On the 10th day of "the escape," the baby was born. By the 17th day the baby died.
The 21st day, the 5-year-old grandchild died.
On the 22nd, prayers were said over the youngest son and his body, like the others, was cast into the sea.
The 23rd day the husband and another son were dead.
The 24th a third son, age 22, died.
By the 25th day the fourth son and his three children -- ages 2, 4 and 6 -- also had died. The survivors were so weak they found it almost impossible to push the corpses over the side of the boat.
It has been five months since the voyage from Vietnam to Singapore that Vo Thi Viet still calls "the escape" -- a journey as horrible, and typical, as any taken by the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese "boat people" who have fled their homes in the last year.
Now the 65-year-old matriarch sits in the small Suitland apartment where she has lived since December, quietly rcounting the grim chronology of a trip that claimed 10 members of her family, waiting for her son to return from his new job washing trucks at Oxon Hill Rental.
At age 24, Doan Vinh Dang is the only man among the family's four survivors who now live in Suitland, the best hope they have to build a new and independent life in the United States.
But as one listens to him, to his mother and sister and wife, they make it clear that the risks and uncertainty continue. They face enormous barriers of language and culture. The homesickness will not go away. The emotional scars of the escape linger, indelible and debilitating, in their minds.
"The United States is so very civilized, very happy, very prosperous," said Vo Thi Viet through a translator. "We felt good when we came here because the Americans have helped us so much. The Americans are very good."
But according to social workers and one long-established Vietnamese who have talked to the family, their expectations of life here are still confused by the differences between the American dream and the realities that confront them.
The people who have taken on the direct responsibility of caring for the family, moreover, are Americans who have never done anything quite like this before.
The task of resettling Indochinese refugees has been delegated by the government to several voluntary organizations. The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is one of those which persuades church congregations, in effect, to adopt numbers of refugees.
The agency, which supplies back-up services and emergency support, has been doing this kind of work for years, but the congregation often has not. As a result, these private American citizens are sometimes faced with a task that is more difficult and complex than they ever imagined.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Vigo Conradt-Eberling and his wife Nancy, members of the Hope Lutheran Church congregation in Clinton, which took on the family of Vo Thi Viet, worked extensively with the refugees for about 6 weeks, but have now "sort of gotten out" of the effort.
"It was just really a full-time job," said Nancy Conradt-Eberling. "Just all day and every evening." She cited the mechanics of getting $182 worth of food stamps for the family as an example of the initial problems. "Of course none of us knew how to deal with this, how to get them or how to explain their use to the family. Most of us, you know, just haven't dealt with this type of thing before."
Responsibilities for the family and three other refugees sponsored by the church are now divided more evenly among members of the congregation, Conradt-Eberling said. Different people are assigned to such jobs as transportation, the initial paperwork and finding jobs for the refugees.
The money to pay for their basic needs, food and the $175-a-month rent on their apartment comes from regular pledges made by the church's members. Furniture, some food and clothes also are supplied by other churches in the area.
A big emphasis has been placed on "taking them into our homes," said Conradt-Eberling. "We have them signed up like a month in advance, people wanting to take them home for Sunday dinner....
"It's kind of frightening the first time," she said, "because nobody [in the Vo Thi Viet family] speaks English. But you find out that with hugs and gestures -- and everybody starts giggling and saying 'Get the book' [an English-Vietnamese dictionary] -- you can go on for five or six hours just talking and having fun.
"I remember the first time they came to our house, it was like they were touring Disneyland. 'You have so much. You have so much,' they kept saying. And when they leave your house you just feel like you're the king of something."
The larger emphasis is on making the family independent as soon as possible, Conradt-Eberling said.
"My husband sat down with Vinh to talk about this and they can basically exist on a $500 to $600 budget a month. This is not from the stand-point of us getting out from under, but from their maintaining pride."
Other members of the congregation like Faith and Henry Little, however, do not look for such rapid progress. When they walked into the family's apartment -- in a neighborhood where Prince George's County policeman Henry Little said he is afraid to leave his car -- they were greeted as "mother" and "father" by Vo Thi Viet's children.
"I try to teach them about United States appliances and things," said Faith Little. "I don't think they've seen anything like them before. They learn fast, but there's just so much they don't know.... It is hard. There have been so many difficulties, and I think the problem is that they are not adjusting to American culture as quickly as some people would like them to."
Vinh's job at Oxon Hill Rental has turned out well so far. His employer, Dan Brown, had been looking specifically for a Vietnamese to fill a position that 23 Americans went through last year. The Vietnamese, he said, "are extremely hard workers" and Vinh hasn't disappointed him.
Brown said he pays Vinh $3 an hour and expects to give him a raise soon as he learns to work on the small machinery the shop rents out.
"I'm more than happy with Vinh," said Brown. "I'm just tickled to death. The first day he came in here he didn't know an 18-foot truck from a pick-up. So we took a tape measure out there and showed him and that was all. You only have to tell him something once. He understands. If he learns the name of everything we have in this shop he'll have a pretty good vocabulary right there."
Vinh had two years of law school in Vietnam before the Communist takeover, and Brown said he doesn't expect him to stay with the firm more than a year or two. "He's an intelligent man. Doing the work he's doing now, he's not going to be satisfied.... He's a good man. It's amazing to me that he'd even try to work after what he's been through."
Even with a raise and the overtime he makes by working from around 7 in the morning to 6 at night, however, Vinh's wages are hardly adequate to support his mother, sister and wife, and the two young women so far have not been able to find or hold jobs.
They had been completely unprepared for the ordeal of the escape of the new life in the United States. Though the men in the family had been plotting the trip for over a year, the women were not told what was happening, Vo Thi Viet said. until the night of Aug. 4 when they left Vietnam.
They were led from the family's little farm in Vuong Tao to the beach nearby and loaded onto a 50-foot boat with a total of 73 people. They tried to sleep in the hold, but three times storms filled it with water. The engines quit. The food and water ran out after 10 days. Before they were finally rescued by an American ship 19 days later and taken to Singapore, a total of 20 people were dead.
Doan Thi Van Dang, Vo's 21-year-old daughter, has suffered from alternating moods of elation and depression since the journey, and during her two months in the U.S. she has shown only a few signs of improvement.
Two weeks ago she found a job washing dishes at the Suitland Restaurant, a small cafe within easy walking distance of the apartment. "We were giving her a break and everything," said manager Patricia Learned.
The first day on the job Van was paid $1 an hour. After that she got $2 an hour, which Learned said is the wage for any dishwasher there. After five days on the job, Van simply stopped showing up at the restaurant. neglecting even to pick up her last paycheck.
"It's difficult for me to work washing dishes when it's cold," she told a reporter in Vietnamese. "I want to go to school. In Vietnam my father intended to give all of us a good education. Before his death he told us if we survive, to go to the United States and get an education for a brighter future."
They had not known that education cost so much money in this country, her mother said. "Now we are not sure what to do."
It was Vinh's wife, Nguyen Thi Huong, whose first baby was born and died on the high seas. Now, still gaunt, she spends most of her day trying to rest She can't sleep, she said, because of the dreams and memories of the voyage, worries about her future, anxieties about family still in Vietnam.
She is chronically anemic, according to Faith Little, and Medicaid so far has paid for two transfusions. Though a seamstress in Vietnam, she is confused by the electric machines here. She is adapting slowly, she said. While a reporter was in the apartment, she tried to telephone her husband at work. A busy signal issued from the phone. She sat silently listening to it, not knowing what it meant.
When Huong first came to the United States last year she was resettled in Alabama. The family of Vo Thi Viet had heard in Singapore that they could come to the United States more quickly if they divided into smaller groups.
As soon as Vinh got to this country he flew to be reunited with his wife, but there still are two other daughters-in-law of Vo Thi Viet in the United States, survivors of the escape who have not been able to join the main family. One, said Vo, lives with a grandchild in "a city where many people gamble," another, with three granchildren, "in a place where there is much snow." Vo said she did not know the names of these places.
Two of her sons remain in Vietnam. One is in a "reeducation camp" because he was a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army. Neither of those sons knows, said their mother, that their brothers, their father and one child are dead.
Vo sat on a donated sofa staring at at the floor and playing with a pair of lensless glasses she said the Americans gave her daughter as a toy. At the beginning of the interview she had said she knew the risks when she left Vietnam, but now, at the end, she told a reporter, "If I had realized that so many members of my family would die, I probably would not have gone." CAPTION: Picture 1, Nguyen Thi Huong remembers the baby she lost at sea as her mother-in-law (background) tells the family's story. By John McDonnell -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, Doan Vinh Vang has two years of law school and a $3-per-hour job in Oxon Hill. By John McDonnel -- The Washington Post; Picture 3, Three of the four survivors of Vo Thi Viet's family: daughter Doan Thi (left), daughter-in-law Nguyen, and Vo. By John McDonnell -- The washington Post