Call it a “camp retreat” – the kind of get-together where people sit around the campfire and sing. In a way, that’s what the Mystery Guest Blogger and I did last weekend.
There was a purpose, however. It was a meeting to equip those of us who had just returned from teaching in Asia with the tools needed to readjust back into our own society.
To which the Gentle Reader is saying “Are you nuts? What’s there to readjust to? This is America, the best and richest country in the world. Yer gonna tell me you miss Việt Nam?”
In a word, yes.
Some examples: I rode a 100cc Honda motorbike during the past nine months. I filled it up for 30,000 to 40,000 Vietnamese đông (between $1.80 and $2.50) every two weeks. It is a bit exasperating for the newly returned to see that the idiot driving a Hummer doesn’t seem to understand he is part of the cause of gas being so expensive.
In this picture, the MGB and I are both wearing ponchos. Rainy weather? Put a poncho on, and expect your feet to get wet. Get back home to America and watch as people almost drive into the Wal-Mart to avoid getting wet – as if they might shrink.
I also left friends in Việt Nam. Good friends. It was kinda kewl when Tuân came over and asked the MGB (he called her Mom) for some hot chocolate. I miss running around the countryside with my friend Mr. Cu, the photographer. I miss my students.
Okay okay – I’ll stop whining.
But, things changed while we were gone. When we left, our church met in a store front – now it has its own building. (Yes – we saw it last summer.) New people have moved in, and some have left. A friend’s business closed. My mother has memory loss.
And with all the change, we have nobody to talk to. That’s right – nobody to talk to about what we did for 1 ½ years. People don’t ask because they don’t know enough about what we did or about living in another culture to ask a question. So once the conversation starts with a perfunctory “How was Việt Nam?”, the topic soon reverts to the scores of last week’s football game or the latest baby in church.
Think about it – if you’re a man, would you talk to a woman about giving birth? You have no idea what to ask or say, so men don’t talk to women about giving birth. With no commonality, folks just don’t get into a conversation about our time in Việt Nam.
So we don’t talk about it. At least that was the response until last weekend when we learned we need to be proactive. We won’t keep it all inside.
We’re home – happy to be home – and we are going to share our experiences.
To my many veteran friends: You may be surprised to know that the MGB and I found much of our experience not unlike coming back 36 years ago. (For those of you who don’t know, we met in Việt Nam in 1969 – she was a nurse and I was a grunt.) No – we weren’t in combat this time, but the same inability to talk about our experiences, and the sense of leaving behind the folks you deeply care about are very similar.