Van Mon: The Forgotten Existence -Ehrin Macksey- Freelance

From Ehrin Macksey:

About 11 months ago I met a journalist here in Hanoi, Vietnam. He told me about how there were these pockets of leprosy villages in Vietnam and how he had visited one. This peaked my curiosity, because in the 2 years I had lived in Vietnam I had not heard of them. He gave me some contacts of some doctors that worked with these Villages and that is how this project started.

After months of meeting different people and collecting my facts, I finally got permission to visit one of these Villages, Van Mon.

I went back to this Village 6 times, usually for 2 or 3 days, which is all I could afford. I started to be treated like one of the Villagers instead of an outsider. When this happened, I really started to experience the daily life of Van Mon.  I woke up every morning at 3:00 AM. I got me gear together and would go to see the morning rituals of the residents. One of those mornings, I saw a man walking to church. This particular person grabbed my attention, not because he was going to church, but because he was going alone and he was blind. I went up to him and introduced myself. He seemed very nice and invited me to join him in the morning service. I watch him go pray in church. He sat by himself in the darkest part of the church and no one seemed to pay attention to him. At times during the service, I would catch him wiping away his tears.

I started talking to this man more and learned that his name is Bop. I spent many of my afternoons with him in his humble living quarters. He told me stories about how he survived an American bombing, how he came to Van Mon and what he thinks of his life now.

I was deeply touched by his stories. All of them seem to be full of hardships I could only imagine. Yet here is a man who still goes to church by himself, takes care of himself and even clean his own house, all while blind and disabled.

I told Bop I wanted to tell his story and he gave me permission to do so.  As our relationship progressed, he would tell me about his childhood and how much he misses his family. He also told me, that even though he is religious, he feels like this life is just a test. There is no more happiness in this life. So he prays and looks forward to his next life where he hopes things will be different.

 When I started to produce these pieces there was so much information. So many stories to focus on, but Bop’s story, was to me, the one that captured all the stories of all the people.  

Documenting the life at Van Mon, was for me, emotional. After documenting such scenes like the washing of the patients or the local hospital I would be drained. I would finish shooting and walk away into the village banana field, the only place to be alone, feeling a mix of anger, sadness and helpless. When Bop told me about his family and started crying, I nearly cried with him. His pain was so deep. To see this grown man, older than my father, cry because his family, who is well off, did nothing to take care of him or show any love towards him.

I hope I have represented these people well with my work. I truly hope that more people will know about Van Mon and help them the best they can. 

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