A Special Woman to Me
By Kim Yen Tran


 
 

          Of all the people I have known in my life, one woman impressed me the most. When she was young, her life wasn’t easy. However, this woman overcame many challenges in her life with a lot of effort all by herself. This girl’s name was Li. She had to live and work far from her hometown, Hue City. Because Li’s parents were so poor, Li had to work as a servant for a rich family. The head of that rich family was a famous person in Bentre, Vietnam. His wife had died a long time before.  He had two daughters of the same age as Li. That man badly wanted to marry Li, but Li refused. One midnight, he secretly came into Li’s room and tried to rape her. Fortunately, she was strong enough to fight him off and escaped his cruelty. She wanted to go back home to Hue City, but she could not because that bad man threatened her. He angrily said that he would kill her if she told anyone about the things he did to her. One dark night, Li ran away from that house. She arrived in Saigon not far away from Bentre. She started a new life there, making and selling specialty Hue cakes for a living. She was able to send money to her family. After quite a few years, she had saved enough money to open a small store.

          At that time, Li was 23 years old. Many good men wanted to marry her, but she told them that she did not have time to think about marriage. Then, one day, it was raining heavily and the weather was very bad. She was carrying a big bag, and she tried to put it on the back of her motorbike in front of a market. Suddenly, a man came to her and wanted to help her. At first sight, she was afraid of this strange man, but then she felt as if she had known him from somewhere. She didn’t know where she had seen him, but she thought he was a nice man. She agreed to let him help. One week later, they met by chance at a pagoda and they talked to each other.  She realized they liked similar things such as going to the pagoda every week and helping poor, old and disabled people. They fell in love with each other. After three years, they got married and later had eight children together, one boy and seven girls. What a fateful meeting it had been!

           For many years, Li lived happily with her husband and children. Then, a horrible war broke out. Her husband was a soldier defending South Vietnam. He was killed on May1, 1974. She had to raise eight children alone. She took on the duty of both a father and a mother.  She tried her best to give good things to her children such as education, advice and support.

              After the Communist Government declared its independence and unified the country on April 30, 1975, all the South Vietnamese soldiers’ families had to move out of Saigon to “vung kinh te moi” ( the “new land” area) in Dong Xoai, a very small town far away from Saigon. Li's life was changed drastically by this move from the city to the countryside. Before the move, she and her children lived in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, with big-city conveniences. Then, her family was forced to go to a very small village surrounded by a forest. There was no running water or electricity. She had to carry water into her house from a well very far away.  She used a small petrol lamp at night. Sometimes her children were too scared because they heard tigers roaring in the forest. And in the morning they saw some snakes under their beds. She and her children had lived in a wealthy family with her husband, but after the war her family had to live in the countryside without her husband’s help. Her family lived in a mud hut. She had to plant some vegetables and catch fish from a pond or a small river to eat. Children living in that area usually didn’t go to school. All the children who played with her son and daughters were illiterate. It was terrible that the young neighbors could not read or write by the time they were almost ten years old. However, her older children weren’t illiterate because they had been to school in the city. They helped her teach the younger sisters how to read and write.

           Li and her children tried to integrate into the life of the country. After five years, in 1980, she could no longer raise her children under those difficult conditions, and she didn’t want her children to become uneducated people. So she took a risk and disobeyed the order of the Communist authorities and brought all her children back to Saigon City.

           She had to start all over again with two empty hands. She got up early at 4 o’clock and started her work as a clerk at a grocery store and worked until midnight. She worked every day, including holidays, to have enough money to provide the necessary things for her children’s study. She emphasized the importance of school. It was so ingrained in her children’s thoughts. She did not have to ask or remind her children about what they had to do. It was an unspoken and mutual expectation. Her children understood her sacrifices, so they tried their best to succeed in their work and their studies.

       Although she was very busy, she always had time to listen to and help her children with their problems in their studies and jobs. They had gotten precious advice or effective solutions from their mother. She gave guidance and taught them many lessons about good manners. She expected her children to become educated people and to help the society.

        Nowadays, her oldest daughter lives in the U.S. and has a small manicure salon in North Carolina. Her other children have their own small store in Vietnam. She is living in Saigon with five children and uses a third of the profit from the Greengrocer, the store she worked at and now owns, to help the old, poor and disabled. She has a happy life as a result of her own big efforts and perseverance.

           The woman who struggled so hard is my mother. She sacrificed her whole life so that her children could be educated and become useful people for the society. I have written these lines to remind myself about my mother’s hardships and to know her determination to succeed. Her life is an example that helps me a lot when I meet difficulties. It makes me try my best to overcome them.