Ahead of the lunar New Year (Tet) 2023, she spent time sharing her experience on welcoming the traditional Tet while conducting tasks in the host country.

Looking back on memories of the Tet 2022 in South Sudan, Colonel Vu Thi Kim Oanh said that a few days before the holiday, Vietnamese soldiers on duty in South Sudan planned to fulfill all tasks so as to spend the traditional festive together in the Level-2 Field Hospital (L2FH) Rotation 4 in Bentiu, Unity State, nearly 1,000km from the South Sudanese capital of Juba, celebrating the lunar New Year.

Military observer Vu Thi Kim Oanh (third from right) and the U.N. staff who are on duty in South Sudan

Prior to the “Ong Cong - Ong Tao” (Land Genie and Kitchen Deities) ceremony on the 23rd of the last lunar month of the year, the hospital’s leaders rode to Juba to buy necessities for the Tet. It is hard to find everything in a hot and dry country like South Sudan that is still under a civil war.

South Sudan does not have Dong (phrynium) leaves, so people decided to make Chung (Vietnamese traditional sticky rice) cakes with banana leaves, but it was not easy to find banana leaves. In Bentiu, the only “specialty” is the red dust of the land, the vastness of the sky, and the immense flood water. Although they crossed thousands of kilometers back to the capital of Juba, went to the corners of the mission, and then to the units of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, there were no banana leaves. Finally, when they went to a Thai unit, there was a banana tree. Although the leaves were tattered, everyone was happy.

Military observer Vu Thi Kim Oanh and her male comrades from many countries in the world on duty in South Sudan

South Sudanese people do not eat pork. Therefore, a few months before Tet, the L2FH Rotation 4 bought piglets (which are rare and very expensive) to raise. Meanwhile, sticky rice, green beans, and other ingredients must be brought from Vietnam.

In hot weather conditions, comrades from other countries also came to the Vietnamese L2FH Rotation 4 to make Chung cakes. After nearly a day, about 100 Chung cakes were made to serve the Vietnamese peacekeepers and offer to peacekeepers from other countries on duty in Bentiu so as to introduce Vietnamese culture to international friends.

On the New Year’s Eve, the Vietnamese blue berets gathered to welcome the lunar New Year and received Tet greetings from the director of the Vietnam Peacekeeping Department. Lucky money in red envelopes was presented to them as the symbol of luck and peace.

U.N. staff and Vietnamese blue berets together making Chung cakes in South Sudan to welcome the lunar New Year 2022

Leaders of the L2FH Rotation 4 set up plans for the three-day Tet holiday in Bentiu. The headquarters were decorated. Folk games, traditional activities, art, and sports exchanges were also held on the occasion. Time flied. “I came back to Juba with many emotional feelings and was extremely proud of our unique traditional features introduced to international friends. This was a special traditional Tet in my military service,” added Colonel Vu Thi Kim Oanh.

On her first days in the host country, military observer Vu Thi Kim Oanh felt nervous. However, she quickly kept up with her tasks and promptly performed assigned missions. The major task of military observers here is to patrol: patrol the city; conduct short-term patrols to districts, villages, and communes within a radius of 100km, or long-term patrols (usually lasting less than two weeks); and patrol by helicopters or ships to places inaccessible by road.

She still bears in mind her first patrol on October 3, 2021. “When I arrived at a local public security checkpoint, I met a public security troop, a native guy, to ask for entry into the area and to get to know more about the situation in the area. He showed his friendliness as he knew I was Vietnamese.”

Translated by Minh Anh