Reunions, Reunions, and More Reunions

(Amy and Melanie)

Unlike Malawi, which isn’t exactly known for its tourism industry, Vietnam appears to be a hotspot for travelers of all ages. As a result, I’ve had a steady stream of visitors (when I’m not traveling) ever since my arrival to post.

Amy, Mel & Karin
(Karin, Melanie and Amy)

Yet, the month of May has been especially meaningful as it represents numerous reunions – both from SME high school and from Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.

(Monks in Luang Prabang)

My previous blog entry detailed my lovely reunion with another SME Lancer, Kyle. I can’t begin to describe our nostalgia as we reminisced about common friends, local landmarks (i.e., hanging out at Franklyn Park) and even specific restaurants (oh, how we miss KC BBQ)!

(Produce at the market)

Immediately upon my return from Cambodia, I met up with my dear friend, Karin (who happened to be in Hanoi for a work-related project), and two other Emory Alumni, Melanie and Wayne, who specifically flew to Vietnam not only for holiday, but also to spend time together!

(Amy, Wayne and Melanie)

Karin & Amy
(Karin and Amy)

All four of us attended grad school together twelve years ago; yet, despite the distance between us, we have all remained quite close. Honestly, it doesn’t seem possible that that much time has passed! It feels like yesterday when we met on the 7th floor of Emory (the International Health Department), taking courses from some of the finest public health experts in the field. I love the fact that Stan Foster is still teaching! To this day, I vividly remember his stories of eradicating smallpox while living in Nigeria, Bangladesh and with nomads in Somalia. He’s truly one of my heroes!


(Sleeping Buddha)

We’ve always said that there was something special, almost magical, about our particular cohort of students. We all connected on a deep level, perhaps due to the experiences that we each brought to the program (i.e., there were 20 returned Peace Corps Volunteers in our department alone, not to mention international students from all over the world). To this day, we remain involved in each other’s lives!

(Too cute)

Unfortunately, the international health field is extremely transient, with people moving from country to country every few years. So to spend quality time with friends with whom you have a shared history, including where you grew up and went to school, is incredibly rare. Definitely an occasion not to be taken for granted!

(Amy and Mel at Wat Chom Si)

In fact, I often suffer from ‘the grass is always greener’ syndrome, in which I envy other people’s lives. For instance, my brother has lived in Austin, TX for 20+ years! He has some serious roots in that town, with long-lasting friendships, a wonderful family, and an uncanny knowledge of all things ‘cool’ in and around Austin. Oh how I long for roots that run deep!

(Kuang Si Falls)

(Sunset Cruise up the Mekong)

But on the flip side, I do realize how fortunate I am – to be able to meet people from all over the world; to experience life in other lands, not as a tourist but as a person working/living side by side with locals in my host nation; and to have the freedom and flexibility to uproot every few years to begin life anew! Each lifestyle definitely has its pros and cons. But by and large, the pros continue to outweigh the cons; but it doesn’t diminish my desire to feel more connected with friends and family, the kind of connection that only proximity can satisfy.

(Weaving village)

Ah, but I’ve totally digressed. Let me shift gears and get back to my visit with Melanie, Wayne and Karin! Again, I can’t stress how delightful it is to spend time with people who truly know you. The ease and comfort one feels just being themselves, without the pressure of making small talk, networking, or feeling the need to be ‘on’ at all times (ah, more pros and cons of constantly meeting new people). In short, our time together was peaceful, relaxing and invigorating! It was great catching up on each of their lives. I’m so proud of all that they do!


Another thing that I cherish about my friends is their independent nature. Wayne went ‘local’ on me, and basically did his own thing while he was here. I marveled over his ability to pick up on Vietnamese and to make friends everywhere he went (he had a more active social life in Hanoi after a few short days than I do after several months). He’s already planning his return trip and plotting possible job opportunities in the region.

(Boat trip up the Mekong)

Melanie also spent time traveling on her own, including a trip to Halong Bay, Angkor Wat and Ho Chi Minh City. But we also found time to travel together to Luang Prabang, Laos!

(Gorgeous Flower)

Karin had informed us that Luang Prabang was a ‘must-see’ destination. Trusting her advice, Melanie and I decided last minute to check it out. Typical of my backpacking days long ago, we showed up at the airport without a reservation or even a guidebook on Laos and just asked the tuk-tuk driver to take us to town where we could then search for a place to stay.

(Those eyes…)

We found a lovely little guesthouse overlooking the Mekong River, followed by two days of spontaneity and gorgeous surprises around every corner. Luang Prabang is considered one of the holiest cities in Laos, not to mention, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As such, the town is known as a Mecca for Theravada Buddhism, boasting approximately 80 monasteries with 1200 monks within its confines.

(Markings on Pagodas)

We spent the days exploring Luang Prabang and its surrounding environs, hiking the steep hill overlooking the city to admire Wat Chom Si as well as its breathtaking, panoramic views of the city and valley below, taking in the beauty of Kuang Si Falls, and boating up the Mekong to see life along its banks.

(Ethnic Fashion Show at Hive)

Evenings were spent shopping at the night market’s endless stalls, eating delicious Laos meals, and even witnessing an Ethnic fashion show while indulging in Mojitos at the Hive Bar. But the highlight was waking up at the crack of dawn to see the procession of monks receiving their daily alms. Their food for the day comes from this ritual.

(Receiving Alms)

(Monk Procession)

Needless to say, this peaceful, sleepy town was a welcomed respite from the chaos of Hanoi. Fortunately, Luang Prabang is only an hour flight from Hanoi – so I anticipate many visits to this beautiful location.

(Cupping practices)

I’m now home, having said my good-byes to Melanie and Wayne last night. The house seems empty and quiet, but I am looking forward to getting back to my normal routine (whatever that may be).

(Fishing in the Mekong)

Work continues to be insanely busy yet rewarding. In fact, I just presented at Vietnam’s Telecoms Summit on m*Health and e*Health solutions to improve delivery of healthcare services in developing countries, which was very well received by the private sector. And I’m making strides towards conducting a National Standards Workshop here in Vietnam (something similar to what I developed in Malawi).


I’m leaving for HCMC in the hours ahead in order to conduct Data Quality Assessment (DQAs) site visits among some of our partners. It’s always nice to get out in the field.

(Sunset from my balcony)

Sending much love to all,

(Sunset from my balcony on 5/22)

1 comment to Reunions, Reunions, and More Reunions

  • It’s Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>