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Spring 2005 | Volume 28, Number 1 | Features

A Father's Promise

On December 25, SPU junior Naam Khampee was having dinner with friends in Seattle when she checked a message on her cell phone. It was from a friend in Bangkok. “Naam, there was some kind of flood in Phuket. Did you hear the news?”

Adjusting back to life at SPU after nearly losing her father in the tsunami was difficult, admits Naam Khampee. But she credts the SPU community, fellow students, and international student advisor Kevin McMahan for getting her through a painful time. I felt like they really cared for me, she says.

Naam, a native of Phuket, Thailand, set her phone down and shrugged. “Is that all?” she thought. After all, Khampee had seen minor floods in her country before, and she wasn’t worried about another one.

Then the phone rang again. This time Khampee picked up. It was a different friend in Thailand. “Have you heard about the earthquake, Naam? Is your family OK?”

This time Khampee paid attention. Oh no, she thought. My dad! Khampee had just returned from spending the Christmas holiday in Los Angeles. Her mother and teenage brother traveled from their home in Phuket to meet her and other family members there, but Khampee’s father had stayed behind. After all, it was high tourist season in Thailand, and someone needed to run the family’s small, beachside restaurant.

Khampee’s mother and brother were still in Los Angeles, so she quickly dialed her mother’s number. “Mom, is dad OK?” she cried over the phone. But there was a chilling silence on the other end of the line, and then a tearful reply:“ I don’t know.”

Her father had called her mother minutes before the menacing wave crashed into their restaurant. He was still talking to her as he managed to climb to the building’s second floor, where he watched in horror as refrigerators floated down the street like driftwood, entire homes leaped off their foundations, and helpless motorists drowned in their cars.

For a minute, it seemed that Khampee’s father had escaped within a narrow inch of his life. But the water was rising fast — so fast that floating shards of glass from a broken mirror crashed like torpedoes into the back of his legs. “Are you OK?” Khampee’s mother screamed. “Are you hurt?” Then the line went dead.

Khampee flashed back to the last conversation she had with her dad. “I’m sorry I can’t visit now,” he had said, “but I promise I’ll make the trip to Seattle for your graduation.” Khampee’s eyes welled up with tears. Will I ever see him again? she wondered.

Hours, and then days, passed before Khampee got her answer. She called relatives, friends, and finally hospitals in Thailand, while her mother and brother traveled home to Phuket. No one had information about her father, and when the evening news reported thousands of deaths in her hometown, Khampee feared the worst.

Then the call came. It was a relative in a small city, miles from Phuket. “Naam, your father is alive,” said a familiar voice on the line. “He’s safe.” At that moment, says Khampee, it didn’t matter that the tsunami had ripped her family’s home and business to shreds, that looters had pillaged their valuables and personal items — her father was alive, and that was everything.

Adjusting back to her life as a student wasn’t easy. Khampee called home to Thailand recently to say, “Mom, I’ve decided to drop school and come home. I know you don’t have the money to support me here anymore. You should use your savings to rebuild our home and the restaurant.”

But her mother insisted that Khampee stay at Seattle Pacific, at least as long as possible. The business major says continuing her education is the right decision, despite her homesickness:“If I can get my degree and work toward a good career, I know I can help my parents more that way.”

How will she make ends meet? Khampee doesn’t have an answer, but she says she’s taking things quarter by quarter. After all, her father is planning that trip to Seattle for her graduation, and she wants to be ready for him — cap, gown, and all.

Emily Drury: Lost and Found
Dick Frederick: The Healing Love of Christ
Sarah O'Banion: Beyond the Call of Duty

BY SARAH JIO
PHOTO BY DANIEL SHEEHAN

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