The refugee – A re-post

We all have bad patches. I just spent some time with a young person who is going through a bit of a bad patch. And I sat down to write about it but I couldn’t because I hadn’t asked for permission. So I decided to trawl through my old post for this story. –

You know how some old bores want to tell jokes all the time and they start with, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” But they don’t mean it. Well I am not going to ever apologise for telling this story again and again.

St Joseph’s College in North Fitzroy was my favourite ever school to teach in. Unfortunately it was ‘rationalized’ out of existence. The school had as many different nationalities of people as it had students. There were a large number of Vietnamese ‘Boat people’.

One day I asked each boy in one of my Year Seven classes to give a talk on “How my family came to live in Australia.” It was appropriate because all but one student had been born overseas.

Tam was a small happy boy and he told us the following story.

‘When I was six my mother and father sold everything we owned to get gold to pay the man who would get us out of Vietnam. Then one night we went down to the river and crawled onto a raft and floated downstream until we met the Mekong. There we got onto a bigger boat. There were ten other families. With us were my mother and father and my baby sister Li. Li was only two. As we went down the river we had to be very quiet because the soldiers would hear us.

Finally we floated out into the South China sea. The men who worked the boat started the engine and we set out for Malaysia. On the first day of the trip we were attacked by pirates who stole almost everything on the boat. We were very frightened.

 The next day we attacked again by different pirates. All of the children were in the bottom of the boat in the oily water and our job was to keep the little ones quiet. The pirates were very angry that we had nothing for them to steal so they beat most of the men and attacked the women. They took my auntie with them and some of the other women.

On the next five days the same thing happened and I saw my mother attacked by the soldiers every time. On the eighth day the pirates were so angry that they killed my mother with a sword and threw her into the sea with some of the other women and men.

I don’t remember how many days went by but near the end when all of the children were hiding in the bottom my little sister Li started to cry. The pirates came and took her and started to play catch with her, throwing her from our boat to their boat and back. The leader of the pirates got angry and held up his sword and caught Li on it like a satay stick. Then he threw her in the sea. I was very, very sad.

The next day we saw the coast of Malaysia. The pirates were attacking us and the Malaysian navy just waited until the breakers tossed us onto the beach. We had no engine because the pirates had stolen it a couple of days before. We stayed in the camp in Malaysia for three years and then we came to Australia.’

By the time Tam sat down every student (and the teacher) had tears pouring down his face. It came to “Question Time”. Someone asked Tam, “Tam, if all that happened how come you are always so happy?”

“Because I’m here. And because I’m alive.”

And Tam was, without any doubt, the happiest smilingest student in the school.

7 thoughts on “The refugee – A re-post

  1. What a tough story. It’s the kind of story I hear and ‘understand’ but can’t begin to understand as the reality it is. Not just then, but now.


    1. I don’t know what it’s like in the UK but here we have no Vietnamese boat people in Parliament but they are our best doctors and surgeons and scientists and accountants etc etc. I was told the other day that Tam is now a doctor.

      Liked by 2 people

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