In late October 2019, Colonel Le Ngoc Son, an officer of the Vietnam Department for Peacekeeping Operations had a small party prepared by his wife with Vietnamese dishes to bid farewell to his family and friends before leaving for the UN peacekeeping missions in South Sudan. At the moment, tightly holding her husband’s hands, she said in tears that the family would wait for Son to return home after his term expires to celebrate Tet. For this year’s Tet holiday, she just hoped that he will have internet so he can communicate with their family on the New Year’s Eve.

To encourage his wife, a smiling Son said that in spite of the difficulties and challenges, the blue-beret troops still welcome the traditional Tet holiday in a festive atmosphere.

In 2017, it was the first time Son and four Vietnamese soldiers serving at the UN peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic had Tet there and it became the most memorable Tet festival for him and his friends. At that time, they were living in an apartment on a small street in Bangui, an area very similar to rural Vietnam. At the end of December Bangui enters the dry season. In the morning of the Lunar New Year’s Eve, they cleaned the house and went to a market to buy food to prepare a meal for New Year’s Eve. Son was assigned to go to the market but it was difficult to find fruits or vegetables at the Bangui market. Finally, he found two bunches of green bananas and a pineapple.

Colonel Le Ngoc Son introduces about Vietnamese traditional Tet

According to Son, the most difficult thing was to find ingredients for wrapping Chung cakes. In Bangui, pork is so luxurious that he could only buy it after nearly 9 months living there. Dong leaves (used to wrap banh Chung, square cake) were also very rare and they thought they might use banana leaves instead. Luckily, a villager offered him four bundles of Dong leaves. On a military canvas spread out at the corner of the yard, Vietnamese soldiers and children in the street wrapped Chung cakes. The traditional cakes of Vietnam were successfully cooked in a far away country.

In Bangui, Son met Mrs Luyen, a Hanoian who followed her husband to the Central African Republic more than 64 years ago and has been living there since then. In the afternoon, the Vietnamese soldiers invited her to enjoy the Lunar New Year’s Eve’s meal with them. Son remembered that in front of the altar with a picture of Uncle Ho, Luyen was silent for a moment and then prayed for her ancestors in Vietnam. She wished the people in her hometown a happy new year.

“Thank you, the soldiers of Vietnam. I used to think that until I passed away, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the atmosphere of a Vietnamese traditional Tet anymore,” she spoke in both Vietnamese and French.

Translated by Lam Anh