From Hanoi with Love - Part I

Mark and Laurie Van Lue are traveling to Hanoi, Viet Nam from November 12th, 2009 to November 22, 2009 to participate in the Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Work Project, helping to build over 100 homes with Habitat for Humanity International. Mark is Vice President of Construction and Real Estate and Laurie is cashier at the Home Improvement Store for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles. Mark will be reporting regularly from Hanoi on their experience.

In a few days my wife Laurie and I will board an airplane, heading for Hanoi in northern Viet Nam. As part of the Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Work Project 2009, we will help build over 100 homes along the Mekong River. We feel adventurous as we pack, but then realize we know almost every step and nuance of this trip. We have tickets for the flight, and know exactly when we will leave, what seats we will occupy, the entertainment options for our flight, and what we will eat. We bemoan the long flight, the cramped quarters in coach, the hassles of security. We know each hotel where we’ll rest at night, and they know we are coming. We have viewed pictures of the lobby, the pool, and the rooms on their website, and know what their restaurants serve and how late they are open. We know about the Vietnamese culture, have learned basic elements of the language, and have studied maps of the cities we will roam. Compared to those who ventured forth 100 or more years ago, not all that adventurous, I guess.

But there are some things we will not know until spending a week in Viet Nam, laboring alongside hundreds of other volunteers and the families who will purchase the homes we build. How will our muscles feel after laying brick all day? What will it sound like on the site with everyone building and talking? Who will become a lifelong friend during the week? What stories will “our” family tell about their life as we work together? What will we say or do that will impact someone else? What will change us forever, and in what way?

In this age of information we face a real danger. We begin to think we can know a people or a place by reading about them on the internet or in a book. Can you know the smell or taste of a dish by reading its recipe? No, we must prepare the meal, and in the process impart a bit of ourselves on the final product making it uniquely ours. No one else will have our exact experience, and we have learned to expect and embrace that which often feels uncomfortable but, in the fullness of time, becomes a blessing. We expect to return different somehow than when we left, and that is as it should be. Author Mark Jenkins said, “Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

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