Rice and Water

As I was reorganizing my bookcase this past week, I came across one of my journals written my sophomore year at Loyola Marymount University. Reading it over again, I was saddened that some issues are still present. This entry was written for my Chicano Literature class with Dr. Graciela Limon and published in Encantos Literary Journal - Volume I: 1999 Edition. The Chicano Studies Department used Encantos to serve as a catalyst for social justice through promotion of creative works, in hopes of provoking critical thought, dialogue and collaboration.

Tam M. Vu
Age: 19
Title: Rice and Water
Journal: Encantos Literary Journal Volume I
1999 Edition

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Quang Nam is the city in Vietnam where I lived. It is known to be the city which has small possibilities of agriculture. During the spring, the landscape is barren and encompassed with parched sections of soil. The month of March brings about the opposite extreme of weather conditions. It continuously rains, constantly flooding the land, destroying the whole year's meager harvest. The floods and lack of produce result in the lay-off of many hardworking farmers, who depend on the income made to support their families.

My father was included within the group of people who were laid off. At the house, he felt worthless because my mother did the majority of the housework. At the break of dawn, he would walk in the storm, wandering from door to door searching for anyone who was in need of a helping hand. A couple of days after repeated, unsuccessful attempts, my father's spirit became weak and his health began to fade. He did not have enough money to receive medication, as his condition deteriorated. My mother managed to gather up the meager amount of money we had, in order to buy herbs and tea from local merchants. But nothing helped alleviate his pain; he was desperately in need of seeing a doctor. His face was drained of all of its color, his body temperature skyrocketed and he constantly complained of body aches.

One afternoon, a middle-aged man unexpectedly dropped by our house. At the time, I was playing with my baby brother Quoc, whose name means Our Country. My older brother Hung, which means Strength, was at work as usual, hauling carts from dusk 'til dawn. My parents greeted the stranger and sat in the kitchen for an hour, discussing unknown matters. They asked me to escort my sister Tuyet, which means Purity and Innocence, into the room. The stranger took a glimpse at her and deviously smiled. Before the stranger departed, he handed my father an envelope, as my sister left with him. The only thing I saw was a tear slowly running down the side of her cheek. My parents did not even walk out to see her leave. They disappeared into their room, and all I could hear were sounds of pain and hurt. Little did I know, this was the last I would ever see of Tuyet.

In the month that followed, my father's health slowly rejuvenated and things began to look better. One day, an old friend visited, bringing news of my sister. He happened to bump into her in Taiwan, where most young girls were taken. My parents were anxious to hear his words. They took him to the kitchen, where the stranger was taken one month earlier. His exact words I cannot remember...all I remember was the look of astonishment and disbelief glued on my parents' faces.

My father's health once again worsened, as he spent most of the day in his bedroom. Some days, we would only see him during supper time. At times I would sneak into my parents' room and overhear their conversations. My father described his feelings of shame and selfishness. Thoughts of his malnourished, abused and deceived daughter unknowingly being sold to a sixty-year-old, continuously flooded his mind. Even though my mother was just as hurt, she tried to cheer him up. But nothing seemed to work. A couple of days later, my father completely broke down and my family suffered the loss of yet another member.

From then on, my mother was unusually quiet. Her joy for life disappeared and she noticeably lost a great deal of weight, reducing her frail physique. As for me, I did not understand the complexity of the situation. What ever happened to my fifteen-year-old sister? Why did my father suddenly die after it seemed like he was getting better? What are we going to do without them?

One night, my mother called us down for dinner, an hour earlier than usual. She prepared chao, a delicacy, that consists of rice and water. This was much better than our usual meal of salty rice. As we bowed our heads in prayer, she looked at each of us individually, with an apologetic look. The soup was delicious, it had been so long since we last had it. Suddenly the room darkened and right before my eyes, my own body along with the rest of my family, laid lifelessly on the floor.