No Van Vo is a brief man with one eye and one foot. He is a mechanic at the University. He can fix anything and has done so here for six years. He was born in Vietnam. When he was eighteen years old he sat for the national college exam there. Students who passed the exam went on to university and students who failed went into the army. He failed the exam and went into the army. His army was at war. One day he stepped on a land mine and lost his left foot and his left eye and most of his right eye. Then the other army overran his army and that was the end of the war.
Former sergeants in the wrong army were not popular with the new government, and there wasn't much work in the new Vietnam for blind one-legged men, of which there were thousands after thirty years of war, and No didn't want to lean on the largesse of his family, so he applied for emigration, which was denied, and his sister tried to buy him a spot on a clandestine boat, but her money was stolen.
So I concluded to escape, he says.
I decided to cross the border to Cambodia, he says. My father and I cried.
I sold all my clothes. All I had left was shorts and a shirt and cigarettes and my plastic foot. I took a riverboat to the border. Some guys showed me where to go. We waited for dusk. They took off running fast through the fields and I followed them. I carried my crutch on my shoulder and ran as fast as I could. We got across the border into Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge were in charge there. I went west, toward Thailand. I didnt have any money. A boy in a village was supposed to help me go through the forest into Thailand but he left me in the forest. I got caught by soldiers and sent back to the village.
Then that village was attacked by other soldiers. We lay on the floor as bullets and mortar shells fell all around. We could hear the soldiers shouting. We were on the floor for a day and a night. Worries came up through my mind.
To escape into Thailand you needed about a hundred dollars. So a woman said she would take me through the forest and across the border in a wagon. The forest was filled with robbers and soldiers. At the border the soldiers put me in jail. I was there for two weeks. I prayed for good luck. There was only rice soup and salt to eat. The women in that prison were raped every night. Then one day the head of the prison saw me limping and falling in the mud. When he found out I was blind and crippled he told his soldiers to get rid of me because I couldnt do any work for them.
Instead of killing me they gave me to the Red Cross and the Red Cross put me in a refugee camp on the border. I was there for one year. One day all the handicapped people in camp were moved to another place and a week later some soldiers attacked the first camp and burned it to the ground and killed everyone they could find.
Because I had been in our army when your army and our army were fighting on the same side in the war I could come to your country, which I did. Some people helped me get a cornea transplant. When I opened my eye after the operation everything was very bright. I was very happy to see again. I studied to be a mechanic. I met my wife here and we have two boys now. They are very intelligent boys.
I went back to Vietnam two years ago but no one recognized me. I don't blame them. It was a very long time ago that I was there. A very long time ago.
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