Saturday, October 06, 2007

Racing Time Back Around the Globe

First, let me take this moment to say to all of you that I had a chance to see in the US – it was WONDERFUL to meet up with you again. Thank you for your hospitality, your conversation, your re-arranging of schedules, and for picking up right where we left off, making me feel as though no time has passed since we saw each other last. It is the greatest blessing to know that I am surrounded by friends, near and far, and to know that I can count on you whenever I may wander into your neighbourhoods. And all of you may be assured of a warm welcome should you ever wander to where I may be.

To all of those that I didn’t have the chance to see on this trip – I hope and pray that the next trip will be the one for you. There are still so many stories to share and lives to be updated on, meals to be eaten and walks to be taken – my blessings abound and my cup overfloweth.

In a brief summary of the blessings of this last trip: I spent my first days/nights with my grandparents and aunt and uncle over Labor Day. That time passed all too quickly, then it was back for the mandatory doctor’s and dentist appointments. My nurse practitioner, though he tried, could find absolutely nothing wrong with me and pronounced me again healthy as a horse, and the dentist could only pin me down to seal a couple of teeth that were threatening future difficulties (hah, take that PC Mada Adventist Dentist – here they only seal those teeth you were threatening to drill for no good reason! Glad I stopped your advances). That sent me on my way to Washington, D.C., where I was received at the US Meva in the Hood of Little Tana and was entertained in full Mada style with a constant flow of new PC faces, food, conversation and recreational opportunities.

Next to Minnesota and some quality time with my college roommate of four years. Kristi has received me as a guest almost every year since our college days and I hope we can continue the ritual of her visiting me in every place that I live. Then it was down into Iowa to see a high school classmate and her family, then to more college friends, two of which have the audacity to get married just after I returned to Vietnam. Best wishes Sarah and Jon – my visit leaves me in no doubt of your future happiness together, especially with good mentors like Amy and Peter close by. All of the couples I visited on my trip demonstrate only the best of what there is to be had in committed relationships – may you long be role models to the world. As with the next pair that I met with – who I hadn’t seen since college or since their marriage. How lucky you all are!

Then it was back up to Decorah for a quick breeze through the ole alma mater grounds and to grab my sister from her weekend army reserves drill and head back north. We stopped over at her new grad school accommodations for the night before going home. She made only a brief stop-off to pick up the loveable monster she calls a dog (but resembles more of a pony), so most of the time I had to spend with her was in the car. Then I was off to catch up with the local crowd.

I made some local excursions to see a variety of local friends, was invited to give a couple of presentations about Vietnam, and celebrated my 10 year class reunion at a local restaurant. I even managed to find some time to enjoy picking apples, making pies and to enjoy the extraordinary fall colors. It seems I chose the perfect time to be home this year. Autumn is undoubtedly my favorite time of year, and for the first time in 3 years, I had the chance to enjoy the fruits of the season (and I’ve made it back to Vietnam in plenty of time to enjoy a second fall here…whenever it should choose to arrive).

The next week our home was invaded by my father’s family celebrating the marriage of my oldest cousin. My cousin and her new husband, who were married in their home in the Alaska bush in early August, made the grand tour of the lower 48, with the last stopover being here. Their arrival set off a whole stream of family events, not the least of which was the opportunity to have a final memorial for my grandmother who went to her rest in February. In a rare even, most of our family and close friends were gathered together in my grandparents’ favorite place during their lifetimes to enjoy the stillness and beauty of nature, to enjoy excellent food and companionship, and to share our favorite memories and cherished family stories that will remain forever a part of the family oral history.

Family time in this journey was all too short as I didn’t have the opportunity to reconnect with cousins on my mother’s side or spend more time with that family. There were also other friends that I didn’t see and can only hope to see in future travels home. My life is simply too large to piece into a single month, and for that I am grateful. But I am also grateful that there was time for silence, time for reflection, and time for future planning – something that all too often gets shoved aside or is impossible to find in my daily life over here. And so, inevitably, the first of October came and found me waiting for (a yet-again delayed) airplane that would take me on the first leg of a journey halfway around the world.

But my story doesn’t quite stop there. I also had the chance to stay for two nights in Japan with a friend, formerly an intern with ADRA in Vietnam, now an employee of ADRA Japan. She met me at Tokyo Narita airport, helped me negotiate the entirely too-complex public transportation system into Tokyo where I stayed with her family in the heart of the city. We went to museums and other local sights, we ate Japanese food, and of course visited the ADRA Japan offices. Her mother overflowed with kindness, giving me not only the best of her local preparations, but also yogurt starter from the Caspian Sea that her family has grown and cultured to carry to Vietnam. They took me into the strangest of venues for dinner – we tromped through Tokyo’s famous fish market until we came upon a door half-hidden behind some industrial piping and packing equipment where we entered a restaurant serving some of the best (and obviously freshest) sushi and sashimi on earth! They treated me as a guest of honor as we enjoyed some of Japans famous oddities and fish with names that simply don’t translate into English. Then they took me, full and half nodding-off, on a great night tour of Tokyo.

The next day was my final return to Vietnam. I experienced only kindness and understanding throughout my entire journey from airlines and immigrations, and have no complaints about anything except the general culture shock of being back in a place where cleanliness is not necessarily considered an indication of godliness. Today I am home, safe and sound, but already there is a wish for the peace of a northern Wisconsin morning and for the orderliness of a well-observed road system. It’s good to see how much of the language I still remember after a month of disuse, and I am excited to see that they have painted the new hotel across from my office a nice, sunny yellow-orange that brings sunshine into my office and bedroom window even on the dreariest of days (and yesterday was quite dreary). Still, it’s difficult to leave so many enjoyable things behind and face down a year’s worth of work ahead. But I have a month of beautiful memories to hold on to and to ration out over the next year. Thank you and I love you all.

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