Theresa C. Trask
ANATOMY OF AN ESCAPE
         I was born in Rach Gia in the southwestern part of Vietnam close to the Cambodian border. My father was a school headmaster at a nearby village. As a man who loved his country, he once joined the Viet Minh, a precursor of the Viet Cong to fight against the French. In the 1930's, many local patriots joined that revolutionary group for lack of alternatives and because the Viet Minh had carefully hidden their communist agendas. It was only after 1954 that the communists got rid of the non-communist patriots from their organization and took the name of Viet Cong.

         My life as a country girl was fairly unremarkable except for a certain night during my youth when we heard hissing sounds coming out from under our bed. That sound was quite unusual and rare in our area. We lived in a hut adjacent to the school building and the ground was dirt floor. Scared, we lit up a few torch lights as there was no electricity in the countryside. We looked around and found a large cobra sitting under the bed with its head pointing toward us. Having never seen a snake that close, I shrieked out of fear. How did this snake come to stay under our bed was unknown. It must have sneaked into the house from under the sidewalls that never completely touched the ground. This common practice not only allowed fresh air to circulate into the house, but also unwelcome visitors to sneak in. Villagers ran over to our dwelling as they heard our cries for help. They looked for the cobra under torch lights and finally killed it. We hung the snake by its head to the ceiling and the following morning my mother dutifully skinned it, cut it into pieces, and cooked it. I was amazed by the way she did it and watched with a mixture of horror and surprise at the ease with which she completed the task. The snake obviously did not mean anything to her while I still had not completely recovered from the event of the night before. To thank the villagers for their help, we invited them to eat rice soup with snake meat. They eagerly came for this rare and very special treat. They also brought wine to dine with it. This was the first and only time I ate snake in my life. I looked at the meat with horror and ventured to take a small bite. A chill went through my whole body when I swallowed it. It was not bad and tasted like chicken. It was fair to say that I did finish the soup but not the meat. I also heard that villagers would eat no other snake than cobras.

         One day, one of the Viet Minh accused my father of some misdeed he did not commit. My father was angry and thought he could not prove or vindicate himself in front of the group committee; he therefore decided to move to town and to put himself under police protection. There was no way he could physically resist a group of five or ten people jumping on him. He knew how the Viet Minh treated their prisoners and did not want to go through such a treatment. After taking whatever belongings we had, we jumped into our sampan and paddled rapidly on the small river that directly led to town. We did not care about the house for it belonged to the school. The French who also had my father under surveillance caught and jailed him on arrival. This was the problem that faced many patriots at the time: hiding from one group landed them into the claws of another. He was however not badly treated in jail because he was educated and spoke French fluently. He was only given minor jail duties to fulfill while other prisoners had to do hard labor. His jailers soon released him because they were unable to substantiate any charge against him. Following his release, he was given a job at one of the town schools but the Viet Minh soon caught up with him. They beat and accused him of embezzling funds from the revolutionary army. Brought before the committee, he gave its members his side of the story. He told them he did not do anything wrong: an envious comrade had made false accusations about him in order to discredit him. Luckily, one the men on the jury stood up for him and the Viet Minh cleared him and never bothered him again. Following this incident, he vowed never to do politics again.

        Please read the rest of the story in REMEMBERING SAIGON.
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