Thursday, 31 July 2008 08:26
The triplets skip along footpaths, giggle, chirp, chatter. They have signals - really a special world all their own - especially at secret-telling time, which is pretty much all the time, writes FR JOE MAIER.

THE FAMILY:

Miss Fon: Somruthai - delightfully bossy.

Miss Fa: Saitara - gentle, never argues with her sisters.

Miss Fai: Wasana - fragile, giggles the most

All three were born on 29 Nov 1997.

Mom: Bho - recently a Klong Toey Baht Bus ticket collector.

Dad: Dhey - just lost still another job as a shopping mall guard.

Granny: Praphai - crippled, retired as a "comfort person" for sailors in Klong Toey Port.

Step grandpa: - push cart bag man, now deceased...

 

The triplets are all girls. Fourth Grade students. Total look-alikes. Same height, same weight. Favourite activities this week are "Jacks" and "jump rope." They are the essence of 10-year-old Thai girls: "sugar and spice" plus giggles and more giggles and can't sit still even two seconds.

And secrets. Maybe the best "secret tellers" on this planet. And then they giggle at their secrets, falling all over themselves. Most un-lady-like!

They sleep, arms and legs sprawling everywhere, their beds pushed together in our girls' dormitory. Their current goal in life is to have as much fun as they possibly can and giggle their way through the day.

Oh, of course, they go to school. Top third of their class. I can't really tell you about their test scores or grades because they constantly switch papers, desks - just for fun. If one of them is sassy, no one knows which one to scold. They get up on time, all that stuff, but that's only to have a good time, tell secrets and giggle.

They skip along footpaths, giggle, chirp, chatter. They have signals - really a special world all their own - especially at secret-telling time, which is pretty much all the time.

In the beginning

It started off so wonderful. Dad, mom, both high school graduates. Different schools in Klong Toey. Noticed each other in high school, graduated, married at 20.

When the doctor told mom she was pregnant with triplets, Bho came home "dreamy eyed." Bho and Dhey were still in love, renting a Klong Toey shack near Bho's mom, Granny Praphai and Step Grandpa. Granny was then still working nights. Bheen rua we call it in Klong Toey. It means climbing up the backside of a ship docked in port to offer whatever services and solace any lonely sailors might seek. Cash up front, usually with booze and food and foreign cigarettes to sell later to her neighbours.

When Bho told her mom she was pregnant with triplets, mom said, not to worry. Your momma will be here for you. There's always a ship in port, always one more sailor. Her step-dad promised some of his daily whiskey money. That was before the troubles.

 

They named their first-born Somruthai (a beautiful gift sought from the heavens). Her nickname: Fon (gentle rain). Their second, Saitara (gentle stream with clear water) and her nickname Fah (beautiful sky). And their youngest is Wasana (good fortune) and her nickname Fai (cotton blossom). Wasana was so tiny and fragile that many times mom thought she was dying.

Recently Dhey lost his job as a shopping mall guard. Says he's put in his name in at several places. But just between you and me, that's a long shot. He only got the last job 'cause he used a bogus name. (He's got "a record.")

Granny Praphai lives in the back of Klong Toey next to the dead water canal where the punters raise and train the fighting cocks.

Granny, crippled with a stroke for seven years now, always lies on the floor with the front door open, which doesn't shut anyway, and moans when she needs help to prop herself up in her wheel chair. Beside the shack, step-grandpa's push cart sits, rusting amid whiskey bottles. He was a bag man: a collector of bottles, plastic and glass, cardboard, anything. Most of the whiskey bottles there were his. He died a few months ago. The Demon Rum finally got him.

After Granny couldn't climb a ship's gangplank any more, she supplemented the family income by playing cards. Never wins big. Neighbours never catch her cheating, although they knew she does.

Bho is now 33 and her triplets are ten.

Troubles begin

Back in the days when the triplets first attended our Mercy Centre pre-school, mom had money. She'd dress her girls alike, matching hats and clothes: the Pride of Klong Toey. Even had a western-style stroller. When the kids were three, she and dad would take turns bringing them to pre-school each morning. Neat, clean, well-dressed. That first year of pre-school, the girls seldom missed a day.

Mom was wearing noticeable gold in those days: "furniture" we call it. But suddenly having "furniture" comes in the same heartbeat as dealing drugs. It's a sure sign.

Everything went downhill from there. Always does. Soon the gold was gone, and mom was getting irritable. The bad guys, they won. They got mom addicted so she would be forced to sell more stuff, and they could then pay her in drugs. Didn't need to give her much cash.

Mean. Ragged. Unravelling. As her daughters began their second year of pre-school, mom went from bad to worse. Then it was all over. Totally fell apart one day when mom had the kids in their stroller and one cried. When mom picked her up, a packet of drugs, which mom had stashed in her daughter's clothing, fell out in front of an undercover cop, who had been watching mom for days. Her girls were screaming, hanging on to mom as the police dragged her away. They had to fetch granny in her wheelchair to comfort the children and bring them home.

The triplets' dad, Mr Dhey, lingered around for a few weeks, then ran away for some years. With nowhere to go, the triplets moved in with crippled Granny Praphai and step-gramps.

With mom in prison, on sunshine days here in the slum, with tremendous effort, these four-and-half-year-old girls, weighing about 15 kilo each, would push and shove with step-grandpa, getting granny into her wheelchair, then push her wheelchair through the slum paths, bumps and puddles, as she brought them to our kindergarten. Granny had only one good arm, so sometimes the wheelchair would go in circles. And the girls would cry and cry.

By then, granny had stopped ship visiting, but the triplets depended on her, and they were missing more school days than not. There were rumours about the triplets - "Best give them to social welfare, They're like sick kittens."

The next day the neighbours wheeled granny and the girls to our Mercy Centre. Asked us, could we help? Granny signed. She'd always been proud of her handwriting, and her stroke ruined that forever, so we had to do a fingerprint too.... just in case. And granny cried.

 

The neighbours only got granny to sign because they were afraid that step-grandpa would "rent out" his granddaughters as down payment on a couple cases of whiskey. Threatened to do so a few times.

So after granny signed the papers, that very afternoon after school, the triplets moved in with us. For over a year, they were under strict medical care. They had been missing a lot of meals. That was seven years ago.

Better times

Mom has married again. Her new husband drives a garbage truck for the city. Recently, mom gave up her job collecting bus fares to care for Granny Praphai. She visits our Mercy Centre often to see her daughters. This past week mom took them to see granny. The girls asked mom if they could stay overnight - sleep over just once with their mom - but mom refused. Maybe the loving hurts too much.

Dad is now back in Klong Toey and visits, too. Strangely, he had been taking home the clothes hamper full of his daughters' dirty school uniforms to wash every week. Said it was something he could do.

But that stopped recently because some bad stuff is driving him bonkers again. Most probably glue mixed with paint thinner. He's spaced out and wild-eyed.

Looking back these seven years, we know mom and dad loved their daughters. Maybe mom and dad weren't ready, but then, life catches all of us off guard doesn't it?

Mom and dad come around now on separate days. Their triplets - still the Pride of Klong Toey - are growing up. They know they have a mom and dad and a sick granny whom they visit, and they save their lunch money for granny so that she has a bit to bet with when she plays cards with her neighbours.

 

I asked the girls what they want to be. Miss Fon, the oldest and Miss Fai, the youngest, both want to be doctors; Fon to take care of children when they get sick, Fai to take care of baby birds who fall out of their nests and Miss Fa, the middle child, wants to be a lady soldier. Says she looks pretty in a uniform.

Father Joe Maier, CSsR. is chairman and co-founder of the Human Development Foundation in Klong Toey. For more information: (662) 671-5313; http://www.mercycentre.org.