Vietnamese “green beret” soldiers welcome Lunar New Year in Africa

by NDO13 February 2021 Last updated at 14:52 PM

Vietnamese soldiers on a peacekeeping mission Central Africa celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Vietnamese soldiers on a peacekeeping mission Central Africa celebrate the Lunar New Year. - Vietnamese soldiers on peacekeeping missions in Central Africa and South Sudan attach paper peach blossoms to a tree branch and buy banana leaves to wrap banh chung in celebration of the Lunar New Year.

At 7pm on February 11 in South Sudan, 5 time zones away from Vietnam, more than 60 officers and soldiers at a field hospital straightened their costumes, saluted the flag and sang the national anthem to see in the New Year. On the TV screen was a video of fireworks exploding over the skies of Hanoi.

With hands on their chest and eyes looking towards the motherland, they offered incense to President Ho Chi Minh and listened to General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong’s New Year greetings. The soldiers, away from home, were moved upon hearing the top leader extend his wishes to all Vietnamese people both at home and abroad.

Raising their glasses, giving warm hugs and making wishes of peace, Vietnamese doctors on the UN peacekeeping mission looked to the small stage and watched a home-made arts programme.

“We called back home to inquire after our family members on New Year’s eve. This is the second Tet of the hospital staff in South Sudan although the tenure was expected to be just one year”, said Lieutenant Colonel Vo Van Hien, director of the field hospital, explaining the tenure has been lengthened due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last year, guests invited to the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebrations included a large number of service members on the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. But this year, the celebrations were only held internally to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Earlier Senior Colonel Nguyen Ba Hung, a military observer, and a number of officers working in the capital Juba, had managed to complete their work and returned to the Bentiu base, 900 kilometres from the capital, to celebrate Tet along with military doctors.

“A shipment of supplies was dispatched from Vietnam to South Sudan at the end of the year so that soldiers here could have a warm Tet. In addition to medical supplies and protective gear, we also received essential food such as vermicelli, shiitake mushroom and cloud ear fungus”, said Senior Lieutenant Le Trong Nghia, adding the hospital management board also ordered additional purchases of beef, goat meat, chicken and banana leaves to make banh chung so that the hospital staff’s year end party could include all the traditional dishes as in Vietnam.

With much fewer staff than the South Sudan mission, there are only 7 Vietnamese officers working at the peacekeeping mission in Central Africa. In addition to four at the headquarters in the capital Bangui, three others are working in different regions. Senior Lieutenant Ngo Xuan Tung, a military observer, travelled to Bangui to celebrate Tet with his comrades.

At the start of a new year, five “green beret” soldiers burn incense on the altar dedicated to President Ho Chi Minh, praying for peace and prosperity for Vietnam. “Since the mission does not allow us to be off for Tet, we tried to complete the work as soon as possible and go home to make preparations. At 6pm, everything was ready to ring in a new year as here we are six time zones away from Vietnam”, said Lieutenant Colonel Luu Dinh Hien, commander of the Vietnamese force in Central Africa.

In order to have a warm year-end meal, the soldiers spent their weekends and hours off work looking for the necessary goods to make banh chung. Each soldier completed their own task, from washing rice, processing meat and washing leaves to wrapping and boiling banh chung. Those who had never wrapped banh chung in Vietnam have now become experts in making the dish.

After the banh chung are cooked and meatloaves made, they were packed and sent by air to soldiers stationed in different regions. Due to Covid-19, the soldiers invited no one to the year-end party. However, traditional dishes such as spring rolls were be made in surplus so that they could be offered to colleagues in other departments to enjoy.

“In Central Africa, there is no spring, no drizzle and no peach blossom, so we fetched a tree branch and used paper flowers brought from home for decoration. We also bought blinking lights to install on the tree and now we have a sparkling peach branch”, said Lieutenant Colonel Hien.

He said they also worked hard to prepare a fruit tray with different kinds of fruit, although there are no bananas. Green vegetables were self-supplied in various forms including Jute mallow, Malabar spinach, mustard, amaranth, sponge gourd and herbs.

“Next year when the pandemic is fully under control, we will extend New Year greetings to the Vietnamese community in Central Africa”, said Hien.

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