Africa Bound…

Cycling in Ninh Binh
(Amy and Miss Kelly….together again!)

It’s official….I’m moving back to Africa! I’ve just been offered a position with USAID/South Africa as their Senior Strategic Information Technical Advisor for HIV/AIDS programs. I’m ecstatic about returning to Africa, but have mixed feelings about leaving Vietnam as I’ve truly fallen in love with the entire region.

Amy on Long Bien Bridge-1
(On Long Bien Bridge with the photography club)

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(Long Bien Bridge)

Not to mention, I’m finally feeling as if I’m making strides at work. Days after returning from Geneva, I went to Ba Ria Vung Tau, a lovely coastal town approximately 125km outside of HCMC in order to pilot the Data Quality Assessment (DQA) tools that we have been developing with the Ministry of Health.

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(Typical scene on Long Bien Bridge)

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(Again on Long Bien Bridge)

Working in the field feeds my soul and reaffirms why I’ve dedicated my life to public health. And it also provides a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with colleagues while exploring various parts of the country…

(My colleagues in Vung Tau)

(Quoc on the beach)

And I’m finally being acknowledged for my hard work and dedication on strengthening health information systems. In fact, during our Mission Awards Ceremony, I was presented with a “Special Act Award” by the US Ambassador to Vietnam, “In recognition of your vision and outstanding leadership in organizing the Health Information Systems (HIS) Regional Workshop, which culminated in the identification of HIS priority focus areas in Vietnam.”

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(Typical street scene – Hanoi)

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(Looking down below from Long Bien Bridge)

And after 2.5 years, I’m just now feeling as if I have a firm grasp and understanding of our HIV epidemic as well as our PEPFAR portfolio, which makes my departure from post even more difficult!

(Amy and Kelly in Ninh Binh)

(visiting pagodas)

Tentatively, I’m slated to leave Hanoi around mid-July and will spend a few weeks visiting friends and family back in the states before starting my new job. I still haven’t signed my contract – so no dates are confirmed, but for now that’s the plan.


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Knowing that I only have a few months left in Vietnam, I am determined to live each day to the fullest and to take advantage of all the glorious opportunities South East Asia has to offer!

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(Boating in Ninh Binh)

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My first priority was to reconnect with my dearest friend from Peace Corps, Miss Kelly, who recently moved to Bangkok. We’ve been trying to reunite to no avail ever since we left Peace Corps Jamaica over fifteen years ago! Miss Kelly has been living in the South Pacific for the majority of this time (in Fiji alone for six years!), but exorbitant airfares and busy schedules have kept us at bay….until now!

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(Boat driver)

(Hundreds of boats)

We finally managed to coordinate our schedules and reunited in Hanoi a few weeks ago! Granted, it was a little drama-laden from the get-go. In our haste to quickly make plans, the visa process had slipped both of our minds. This oversight dawned on us the night before her flight!

(Majestic limestone formations)

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(Rowing with feet)

She quickly applied for a visa-on-arrival and paid extra for an uber-expedited rush job! But when she received the paperwork just hours before her flight, she noticed that it contained the wrong departure/arrival dates. Unfortunately, Vietnam has some of the strictest Visa rules in all of South-East Asia. So when Kelly asked if the wrong date was going to be an issue, my heart just sank, as I knew the airlines wouldn’t let her board!

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She notified the visa agency of their mistake via her blackberry while en route to the airport! Poor Miss Kelly never heard back from them and was sending email updates every five minutes, “Twenty minutes before the gate closes….”; “Fifteen minutes…”; “Ten Minutes…”, etc.

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I found the contact information to the Visa agency in HCMC and was literally SCREAMING at them to fix their error N-O-W!!! I refused to hang up the phone until they had sent her all the necessary updated documents. Talk about a close call….Miss Kelly received her Visa just as they were closing the gate! And I’m so glad she did, as it was one of the loveliest weekends I’ve had in ages!


Amy and MIss Kelly!
(More scenic riding)

We spent Friday night exploring Old Quarter – (I’m grateful for all of my photography outings as I’m finally getting to know that part of Hanoi quite well). And we arranged a full-day trip to Ninh Binh, one of my favorite destinations outside of Hanoi – famous for its gorgeous rice paddies, majestic limestone formations, and scenic boat trips on the Ngo Dong River to visit the Tam Coc caves.

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(Rice paddies)

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(stunning scenery of Ninh Binh)

But the highlight was bike riding in the area. I only wish this part of the tour lasted longer!

(Abstract – one of the themes from photography club)


I absolutely love and cherish my friendship with Miss Kelly. Despite the fact that we hadn’t seen one another in over 15 years, the minute we embraced it was as if no time had passed. We immediately picked up where we left off and couldn’t stop talking all weekend long! After all, we had more than a decade of life to catch up on….

(Beautiful woman in Old Quarter)

(Again in Old Quarter)

Spending time with Miss Kelly not only served as a beautiful reminder of the depth of our friendship, but also made me realize that even though I lead a rather transient lifestyle, I’ve still been able to forge deep ‘roots’ in various countries and places, with long-lasting friendships in almost every corner of the globe! For that, I am grateful!

(Street Food)

(Fruit anyone?)

(Not another duck…)

Going back to the topic of appreciating all that Vietnam has to offer, I’m beginning to view daily routines in an entirely new light! I’m really going to miss my daily walks around Truc Bach Lake with Chico. I’m not sure if I’m emanating a new vibe or if it’s the change of weather to Spring-like temperatures, but I’m noticing more and more friendly smiles from Vietnamese reaching out to say hello. And in return, I’m finding myself beaming with happiness.

(Shoes for sale)

(Another typical street scene)


Vietnam is simply remarkable – on so many levels! I know a lot of friends were hoping to visit before I left…so heads up, you have three months to book your flight! Fortunately, my brother is finally coming to visit in May! I’m so incredibly excited to show him around Hanoi….and to take him to my favorite city in all of Vietnam, Hoi An! Granted, it’s a little dangerous for me to return to that city as I often splurge on endless shopping sprees (Hoi An is famous for its tailor-made clothing – and I am a sucker for silk embroidery and hand-made shoes)!

(Happy Holi…yes, we celebrated in Vietnam!)

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(Woman working at the glass factory)


I’m starting to stock up on silks, solid rosewood furniture, and other various items for my shipping container to South Africa! In fact, just yesterday we went to Ryukyu Glass Factory outside of Hanoi. I guess one can never have enough 100% handmade/hand-blown glassware, serving bowls and coffee cups in various shapes and vivid colors!


(Hand-blown glass)

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(Art glass)

Life is pretty sweet…

Sending much love to all,

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(my new furniture)

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