Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The yellow blanket story...

 ....or how we remember the people of Vietnam. It has been five years now since we spent the entire month of December and first 10 day of January in Vietnam...mostly in the city of HaNoi. It was a month of many memories..some QUITE stressful. The 2-week trip that turned into 6- weeks...missing the opportunity to be home at Christmas, which was our last chance to visit with our son in the Army, who was soon to be deployed to Iraq. Also, 4 year-old Carissa had impending major spinal surgery on January 3rd and the frustrating delays just kept coming. But the hardest part was watching her fade a little and become so sad as she wondered aloud to us everyday, WHY is it taking so long...when are you coming home? It was heartbreaking to watch and know there was very little we could do to comfort her. It was a profoundly emotional time. 
Still those ares not the only memories we have of that trip.  Many were  some of the most unique and beautiful days I have spent on this earth and it was because of the beautiful people of VietNam.  This is a story I wrote four years ago and on this day, the anniversary of "The Yellow Blanket" story, I decided to re-post one of our favorite stories from five years ago in VietNam. Re-reading it again, brings me back to that time and place that has now become so special and dear to us. For us, it is almost like the Christmas story itself...and we never tire reflecting upon this time. Not only were we able to bring home our beloved Benjamin and Isabelle, and meet our Sophie, who would come home in 2008, we were privileged to spend time in a beautiful country, filled with wonderful people. So once again we  reminisce about December, 2006 and say, we miss you, beautiful Vietnam, and your lovely, gracious people

A few weeks ago I began undertaking the massive job of the seasonal change over. In our large household this is rather an unpleasant undertaking, but one that must be done in order to comfortably survive our long, cold winters. I had already finished the worst of it; emptying the drawers of all the warm weather clothes and then sorting thru last years fall/winter clothes to see what would still fit who… then packed up the remaining clothes along with all the summer clothes into the piles of: a) possibly will still fit next year, b) too small for anyone, c) too small for older kids but too large for the younger ones… etc. All that mostly remained was to drag out all the flannel sheets and extra blankets & comforters from our storage in the barn and put them in the laundry room to wash them before removing the all the percale sheets and light cotton blankets from our 9 beds and 2 cribs. It was while I was washing the extra crib blankets that I had another one of those visual memory reminders that stopped me in my tracks. I saw Ben's yellow fleece blanket I had made for him before we went to Vietnam and once again I was transported back to Vietnam to the morning of December 21rst, 2006.

We had been in Vietnam for three weeks and had Ben for one week and yet we still had not had one single forward-moving necessary procedural appointment since his G&R on the 13th. Again the frustration and emotions of those days were really quite intense but they are like labor...they fade and are hard to remember except when a memory comes flooding back and all of a sudden those feelings become tangible again.
That particular morning, our facilitator, Thuy, called to say we could finally apply for Ben's passport that afternoon, but that we needed to have his picture taken again immediately as the ones from his G&R were now sealed and could not be used. Since the address she had given us for the one-hour photo shop was just on the other side of the Hoan Kiem Lake, we decided to bundle Ben up and walk the mile plus distance. And even though it was almost 70 degrees, we brought his yellow fleece blanket to cover him so that we would not be stopped and chided for improper clothing.
Earlier that week David & I had attempted to go for a walk with Benjamin to buy some groceries and the lobby clerk of our hotel didn’t like how cold it was outside or the way he was dressed so she insisted that he stay with her while we went out! Uhmmmm...and we left him with her as she was REALLY quite insistent! Again, only in VietNam would you leave your new baby with a stranger and not be tooooo nervous! When we returned there he was, on her hip enjoying all the attention from clerks and clients alike!!

Benjamin and David with the yellow blanket on his shoulder
But on this morning, while it was a balmy 70 degrees for us Upstate NY folks, we knew by then it still was too cold to the Vietnamese. So since we were in a hurry, we were not about to take any chances. I put Ben in my MaiTai carrier I had made and covered him completely with his yellow blanket! We hustled down to the address Thuy had given us, only to discover there was NO photo shop there. We walked around the block in frustration, searching for some hidden photo studio, but to no avail. We had to meet the other families in less than an hour with pictures in hand to get our children’s passports and yet we could not find the place. Our puzzled looks and searching glances immediately drew the attention of a kind Vietnamese man who asked us if we needed help. He spoke enough English to understand what we were looking for and gave us the correct address. Unfortunately it was still blocks away so we thanked him most kindly and then took off in a hurry.

We had just crossed a major 4-way intersection...with no traffic lights or signs ~ traffic just goes with the flow in VietNam...when I noticed that somewhere along the way I had dropped Ben'’s blanket. Now this blanket is BRIGHT yellow, not easy to miss, so I stopped in my tracks and started looking around for it. So while I knew we didn't have time to look for it ~ we really needed to get the passport photo done, I started to cry. Why? I really am not sure as the blanket wasn’'t anything special, but my emotions were very thin due to exhaustion & frustration, mostly due to the recent disappointment of knowing that we would not be home for that Christmas, and I started weeping.

Just then, a very old, I mean VERY OLD, Vietnamese man stopped when he saw my tears and asked in broken English & sign language what he could do to help. I tried to tell him it was ok...I had just dropped my son'’s yellow blanket somewhere, and that I really didn’t need it, when he spotted the blanket in the road on the opposite side of the very busy intersection. Undaunted, he motioned for us to wait there with Ben and was just about to cross the street to retrieve it, when a young woman on a motorbike stopped to pick it up.
This moment in time was such a paradigm shift for me I can hardly type for the tears.

Notice how many layers Ben is dressed in?
And then David's bare arm? It was 70^ that day!
I was quite sure that the young woman's intentions were to ride off with it so again I tried to tell him it was ok...the woman could have the blanket. Nonetheless he would not relent. He shouted at the top of his lungs to her in Vietnamese, but she was unable to hear him over the noise of the traffic. Then, this elderly man, in a panic plunged headlong and  in a hurry right into the 4-way traffic, dodging motorbikes in every direction. Meanwhile, the young woman who had picked up the blanket had no intention of riding off with it and she merely carefully shook the dirt out of it and handed the blanket to the nearest street vendor for safe keeping and went on her way.
Now THANK GOD the older gentleman was not hurt running across the street! He retrieved the blanket from the vendor and carried it gently back and handed it to us with the air of a prized trophy! I hugged him in gratitude for his kindness and then he went his way, smiling.

One more clothing check before we departed...
THIS is the way we remember the Vietnamese people. Not solely because of this incident, but because nearly every single encounter we had the citizens of this beautiful country was just the same ~ unexpectedly warm, friendly and very helpful. From the entire hotel staff of the Hoa Binh Palace...from the doorman to the front desk clerks, to the waitresses in the restaurant who held Ben and then Isabelle, for EVERY ONE of our meals, to the teenaged boy who brought us our fresh fruit every afternoon and would come in and sit on our bed for ten minutes to play with Benjamin...(TRUTH!) to the wonderful hotel manager, Tuan, who we still keep in email contact with and came to visit us at our house last fall, to the all shopkeepers and restaurant staff in Hanoi,  to the travel agency/airline employees who worked SO hard to find us a way home, to EVERY ONE associated with the adoption process...all of them..every single one of them  were all very friendly, gracious, kindhearted, hard working and accommodating. Rarely did we meet someone who did not smile first...or then return a ready one. And this is a country that the United States had a devastating war with just 40 years ago ~ it seems incredible to believe!

Tuan, our hotel manager...and friend

So today, five years later, we are still missing this wonderful place and people (and the food!) and fervently hoping that we can return to visit once again soon!
The Marvelous Madame Chau

Our favorite doorman
The young man who brought us our fresh fruit every afternoon
A local silk merchant
The adoption notary...he was also there at Sophie's G&R!
This is what the wait staff does while you are eating...they play with your babies! of the most friendly waitresses we ever met. She would meet us at the elevator to take Ben as soon as the door opened...
This is the lovely Thuoc...we'd have taken her home with us as well if we could!
Christmas Eve, 2006
Need I say more...?

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