Pho of Love

Meet Mrs. Rochom:

She's the one in the middle between her two teenaged daughters.

She’s the one in the middle between her two teenaged daughters.

Mrs. Rochom (who’s first name I can neither spell nor pronounce) possesses a love that transcends language barriers. Each time I visit her house to talk about her daughter’s progress in school, she motions me to sit on the couch, insists that I take a bottle of water and a donut from the factory she works in (or a box of donuts), and then sits herself down the floor in front of me and spends the next half hour trying to express her gratitude and hope with the few English words that she knows.

Sometimes she tries to tell me stories from her home in Vietnam. She brings out laminated pictures–precious pieces of her childhood. She talks in broken sentences about how she was just a teenager when she got married and how she’s so excited that her girls have the chance at an education before having families of their own.

By the time I leave her house, she’s given me another bottle of water for the road and either donuts from her place of work or cleaning supplies from her husband’s place of work (another factory).

Then one day, she came into our school and insisted that she wanted to make lunch for everyone as a way to thank us. “One7 help my girl… they help my family… I make lunch here. Monday.”

So on Monday, we had a traditional Vietnamese lunch: pho soup with egg rolls on the side.

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Tri and Kiet helped Mrs. Rochom serve egg rolls, rice noodles (for the pho), and salad (also for the pho) to our students. On the right, the student’s respective home countries are Thailand, Mexico, and Iraq, front to back.

It was my first time eating pho soup. I needed some instruction on how to do it properly. The girls put salad on my plate made with lettuce, cilantro, bean sprouts, and cucumber; and  rice noodles in my bowl. Mrs. Rochom poured the soup broth, meat, and quail eggs over the noodles. There was also fish sauce, sugar, and Sriracha sauce to go on top. “You can eat the salad on the plate or mix it with the soup,” Tri said. This little fact shed a lot of light on how our Vietnamese students eat salad and soup at school–they always insist on mixing their salad in with the soup, or even into their pasta dishes.

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mmm. Quail eggs and various types of meat over rice noodles!

The soup was delicious! But also required a napkin.

Mrs. Rochom spent the lunch hour running around the room with more to fill people’s bowls and saying “Thank you, teacher.” ever time she passed me. She kept insisting that we take more and brought by every option to offer another helping. In very few words, she showed a heart full of love and thanksgiving to a room full of hungry girls and women.

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Offering Everything

I once met a man named Jason on a lonely downtown street in the middle of the night. In a time when I needed someone and had no one, he reminded me that God is always there.

I sat on the wrong side of a heavy barrier chain, which was meant to keep people a few steps away from the river in Wilmington, North Carolina. I wasn’t going to try anything. I just wanted to be close to the water and watch the currents. Like, real close. The town was dead quiet. The only living thing I saw was a rat that ran over my foot without giving me a second’s thought. I had kind’a hoped it’d stay. Anything to make me fell less alone.

Jason shuffled cautiously towards me from the street behind. “Are you alright?” He asked. “You’re not gonna jump are you? You’re awfully close to that ledge.”

I stood up and looked him over. He was bony, dirty, and disheveled. His clothes hung off of him like sheets on a wire.

I had seen him just a few nights before. I had watched him beg a man for some money. He explained that he was trying to find work and had even asked a store if he could clean their windows for some food. But they had thrown him out. The man had turned him away. So I had offered him some money, but he politely refused to take it and in a gentlemanly gesture said, “I’m not going to take money from a lady.”

Here he was again with his hands stretched out–not to beg for help, but to offer it. Without getting too close to me, he asked me to step back over the chain and away from the edge. I did. The irony of this scrawny, homeless man trying to help me was overwhelming. He had nothing, but he knew what I needed. We hugged. His ribs stabbed me and his shoulder blades pressed on my arms. He felt fragile.

He told me his name and we started talking. He said he used to live further north, but then his wife divorced him. He moved to Wilmington to get a new start, but couldn’t find work and had soon lost his home. The night that I first saw him, he was arrested for begging–a controversial new law to keep tourists happy. This night at the river was his first night out of jail and back on the streets–just in time to be a friend to someone who needed one.

He never asked me for money, but I offered it to him again. This time he took it gratefully and said he was going to find a homeless shelter. That was the last time I saw Jason–the man who reached out to me in my time of need and offered the only thing he had.

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