After slowly and silently sneaking onto her father's fishing boat to escape Vietnam, my mom, her family, and about 60 other passengers took off toward Malaysia.
If their two-year-long wait wasn't enough to prove they were desperate to leave, the conditions on this boat (that they voluntarily put themselves through) prove it.
My mom and her family crammed onto this small fishing boat for two weeks, packed like sardines, wearing multiple layers of clothing because that’s the only thing they could bring with them.
“Underneath the boat, that’s where we hide. I was lucky I wasn’t down in the bottom because my mom got to sit in the cabin. I was only ten or eleven at that time."
For a lot of people, these boat rides are literally their death. In addition to the conditions of the sea, which killed so many people, there are a couple of other extremely dangerous factors.
The first: mechanical failure
“They have a big engine and my mom and dad and brothers had a small engine in case the big one broke. So the big one broke. Using the small one took longer. They picked a direction on the compass and just headed that way.”
The second: dehydration
With so many people packed on a tiny boat in such high temperatures, another life-threatening factor was dehydration.
“You know shot glasses? You have three of those of water a day. And crackers. We weren’t allowed to do anything. I feel bad for people on the bottom, like sardines. You can’t even walk straight, you have to crawl. And it’s hot, no air, no windows. You have layers of clothes, too. People’s backpacks and hot. It’s steamy hot and sweaty.”
And as if all of that wasn’t dangerous enough...there are also communist police
Communist police boats patrolled the water surrounding Vietnam, and if they saw an unrecognizable boat, they would stop it and inspect it.
My mom’s boat was stopped and inspected.
“So all the men prepared. They said if the communists, if the police want to check the bottom of the boat, they have to take action and kill the guys. If we don’t kill them, then they’ll go back and tell all the soldiers and police and we’ll all get caught and end up in jail. So we said, if we have to kill those two, then we have to.”
Luckily, my grandfather played off the entire situation. He said that the people in the cabin of the boat were passengers, and that he was taking them back and forth to the larger ferries. The police didn’t realize there were 60 more people hiding beneath the boat, and they didn’t bother to check. They left.
So two weeks later, after following a compass in the direction they of Malaysia, they saw land.
And that’s the start of an entirely different life.