Sunday, December 24, 2006

And now for a bit of fun

So, fortunately, my first week here hasn't been all drudgery. Several exciting things happened that really helped me feel much more at home very quickly.

First, I am quickly learning that I have a fabulous staff to work with - and a huge part of the gratitude for that goes to my predecessor in this job, Ali Crandall. Ali and I went to school at Loma Linda together, and honestly, she's one of the most amazing people I know. For starters, she came into this project when it was in ruins, and, without speaking a word of Vietnamese, not having a proper orientation (like the fabulous one she's giving me), never having administratively managed staff or project budgets like, while still just being in the process of hiring a translator, AND without any social support AT ALL, she took the project and completely turned it around and has now made the 3 projects here some of the strongest public health projects I have ever seen. Kudos to you Ali - I can't thank you enough.

Lam (second from the front, in glasses) with her co-workers as the engagement equivalent of bridesmaids - all her co-workers from the ADRA office!
So, part of that project turn around was Ali's building up and hiring a wonderful staff. Most of them are young, but the youthful energy is well-balanced with some well-placed mature wisdom. Intelligence, drive and commitment are all universal qualities. As is fun-loving and caring. All of them have unhesitatingly welcomed me in and accepted me as their soon-to-be number 1.

And so this week we were taken to a variety of events, starting with Lam's engagement party (an event only the closest of friends are invited to here).

And all the food!

During a monthly staff meeting, one of the staff members decided to give a presentation on traditional Vietnamese mountain culture (from the Tay ethnic group). Visuals included powerpoint with pictures and description of traditional clothes, music and - these staff members modeling the traditional black dress:

BTW: They DO indeed wear those iconic conical hats on a daily basis around here, but not this particular ethnic group. You'll see plenty of pictures of those here in the future, I am sure.

Then there was the festival of floating cakes on December 22nd. Floating cakes are a traditional rice-flour ball boiled in a sugar/ginger syrup that are often eaten around the Winter Solstice to celebrate warmth in a time of cold and dark. One of the staff members decided it would be a great idea if we all went out one night to eat them - and eat we did!! Ate so enthusiastically that I even forgot to take a picture of the finished product!!

Then on Saturday Ali arranged to throw a Christmas party, complete with Santa Claus, but our staff decided that we needed a big Vietnamese feast to carry us through before hand. So they spent all morning cooking up a HUGE storm in our kitchen, while we frantically scrambled to decorate the conference room in advance of the arrival fo 45 (!) Christmas revelers!

(The Christmas hats were a Veitnamese addition...)

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