Sara and I, along with our dogs Ralph and Lucy, would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our home in Hanoi. Without a doubt we would rather be hosting our annual Christmas party from 4th Street, but instead we send you best wishes and warm hugs from our home-away-from-home, along the shores of West Lake in Vietnam’s charming capital. Hanoi is a city of lakes, and we are fortunate enough to live a mere 20 meters from the city’s largest, grateful to walk our dogs along its shores, despite the thriving mosquito population even into December.
The locals claim it’s cold this time of year, walking the winding streets in winter coats, hats, and scarves, in weather that warms to 70 if not 80 degrees Fahrenheit most afternoons and drops to a mere 60 at night. Unless things cool off drastically come January, we will have lugged our warmest coats half-way around the world for no other reason than we were told it was “cold” here in the winter, forgetting that “cold” is a relative term, especially for those living in a tropical country, where unless you live at the highest elevations of Himalayas that extend into Western Vietnam, you will have never even seen snow, let alone know what we mean by “cold” that freezes pipes and paralyzes even the heartiest during the sub-zero days of January back home. For us the weather is perfect this time of year, sunny and clear, and at its coldest what we would call “crisp” in the US.
For those of you who know about our work this fall with the Jimmy and Rosalynn Work Project 2009, the Mekong Build, let us assure you the event was a huge success. For those of you less familiar with this work, you really only need to know that each year for the past 26, the Carters have hosted a large building project somewhere around the world, partnering with Habitat for Humanity. This year the Mekong Build happened simultaneously in the five countries through which the river flows—Thailand, Cambodia, China, Laos, and Vietnam. Here in Vietnam alone we built 32 houses in 5 days and hosted more than 700 volunteers from both Vietnam and around the world.
As the national director for Habitat Vietnam, Sara provided the leadership necessary to make our week a success. Along with my friend Elizabeth, I scripted and staged the entire opening and closing ceremonies, even writing speeches for Diana Negraponte, wife of John Negraponte, the deputy Secretary of State for George W. Bush. For Sara all of this was old hat, for me it was the experience of lifetime—literally, dinner with the Carters, chatting at length with Rosalynn.
Perhaps the most touching moment of the week, however, was on Wednesday, when President Carter addressed the crowd in our village church yard. While the president was talking about his visit being a healing opportunity for our two countries still at war with beginning of his presidency, two veterans of that war sat side by side in the audience, one American, the other a former member of the North Vietnamese army. As the president spoke of healing and the mending of broken relationships, the two veterans, former enemies, clasped one another’s hands, weeping through the rest of the ceremony.
In President Obama’s inaugural address nearly a year ago, he promised those President Bush termed the axis of evil that we would reach out our hand in friendship, if our enemies would unclench their fist. In Vietnam it took more than 40 years, but less than four weeks ago enemies one time as formidable as Taliban militants today held hands and wept in friendship, peace, and mutual respect.
It is this kind of peace, this kind of healing, we wish for you this Christmas. We may be far away this holiday season, but we too, reach out our hand of friendship across oceans that feel like 40 years —sharing our love for you, our prayers for your well-being. May you be blessed this holiday.
With love for each of you,
Kathy and Sara