THE BLOG

That Immigrant Fixing Your House Probably Saw Hell

05/05/2012 08:52 EDT | Updated 07/04/2012 05:12 EDT
Sivan Askayo

The Vietnam War came into our homes in the 60s and 70s through the nightly news and newspaper headlines.

We learned that of the Americans who served in the war, 58,220 soldiers were killed and 150,000 were wounded. We knew thousands of Americans came here to avoid the draft. We remember the fatal shooting at Kent State University, the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention and the 1968 massacre at My Lai by Lieutenant William Calley. What we don't remember is the fact that between one and three million Vietnamese were killed, and that others were affected by this pugnacious battle.

One of them walked into my home the other day to install California shutters.

He was born in 1960, the same year as I was. His name is Thic* and he remembers well the corpses piled up outside his home after America changed her policy and pulled out her troops.

Thic told me he was "scared" throughout his childhood in Saigon. Today he often zones out recalling his family's bombed house and the dead and dying just inches away from him.

"I wake up just seeing the dead people," he said as he measured my windows. Thic is anxious. A little shirty. He is tired.

The elegance in his demeanour, though, reminded me of Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the little girl in the famous picture, running down a road naked near Trảng Bàng, after a napalm bomb was dropped on her village June 8, 1972.

I interviewed Phan a few years ago on a radio show called: Marty & Avrum: The Food Guys. She was the face of the war, but today she is mostly another quiet forgotten survivor of just another atrocious war fought in our world. What I remember about her is that she was truly lovely and respectful, even of those who attacked her village.

I think of the people on our Native reserves, in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Congo, Liberia, Sudan and in South America where massacres were as popular as omelettes. I think of genocides who chuckled like tricksters who get away with pulling the chair out from under the clown.

I wonder how those people are doing, what they might be fixing in people's homes and how they're sleeping.

I think of how many survivors are walking around our planet with their pain and suffering overshadowed by statistics and historical accounts focused on battles, the costs and the effects of those far-away wars on our oil bills.

Our world is populated by Thics. Today they can be found in places like South Sudan where children are butchered, or crawling off to the thickets with machete slashes to their heads.

Their childhoods, like Thic's, have been stolen from them.

One day, one of those grown-up children might just deliver a deep-dish pizza to your home, or lay some laminate down in your Florida home, only months after jumping a vessel in a Canadian harbour and finding a room to live in.

When you see that scar on his cheek, asks him about it. (I wonder if Holocaust survivors were asked by strangers about the concentration camp numbers on their arms?) Once you've heard their stories, figure that he is suffering alone.

Then introduce him to someone in your community, maybe a person who has suffered through a war. Give him some moments of solace knowing that others care and want to make his life better.

Get some new blinds. Help the Thics.

*name changed