Which Sapa darling do I buy the honey from?
I looked at the three old ladies, all equally lovely, their faces road maps to hardships I can’t fathom. Their silver earrings stretched their ears into fleshy hula hoops, their black hair coiled on their heads like silky snakes.
In front of each is a plastic bucket of honey and the broken combs, a few specks of bees floating in the amber liquid.
The oldest one dips a chopstick into the bucket and lets the honey drizzle on my fingertip. I place it in my mouth. It tastes of Vietnam, not the stuff squeezed from plastic bears. So raw, so real, so sweet it spanks the back of my throat. If I held the bucket up to my ear, I was sure I would hear the queen bee buzzing.
Each lady holds up a liter size water bottle, left from backpackers long gone, the Aquafina labels a bit tattered. I end up purchasing a bottle from each.
Three hundred thousand dong, just over ten American bucks for just under a gallon of honey.
Who’d ever thunk I’d be spending Easter in Vietnam with close to a gallon of honey? Who’d every thought I end up in Asia, period? No Cadbury eggs or sunrise service, just a roll of Digestive crackers to scoop up the sweetness while watching CNN.
Guilt sets in.
Not about the honey but about watching breaking news…about nothing.
I decide to climb the mountain in Sapa. It would be an Eastery thing to do and a good way to burn off the gazillion calories I just inhaled. And a good way to reflect on the Good Friday three years back. Make that the anything but Good Friday, when I was a human shock absorber upon hearing the news that my husband wanted to leave.
Not China, but me.
Yes, I’ll turn off Christiane Amanpour and face the mountain.
As I wandered up the cobblestone path, I am stopped by a Chinese tourist with a selfie stick, She grabs me and leads me to a large cement statue of of Scooby-Doo in the Chinese Horoscope garden. Yes, Scooby-Doo of Saturday morning cartoon fame. He represents the year of the dog in Vietnamese version of the Chinese horoscope. Mickey Mouse takes place of the year of the rat.
As I wander down the mountain, my thoughts descend to three years prior on that anything but Good Friday. I spent it with my friend Kim at Kafelaku, a new coffee shop in Kunming that specialized in butt bean brew, or coffee made from beans secreted from the rear of a civet cat.
I didn’t think I would survive, not the cup of butt bean brew brew or my husband’s news.
I keep on walking down. I think of the honey. The ladies. The coffee. Our heavy burdens.
At the base of Sapa’s mountain, I see an old catholic church, the landmark in the town where tourists tell each other to meet on the hour.
I walk in. It’s not dusty and loud like the streets, but as clean and pristine as any Catholic church USA. It even has flat screens displaying words of hymns in Vietnamese. I recognize Alleluia.
I feel totally under dressed in my Michigan T-shirt and faded jeans.
The men sit on the left, I plop down on the right in the sea of Black Hmong women, their heads in colorful scarves, their bodies perfumed with hemp, their hands stained blue from indigo dye.
Their flip flops baring toes too calloused to feel the cold that day.
One scoots next to me. Our butts touch, our lives connect as more Black Hmong women pile into the wooden pew like sardines.
She smiles before flipping down the prayer bench. A baby tied to the back of her mom is in front of me.
My prayer list is long that day.
I pray for all of the people in my life who died too young: Forrest, Hayden, Charles, Carolena, Lucien, the baby thrown from the window behind JPUSA. I pray for their parents. I pray for sisters, my mom, my students, my soon to be ex husband. I pray for my tomorrow and thank God for my today. Then I pray for the lady beside me and all of the burdens in her heart.
We all carry heavy burdens. By sharing our stories, they our loads seem lighter.
I wonder, was she a lady I purchased honey from?
Then I prayed for my upcoming anniversary, which didn’t fall on Good Friday, just a Tuesday.
I leave Vietnam. I bring my honey.
I can no longer eat honey. I realize life is sweet.
I call Kim to meet me at the Butt Bean cafe. Her smile brighten the dark cafe like a 1000 watt bulb.
She is not armed with Kleenex, I am no longer crying. I look at the menu board. It’s still close to forty USD for a cup of coffee freshly squeezed from a cat’s behind. I squint to read the names of other peculiar concoctions. Purple potato Latte. Sea Salt Cheese Matcha. Is that a drink…or a just a bad translation?
I stick with water.
Kim and I take a seat in the same room where we sat three years prior. We glance at the table where I wailed and she protected me from the stares of curious Chinese onlookers.
But in that coffee shop, on an anything but special Tuesday, a miracle happened.
I realized I survived.
Yes, life is sweet.