Storytime: Damrey and Xam

It’s a sunny overcast Friday and I am walking down the streets of the touristic town of Hoi An. My compact camera is in my hand and I shoot some street photography as I walk along. I reach an intersection where dozens of books are laid out in the sun on the sidewalk. I stop and take some pictures while tourists pass by, some notice the unusual display and slow down, others don’t seem to notice and pass along.

I take some close up shots of the wet pages of the books and then move to the other side of the street for a wider angle on the scene to put it in contest.

As I walk around the corner I notice there is a woman sitting on a small stool facing the shop’s entrance with her back to the crowded street. I get closer, curious to see what she is doing: she has a bowl of water between her feet, a piece of cloth in one hand and a box of markers in the other hand. She opens the small plastic box, rinses the markers from the mud wiping them with the rag and places them on the floor to dry.

Before moving to the next object she wipes her tears from her cheek with the back of her hand, she then reaches out to a little stone ornament, submerges it in the water and wipes the mud out of the notches.

I slowly walk to her and kneel by her side putting my hand over her shoulder. She tells me it’s hard to see all her shop destroyed this way, she’s alone taking care of it and no-one else in the family can help. Her English is pretty basic and my Vietnamese not even good enough to order a beer, there’s little to say anyway, the situation speaks louder than us.

Xam walks me into her little overstocked shop: books, stationery items, postcards, toys, all displayed on shelfs or hanging by old nails in the walls, some larger objects float mid air hanging from strings attached to the the ceiling. Everything is dripping wet, often wrapped in plastic bags still full of muddy river water.

Xam runs a small book store in the center of the ancient town of Hoi An, not far from Thu Bon River. When the water level rose her shop got flooded damaging all the goods in it. As tourists walk by her soaked shop she lays out on the sidewalk everything that she can in the attempt to dry in the sun books, markers or handicrafts.

Xam points out a line on the green scraped wall above her head, the water level was there two days ago. She shows me her shop and her soaked dreams. As she touches yet another plastic bag full of water still hanging by the wall she then grabs the products in it and walks outside to clean it leaving me alone in the shop: the humidity inside is almost unbearable. For a while I stand there, motionless, in the middle of the room, as I turn around and look outside Xam is sitting on the stool again, busy washing a wooden toy: a small airplane painted in bright gloss paint. Some tourists behind Xam slow down to take a picture of the shop, they don’t seem to see her.

I walk to the door and sit on the threshold close to Xam. I would like to tell her everything’s gonna be alright, but we both know that’s unlikely. As I take leave and say “tam biet” goodbye, she says “thank you” as I did something.

As I walk away I still have in my hand the business card she gave me, I look at that wet piece of paper, a blue serif font says: “BOOK STORE: specialised in postcard, stationery, fine art goods and fine handicrafts article”.

Climate change is real, is human made and we are all in it but the poorest ones pay the hardest consequences.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Damrey being the strongest Typhoon in 16 years to make landfall in southern Vietnam had a heavy impact on the people living in the area claiming 106 lives and creating damage for over one billion US Dollars.