Magical Moments

Wonder Twins
(Wonder Twin Powers….Activate)

These last few weeks have been magical…a return trip to Africa followed by my twin brother, David, flying to Vietnam!

Presenting in Kampala
(Presenting at the Data Use Conference in Kampala, Uganda)

First, out of the blue, CDC Uganda tracked me down in Vietnam and asked if I’d be willing to present the opening plenary session at a Data Use Conference in Kampala. Feeling both honored and flattered, I gladly accepted this wonderful opportunity!


Eating handfuls of grasshoppers!
(Eating handfuls of grasshoppers)

The Ugandan Ministry of Health took the lead in organizing this fabulous conference and I was thrilled to be a part of the proceedings. Uganda happens to be years ahead of Vietnam in terms of health information systems; as such, I loved attending sessions on both challenges and solutions on achieving interoperability, improving quality of reports, and data use.

(My lovely taxi driver, Mae)

(Amy and Mae)

(Amy and Mae at Lake Victoria)

But the highlight was simply being in Kampala! I was reminded, once again, how much I love Africa! The people, the wildlife, the scenery, the food, the culture, the music…all culminates in a beautiful way.

(My dear friend, Ann, from Malawi)

(Ann and William)

(Amy and Fitti laughing uncontrollably…)

Plus, the warmth and friendliness of the Ugandans filled my soul with such delight! I literally struck up conversations with anyone and everyone I’d come across – from the armed guardsmen outside the Serena Kampala Hotel, to the street vendors, to school children walking down the street to taxi drivers to conference participants!

Aunt Army
(Off to a great start….I hired a driver to pick up David at the airport – love the sign – hence all the ‘Aunt Army’ references from my brother)

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(David’s panoramic shot of my market across the street – my version of Whole Foods)

(Thit Cho (Dog Meat) – also found in my market across the street)

(Walking Chico and meeting my lovely neighbor, Miss Huong)

As much as I love Vietnam, not speaking the language has always been a major barrier in feeling connected to its people and its culture. And despite my valiant effort to learn the language (although valiant may be too strong a word…perhaps my feeble attempt is more appropriate), my vocabulary is still limited to a small handful of words! Embarrassingly, after 2.5 years in Hanoi, I still can not communicate with people that I see on a daily basis (i.e., the Vietnamese that exercise around Truc Bach Lake in the mornings, who always greet me with a smile…and desperately want to have a conversation).

(David with the obligatory touristy shot)

(Old Quarter at night – David’s photo)

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(My neighborhood)

When interacting with Ugandans, it dawned on me…my experiences were richer and more meaningful simply by being able to communicate!

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(Ancient temples in Hue – David’s HDR image)

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(Imperial City – Another HDR image of David’s)

(Imperial City)

As such, Kampala was a treat on many levels. Not only did I go crazy with chatting up everybody that crossed my path, but also I was able to reconnect with close friends who happen to live in the area!


(Gorgeous or gaudy statues)

Fitti and Ann went out of their way to show me around the city! I fell in love with Kampala’s chilled vibe and slower pace. Plus the restaurants are brimming with character, ambiance and great food! So peaceful and relaxing!

(Monks in Hue)

(Traveling in style)

(Cyclos in Hue)

In short, my week in Uganda was spectacular! And as a bonus, I hired a driver, Mae, to take me around Entebbe prior to my return flight. She was delightful…our first stop was for fried grasshoppers at the market! I broke down and ate a small handful – crunchy, salty and a bit sweet! Next we pulled over on the side of the road to buy mango and avocado, followed by a wonderful lunch along the shores of Lake Victoria! True bliss! A great precursor to my move to South Africa!


(Bridge in Hue)

That said I still have an innate appreciation for all the chaos and charm that Hanoi has to offer! And the same day that I returned from Kampala, my brother arrived from Austin! Talk about bliss…I could hardly wait to show my twin my life here in Vietnam!

(Beautiful girl)


From the moment he arrived, it was non-stop activity! I immediately took him for a walk in my neighborhood, which truly exemplifies Hanoi! The streets are abuzz with vendors of all sorts, bustling markets, crazy traffic, a plethora of cafes, restaurants and shops, and hoards of people!

(Typical family outing on the scooter)

(En route to Hoi An)

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(David’s photo)

With Chico in tow, we walked around Truch Bach Lake where I pointed out the monument dedicated to John McCain (his plane was shot down in Truc Bach during the war), we ate the obligatory Pho Ga, drank Vietnamese coffee, and I even introduced him to several Vietnamese friends along the way!

(On the boats in Hoi An)

(Amy on the boat)

We spent endless hours walking the streets of Old Quarter, photographing all the while. David is an amazing photographer – definitely much more technically savvy! I’m always grateful for his pointers and expert opinions on ways to improve my photographic skills.

(Fishing nets)

(Catching anything?)

The next morning we headed to Hue, my first time to visit this imperial city! Perched along the banks of the Perfume River, this forbidden city where only emperors, concubines, and other select few were granted permission to enter, is now a UNESCO Heritage Site – a sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates and gorgeous statues.

(David attempting to throw the net)


Hue also has a fascinating history. The city went through tumultuous times during the Vietnam (American) War, most notably in the Tet Offensive of 1968, during the Battle of Hue. The Viet Cong conquered the city and held it for 24 days, slaughtering a thousand people suspected of sympathizing with the South.

(The proud teacher)


In retaliation, the US initiated an American bombing campaign to retake the city. The city suffered considerable damage not only to its physical features but also to its reputation. To this day, one can still see the aftermath of war and destruction on its historical buildings.

(Hats for sale)

(Ties for sale)

Interestingly, the Tet Offensive (often considered the turning point of the Vietnam War) was a military campaign in which the North Vietnamese Army, in conjunction with the South Viet Cong, utilized the element of surprise to strike military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam during a period when no attacks were supposed to take place (there was a prior agreement to “cease fire” during the Tet festivities). Ultimately, the coordination, strength, and surprise instigated by the Communists led the U.S. to realize that their foe was much stronger than they had expected. As a result, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to end the escalation of US involvement in Vietnam.

(Sunrise Photo Tour)

(Heading over to the fishing village)

(Other passengers on the boat)

When I truly think about the atrocities that were committed in Vietnam, I am simply mortified! The loss of life is staggering….almost 58,000 US soldiers were killed in action, which pales in comparison to the 1.4 million North and South Vietnamese military that were killed in action! Sadly, the Vietnam War was one of the bloodiest wars in history, which took a particularly high toll on civilian lives – an estimated 3 to 8 million civilians were slaughtered!

(Fishing village)

(Another beautiful woman)

(And another…)


(Vendor on the beach)

(Last one)

To this day, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of war, focusing our attention on cleaning dioxin-contaminated soils from Agent Orange! Yet, fifty years – in the scheme of things – is not that long ago! As such, I marvel at how far U.S. and Vietnam relations have grown!

(Children in the fishing village)

(More children)

(And more children…)

I didn’t want this blog entry to be about the war, I just got side-tracked when writing about the history of Hue! Granted, seeing that it’s Memorial Day weekend, it’s only appropriate that we honor all of those who have served (and currently serving) our country! I only hope that we continue to learn from our mistakes in the past and that we don’t allow history to repeat itself! Many have compared Vietnam to the Iraq war…I fear that we will be cleaning up radioactivity from our rampant use of depleted uranium in Iraq for the next fifty years…

loading dock
(Loading dock)

(Bustling fishing village)

(Loading fish)

Alas, I need to change my mood and go back to more pleasant thoughts….like my brother and I spending quality time together in Vietnam!

(Chickens for sale, too)



Our travels in Hue were rather short…a day of walking around the forbidden city followed by a cyclo ride to some of the other sites in town! I only wish we would’ve had more time to explore the legendary royal tombs of Hue.

(Loading fish)

We took the bus from Hue to Hoi An, my favorite city in all of Vietnam! Hoi An, another UNESCO Heritage Site, is an exceptionally well-preserved South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th century.

(Coffee break)

(Another fisherman)

(Beautiful woman)

In addition to its amazing architecture, restaurants, hotels, bars, tailors and souvenir shops dominate the city center. But the highlight was watching David’s expressions as he admired all the beauty that the city had to offer! He couldn’t get over how gorgeous the dresses, shoes, suits, ties, and scarves were – and this from a man who doesn’t like to shop!

(Drying fish)

(Drying more fish)

(And more fish)

But even David couldn’t resist the lure of the tailors! He went a little crazy and had a new suit made, along with multiple dress shirts.

IMG_0871 - Version 2
(Conical hats)



In the evenings, the city is transformed into a magical land of silk lanterns, traditional food, song and dance, and games in the streets! I never seem to tire of walking up and down the pedestrian friendly city streets, much more peaceful and relaxing than the streets of Hanoi.

(Lacquer teeth)

(Davo taking photos)

David and I rented a motorbike one day and explored everything from the white sand beaches of Cua Dai to driving off-road to discover every nook and cranny amongst the rice fields, farmlands and fishing villages! Truly the best way to experience Vietnam!

IMG_1409 (1)
(Cyclo driver taking a break)

(Streets of Hoi An)

And, we even signed up for a morning sunrise photography tour where we watched the fishermen bring in their catch from a night at sea on the river delta! It was a fascinating display of locals smoking and drying fish; packing and icing them in crates; and loading them up on motorbikes, preparing for the daily markets!

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(Fujian Temple)

temple panorama hoi an fb
(David’s Panoramic Image of the Fujian Temple in Hoi An)

(David in Hoi An)


I truly loved walking around the Duy Hai Fishermen Village! Definitely one of the highlights from our trip!




Alas, after three days of shopping, eating and exploring Hoi An we ventured back to Hanoi in time for my pre-going away gathering! Even though I’m not departing Vietnam until July, most of my friends will begin to scatter for the summer, beginning the first week in June! As such, I wanted to have an opportunity to collectively say good-bye to friends and co-workers and to introduce David at the same time.



It was a lovely evening….I feel truly blessed by my fabulous friends. I am really going to miss this place.

(Going away gathering at PUKU)

(Love my twin!!!)

(Friends in Hanoi)

I’m gearing up for my return to the states. If all goes well, I’ll be home in time for our high school reunion as well as a return trip to Treasure Beach, Jamaica! Will follow up as soon as tickets are purchased and dates are set.

(More friends in Hanoi)

Finally, I wanted to include a link to our photos (mostly David’s with several of mine thrown in) at the following site:


(Amy and Ann)

And if you haven’t seen enough photos – here’s the link to twin photographers:;CAEQARoQyCOYTfYUGc_8WaRfqwACmA;F11B53E9-F058-4E8C-8F86-8ECA20FAE9A0

Sending much love to all,

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