Six years ago today, the day after Thanksgiving, my husband, Nick, and I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I still remember my Facebook post from that day. It said, “Leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”
It was a 27-hour journey to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We had lived in Shanghai just a year before and had taken 12+ hour flights many times, catching up on the latest movies, sleeping and working. But we were restless and nervous and couldn’t focus on the latest edition of “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “The Office” re-runs.
I remember sleepwalking through our 4-hour layover in Beijing, making friends with a drunk man from Seoul who was enamored with Nick and getting hassled by security about one of the antibiotics that we had with us just in case we got sick while in country.
We landed in HCMC late at night, the hotel shuttle bus a beacon outside the muggy, crowded airport terminal. We had two days in Ho Chi Minh to catch up on jet lag and get our bearings before taking the last leg down to Ca Mau, the southernmost province of Vietnam.
Ever the planner, I typically researched our trips for months, writing out detailed itineraries, reading hotel reviews and scanning rates, but for this trip, I had only planned about 24-hours in advance.
We weren’t going to Vietnam to see the beautiful monolithic islands of Halong Bay, to cruise the Mekong River on a longboat or to explore bustling Ho Chi Minh City. We were there to try to complete the adoption of our son which had stretched out for four frustrating years. We went to Vietnam with no intention of coming home until his adoption was finalized – whether it was a week, a month or a year.
After four years of a Kafka- like experience dealing with both the U.S. and Vietnamese governments, we were told that December 1st would be the day that we could potentially see our son and begin to finalize our adoption. The U.S. state department cautioned us that there were no guarantees and actually recommended that we not go to Vietnam. However, we knew that our best chance for our son was for us to be in country. So, we took leaves of absence from our jobs and headed to Vietnam.
For four weeks, we and six other families, who took the same big step, were holed up in a hotel that doubled as a karaoke bar at night and was probably where a few professional ladies worked (and the same hotel where I had a sketchy massage two years earlier). Though Vietnam is an incredible place to visit, Ca Mau is not high on any tourist list, and is known mostly for its dense mangroves, shrimp farms and remoteness. We were likely the only Westerners for hundreds of miles.
There were days when hours stood still, and others when it actually felt like we were going back in time, passing the minutes working remotely, playing countless games of computer solitaire, reading every book on hand (trading with other parents as well) and gathering on the roof top restaurant and bar of the hotel, the one redeeming factor of the place we were staying.
After many frustrating weeks of holding our breath and days wondering if it was ever going to happen, we were finally able to complete our adoption and come home to the U.S.
So while the Thanksgiving season provides an extra, conscious time for gratitude, just as it did for the 38 years before my son came home. For me, it is also a time when I am grateful for taking a leap of faith, for following my heart and for a dream realized.