I had been in Cam Duc for three weeks, staying in my friend Thong's house. Thong was at work and Kim Anh, the lady of the house was off to market, leaving me alone in the house with instructions to lock the door should I go out. I was sitting at the kitchen table in front of the open side door with coffee brewing in the Phín on a glass. The season was winter, such as it is in southern Viet Nam and the air was pleasant. My camera was on the table in front of me. I seldom allowed my little digital to
be out of easy reach.
A small girl entered the gate at the street and walked purposefully to the door, stopping only to tell the dog on the step to move so that she could come into the house. She walked
in and stood in front of me and asked me for my camera. I thought, whoa, we have not even been introduced. I asked her name and age. She said she was Kieu and was six years old.
Now I recognized her. She was one of the gang of young cousins that played together and had adopted my daughter who had come with me to Viet Nam. She was the one who always wore the string of pearls.
I told Kieu that she could use my camera if she liked. She reached over and picked it up and studied it, then asked me how to turn it on. I indicated the tiny recessed button on the top and she tried to push it with at first no result because she was using her whole fingertip. After a few attempts she crooked her finger and pushed the button with the end of her nail and the camera lens extended and a red light came on. Then she found the snap button, also recessed but larger, and pushed but was
unable to make it work. I let her work at it for a minute. She showed no frustration but went at it in a determined fashion. Eventually I put my finger on top of hers and pushed a little harder than she had been willing to do and the flash flashed. She understood and did it herself successfully.
Then she stepped a few paces away and pointed the camera at me and snapped a picture. She brought it to me and turned it to show me the result.The picture went away before I could see it so I pressed the button that brought up the last shot taken. She pushed that button again and the picture disappeared again. She repeated and it came back along with a small satisfied smile.
Kieu then proceeded to teach herself how to use my camera. She took upwards of a hundred pictures of me and the dog and of things in the kitchen. She experimented with all the buttons and slides on the back of the device until she knew what they all did, including the telephoto/wide angle slide. She practiced centering the image and learned to hold the camera so that her finger did not get in front of the lens. She learned to wait for the delayed action.
After perhaps 90 minutes she was satisfied that she
had mastered the camera and handed it to me telling me to put it in my pocket and come with her. We went out the door and I locked it as instructed then followed the trained photographer to a house up the block a little ways. She walked right up to the door as she had at Thong's house and I heldback a bit. She stepped back out and told me to come in. A woman's voice asked if that was Ong My and said to come on in and she was glad I came to visit. So I went in the door. I recognized the woman as
Thong's sister and there was a baby on a blanket on the floor. Kieu then took the camera from my pocket and proceeded to take pictures of her new baby sister. That had been the purpose of the self training session.
Kieu is six years old.
I have only met one other child that young who had that sort of attention span and those powers of concentration. He is the son of a lifelong friend and works now for NASA which organization paid for his higher education up through his Doctorate.
The next evening two of Thong's brothers came over for dinner along with their families. In Cam Duc there are no adults-only parties. If there is a social occasion it includes everyone. Kieu was also present and again asked for the use of my camera. I told her where it was but didn't get it for her.
She walked over to the cabinet and got it and commenced to take more pictures of her siblings and cousins. When she was through she returned it to the spot from which she had taken it. I told her she could use it any time she wanted and did not have to ask for it. She came for it again a little later and this time two of the other children, including the 13 year old, got grabby and wanted their turn with it.
At that point I intervened and told them that only Kieu was allowed to touch my camera. Kieu glowed for the rest
of the evening. Have you ever seen someone glow? She held her chin just a tad higher, smiled just a little and she glowed.
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