03 November 2010

Belated October Newsletter

Hi all,
Just letting you know that I've finished the October newsletter. Let me know if you want to be added to the update email list.

25 October 2010

Call to Remembrance

For all my whining and complaining (which I know are not Christian virtues, but I’m human) I recognize that it is a privilege and an honor to be here in Vietnam at this moment in time. Yes, it is undeniably true that there are numerous challenges and frustrations, on both a large and small scale. Physically, it’s uncomfortable most of the time, I get tired of eating rice or wading through shin deep water to get to my door when it’s raining, and try as I might, I still know only the basics of the language. But, there are moments that all those petty frustrations fade into the background and I’m suddenly hit with the grace that abounds in this reality.

Earlier this week, Richard Farrant’s “Call to Remembrance” served as a very much needed (figurative) slap upside the head. Even at Hesston, this song had a special pull on me. I remember clearly turning off the lights in the choir room one day, standing there with my eyes closed as I let this chorale arrangement of Psalm 25 bring things into much needed perspective. As our voices rose in harmonies that still make my breath catch in my chest, these words echo still: “Call to remembrance, O Lord, Thy tender mercies and Thy loving kindness, which hath been ever of old, O remember not the sins and offences of my youth: but according to Thy mercy think Thou on me, O Lord, for Thy goodness.” Too often, it’s so easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day realities that I face. In my humanity, I tend to dwell on the negative. I forget to remember that living and working in Vietnam is a gift and evidence of God’s loving-kindness. Being surrounded by the physical beauty of this place, looking up at the moon on an evening bike ride through the city, spending time in the presence of talented and gracious people who are trying to make the best of a limited and limiting context are all wonderful examples of just how present God is in this place.

I know there will come times, both in the near and far future, when I again forget these gifts of grace and glimpses of God. But right now, I feel the call to remembrance and am grateful.

09 October 2010

Trading Life in the Emerald City for a Weekend in Sepia-toned Kansas

No, dear reader, I am not in Kansas. Rather, this weekend is my second return journey to Long Xuyen in the month that I’ve been back in Vietnam. And in more than one way, I feel very much like Dorothy who, upon waking, can say nothing more than “There’s no place like home…”
Last year, in dusty Long Xuyen one of the sources of joy and sustenance for some of us foreign volunteers was our occasional trips to Can Tho for grocery shopping and takeout pizza. In a town where the Western food option (as in singular) was the Jolibee at Co-Op mart and we couldn’t even find cheddar cheese, Can Tho loomed like the spires of the Emerald City. Cheese, microwave popcorn, peanut butter filled the aisles of our favorite supermarket and we always left having spent several hundred thousand VND. Next on our routine tour of the city was lunch at Cappuccino’s. This highly popular restaurant is frequented by Can Tho’s large tourist population and boasts an extensive menu of Western delights. After several weeks of nothing but rice, rice and more rice, there are no words to describe the joys of ooey-gooey melted cheese! The only downside to the restaurant is its ONE oven and the ensuing wait to get one’s pizza. There is a way around this hurdle, however, and it’s one that worked well for us: We did not order pizza for our meal. Instead, we’d choose something else from the menu like lasagna, burgers, or fish and chips. Then, as we would leave, we would place to-go orders for the pizza that we’d pick up after we’d finished our shopping. Brilliant, and it made for good eats for the next few days.
Our visits were never long, and I’ll admit, returning to Long Xuyen was occasionally a challenge after those few brief hours in Technicolor. When weighing my options for my second year in Vietnam, I said at one point, “Well… if nothing else is different, at least I’ll be able to get pizza.” While my consideration of making the move to Can Tho was affected, at least slightly, by the wider array of creature comforts it offered.
Flash forward five months: The Emerald City is now home. I’ve left the dusty, sepia-tones of small city life in Vietnam. It’s bigger, louder, disorienting, and more crowded. It’s no longer a novelty to see another Westerner walk down the street and people don’t stop and stare at me as much as they did last year. But life in the big city is not the glorious OZ that I anticipated. Physical discomfort aside for now, I think the main difference is that it is lonelier. Like city living in general, the volunteers occupy self-contained units, rather than the more communal nature of An Giang University. Whereas we would pass each other in the hall last year, I have been in Can Tho three weeks and have yet to meet my next-door neighbors. The bloom is off the rose, and as the harsher realities of city life become more evident, the familiar smallness feels all the more appealing to this weary traveler. The Emerald City is indeed bigger and more crowded but it also feels more isolated and quite lonely to this country cousin who longs for sepia-toned familiarity rather than the technical excitement she once craved.
There’s a certain irony in the reversal from last year to this. Now, instead of looking forward to weekends full of Western food and shopping in Can Tho, I take every opportunity to escape the lonely isolation of Can Tho for the warm-sepia toned embrace of friends, old and new in Long Xuyen. And as the transit van deposits me at Tinh Hoa, where my dear Joan waits with open arms (and air-conditioning) I once again echo Dorothy’s words and exclaim, “There’s no place like home!”

26 September 2010

September Newsletter

Hi All,
Just a note that I've nearly finished this month's newsletter. If you' like to be added to the email list, just let me know.
Thanks again for all your support.

20 September 2010

And so it begins...

After spending my first two weeks back in Vietnam in a sort of 'holding pattern' things are set to get started tomorrow. I'm teaching two groups of faculty English, one beginner and an intermediate section. I'll also hold weekly office hours for MA students in academic writing and faculty with project proposal writing. I'm not sure it will keep my busy enough, but at least it will force me out of the house a few days a week.
Again your thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement will go a long way in sustaining me until my return in December.

17 September 2010

It's the little things...

As small as it may seem, my day was made infinitely better by the purchase and installation of my 3G internet connection. Not having to go to a coffee shop to access Gmail and Skype (although no Facebook) is going to be nice.

13 September 2010

On Returning

“I went to Vietnam because I had to go. It may have been a messy and botched experience but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have gone. Sometimes life is messy and botched. We do our best. We don’t always know the right move.” (Pretty much copied from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, except in her case she’s talking about her time in Cambodia).

A year ago, when my time in Vietnam was just beginning, I felt very much that I had to be here. It wasn’t something I could explain or articulate but more of a feeling and desire that took over my conscious thoughts and subconscious dreams. As my time wore on, I began to feel that it was, indeed, a botched and messy experience but one from which I couldn’t extract myself. So I stayed through the messiness and in the end, I would say I made the right move. However, significant questions arose this summer as I searched for the right next move. Was the natural inclination to return for a second term the right choice, or the easy one? I sought, and found, ways to justify a return. I weighed the pros and cons. I talked to friends and confidants. I wrestled with God. I explored options outside of returning. After all this discernment, I again thought that Vietnam was where God wanted me. And then, as often is the case once I’ve made a significant (and largely permanent) decision, I found a reason that made me want to change my mind and stay at home. On a chance (or as Mrs. Bantly would say, Providential) search for Thai basil to make Pho for my support and sending team, I met Matthew. What started as the gracious extension of credit when I realized I’d forgotten cash to pay for said basil quickly developed into a new and exciting relationship. Never before had my decision to return to Vietnam seemed like such a sacrifice.

I’ve been back in Vietnam less than a week, but it was in the first few minutes of my return that I fought the strong urge to walk back into the airport and buy a ticket on the first US bound plane. Granted, I was exhausted from almost 40 hours of travel, including three hours on the runway in Hong Kong in the midst of a huge thunderstorm, but at 5:30 in the morning all was miserable and all I wanted was to go home. Sitting at the airport, with a dead laptop and cell phone, helplessness overwhelmed me as I looked for a way to contact the people who were supposed to meet me there 7 hours earlier. Through further Providence, an English speaking cab driver came to my aid and eventually I made it to where I needed to be and promptly fell asleep for the next 10 hours. Unfortunately, this made me miss my ride to Can Tho, and so I’ve been trying to figure out a way to the university for the past 5 days or so. This is far from a stellar beginning and a less than resounding vote of confidence in my decision to return. Needless to say, these first days have been rough. It’s hot, I’m still jet-lagged, and my heart is torn between here and home.

I have to believe that this sacrifice will bring blessings that I cannot yet foresee. I know that I tend to be rather shortsighted, and my view of the future is always cloudy. These struggles will certainly serve some greater purpose, right? Until I see some good coming from this choice, I’m going to have to simply figure out how to live with the messiness of following what I still believe to be the call of God on my life, at this moment, faithfully, though often clumsily. That I might find grace and peace along this journey is all that I can pray for.