The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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The narrator, Lisa Diep, recalls the first few days of her journey fleeing from Vietnam to Indonesia after the Vietnam War. She along with her family, and about 300 other passengers were on a fisherman’s boat with little food and water. Other boats on the sea were either generous neighboring fishermen, or Taiwanese pirates who stole from immigrants, knowing that they’d have to have a lot of money to be able to leave Vietnam.

The boat was long and wooden. There were two levels, counting the deck, where I stayed. It was two or three days out in sea. The waves were small and silent. The sky was blue with thin wispy clouds.

My stomach hurt, but not from the sea. The captain told us he’d take care of everything and not to worry about food. But so far we'd only eaten watery rice soup. Every few hours I’d take a sip of water that was passed around my family. None of my brothers or sisters complained so neither did I. Instead I watched the birds in the sky, floating off gales of wind.

A fisherman boat came to us yesterday and gave us freshwater. Since then we'd been on the lookout for another generous ship. There was nothing else to do, but sit and wait. I’d think about the games I used to play back at home, turning sticks into dolls or swimming on the beach. But now even those thoughts tired me out. Some people who could afford to spend the energy sang prayers in Cantonese. Then the ship came. The slender wooden boat pulled up side by side as we were still moving.

It latched on with grapples and we stopped. Dark skinned men jumped on board. Instead of the calm welcome we gave the first boat, everyone was in a panic. People lying on the deck from starvation jerked out of their delirium and fled to their families. The dozen or so men ordered us into two groups: men and women.

My mom grabbed me and my two sisters. I followed obediently, forgetting to even look back at my brothers and dad. Soon, all the passengers were in two groups. We sat on the ground and I stared at the water stained deck.

“Don’t move” whispered my mom, and I listened. I saw glimpses of starved men, who searched the ship. The wooden boards creaked underneath their weight. Puddles on the deck splashed. I heard waves breaking off the side of the boat, with a torturous silence surrounding us. Some men asked the passengers for gold. They weren't in much better condition than we were. 

That night it rained, and we finally got some water to drink.

Maritime

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Gulf of Thailand

The narrator, Lisa Diep, recalls the first few days of her journey fleeing from Vietnam to Indonesia after the Vietnam War. She along with her family, and about 300 other passengers were on a fisherman’s boat with little food and water. Other boats on the sea were either generous neighboring fishermen, or Taiwanese pirates who stole from immigrants, knowing that they’d have to have a lot of money to be able to leave Vietnam.

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Recorded by Jon Diep on December 2, 2014
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