It could have been yesterday:
The tangled stratum of purposeful noises, the primitive industrial pollution, the draft of oriental fragrances, the fluctuating wall of rushed foreign syllables. It was a world of western desire despite the eastern reality. I remember the chaotic bicycle traffic, the dangling red clusters of firecrackers in thin, clouded shop windows, the billowing screens of dust carried by hot wind into the folds of our clothes, our ears, our noses, our mouths and our hearts. It was the first time I felt such a proximity to my ancestry, yet at the same time, more distant from my familiar first world habitat.
As children we remember the important things:
December and the restaurants played American Christmas music. Much more important however, the Hilton hotel lobby in Hanoi housed nothing less than a life size gingerbread house: made with real gingerbread and garnished with sugar cookies of all colors, real honest to god frosty white cookies pasted to the spicy brown walls with pretty frosting, I can still taste the sweet seasonal air that surrounded it, feel the coarse walls at my fingertips and wonder why it didn’t crumble. In my mind it was a portal to another world, maybe one of fantasy, maybe the one oceans away. Sometimes I find that memories of this giant cookie house now are more vivid than that of those of the bustling city streets, the majestic wharfs, the raucous atmosphere of the orphanage, or even my new little sister.
This I can only recall in pieces
Gray walls. Children’s voices speaking, shouting, and crying in a language I did not understand. Sterile air. Sterile beds, cribs, blankets, sheets. I wore a solid pink and purple jacket and matching pants. These motherless, fatherless, children wore discarded expressions. Was I more like them than I had ever imagined in my shelter of plastic stimuli and boundless provisions? Was I meant to be with these Caucasian adults whom I held on to so tightly? Then we saw her, slight and emaciated at the ribs from malnutrition, she looked at us with wide and silent eyes. But we could not take her yet.
When we did:
Green flew past the van windows and inside we were a family in its simplest form. Half way around the world we watched on a country roadside, a grey skinned giant whisper to its baby water buffalo songs, their hides flawed, as if covered in a thousand muddy barnacles, their limp ears, shaded by a thick veil of coarse hair, to drown out the sounds enfolded in the surrounding landscape—a tree falling in the distance, tall yellow grasses murmuring goodbyes. Half way around the world with her soft, clumsy baby hands she silently grabs onto my pointer finger.
She is home.
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