|Host with the most: Liz (facing the group) holds court in her living room. She heads the English Conversation Group at the Hanoi International Women's Club (HIWC). — Photo courtesy of Victoria Fritz
by Victoria Fritz
Liz is an American who has been living with her husband in Ha Noi for the last seven years. She heads the English Conversation Group at the Hanoi International Women's Club (HIWC).
Liz has also been teaching various groups of young Vietnamese children how to speak English. To them, she is the English teacher. But to a diverse and evolving society of women who regularly troop to her home on Mondays for "Conversations in English", she is much more than that: adviser, confidant, surrogate mother, friend.
Her name, appropriately enough, sounds like the Spanish word for light – "luz". And she lights the way every start of the week for us, women of different colors and tongues.
Our classes are not the strict, stand up and speak type of set-up. In Liz' group, the first requirement is to have fun. One class even saw us converging at the zoo, riding on swan boats.
In her living room, conversations always begin with an easy question: Name three things you can find in your kitchen. Next comes a more incisive one: Which family member are you closest to? The answer to each one already gives us a peek into each other's personalities, with conversations inevitably taking detours.
Which famous person would you like to meet? Mrs Lee from Korea said, "Cleopatra. She was known as the most beautiful woman of her time. I would like to see for myself and confirm." Now how can you argue with an answer like that?
Barbara from Germany came with boxes of delicious cookies or other pastries, and others took turns doing the same. The surprise treats added to the attraction.
The "Most Dedicated Student Award" would certainly go to Kaoru of Japan. She would come all the way from Hai Phong just to attend the class. Every single Monday.
Satomi, who is very shy, is still tops for baking the best cake I've ever tasted in Ha Noi. She baked a cream cake for Liz's birthday last March.
Le My, a Vietnamese married to a foreigner, is a jewel for helping us out during encounters with locals and giving directions to various restaurants around town. Classes are never complete without the ladies lunch adventure at the end. Lately, we've been venturing far, to Long Bien to try out Jollibee (a Filipino fast food joint) and to Royal City for some Carl's Jr. experience.
We've also become a support group for each other. When New Yorker Suchi had a soft opening for her new boutique, Cattan, we all dropped by to try on the clothes, buy or otherwise give valuable feedback.
Mimi and I speak English well already, but we come to class see our friends, contribute to the conversation, and join in the fun.
Arriving in a new city is daunting to most people. The language can't be deciphered, directions are impossible, and asking for a glass of water can be a major challenge. Cultural differences only worsen the loneliness. In each other, we have found comfort and support. The English Conversation Group has certainly been a pillar of strength in my life here. To put that famous Karen Carpenter song on it's head, rainy days and Mondays, or even rainy Mondays, never brought me down. I had Liz and the girls to look forward to.
Now all that may be changing. Marina said, "It's hard to believe Liz is really leaving."
It's time I looked for another refrain. — VNS