Biet was a winsome eight year old in South Vietnam in 1968. She was one of a group of children my husband Terry encountered selling cokes to soldiers to earn some money. Biet was especially engaging, with bright eyes and smile, and she always sold the most. She would call “Honcho!” to Terry as soon as she saw him coming. Naturally, he garnered quite an entourage.
The children liked to follow him back to his camp. Terry permitted them to stay awhile and would share any extra rations with them. But he would eventually tell them “Di di” meaning go on. But one day Biet, was adamant in her refusal to go, saying “No di di, honcho.” Terry, as he describes it, was unwilling to get into a struggle with an eight year old girl in front of his men. She was allowed to stay and from then on she was permitted to come and go as she pleased.
In the beginning of their friendship, her English was not very good. But after several weeks of tutoring she was capable of carrying on a meaningful conversation in English. She expressed much anxiety for Terry’s safety. Out of that concern she gave him two Buddhist icons to wear around his neck for “protection.” He wore those religious symbols around his neck for the remainder of his time in Vietnam.
The last day before Terry was moved to a new assignment, he arranged to go with Biet to see her mother. He gave her mother money to buy Biet an “ao dai” (a traditional Vietnamese female dress) to wear to school. He hoped to emphasize to her mother his hope that Biet would attend school. That was his last time to see Biet. In his memoir, he writes he did not fully appreciate how much he would miss this spunky little girl. One can imagine that loss was mutual.
Woodrow Wilson once said “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”
I am also reminded of the quote from The Little Prince: “The tender friendships one gives up, on parting, leave their bite on the heart, but also a curious feeling of a treasure somewhere buried.”
Such enduring friendship is indeed a treasure. Just as that relationship anchored a soldier and a little child in war-torn Vietnam, our deep connections support our wellbeing when we travel difficult roads in uncertain times.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.
Hope’s Café Bonus: Vietnamese Snack, “Rice Paper Rolls” (Goi Cuong): fill rice paper wraps with pork, shrimp or tofu; add ingredients like lettuce, vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, mint garnish or other vegetables. Dip in peanut sauce.