Nebraska Center for Writers


MR THANH, ORIGINALLY OF SAIGON, conducted his camp-wide rat pogrom so thoroughly that the kids were reduced to throwing rocks at each other. Some boys got beaned, and Mr Thanh, the most responsible Viet I knew in the Bidong Island refugee camp, blamed himself and went around shelfter to shelter, apologizing to all their parents, more than twenty families. This was Mr Thanh's way. Before getting on a boat out of Vietnam, he had been a colonel with the South Vietnamese army. But even now, stateless and dependent, another Viet biding his time on Malaysian soil, he wore a dashing yellow scarf imprinted with the name of his old regiment.
I was the UN education adviser, the camp's English teacher. Mr Thanh was my regugee assistant. I had picked him out myself, struck by his earnestness, and would give him occasional gifts, whatever I could scrounge. Mr Thanh and I were two of a kind. I understood his need to be forgiven — he had let the camp down, he said — and I think I even understood the state of mind that made him, after a day of brush-offs from the boys' parents, walk into the island's Zone C school the next morning and root around the UN educational-supplies closet and, without asking permission, drag a filthy visual aid, a mannequin, down to the beach to wash clean. What I culd not do that morning was clear his supply-closet forway with the camp's Malaysian security fucks. Mr Thanh had acted on his own. If only I had known that he was going to take the mannequin, I could have stopped refugee-camp logic from taking over.

Reprinted with permission
from Saviors
Copyright © 1999
by Paul Eggers
Harcourt Brace

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The Rock

Nebraska Center for Writers