Lan Nguyen thinks there is something wrong with the way she looks. She feels that way because men mistreat her, and the only reason they would do that, she figures, is because she is unattractive.
"I must be ugly," she says, hiding her face with her hair.
When she came to the United States from Vietnam in 1975, she had no concerns about her beauty. She was married to a Vietnamese military doctor and had two boys.
But when they separated five years ago, she was suddenly thrown into the social world of the American single woman, and that has proved much more traumatic than moving with her family from Saigon to the States.
"Most people are really kind, but the men -- they are always touching me, talking to me like I'm a playgirl," she says with a sad, Vietnamese accent. "I cannot stand the abuse for the rest of my life, but I just don't know what to do."
Nguyen, 36, moved to the Washington area three weeks ago from Minnesota in hopes she could benefit from closer proximity to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources' Office of Refugee Resettlement. But so far, her problems have only become worse.
For the first week, she lived in a suburban motel room and was frequently mistaken for a prostitute. Two weeks ago, she found a room to rent with a family in Alexandria and then took a job, which didn't last long.
"I worked for a while in a sales office because I wanted to be like the American women -- open for opportunities," she says. "I wanted to go back to school, learn better English."
But then, she says, someone stole her jewelry from the office where she worked, and when she tried to find out what had happened she encountered only put-downs and come-ons from her male coworkers.
Suddenly, in recounting the incident, she falls silent.
"What is it? My clothes? My face? My eyes?"
She almost starts to weep. "I am so confused."
Nguyen married as a teen-ager and had planned to raise a traditional Vietnamese family. It seemed her plans were working out fine until the Communists gained control of Vietnam in 1975.
But good luck stayed with the family, and they managed to get out in time, relocating first in Little Rock, Ark., and then moving to Minnesota. Yet the strains of life in a new land eventually wore on the Nguyen family, and she and her husband split up, with Nguyen's husband keeping the children.
Nguyen says part of the problem was that her husband wanted her to stay home all the time while he went out. She says it didn't take her long to realize that this was not how things were done in the United States.
But the separation from her husband proved more emotionally difficult than she had imagined. Soon afterward, she says, she became "involved" with a Vietnamese doctor who worked at Andrews Air Force Base.
Feeling alone and in need of companionship, she says, she told him that she loved him and wanted to get married.
Now he doesn't want to see her anymore.
Meanwhile, she says, her husband in Minnesota heard about her involvement with the other man and is now threatening to prevent her from seeing her two sons, ages 16 and 13.
Nyugen says she is near the end of her rope.
Without a job, without much money, without a command of the English language or experience on the streets of a strange land, her vulnerabilities are easily exposed.
"My main problem is that I have nobody to talk to about this -- and it is hurting me like I've never known hurt before," she says. "How do you find out what's going on?" she asked. "How do you stop being abused while you try to figure things out?"
What's ugly here is not Nyugen, who is, in fact, a beautiful woman. It is her inability to find help in an alien world that is ugly.