Happy New Year to all our fans and supporters!
We know 2020 has thrown a lot at us but it has in many ways given us time to step back and reflect on where we have been, where we would like to go, and with whom we would like to go there.
This pause has been partially from the pandemic, and partially because as the director I was stuck first in the UK while trying to do in person fundraising for the clinic we were trying to open last March (no in person anything happened in Spring…), and then in the US for 7 months managing my father’s hospitalization, his move to a hospice, then 2 different nursing homes, and eventually his death on Veteran’s Day in November. 11.11.2020 was the end of an era for me not only because my father died, but because in many ways, he is the reason I started this organization and fought like f***ing hell to keep it.
My father was a Marine officer, leader of Echo company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines and was wounded during an ambush during Operation Prairie I in Quang Tri province. That ended his Marine carrier and the lives of over a dozen of his Marines that day. I visited the site where this happened just a few months after moving to Vietnam in 2012. The one thing I remember feeling strongly up on the hill near where the ambush happened was that kids were killed that day on both sides that had no business being killed and that my father was responsible for much of that. He was no hero to me. Being there at the Rockpile at the site of the battle instilled in me a sense of duty to Vietnam that I have not been able to shake, even when I really hate the place with all the traffic, corruption, pain in the ass banking, and a LONG list of annoying shit that often masks the things I adore like its people, the landscape, and the FOOD. Omg the food. Most of all I feel deeply indebted to the country and its people and the animals of many species who suffer there for so many reasons.
I wanted to make change for Vietnam after that experience and one day I hope I will, but my family did things a bit differently with their time in Vietnam. My parents lived in Saigon in 1971-1973 when my dad was working for the CIA and my mom worked at the US embassy and for Air America. They were those typical annoying expats making too much money, having too much privilege, and sweating far too little. My mom sauntered around like a Vogue model all the time when I am always drenched in sweat, pig poo, and cat piss. They attended charity dinners with the staff from other embassies and intelligence agents. They had a cook and a maid and a car. I drive a rented $200 motorbike when I am home and eat local noodles and drink copious amounts of coffee- also I never “saunter” as my elegant giraffe of a mother did. My Vietnam is not their Vietnam. We are not fighting the same war.
My father never supported the work of the organization. He hated that I did this job and could not even tell you the name of the organization I have run in a country for 8 years in which he killed people if I held him at gunpoint. He called it my “failed business” even to the point this summer when he could barely speak as his health deteriorated and he was rarely lucid. He was always aware enough to tell me my work was a waste of time and I was a failure. Being vegan made us fight until we stopped talking for nearly 4 years. I do not do this job because of him, but in spite of him. And it is both because of and in spite of him that I will not give up the organization’s mission for anything because ultimately it is the right thing to not harm animals of any species. Staying true to that and digging in hard as f*** may not be what my dad wanted or could ever agree with, but he certainly could identify with my stubbornness and my inability to back down when I am fighting for something bigger than myself even if it has cost me so much to do so. I do not agree with the war he fought in Vietnam and he does not agree with the war I fight in Vietnam. He made very good money harming the Vietnamese both as a Marine and CIA and I make barely enough to eat helping animals there. Our wars and our Vietnam have nothing in common.
What we must do with the year ahead of us is remember where we came from, what we overcame, and why we still fight. I know why I fight like I do. I know that Vietnam was in me before I was born. I know that my parents loved Vietnam when they lived here, and my father amassed a huge collection of Vietnamese art, porcelain, and furniture. My babysitters as a toddler were the Vietnamese refugees my family hosted when they lived with us in Charlottesville. I could tell you more about Vietnam in kindergarten than most adults can tell you now. Vietnam has always been a part of my life and my father spoke of it almost daily as long as he was alive.
There is so much left to be done and we are ready to move forward now that my time in the US is over and I have moved to Costa Rica for ankle surgery. Sadly, I still cannot get home to all the babies I have not seen since 7 March when I left for Europe as border remain closed and without $4000 for the visa and flight, I am not getting in yet. The veterinary work is actually going to happen this year, and we are 100% sure of that due to some grants coming our way after too many years of waiting not so patiently and suffering through some huge setbacks. We are working towards a collaborative project for macaques confiscated from the wildlife trade. In addition, after many years of wanting to leave the property, we are again trying to make the move out of the current very small property we have been on for 7 years. We have a lot of kitties to rehome, dogs and a cat awaiting post-pandemic export flights. Busy, busy year! Most of all, we will not ever let any species down. We remain as vegan as ever! Being silent about the greatest threat to animals in our diets is being complicit with the murder of trillions of land and sea animals and no one can make us be quiet about that.
After a very difficult year personally in which I was forced to come face to face with a family history that I have run from for over 14 years living outside the US, I will be able to return slowly to something closer to full time work for the organization as soon as my ankle reconstruction is finished and I am up and moving. This has not been a break for me in any way as managing my parents’ estate, selling off their things, moving 3 big trucks and trailers 700 miles on my own and taking over their finances has been a nightmare, but it has reminded me of my passion for the mission and my readiness to move forward differently in a way that allows me to sustain myself in the position and the organization I started 8 years ago with more help from people who are both capable and passionate about our projects. Nothing is possible without them.
Thanks to all the supporters who kept us going this year when it seemed impossible!
Happy New Year!