Finding My Way Home Di Tim Duong Ve Nha

Carrie Nguyen

Carrie Nguyen

Thirty years ago I left my home and never came back. My mother, father, three brothers, two sisters, and I lived in Saigon, South Vietnam. We loved our home, but we were forced to leave and start a new life in America.
On April 30, 1975 South Vietnam was taken over by North Vietnamese communists.  The North Vietnamese Communists and Viet Cong captured Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital. During this time South Vietnamese men who were working in the armed forces, as religious leaders, or employees of the American or "old" government were captured into reeducation camps. The communists claimed that these men needed to be "reeducated" on the new Vietnamese government. These men were captured for months or even years, while their families remained at home. The rest of the Vietnamese were desperately trying to escape Vietnam by boat. However, if they were caught, they would be put into jail as well.
When South Vietnam was taken over in 1975, I was only four years old. In that same year my father was taken away and put into reeducation camp, and he was never home again until eight years later.
"Chong toi o dau?" Where is my husband? My mother demanded while we visited Father.
Soldiers could be heard speaking in the distance with a thick north Vietnamese accent. Even though it was the same language, the accent was sometimes too strong for me to understand fluently. A soldier walked us through the dirt floor to a smaller, older hut where my father was contained. When my mother and I entered the small hut, the musty smell of mold filled our noses. I took a look at my father and he had never appeared skinnier. His body was covered with purple bruises and bloody scratches from sweeping mine fields, clearing jungles, and digging wells. His skin was covered with a layer of dirt from not being able to shower. His hair grew longer, filled with knots and dirt. My father was lean to the point where the outline of his skeleton was visible. After an hour, we were forced home.
    A few months later in 1979, my mother called me and my brother to talk."Dat!Hieu!Come here!" Mother yelled loudly from downstairs. My brother and I scrambled to walk down the stairs into the kitchen.
    "I decided that I will send you both with Cau Mo to escape Vietnam."
    "How? We are both so young. I'm eleven. Dat is only eight years old. We can't escape Vietnam," Hieu countered with a confused look on his face.
    "We have to take the risk if it means freedom. Your father is already captured; I do not want my children to be captured by the Viet Cong either."
    We stayed at Can Tho for three days, then we were moved to a boat with ninety other men, women, and children. We sailed for a few days until havoc wreaked. 
"Chet roi!We are lost", the second mate announced. The boat started closing in on land, and that night the low tide trapped our boat. The boat was stuck for a night and the next morning, my brother, uncle, and I tried to run inland through the shallow water. We ran for a mile, but it was too far, so we had to go back out to the boat. 
Later that day, the border police spotted our boat, and suddenly started shooting around it. Screams of women and children were as loud as red firecrackers popping. I was scared. The police towed our boat to a police station and commanded us to sit on an open field in a hundred degree weather. After many hours, people began to faint because of the lack of water in the scorching hot weather.  
"Dung trong mot hang! Coi het do ra!" Stand in a line! Take off all your clothes! The soldier commanded angrily. I knew they were checking for hidden money in our clothes.
"Lay het!" Take it all! My fearful heart begins to pound because in my pocket there is a one hundred U.S. dollar bill and a gold compass. I examined the soldiers and waited until they were not looking to throw the bill and compass into the grass and buried it with my foot. When it was my turn, my body went tense, but they quickly moved on since I was just a child.
Around two hundred people were captured and put into a jail in the province Cuu Long at Huyen Cau Ngang. Each person only had one liter of water to drink and two to shower each day.
Three months later, Hieu and I were finally released after our mother was forced to sign a paper that stated that we would never try to escape Vietnam again.
In 1981 my mother sold gold pieces to get money for Hieu to escape Vietnam again. At seventeen years old, boys were conscripted to the army's front line, so my mother decided to send him away again. Our family did not hear about Hieu's boat until a couple months later when news broke that Hieu's boat was gone because the engine died and water supply was running low. There were survivors, but we had no idea if Hieu was one of them. 
A year later, my father came home.The house was so quiet the only thing heard was the clanking of chopsticks against our porcelain bowls, until three loud bangs were at the door. Knowing that communist soldiers could be at the door, my mother told me and my siblings to hide. My father was home, and we were happy to be reunited.
My father said that we needed to find a way to escape Vietnam. Both my mother and father were very insistent on this idea, but after hearing about so many neighbors being lost at sea, or being captured by communists, they decided to wait until a safer option was available. 
In 1989 programs, like the Orderly Departure Program and the Humanitarian Operation, for refugees that allowed the Vietnamese to emigrate to different countries were created. Our family was allowed to follow the Humanitarian Operation to immigrate to America. Since my father worked for the military in Vietnam and because he was a former reeducation camp detainee, we were able to use this program to immigrate to the US. Two years later, we planned to fly out of Vietnam on January 11, 1991. We packed our woolen sweaters, jackets, shoes, and all the warm clothes because we knew that America would be a lot colder than Vietnam. 
    While waiting for our luggages at LAX, a young woman came up to my mother and father and asked them if they were Hieu's parents. 
    "You know Hieu? You know my son? Did he make it?" my mother asked almost in tears.
    "Xin loi Bac. Your son did not make it. I was on the same boat as Hieu. I knew your son. When the boat's engine died, some crewmen offered one liter of water to anyone that jumped off the boat and swam to shore. Hieu volunteered because he thought he was a good swimmer, but he could not make it," the lady apologized, bowing her head.
    My mother was even more saddened at this news. When she first heard that Hieu's boat did not make it, she already knew that there was a chance that her son had passed away, but finally receiving closure still made her heartbroken. 
    While waiting for hours for paperwork to get processed, I took out my compass and noticed that it had stopped working. The thin needle was stuck and no longer spun around when I turned in different directions. I remember when my father first gave it to me; he told me that it would help me find my way home. I guess, in a way, the compass stopped working because I had just found my new home.
    In a month we lived in a townhouse. We were still trying to adjust to the freezing air in California. Two months later, we began to settle in, so I realized I needed a job to support my family. 
"Can I have the job at the McDonald eat?" I bowed down and asked. The manager stared at me with wide eyes, but nodded at me after a few seconds.
    While attending Mission College, I decided to pursue a career in computer science. In one of my computer classes, I met a Vietnamese girl, and it turns out we actually lived in the same area in Vietnam, and we apparently even went to the same high school.
    Co cong mai sat, co ngay nen kim. Thirty years later, after lots of hard work, I'm thankful for being able to come to America and to be able to give my children a better life. I am proud to call America my home.

Age 13-17 category | Fall into Fiction Short Story Contest 2023 | San José Public Library

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