Ever wonder how there are always some people in the most remote corners of the globe that speak English when the news crews show up for some disaster or uprising? Think Good Morning Vietnam only replace the amorous Robin Williams with an intrepid traveling granny who loves helping people have a chance at a better life by teaching ESL (English as a Second Language). English that helps child street vendors sell to American tourists to be able to survive, that helps local wait staff get better tips from those tourists to support their families, that enables future Vietnamese Airline pilots learn the required language to fly commercial planes to airports worldwide.
The snow was on the ground at her little house in Montana when Donna Morang’s daughter sent her information on ESL. She was ready for sunshine, white sand beaches and crystal clear water. First stop, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in November 2000 where she would take a class in teaching ESL. She was the oldest one there, but she not only passed after the required 150 hours of instruction, she discovered that “most cultures honor and respect older people who are considered wise.”
However, this is no staid teacher. From Mexico to Central and South America, from Indonesia to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, Morang seeks out the non-touristy neighborhoods and immerses herself in the authentic culture, bringing some American color with her. There isn’t a local dish she won’t try, including dog, snake meat and fried insects. She bellies up to the bar for the local beer, her favorite wine, tequila shots or rum—whatever is favored by the clientele with whom she never fails to make friends. She’ll join in for karaoke and dance till dawn with young male suitors who find her intoxicating.
This vagabond life is not without its mishaps. Morang was stung by a poison fish she stepped on in shallow Mexican waters, stung by microscopic jellyfish in Indonesia, got parasites and a fungus in Latin America, even got hit by a car that busted up her knee in the crazy traffic of the Far East, so that she had to knock it back in place with her fist, and then seek medical attention. Most interesting was that she trusted local homeopathic remedies which, in every instance, worked for her.
I would love to see the videos to go with this real deal travelogue: of interminable bus rides over iffy roads through deep dark jungles, of surviving hurricanes on and fishing off of Caribbean islands, visiting gorgeous cities and timeless ruins, traveling to work by cyclo (bicycle rikshaw) in Ho Chi Minh City, colecting shells and swimming off pristine beaches and so much more.
Big Backpack—Little World is written in colloquial style so that it reads like the letters you never got from your kids (or at least I never did) when they set out to see the world. Morang judges no one, helps whomever she can and is loved, respected and protected in return.
Boomers, if you think the best is over, read this book.