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Home Again

Home Again

I am supposed to be happy right now. When I saw my mom, my dad, and all my younger brothers at the airport I was so happy. My youngest brother ran to me and jumped up into my arms and I gave my mom one of the longest hugs ever. I am happy to be with my family again, but that feeling has taken a backseat to great amounts of sadness.

            I left Vietnam to hugs and tears. When I left India I was in a bus full of Americans who were itching to get home. We were rushing to our plane because the roads were backed up because of a storm. Some of the girls on the bus were in tears because they were afraid they would miss the plane. When we got to the airport we were rushing through security and ran to the terminal as they were giving the final call. It was really dramatic. Our professors wished us all the best, but it wasn’t like we were leaving close friends behind. It was funny because it seemed like we were evacuating India, and in Vietnam the country had just celebrated the fall of Saigon and reunification where lots of evacuations had taken place thirty six years before. As opposed to those American girls on the bus in India, in Vietnam we cried because I was going to get on the plane. Some of the best friends of my life waved goodbye to me at the airport. Security wouldn’t let them come inside the airport with me, so I hugged all of them for a long time, sharing choked up smiles amidst tears and strong hands on shoulders reassuring we would see each other again… some day. A firm conviction in our eyes meant these were not just words, but a pact. I would return to Vietnam, or they would come to America. No matter what, we would see each other again. A promise hung in the air.

 How does that make sense, I have been studying India for years and the culture of India is something I have always been enamored with, and while Vietnamese history and culture is cool I still love India. Then why was I not so upset to leave India, but very sad when leaving Viet Nam. I’ll tell you, relationships trump any culture. I didn’t make any Indian friends my age when I studied in India last year, but I grew so close to several Vietnamese students my age this semester. Friendships have a great power over me.

After a round of goodbyes I walked with Vien to the doors with my bags where the guard stopped her and told her to turn back. I gave her a big hug still sobbing and she said, “I love you Jimmy” and smiled. I laughed a little and with a smile said, “Love you too Mama”. I turned and waved back to the rest of the students standing at a distance behind the rail, and then saw Nghiem, my roommate standing alone away from the pack looking at me. Something jerked inside me and I ran back to him leaving my bags with Vien. Even though the fence separated us from the hip down, we grabbed each other. We both promised we would see each other again. The face that was above the crowds when I walked dazed out of the same gates a few months earlier was here again, but it was a perked up smile waving crazily and shouting “Jimmy here!” back then. In the present we were both a mess. I pulled away.

I couldn’t look back again. I had to go. It was so hard. If I looked back again I knew I couldn’t leave, wouldn’t be able to. I had to walk through those doors.

With one final hug I walked back to Vien and picked up my bags, “See you” she said. I paused and said, “See you” and kept walking on to check in. We don’t see bye in Vietnam, because we’ll see each other again. Its never goodbye.

When I got back to America the customs official stopped me and looked at my passport and my travel documents. He started off by looking at me for a long time and then said, “What the f*@k were you doing in Vietnam?” I was surprised and replied nervously, “I am a student and was studying there.” “What the hell is there to learn in Vietnam” “Buddhism and Vietnamese culture.” “What is so special about Buddha?” “I’m a religious studies major that is what I study” “What school?” “Loyola University” “But that is a Catholic school, why are you learning all this sh*t?” He continued to berate me and I just about started to cry when he said curtly, “Welcome home” as he stamped my papers and threw them down on the counter. I picked them up and continued on.

            I walked through the terminal toward the gate to Cincinnati and came across a young Vietnamese woman who didn’t know any English. She had just gotten off a transatlantic flight, and service in Vietnamese ends in Hong Kong, so she was completely lost. A pilot was trying to explain to her in English where to go but it wasn’t working. I walked over and offered to help. Using the bit of Vietnamese I know I was able to get her to follow me, get her on the tram, and get her off at her terminal’s station. I wanted to follow her, to go back. I wasn’t read to be home yet. A few more days, a few more weeks, I needed time with all the friends I had made over the past semester. They were my world, and my world was crashing down before me. I was heading back to my normal life, something that will never be the same again after that extraordinary semester.

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