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A BOAT IN THE QUEST FOR FREEDOM
by
Kiem Vu

The boat quietly departs in the ghostly darkness of the late October night, 1989 hoping to reach the Thailand Gulf. On board are over one-hundred Vietnamese people of all ages, some dispirited, but most happy... and brimming with hope that they will reach the promised land. This intensive escape leaves them vulnerable, and the challenges they encounter are enormous; however, it exhibits their iron will against the corrupt practices of communism. Morning comes to begin a beautiful day. The sky is clear and sunny. The boat rocks slightly by the waves and continues to run at its full speed. The people know so well at the time that there is no going back. Either they will make it or die somewhere in the immense and unforgiving sea. Fear of the uncertainty and the unknown lingers in their minds. Are they heading in the right direction? Will they survive? Will they be hit by the storm or face the cruel and savage Thailand's pirates? Where will they end up...?

On the third day, dark clouds are hovering over their heads and strong winds start to blow heavily against their tiny wooden boat. The calm ocean becomes increasingly violent with ferocious waves driving their boat far off course. There is no sight of land, nothing except the rumbling sky, the quivering winds, and the fast trembling heartbeats; the people are crying for help. Soon, they run out of food, raw fish have become their main source of nourishment, but even that is rare. One can especially hear children whining for food while their parents sit there, helplessly. These apprehensive, innocent kids do not know what has happened to them, nor why they have been put in the boat to never see their home again. Perhaps the assurance of having a delicious American hamburger after these struggles could lighten them?

A child interminably in tears asks her mother, "When are we going home?" And nothing is as painful than to realize that they do not have a home. The communists have taken theirs. After weeks, the trip has undermined everyone's health. Even their clothes are wet, and they have had to sleep through the coldest nights. Their spirits and strength are greatly diminished. Why is freedom so hard to find? If it is not in the vast ocean, then where is it?

At last, after exhausting days and nights hopelessly waiting for a miracle, the boat finally arrives at Kokra Island in the Thailand Gulf, and three sailboats approach welcoming the immigrants. People scream in overwhelming happiness, and children rush towards the deck hoping to fill their stomachs after days without food. Suddenly, their future evaporates the moment they see the gleam of sharp knives advancing towards them. In a matter of seconds the tragic little boat, which has been half-eaten up by storms, deformed by hunger, is now surrounded by sea pirates. They ransack the ship, and rob the escapees; men are clubbed, knifed, and thrown into the sea; women raped and tortured with savageness beyond imagination. After that, they tie the escape boat to their own and pull away, running to maximum speed and making abrupt turns to drown the people inside. Only one woman survives the attack, who later tells the story. Fifteen people in the refugees' boat are my close relatives including my two sisters and one brother, and the majority of others are my neighbors.

Nevertheless, the quest for freedom is not yet over. Despite the adversity of the journey, having to flee the homeland is the only way to avoid prosecution in Vietnam after the Vietnam war. The government put my father in jail for six years because he stood up for democracy. Others were killed or sent to "death" camps when their beliefs contradicted communism. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of people escape and face immense challenges in their efforts towards a happy-free life.

A year after my brother and sisters died at the hand of those sea pirates, my family and other siblings start our journey. Six years later, our dream comes true when we finally arrive in America. It is the first time I experience the effervescent taste of Seven-up, the delicious flavor of McDonald's french fries, and the atmosphere of true democracy that my country does not possess. Holding a hamburger in my hand reminds me of my brother and sisters hungering for it so badly that they risked their lives for America. That hamburger is worth only a few dollars, but priceless to me because the price my family has paid is measureless.

I am very fortunate for being the one who is at last able to have the hamburger in his hand after many years of yearning and suffering.

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