Jumbelita and Friends

(Halong Bay)

These last few weeks have been insanely busy! I said good-bye to a dear friend, got a new dog, went on a mission retreat, had an unexpected visit from a friend from Malawi, and hosted a last-minute Mexican brunch for twenty-five people. Needless to say, my life continues to be fulfilling and spectacular.

(Market in Ba Trong)

Due to the transient nature of the international health field, just when you finally get to know someone it seems as if it’s time to say good-bye. I experienced this time and time again in Malawi, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise that the good-byes have already begun in Vietnam. Janet, our interim PEPFAR Coordinator, left for the UK a few weeks ago; and Marcie Friedman leaves next week for Iraq, which is way too soon! They both will be greatly missed.

(Elissa, Amy, Janet, Howard and Jonathan)

On a brighter note, I am now the proud owner of a new little bundle of joy, Jumbelita, my 2.5-pound Chihuahua!


Ironically, I hired a dog-sitter long before I had a dog – so in order to expedite her employment, Mong took the initiative to find me a Chihuahua. One day she called out of the blue and asked if I wanted to go look at a dog. We jumped in a taxi and drove quite a long ways until we stopped at a storefront (a typical shop on the streets of Hanoi) in which the owners bred Chihuahuas on the side (owning a small dog in Vietnam is considered a status symbol). When I initially saw her, she was cowering in the corner of a dirty, small metal cage. My heart went out to this creature and knew that I couldn’t leave without ‘saving’ her from her current living conditions.

(USAID/Vietnam Mission)

Similar to her namesake, Jumble (my dog in Malawi), this little girl has a lame leg, is a bit weathered, and was somewhat discarded/unwanted by her previous owner. She’s over a year old, has already given birth to a litter of pups, and has never had a proper home.

(Xerxes, Tim, Elissa, Jonathan and Oanh)

In the two weeks that I’ve had her, she’s blossomed into a different dog altogether. She’s now brimming with personality, loves to go for walks, and appears to be perfectly content snuggled up by my side. And I must admit, I feel perfectly content having her by my side, too.

(Halong Bay)

On the job front, I experienced our first USAID Mission Retreat, literally! Over the last year, USAID has grown from a program office to an actual mission with each program area experiencing expansion, both physically (in terms of FTEs) and financially. As a result, it’s important to bring all the different departments together in order to understand how the mission as a whole is working towards a larger, common cause.


One of the objectives of the retreat was to develop a Mission vision statement. Helen Keller’s quote, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision” helped set the stage for this three-day event, which was held in Halong Bay.


Unlike CDC that only focuses on health, USAID’s portfolio spans the full gamut of development issues. So in addition to HIV/AIDS and Avian and Pandemic Influenza, USAID/Vietnam focuses on a series of development programs, including programs that strengthen and improve economic governance; an anti-trafficking program that provides scholarships for vocational training to at-risk girls; programs for poor and ethnic minorities living in the Central Highlands to provide greater access to social services, education, and economic opportunities; programs that provide better access to education, health care, employment, and services for people with disabilities, including people with disabilities in dioxin-contaminated hotspots; supporting Vietnam’s efforts to transform its policy and legal system in order to develop its capacity to administer an open market economy; and finally, supporting environmental remediation activities to address Agent Orange/dioxin contamination.

(Ngoc, Trung, Hai and Oanh)

Even though I enjoyed all the touchy-feely team building exercises that have become universally ubiquitous for these kinds of outings, the highlight of the trip was our internal, Office of Public Health meeting. Our team hired a boat and held a 5-hour discussion while cruising through the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oh, if only all meetings could be held in gorgeous, pristine environments, think how much more productive we’d become!

(Not a bad ‘conference room’)


By the end of the retreat, I not only felt closer to everyone I work with but also developed a deeper appreciation for the work of the Mission at large.

(Ceramic Village)

(John taking photos – think ‘avian influenza’)

Immediately upon my return to Hanoi, I had an unexpected surprise. My friend, John O’Connor, who I originally met in Lilongwe, decided to pop over to Vietnam after a work-related trip to Laos. I loved having him here! We went to the opera, explored the Old Quarters of Hanoi, and even visited the 700-year old ceramic village of Ba Trong.

Opera House
(Miguel, Amy, John and Tamara at the Opera House)

I actually returned to Ba Trong yesterday to purchase two gorgeous vases, each one approximately 6ft tall! Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera – but it was definitely a sight to see as they loaded these monstrosities onto the back of a motor scooter for delivery!

(Now, this is NOT the vase that I bought – but you can get an idea of its size)

Finally, in the same spirit as my Mexican dinners that I frequently hosted in Malawi, I planned a huge brunch (last minute) for my friends in Vietnam. Interestingly, Mexican food seems to be the one thing that people crave, yet can’t seem to find in most countries (or, I should say, good Mexican food is difficult to find). Alas, I’ve now turned on even my Vietnamese friends to the culinary delights of migas, fajitas, guacamole, salsa and home-made tortillas!


Next week marks a four-day weekend! As such, I’m flying to Phnom Penh to visit an old high school friend, Kyle Latinis, followed by a trip to Siem Reap to explore Angkor Wat.


And, the list of visitors continues to grow! Karin Lapping will be in Hanoi later today (work-related), followed by Melanie Wallentine and Wayne Harris’ visit the following week! Talk about an Emory reunion! I can’t wait to see everyone.


Much love to all,


P.S., As an aside, Jason Henzell just informed me that today marks Jake’s 15th Annual Off-Road Triathlon in Treasure Beach! How remarkable to think that this has been going on for 15 years! I started this event (with Jason) as a Peace Corps Volunteer long ago, and am thrilled to know that it’s maintained a life of its own (through a lot of hard work by Jakes and Breds). When I look back on my Peace Corps days, this project is what I’m most proud of! Many kudos to all…and PLEASE send photos of the day’s events!

2 comments to Jumbelita and Friends

  • Aunt Rita Moskowitz

    Hi Amy dear, thanks for your wonderful photography and narrative of your activities in Vietnam. You sound very happy in your work and among your new friends and collegues. We missed you in St. Louis for Passover. Your mom and padre weren’t there either. Your ‘gram’ has begun down the road of relentless aging that we all will walk, if we have the fortitude, ability and desire to do. Keep up the good work and stay well.
    Much love, Aunt Rita

  • Regina

    Hi Amy,

    Regina here, for ExpatWomen.com.

    I would like to personally invite you to list your blog on our Expat Women Blog Directory (www.expatwomen.com/expatblog/) so that other women can read about and learn from your expat experiences.

    Many thanks in advance for your contribution and keep up your great blog!


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