The first diplomat, considered a ‘son-in-law’ of Vietnam, in this series by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper is Saadi Salama, Palestinian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Hanoi.
He is married to a Hanoian woman and has three daughters and a son who are all successful in their studies and career.
The ambassador said, “I say ‘good morning’ to my family members in Vietnamese, ‘good afternoon’ in Arabic, invite them for coffee in French, and say ‘good night’ in English.”
His family story started in Hanoi in 1980.
“After over 12 years of living in Hanoi and over 30 years of strong connection to Vietnam, I don’t have the feeling that I am a foreigner here,” said the Palestinian ambassador in his simple room in Trung Tu, an area for diplomatic delegations in the Vietnamese capital.
On the wall of his room are several close-up photos, including one featuring a young Arab man with a dark mustache working in the field with many other Hanoians.
It is the image of Salama taken in 1980 when he was an overseas student of Hanoi University.
“My life is attached to your country,” he told Tuoi Tre reporters.
“This opportunity came from the fight for national freedom that both our nations, Vietnam and Palestine, went through.
“Palestinians have always wanted to learn about the struggle of Vietnamese people for national independence and reunification.
“In 1972-73 when I was just a boy at the age of 12, I learned about Vietnam via newspapers and books.
“I remember being impressed by images featuring the resistance of Vietnamese people against B-52 bombers.”
At that time, boys in his residential area were often divided into two teams to play football, named Vietnam and the U.S. Salama said he always preferred playing for the Vietnam squad.
“When Vietnam gained their independence in 1975 to end the war, Palestinians celebrated it as their own victory,” he recalled.
According to Salama, the education ministry of Palestine included the Vietnamese struggle for freedom and independence into high school curricula and so, all Palestinians graduating from high school are well informed about the nation shaped like an S on the map.
After graduating from high school, Salama was given the opportunity to study in either Italy, Romania or Vietnam, and he immediately selected the Asian country.
It was 35 years ago but Salama said he can remember clearly the first moment he set foot in Hanoi.
“The plane landed at Noi Bai, an old airport. There was no automatic staircase vehicle like now, only manual stairs,” he recounted.
“It was nerve-wracking to step on the stairs vibrating at your footsteps.”
Both sides of the road connecting the airport and the center of Hanoi were rice fields with farmers wearing dark dresses. In the center, women wore white shirts and black trousers.
He studied in the Vietnamese faculty of Hanoi University from 1980 to 1984 and was active in community activities.
During the period, he met and married a Hanoi girl, Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh.
“At that time, Vietnamese students did not have much contact with foreign students, except Palestinians,” he said.
“Then, I never imagined that I would marry a local girl here.
“I think I am lucky.
“Vietnamese women have the virtue of saving the best for their children.”
His eldest daughter is now working for the Red Cross Committee in Switzerland.
His second daughter holds a master’s degree in international trade and is working for a company in France.
“She is always flying between countries,” Salama said of his second daughter.
His third daughter is studying at an art school in France and his youngest son is a student of a law school.
“All my children can speak Vietnamese, Arabic, French, and English. A few of them can also speak Spanish,” he said.
“So we communicate in different languages.
“I often say this is the essence of family relations by marriage between Vietnam and Palestine. And I am a son-in-law of Vietnam.”
His wife is now living in France with her children.
“It is the price of a diplomat,” he said about the rare opportunity for all of his family members to reunite.