Mrs Anh, Vietnam

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Mrs Anh has lived all her life on Cat Ba Island on the south eastern edge of Ha Long Bay in North Vietnam. Her one-roomed tin walled and roofed house lies on the outskirts of a small village. I was walking on my own late one evening and we noticed each other. I sensed she wanted to talk to me and I certainly wanted to talk to her but we didn’t have a common language. I smiled and began to gesticulate ‘Hello’ and ‘Do you live here’. She didn’t smile and never smiled during our hour together but nodded ‘Yes’. She invited me into her home with the wave of her frail arm and I entered through the open doorway. After my eyes adjusted to the dim light I was shown a simple bed, a small table on which clay and aluminium pots were stacked, and a hole in the floor where the ashes of a fire lay. We went outside and Mrs Anh pointed to the local school not far away and she used simple gestures to tell me how much she enjoyed watching the children play. A teacher saw us and came over and began to translate. I showed pictures of my home and family and there was the hint of a smile. I heard how she had lost her family during the war. Bombing at the time often forced local residents to hide among the Island’s many caves but her family didn’t make it one day. We agreed that no-one wins in war. I asked if I could take her photograph before I left and she agreed and seemed pleased. Her eyes, the texture and colour of her skin and even the colour and texture of her clothes, told her story.