I finally got my Visa! It's all official--stuck in my passport and everything. My first thought after the initial feeling of immense relief as I attempted to read it was, kind of a lot of work for a little sticker, half of which I can't even read (yet!)? Ah, well, I'm very relieved to have it.

As I gazed at my visa, it really hit me; I'm leaving...SOON! I have one more week here in Texas before I leave for three weeks of visiting people I love in Michigan and Chicago, then I'm off to Akron, Pennsylvania for orientation.

When I tell people that I am going to Viet Nam, I usually get one of two responses:

1) "Oh, that's great! That will be such an amazing experience...I'm a bit jealous." etc.
2) "Viet Nam? Why would you want to go there?" accompanied by a shiver and look of mingled surprise and horror.

Today, however, I got a different question from the man who helped me at the post office. He asked, "Are you or your husband in the service, then?" For those of you who know me well, this question is funny for two reasons.

The other day, my supervisor at the library asked me how I wasn't more nervous about the prospect of Viet Nam. Then he answered his own question, "Well, I can tell you're just not the worrying type."

The funny thing is that that's really not true at all. I'm the queen of worrying. I worry that I will never get a job, that I will lose touch with all my friends, that I'll never get married, that I will get married, that I am out of shape, that I won't be able to walk in 20 years. After I order the chocolate peanut butter ice cream, I worry that I will wish I had gotten the raspberry sorbet. You name it, I've worried about it.

But somehow, I'm just not that worried about Viet Nam. I have had my moments of anxiety, for sure. I am quite nervous about learning the language. I'm afraid that everything I have bought in preparation will be wrong. I'm afraid all my friends will move on without me. But my general feeling about the trip is mounting excitement.

The other day I began to worry, wondering whether I should be more worried about my trip. I wondered if I have skated over the imminent hardships--loneliness, heat and dripping humidity, new job, strange food, unfamiliar everything--and have lulled myself into a false sense of security. I came to the conclusion, however, that I really don't need to find more things to worry about. I think there is a reason that I am not overly apprehensive about my upcoming adventure, that reason being that this is what I am supposed to do. Maybe not forever, but for now. I am sure that there will be times when it will be difficult. I will be lonely, confused, and overwhelmed.

However, regardless of all that, I think that my sense of peace about this venture comes from the fact that I am convinced, as was Julian of Norwich, that, All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.


vietnamese church

Just catty corner to the Hills' house, where I am staying in this summer, is a Baptist church. Lo and behold, this church plays host to a small Vietnamese congregation of about 60 members. Random!...or not.

Mrs. Barbara Hills kindly did some research for me, and I figured that I really had no excuse not to go attend the service and see what I could glean from the experience. In response to the trepidation I felt as I surveyed the room of people of whose conversation I could not understand a word, and above whom I towered by at least half a foot in most cases (why did I wear heels?), I told myself, "Calah, if you think this is bad, what are you ever going to do in a month and a half?" So, I marched in, slouching.

The experience proved to be both encouraging and intimidating; the people were incredibly friendly, the language...terrifying. Fortunately, I met a girl and her boyfriend who were visiting their family here for the weekend. She is an interpreter, and sat next to me, whispering in my ear throughout the service. I was invited to the home of a congregation member for lunch where we had a very refreshing soup and the strangest desert I have ever had--sort of like slimy bits of jello in chilled milk--a bit like a frappuccino. I learned that the weather in Hanoi is similar to here in Texas, though probably more humid, with less air conditioning. I also received a few pieces of advice, as follows:

1) Never buy anything at the price that is offered--always bargain. Go with a Vietnamese to observe first.
2) Try the fruit--there are many varieties that we do not have or that are very expensive here in the States.
3) "Do you like rice? I hope so! If you don't like rice, you're going to the wrong place!" ...Well, I don't have anything against rice, per se, but I guess I will learn to love it!
4) Learn how to use chopsticks!
5) Watch out for pickpockets! They are very good.

My own personal advice to myself: watch your posture. Slouching around won't help you stand out less.


mcc salt

I realized from some responses to my blog that many of my potential readership did not know that I am going to Viet Nam, or why, or what the MCC is! So maybe a bit more info is in order? I will keep it relatively brief, so as to not bore anyone, and include some links for the extra-enthusiastic researcher.

The MCC is the missions/outreach organization of the Mennonite Church (for my Dutch friends--it's like the Mennonite version of the CRWRC). In line with the Mennonite tradition, the MCC has a particularly strong focus on social justice and peacemaking. The SALT (Serving and Learning Together) program is a branch of the MCC designed specifically for younger people (18-27 years old). It works with MCC branches in various countries to place participants into 11-month service assignments, often partnering with non-MCC organizations.

According to the website,

The program seeks to further:
-International goodwill and understanding through experiencing life outside of one’s cultural, economic and social milieu
-International reconciliation and peace-building by encouraging participants to act as bridge-builders between their home and host communities
-Personal commitment to the world-wide church via participation and sharing in the life of Christian communities around the world
-Participants’ spiritual, personal and professional growth

During my time in Hanoi, I will be working full time as a manuscript editor at the Gioi, Viet Nam's foreign language publishing house. I will live with a Vietnamese host family. I will make my best attempt to learn Vietnamese. I will try new food (I hear they eat dog). I will (hopefully) perfect my badminton skills (apparently tennis and badminton are very popular there). I will learn about Vietnamese history from the Vietnamese perspective. I will form new relationships. I will learn new ways to love and be loved.

I think Gerard Manly Hopkins describes my mission better than I will ever be able to:

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

links for more info: