AS THE DAY BEGINS  (Read the rest of the story here: "AS THE DAY ENDS")

Schedule: Taxi to bus station at 5:45AM

                A two-hour bus ride to…somewhere!

The phone in my hotel room rang at 5:35. “Your friend is here.”  “Thank you. I’ll be right down.” At the front desk, I hand in my key and walk outside. Expecting, as discussed the previous evening, a short walk to the street from this alley entrance to the hotel, I find my 50-year old friend (my ministry coordinator’s mother-in-law) handing me a helmet. Though I know she does not know English, I say, “I thought we were going by taxi.” “NO!”, she says emphatically as she picks up the bike and sets it in the opposite direction! She does speak English! At least, one word. No! More: “We will take this bike to the bus station.” Seeing her handle that bike so, I choose to offer no further objection.

In the dark of that early morning hour, I dutifully don the helmet and clip the strap under my chin. As she is revving the engine, I get on the bike behind her. My brief case is securely nestled between us. We exited the narrow roadway from the hotel onto a boulevard. And we are off into the not yet heavy traffic in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam. This can’t be too bad, I thought.

We quickly pass my few familiar blocks—yes, there is my favorite restaurant. Then we headed into unknown territory. This can’t be too bad, I again try to reassure myself. But the morning cold of this late winter dawn is nipping at my sports jacket and sweater and shirt and t-shirt and quickly dropping my body temperature to degrees of discomfort. I hunkered down behind her to block as best I could the cold, cutting wind as she sped toward the bus station. This can’t be too bad!

My confidence in my words of self-assurance are waning. She continues alone this road, weaving in and out of gathering traffic. And makes a swift right turn. Somewhere on the somewhat still dark streets, my driver turns to talk to me. NO! I think…keep your eyes on the road and growing tangle of buses and cars and motor bikes and bicycles and carts and pedestrians. But she is trying to ask me something. Her broken English is muffled by her helmet visor and the noise of the road. But I finally understand her oft-repeated question: Are you warm enough? –Yes! Yes!—my half-frozen lips lie to her. What help she could have offered to correct my dilemma at that point, I have no clue.

Satisfied that I was warm, she continued up that street and down this one—past tall, narrow buildings that are beginning to show life of a new day. Some merchants already have their baskets of fruits and vegetables lining the streets, clearly claiming their space for the day’s vending. We turn down an alley. We must be close to the bus station. However, from my past failure to assure myself of my assumptions, I quickly discard that hope. That “alley” only led us onto more streets to put behind us. Surely….soon… I stop hoping. We will be on this freezing ride until the sun sets! No more thoughts and assumptions of the end to this ride are filling my mind.

So I fully take in the sights and sounds and smells of a culture totally unfamiliar to me, yet functioning as if this is the way the whole world turns. The traffic flows like a river, siphoning more and more vehicles from side streets and alleyways, determined to carry their drivers and passengers to their appointments of the day. Huge dump trucks, rumbling busses, motorcycle and person-powered rickshaws, mopeds, Mercedes and VWs, and a “thousand” motorcycles were all vying for the same space. Parents, taking their children to school, dash into the street to push past the bustle of people on the sidewalks. Hawkers are claiming their few square feet of space to sell their wares of combs or cell phones or watches or produce. They seem to pass and merge and snarl and untangle with the precision of a well-orchestrated symphony. Yet, each person is isolated in his own world of thought on his way to his own destination.

I see a bus! Are we going to follow it to the terminal? No! It turns. We don’t. We continue straight ahead. Motorbikes with huge bundles of wares merge and pass scores of bicycles of students on their way to class in their clean, neatly tailored uniforms. Oh! I hope again! Is this the turn into an alley that will take us to the bus terminal? Please, let it be! Surely we must be there. No! The street at the end of the alley widens.

We are in heavy traffic now. She guns the already straining engine as we climb a hill. Oh No! It is a freeway entrance! Fortunately, here they have a barrier between the lanes for vehicles and motor bikes. What? A huge dump truck decided to take the bike lane. With air horn blasting, all smaller bikes and carts…in their good timing, give way to the rumbling truck. When I gather my wits about me—they have been scattered by all the sights and sounds bombarding my mind—I realize that we are on a long…really long…bridge spanning the Red River. Another bus is turning right as we come down off the bridge onto a surface street. No! I won’t even hope…out loud or in my mind. But I did secretly! And I was wrong again! Another several miles. And we turn. In the early morning light, there it is. A bustle of activity as night busses are arriving and early morning busses sluggishly waddle through deep holes, splashing muddy water as they leave on their journey.

I hand my helmet to my driver. She directs me to wait inside. “Wait inside,” she signaled. She rode off on her moto! Through a blur of wonderment, I try to focus. Yes; she is not leaving me, she is driving it to a storage park. A security guard ambles toward me, his night stick in hand. I do not move. I do not flinch. I smile. He doesn’t. He speaks. I speak. We each realize that the other has no clue what each has said. As I walked back to the entrance, he wandered off in another direction. Hopefully, he was satisfied that he had accomplished his purpose by me exiting the building.

A smiling, helmeted man approached me. He held up a key and pointed to his bike. This I understood. Not seeing that I had arrived on a bike, he thought I might want a ride somewhere. A shake of my head lets him know that I am not interested. I saw my only contact with some sort of reality approaching. From a distance of a half a block, she hollers something. I come. She directs me to a bus. We board. The driver takes his seat and revs the engine, grinding it into low gear. The bus is lumbering and dipping one way or the other as it splashes through deep mud holes.

Seven or eight minutes into the ride, she asked, “Hungry?” By what miracle she could have produced something for me to eat, I don’t know. But, I lied again—"No!” I assured her that I was okay. The two pieces of dry, brown bread left over from yesterday’s dinner laying in the pit of my stomach said otherwise. But they were not in charge. The bus sped along, honking at everything in its way. And they move, for, after all, we are now the biggest vehicle on the road. The distance to our destination…still unknown.

My hostess is tired from the hard drive. She makes herself comfortable, curled up in her seat. Neither the honking of the bus’s air horn, the blaring rasp of the TV monitor, nor the bus swaying from side to side on a broken support spring, could keep her from falling asleep. Slowly, gradually as her sleep deepened, her head tilted to the side and eventually found its resting spot on my shoulder.

She sleeps. I close my eyes. The incessant blast of the horn will not allow me the pleasure of sleep, but I will rest. Somewhere…two hours or more from here, 50-60 pastors are gathering to learn some principles of spiritual warfare as they are determined to lead their congregations out into the battle for lost souls.

~~~~to be continued, AS THE DAY ENDS.

READ more stories by Neal and Yvonne Pirolo!