The first time I landed in Vietnam, I could see the heavily pock-marked bomb craters on the rice fields surrounding the Ho Chi Minh City airport from the window of the airplane. It was 1986, just 11 short years after the end of the Vietnam War.

"Vietnam" Continued

I was just 12 years old and my mother’s father had just had a stroke. It was under these humanitarian conditions that our visas were granted.  It was my first time, and the first time my mother had been back to see her family in over 23 years.

We showed up unannounced on the doorstep of my extended family’s rather primitive and crowded housing. The reunion was incredible and many, many tears were shed….

Despite having spent much of my early childhood travelling through the Third World (mostly in Africa), I had to admit that Vietnam was by far one of the most “backward”, underdeveloped countries I had ever been in; there were rolling blackouts, only Russian TV programming, dismal infrastructure, and very few motorized vehicles on the road. It felt more like a big village than an actual country.

Personally, up until that point, I had never experienced such poverty. My grandparents made a living selling toothpicks and plastic jerry cans. Eight of us packed into a tiny room, sleeping on the floor on straw mats. I bathed using a bucket and a hose and spent the days eating new and exotic dishes, trying to interact with my new family (I spoke zero Vietnamese at the time) and the local neighborhood children –most of whom had never seen a foreigner before.

I spent two memorable weeks there. My mother stayed a couple months till she was able to secure exit visas for the entire family to emigrate to the US.  Little would we know then that, despite three decades of trying to get all ten of her siblings and her parents out of Vietnam –and finally succeeding, my current nuclear family decided to come back and make Vietnam our permanent home.

In 1995, after my parents had spent a total of almost eight years in Nairobi, Kenya, it was time for them to move. The Somali Civil war had spilled into Kenya’s border and the security situation in Nairobi became less and less tenable. I had left Nairobi two years earlier to start my university studies in New Orleans and my parents were deciding their next steps. They had a choice of going anywhere in the world, but my mother convinced my father that after spending their entire professional lives helping people in other Third World countries it was time for them to go to her homeland and help out her people. At that time, I was living in Madrid, Spain on a Junior-Year-Abroad program of my university, but was excited about their decision, as well as about Vietnam becoming my new home base. From that point on, almost yearly, I traveled back to Vietnam to visit them, first to Hanoi and then, after eight years, to Ho Chi Minh City, which became their current home.

For the next 20 years, my career took center stage (New Orleans, Santiago, Ponce in Puerto Rico, Boston, San Jose in California), but Vietnam was always my home, my rock. Finally, in 2014, despite being part of a thriving private practice specializing in fertility and high-risk pregnancy in Redwood City, California and having started one of the world’s first mobile medical apps (“Pregnancy Companion”), I decided it was time to pack things up and move to be closer to my parents and come and live in the country that I loved so much — Vietnam.  Ironically, from the time I left my parents’ nest, till I moved back to the same continent/country as them, 23 years had passed, the same amount of time my mother spent away from her parents.

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