other senses sharpen up now, like my sense of humor. — Mike Tyson Mysteries