Women Warriors: Hue, Vietnam

Returning for a moment now to a project that I worked on last summer in Hue, Vietnam, on women who fought in the war with the United States.  In addition to the small written piece below, you’ll find portraits of the women with testimonies accompanying each image.  This is still a work in progress, and so any and all feedback is much appreciated!

Yes, she acknowledged, the women had been good soldiers.  But they had paid dearly for their war service, in ways that men had not…stress, backbreaking labor, malnutrition, contact with death and blood had eventually robbed these young girls of the very future they sought to defend when they left home in the first place.

Karen Turner, Even the Women Must Fight p 4

Thirty-six years after she last took aim with her AK-47 assault rifle, Ngo Thi Thuong’s phone rang.

General Võ Nguyên Giáp was looking for the young lady who had shot down the American bomber in June 1968.  In the nearly four decades that had past since then, she had worked many jobs and raised three children.  And until now, her tale had little recognition beyond a retelling to her kids.

Heroines and striking female figures are not new in Vietnam – they have played an integral role in Vietnamese history for millennia.  In the 1st century C.E., the Truing sisters, often called Vietnam’s earliest national patriots, rebelled against the Chinese Han Dynasty for three years.  The female legacy is no different today; in all of Vietnam’s recent conflicts, women were crucial. They fought alongside men and carried heavy loads down the Ho Chi Minh Trail until 1973.

Yet their stories remain largely unheard.  As Karen Turner notes in Even the Women Must Fight, “women warriors, so essential to Vietnam’s long history and so important in the most photographed are in history, have remained invisible.”

These are the stories of six women, all soldiers for the North Vietnamese Army in the American War, and mothers of the nation’s children.  For some, motherhood came before they fought.  For others, it was not until after they had returned home.  In all cases, their experiences fighting directly shaped their children’s lives – those children that became the next generation of Vietnamese.  Their stories provide a means of seeing how a nation torn by conflict for decades has rebuilt itself, has been nurtured back into a whole.


photos: first two weeks in review

Reviewing the first fortnight in pictures, including a trip to some of Old Dhaka’s historic sights, a bit of shalwar kameez shopping, and even my first real coffee in Bangladesh. Click through for captions if you’d like, and enjoy!


the importance of global reporting

Mort Rosenblum, a wonderful writer and reporter; former editor of the International Herald Tribune; special correspondent for The Associated Press; AP bureau chief in Africa, Southeast Asia, Argentina, and France; and founding editor of the quarterly, dispatches, has just written a correspondents’ field guide and a fascinating view into foreign reporting, by the title of Little Bunch of Madmen.  He is committed to the need of training young reporters and having people on the ground, where and when news is happening, rather than receiving it through a wire service, and his book speaks to why and how this needs to happen.

He recently wrote a short piece on these matters, and I don’t think you can’t say it much more clearly than this:

Now any citizen can commit journalism, and this is a wondrous thing. No longer, as A.J. Liebling wrote, is freedom of the press restricted to those who own one. This is also scary as hell. Simply owning a scalpel does not equip you to remove a gall bladder. And even with med school behind you, you cannot operate from an ocean away…Societies get the news coverage they deserve. Our endless national debate is not about “the media” but rather its target: all of us. Demand something better and pay the cost. Go viral. Get mad as hell and don’t take it anymore.

You can read the piece in full here.  I strongly encourage you to check out the book – very reasonably priced at $12! – and to consider what he says: to think about the news you’re getting, how it can get better, and how you can help make it so.



So there are a number of things that are taking some getting used to here, from allowing 2 hours for a 10km commute, to figuring out how to properly tuck my mosquito net in to keep the hungry little buggers out.

But one of the things that has been the strangest to acclimate to is, seemingly, one of the simplest.  Namely, that the workweek here starts on Sunday rather than Monday.  Evidence for my needing a bit more time to adjust?  Check out this except from a gchat between my Mom and me:

Patricia: I thought you were off line bse you had to go see your affiliate.

me: welllllll
the week starts on Sunday here
so Sunday is Monday
so i thought today was Wednesday
(third day of the week)
it’s not!
my meeting is on Wednesday

It’s surely one of many differences between Boston and Dhaka.  Time and time again, in conversation after conversation, I’ve been asked something along the lines of, “This must be such a different place from where you’re from.”  My response is always – Absolutely.  In some ways, more than I expected.  I didn’t really think that much about the challenges of being a woman in Dhaka before I left.  Or what an unspoken curfew at nightfall would feel like.

But the similarities are there, too.  And oddly enough, more and more are emerging as I get to know Dhaka and its residents better.  The people I’ve been meeting have been incredibly politically active – seemingly everyone has an insightful opinion to share on the history of and current state of affairs in Bangladesh.  The city is chock full of universities and academics asking all sorts of interesting questions and working on thoughtful projects.  Plus, it’s pretty darn humid here, too.

And that meeting on Wednesday (the fourth day of the week) referenced in the conversation above?  It’s a prime example of the former.  One of the biggest worries of those of us here doing independent research is being stuck with lame duck affiliates.  But Dr. Rahman, the affiliate that I was meeting with, who was an INSPIRE fellow at the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts last fall, is certainly no lame duck – both brilliant and enthused, he’s wanting to get started right away.  It was a heartening encounter, to be sure.

As was dinner tonight.  I’ve a classic and acute case of welcome to Bangladesh! food poisoning the past couple of days, which kept me out of my first day of Bangla classes.  But after a lot of Propel and even more sleep, I’m now taking on dinners and verb conjugations in (fairly) full force.  Yay!!

There’s a whole lot more to the past week, but for now, I’ll leave it there, with a good morning! to America and a whole lot of love to send home.  Someone have a good cup of Diesel coffee for me!

Rickshaw riding down our street in Baridhara at twilight.