The orphaned children were on an outing to a popular vacation destination by the sea. We drove to a beachfront hotel, over four hours from the city, in order to see and bestow gifts upon them in an intentionally-public location.
In what surmounted to a loose clandestine mission, we arrived as seaside tourists and started taking pictures of the waves lashing upon the shore while the children were being assembled on a different part of the property. Our Vietnamese worker took the role of a porter, following us with suitcases packed with items for the children, and then diverting towards them while we took photographs of each other in front of security personnel.
We strolled along the beachfront promenade while things were being readied. As we kept up the vacationer façade, I joked to a teammate that "We wouldn’t make very good CIA operatives, would we?" I immediately followed with the self-defacing comment that even mentioning the CIA was pretty much a less-than-smooth move on my part, akin to joking about having a gun in the TSA line.
Our ‘porter’ then came for us, making sure we got a couple of more tourist snapshots in front of the security folks that were enjoying a shaded area together near the beach entry.
We then ‘happened’ upon the children on the other side of the grounds and, after quick bursts of gift-giving and photo-taking, we were gone.
We didn’t escape the attention of the property owner, though, who had made a beeline to the security folks and then to the front desk clerk. The situation appeared to be diffused by two of our Vietnamese comrades, but we were told afterwards that the local pastor, who had been standing out of the way of the whirlwind of activity, would certainly be called upon by government authorities within the next few days. After all, this is a police state.
It’s a delicate balance of openness and persecution here, a constant tightrope of forces pulling against one another. One strength desires to appease the international community; the other seeks to oppress any movements that could potentially cause civil disobedience and unrest.
Sometimes children just happen to get caught in the middle.