Photo of writer holding and meeting her son for the first time in the orphanage in Saigon, Vietnam.
On a hot, steamy day in August of 2008, my husband and I stepped off of an airplane in Saigon, Vietnam. Mere moments after touching down in this faraway land, we found ourselves standing outside of an orphanage in the sweltering summer heat, waiting to meet someone we had only seen in pictures.
And that’s when it happened; my life changed in two very important ways. An eleven-month old child was placed into my arms, and in an instant I was simultaneously transformed into a first-time mother as well as an advocate for the voiceless children of the world.
Looking back, it is hard to believe that such a profound change in how I defined myself could have happened in a single, solitary moment. Months later I would realize how that one moment would end up overthrowing and redirecting the entire trajectory of my life.
After returning home, I started thinking about all the children we had seen in Vietnam, especially the ones residing in the orphanage. Once you see their faces, you cannot forget them. Those of us in the international adoption community know this truth all too well: life in an orphanage is hard, and it can be devastating physically, emotionally and mentally.
As I witnessed my son struggle through his own post-institutional trauma, it seemed that I carried the images of his orphanage mates with me constantly. I would stare at my son and be overtaken with a sense of responsibility to help take care of those we left behind. I had no idea where to start. I began researching about the plight of children, families and orphans in Vietnam. (more…)
Breathing into Relationship:
The Dance Between Diversity and Unity
The highest form of intimacy is love that does not annihilate difference. Evelyn Keller
I recently had dinner with some new friends from Nepal, a husband and wife and two younger children. My husband and I and our two children showed up to the apartment where chicken wings were frying, dal was bubbling in a silver pot and fried pakora was placed neatly on a plate.
As we sipped warm spicy chai tea, we talked in short sentences, learning to understand each other. I heard stories of loneliness and isolation in a new land, adventures to the mountains and the sand dunes of southern Colorado, and stories of the gods Sita and Ram from the Hindu tradition.We took pictures together and laughed and ran around the small apartment, playing hide and seek with a pink Nepali scarf tied around our heads.
Ajita, the Nepali woman, spent most of her time in the kitchen cooking, remaining very quiet and eating by herself in the living room. I felt discomfort arise at what seemed to be a cultural tradition, the woman preparing and serving the food but not participating in eating the meal.
When we sat down to eat, we were served with solid copper plates that are used only for “special guests.” We were asked if we wanted forks or if we wanted to eat with our hands and we all opted for the latter. Giri taught us how to eat properly with our hands as we tried to master this surprisingly difficult task.
He said to us, “I have tried to eat with a fork here, but I just do not feel nourished when I do.” After a delicious meal and nourishing fellowship, we left bowing saying namaste to one another. Giri said, “You are like family to us.”
On the way home, my family and I had a conversation about difference. My children shared how great it was to eat with their hands and asked if they could do that all of the time. We talked about the children’s names and how they were different from any names they had ever heard. We then talked about cultural differences that felt uncomfortable, like Ajita not eating with us or speaking very much. (more…)