05. Arriving at Indiantown Gap Refugees Camp

05. Arriving at Indiantown Gap

These barracks belong to the Pennsylvania National Guard.
They were used for Vietnamese refugees’ resettlement.
All the barracks look identical, row after row.
Without numbers we couldn’t tell one from the other.

The toilets and a shower stall were only on the first floor,
Located conveniently by the road side and near the doors.
All the barrack entrances faced the same direction,
And the outside stairways were connected to the second floor.

Toilets and washing area were always open
While their only communal shower stall was rotated by the hours.
People had to follow the posted schedule for shower time;
Hours for men and women posted right on the wall.

The shower schedules were rotated hourly based on gender.
People washing and showering late into the night.
The public washing area was always packed
Where new friends and neighbors amicably chatted.

Our refugee life had returned to normal,
People had beds to rest at any hour.
The barrack had become our new home;
Children played and laughed until their bedtime.

Like the time we were on Guam,
Three times a day we were in lines for meals.
The loudest group was always the rowdy young men,
Friends chatting while girls and boys glanced at each other.

Like returned like while eyes searched for eyes.
Young, old, boys, girls let their attraction known.
Hey, the one with the rosy cheeks,
Are you married?” I flirted.

I’m married but it’s like I’m not.
My husband loves drinking and isn’t yet home.
My two small children cling to me from dawn to dusk,
My mother-in-law is watching me, daring you to flirt.”

Because I was able to speak some English,
I could communicate with Americans fairly well.
Being a single man, no family, and no girlfriend to date,
I volunteered to be an interpreter, freshly made.

After just one week the Lieutenant told me
To move into the office so I can find you.
Whenever I need you for translation,
Otherwise, you will be the mailman for our station.

As mornings came and nights went,
Four months had passed and tens of thousands had left.
Single people needed not worry too much;
Three meals a day and free movies were such a good time.

Families with children must have worried.
They would be processed with top priority.
Single young people were the least concerned;
Their time to leave would be on their own terms.

Chilly winds signaled the arrival of Fall,
The sun went to bed early knowing the summer was over.
Frosty morning dew appeared on the grassy fields,
I wandered wherever the road I could feel.

Americans brought in bags and bags of used clothes,
Winter jackets and sweaters left outside by the barracks.
Mostly mothers were there, and clothes were too big,
Sister “Hằng” was kind picking for me a sweater that fit.

I had been thinking about finding a job.
Should I take the one suggested during the job interview.
Busboy was the job they had found for me,
But I never worked as a boy on a passenger bus.

Busboy was not working on a passenger bus,
But clearing dirty plates from the tables in a restaurant.
After the customers went back to the line,
You promptly clear the dirty plates off the tables assigned.

This is a restaurant job,
Meals are self-served buffet style.
Customers eat as much as they will
Until their stomach is filled, then pay the bill.

I accepted the job with no further thought
Because I did not have to worry about meals.
The week after I accepted the busboy job,
The minister needed a picture of me for their file.

I guessed they also wanted to see what I looked like,
Were my limbs, my eyes, my mouth, my teeth fine?
It felt somehow troublesome,
I looked fine but still, it was somewhat worrisome.

I had to dress nicely for picture day.
Nice pants, nice old sweatshirt, and shoes on my feet.
When they saw me, they said,
You look very nice today, indeed.”

The week after my picture was taken,
They said they would take me, no problem.
The minister called asking for me,
How do you know Somerset?”, he asked.

I do not know where Somerset is”
My case was handled by an American Red Cross lady.
The lady said she knew this place.
Oakhurst Tea Room had already sealed my fate.


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