Sometimes I am not sure why I am in Viet Nam; other times, however, it is perfectly clear: I have come to Viet Nam for a long, painful lesson in humility.
Last night after supper, Co Van asked me to peel and cut a mango. As I revel in any small task that makes me feel useful--makes me, moreover, feel like myself again--I immediately obeyed.
After staring blankly at the array of knives in the drawer, seeing none that appeared suitable for my task, I gladly accepted the peeler that Chi Hai handed me. Whether Vietnamese peelers are sub-par or whether the skin of a mango--which is quite thick and strangely rubbery--is simply more difficult than some, I don't know. What I do know is that the skin of that particular mango was loath to part with the fruit in any more than fingernail-sized chunks at a time. However, I persevered, hoping that no one would notice how long it was taking me to perform this task. No such luck. After both Co Van and Chi Hai showed me how to do it properly and everyone else had noticed and laughed, I still could not get the hang of it. Finally, Co Van finished peeling and handed the now-naked mango back to me. Ok, I thought, just cut it, surely you can do that much. What a prime example of speaking too soon! Next thing I knew, I was experiencing surprisingly acute pain in my left pointer finger, which was bleeding rather profusely, and Nga was running for a band-aid.
The thing that drove me crazy (!) was this: I have cut a mango before. In fact, last summer I cut a whole bunch of them--very successfully--for a fruit tray that I served at a small party that my parents had on their ranch. That was only one of the many domestic tasks that I performed quite excellently that day. But people here don't know that.
At home, I am capable of taking care of myself: I can do my own laundry, cook for myself, and cut a cake--or even a mango. Here, I spend my time longing to be useful and to prove myself, and then even the smallest tasks elude my skill and leave me feeling quite inept. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am an intelligent and capable adult; if I don't, I feel like I have regressed back to childhood.
And while I suppose a good dose of humility is not an inherently bad thing--I think I'm supposed to say that it is good for me, and maybe it is--I can't quite bring myself to believe it all the time. The fact is that in in some ways I am just a child here; I can't speak Vietnamese as well as a five-year-old, afterall. But instead of recognizing and accepting this fact--being humble, in other words--I start boiling inside and want to scream at my host family and the country, "I am good at some things!!"
But now I have this band-aid around my finger that serves as a constant reminder of...something. I'm not exactly sure what.
For while it is imortant to accept our weaknesses humbly, I believe that it is also important to recognize our strengths. And even though I fail often, I am good at some things, even if mango-peeling is not always among them. That being said, the point of being good at things is not who knows I am good at them, but what I do with those skills. And also that, no matter how skilled any of us is, we really can't do everything on our own. We all rely on others--even if those of us stubbornly independent types hate to admit it.
Because I love mangos, but I also love my fingers. Clearly, I need a little help.