Ready to Dig In
What if you had told me I’d wind up in Vietnam for five years? That I’d live here, all of all places, for longer than I’ve lived anywhere other than my parents’ house as a kid? What if I had seen this house as my home instead of the forbidding Haunted Mansion? What if I’d framed pictures instead of using each trip home as a way to offload a suitcase of souvenirs onto my very space-generous mom? What if I had fully embraced Da Nang from the beginning?
Each year here has been my last year. Each year I do a half-hearted job search in Spain, Argentina or even (gasp!) home. I have lived perpetually with one foot out the door. Coming here without JD was maybe a mistake. Maybe because, on the plus, I was helluva proud of myself for my intrepidness, my independence. I met friends – truly great friends as it turns out – quickly. I fell in love with teaching. I navigated strange customs and wedding outfits and still came out smiling. She-With-No-Sense-of-Direction mostly managed to sort of, sometimes find my way around. And, yet, it was an unfulfilling six months. It was only then that I learned that Adventure and Accomplishment cannot replace Friends, Family and a much-underrated delicious sense of Familiar. The only reason to be so far away from JD would be to be close to my family. The only reason to be far from both would to help a friend in need. Solo Backpacking no longer justified Missing Them.
So maybe that’s why I shrank from Vietnam’s embrace. Something was off in my arrival, albeit self-imposed. Along the way that dissolved, but I maybe didn’t notice until now as we prepare for our really, truly last year in Da Nang. If all goes well with JD’s Green Card, we’re out of here in a few months. And suddenly I’m ambivalent. This weirdo place has become our weirdo home and we have a lot to lose by leaving.
Never have I ever met such an immediate and genuine family abroad. I’ve always been blessed with friends. My best friends from Kindergarten, high school, study abroads, sleezy college dorms and years spent in Harlem, Costa Rica, Italy, England and South Africa have warranted brilliant friendships. On top of it I have my wonderful, wonderful family and even managed to marry into a very special group of in-law friends. But all those relationships took time to cultivate. Da Nang practically threw friends at me and, like a rebound relationship turned serious, they’ve stuck. These people are irreplaceable.
In Vietnam I have sweated, sworn, lamented the thin red walls of rooster-prone neighbors and suicidal scooter soirées. But here, also, have I laughed more than I have ever laughed; laughed over commiseration of said roosters; laughed at old women chasing babies with spoons of food; at silly jokes of third graders; laughed at mistranslated riddles of acquaintances; laughed for the sheer physical joy of laughing – and found myself surrounded by equally pure laughter. Here I have found inner strength in learning to drive the much a-feared scooter, in taking a deep breath in the midst of a temper attack to try and understand how that could possibly constitute a cultural difference. Here I have complained, begrudged but ultimately immensely enjoyed teaching kids who really want to learn. Here I have fallen even more in love with the man who consistently models how to take things in stride, makes possible what seemed im, focuses on the positive and thrives in a sometimes-unlikely environment. Here I have learned to take less for granted; from the fact that music volume is, in fact, a learned preference to the fact that sleeping on a concrete ground can be preferable for some to a comfortables mattress.
In this less-is-more-but-also-more-is-more-and-suddenly-I-have-disposable-income-but-no-drinkable-water environment I have begun to settle out my own priorities. And learn that they are mine only. To each her own becomes relevant. I love knowing that there is so much out there to experience, succeed, observe, fail at and appreciate.
I love this wonderful adventure. And I love imagining what comes next. As we consider moving from our three-story Vietnamese Super House to an 800-square foot cabin in the Washington woods I can only wish us a future of fun, adventure, love and let’s-bring-it-on.