Keeping My Father Out of Vietnam

by Angie Hilbert
( March 18th, 2014 )

Keeping my father out of VietnamIn the spring of 1967, the woman who would become my mother went out to check the mail. She was an 18 year old newlywed. Among the cards and bills was a letter addressed to her new husband from the President of the United States. She probably knew exactly what it was the moment she saw it but she opened and read it anyway. “You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States and to report…”

I can only imagine the feelings that must have assaulted her, alone in their small apartment as she read and re-read the orders. But her reaction is a family legend—she hid the letter!

Who knows what happened over the next several weeks. Perhaps Mom asked around about what happens if someone doesn’t show up for induction. Maybe she talked about the draft notice with someone she trusted and got some good advice. Maybe she just looked at Dad across the dinner table one evening and decided this was something they should face together. However it came about, she showed Dad the letter just before his report date.

The good news was that the US military did not know that they were married. More than that, they were married and expecting their first child! Still there was very little time left to document these things.

The small town they lived in was a close-knit community and the family doctor was most accommodating in rendering the necessary examinations and providing the required documentation on short notice. With paperwork in hand, my father presented the US government with the latest developments in his life and was reclassified as a husband and father of one. He would not be taking a trip to Vietnam after all.

It is now the spring of 2014. I am more than twice as old as my father was when my mother hid his draft notice. Vietnam; the country once looked upon with so much dread and fear in my family is now the object of wonder and fascination. No longer are our men sent to kill and die against their will. Now a WanderTour of women prepare to visit and meet their Vietnamese sisters and learn to cook Vietnamese dishes, batik textiles, learn about silk making, work in a rice field, and experience the ancient and artistic culture of Vietnam in peace and friendship. I am going with them. After anchoring my father firmly in the USA to keep him out of Vietnam, I can’t wait to go myself! A lot changes in 40 years… but not quite everything.

“I will not rest easy until you are back home” my mother says. “Stay safe, and I will miss you.” Her instinct to keep loved ones close and safe is as strong as ever. Which reminds me… Wheres my… “Mom, you haven’t seen my passport have you?”

(The photo was taken by my mother, Brenda Neff as my father, Craig Neff was dressing me for church. See what a happy child I was safe in their love!)



Preventing Malaria (It’s only romantic in literature)

by Angie Hilbert
( March 11th, 2014 )

Preventing MalariaWhile tuberculosis and syphilis each hold a hallowed place in epic literature, malaria is the disease writers turn to in their romantic imaginings of exotic adventure. Preventing malaria is not something an author is likely to do for their characters. Malaria is too good as a plot device. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen, and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver would all be very different books without malaria to drive the story, twist the plot, and increase the stakes.

One of the reasons I travel is to seek out the experiences I read about. I long for the sensual reality of my literary experiences. There is so much I’m looking forward to seeking out in Vietnam and Cambodia; the smell of burning joss, the visual riot of reds and yellows painted on temple dragons, the caress of silk, and taste of Pho. I am not, however looking forward to fever, chills, nausea, headache and delirium. To avoid such sensations, I have taken firm steps to prevent mosquito borne illness.

Permethrin SprayFirst, I have my anti-malaria pills, but they can cause tummy trouble in sensitive people. I need a back-up in case I have a bad reaction. Besides, malaria might have an honored place among literary diseases, but I’m more afraid of dengue fever. Anti-malaria pills won’t help with that. Even if I tolerate my Atovaquone/Proguanil just fine, I still want to keep the blood suckers away. Since flying with a can of insect repellant might not go over very well with the TSA, and because I don’t want a leaky bug-dope bottle to soak my gear, I packed deet-infused towelettes to use when out on day hikes and excursions. Since I will be spending a couple of nights on boats and trains, I also wanted something to protect me while I slept. I found a pair of sonic mosquito repellant devices. Last, but not least, I treated my entire travel wardrobe with permethrin.

I never knew you could treat your cloths with permethrin at home! I ordered a couple of big bottles of the stuff and went to work. While most of my fabrics absorbed the spray very well, using the hand trigger pump-bottle was pretty tiring. You need a strong grip but that’s not the hardest part. I have a few items of clothing made of a breathable but water resistant fabric These items repelled the spray and instead of absorbing and drying into the fabric, it tended to run down and drip off. Since these items are the ones I plan to wear on day-hikes, this was a problem.

Permethrin Soaking KitLooks like a soaker job! There is a version of the treatment that allows you to soak clothing in a plastic bag with permethrin solution. After carefully measuring to achieve the appropriate concentration, I submerged my water resistant items and carefully sealed the bags. Every thirty minutes I gently sloshed and turned the bags to insure thorough coverage. After a few hours I donned my plastic gloves, wrung out the clothing and hung it all to dry with the pieces that more readily absorbed the pre-mixed spray.

Preventing malaria and dengue fever isn’t that hard. When it’s time to close the book and open the door I know my clothing is mosquito repellant. I can embrace the adventures of my choice. I don’t have to worry about mosquitos choosing an adventure for me.

Preventing Malaira

Read ~ Write ~ Wander



Women Around the World in (less than) 80 Days

by Angie Hilbert
( March 6th, 2014 )

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History – Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman is a tale of two extraordinary women. Eighty Days Around the WorldOne was a scrappy, sensational, investigative reporter. The other was a gentile, demure, literary reviewer. Both were ground-breaking travelers and writers. These two women actually did what Jules Verne only dreamed. They traveled around the world in less than 80 days.

Today that doesn’t sound like such a big deal. Depending on the route, a traveler could make it around the world in 80 hours! But these women did it in 1889 at the height of the Victorian era. They left within 24 hours of one another, in opposite directions and each traveled unaccompanied. Using trains, carriages, Ships, and Rickshaws, Nellie Bly made the trip in 72 days, Elizabeth Bisland in 76 days. Both beat the imaginary record of the character Phileas Fogg of Jules Verne’s famous story Around the Wold in 80 Days published in 1873.

Nellie was already famous for pretending to be mentally ill and getting herself committed to an insane asylum to report on the shocking conditions there. After subjecting herself to Ten Days in a Madhouse you would think a trip around the world in 80 days would be nothing. But when she proposed the idea to her editor he was concerned about sending a woman alone abroad and proposed that perhaps a male reporter should be dispatched instead. Nellie’s famous reply was,”very well. Start the man and I”ll start the same day for some other newspaper and I”ll beat him!”

When she did set sail across the Atlantic, the editor of a competing newspaper heard about the endeavor and decided Nellie should indeed have some competition. He sent his literary reporter, Elizabeth Bisland around the world in the opposite direction with instructions to beat Nellie Bly. Elizabeth was a bit more reluctant. She had less than 24 hours to prepare if she was going to catch the train to San Francisco. As much as Nellie was known for her courage and audacity, Elizabeth was known for her grace and refinement. A reporter of the San Francisco chronicle wrote an article about her. “She doesn’t look like a very daring creature, this little woman with gentle voice… but she is going around the world in 75 days, and she’s going alone. If this thing can possibly be accomplished she is the very one to do it. It is always these delicate well-bred women who have unheard of endurance and wonderful pluck.”

The story of these two intrepid women unfolds as a tale of contrasts but these very different women still held a lot in common. I found myself identifying with first one and then the other. Though we know from the beginning which lady ultimately “won” the race, the story is less about the destination than it is about their respective journeys. Just as in life, it’s not about reaching the goal, it’s about the paths traveled. Both of these women walked the road of disadvantage and deprivation. Both courageously made their way in life with nothing but their courage and their pens. And both women had a heart for helping the needy and fighting social injustice. I can’t help but imagine an alternate reality in which they traveled together.

As I prepare to embark on my own journey abroad, I find myself thinking of the spirit of adventurous women travelers. I wonder about the other women who will be on the WanderTour to Vietnam and Cambodia with me later this month. Chances are we will all be very different women. All of us from different backgrounds, different experiences and likely we will all be looking for different things from our journey. But we will also have much in common. I look forward to meeting the Nellie Blys and the Elizabeth Bislands among them. How lovely to be traveling in the same direction with the opportunity to become friends.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


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