By Fr. Joe Maier
When 'ya ba' hit the Klong Toey slum she was caught up in the maelstrom with so many others. Now she's come out the other end battered and infected but the same gentle creature she's always been
Published Nov. 17, Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum Section
This is the harsh story of our own Miss Mott and the home-grown, inbred violence and drug savagery that seeped into Klong Toey's Slaughter House a few years back. Miss Mott was Slaughter House-born in the Year of the Rabbit – the most gentle of creatures – destined never to hurt anyone or anything but with predators all around.
Her family had a shack with a window facing the canal, right next to the Slaughter House smuggler's dock, and that's where she grew up. She was nine and baby sister seven, when their dad finally stopped his TB coughing. Died in his sleep.
The district health clinic people came, wearing masks for protection, together with the fire department. They torched the clothes, moldy bedding and the whole shack to destroy the TB germs. The Chinese Benevolent Foundation took his body to the temple. The shortest of prayers were chanted, then immediate cremation that very afternoon, as the temple also does not favor TB corpses. A kindly maiden auntie attended, plus Miss Mott and her younger sister.
Mum didn't bother to come. Angry at her dead husband and his TB, she had gotten herself tangled up with a local garbage truck driver. She climbed up into his big green smelly truck, waved goodbye to her daughters and rode off into the sunset.
We had the girls checked for TB and miraculously, they were OK. With mum gone and the house in ashes, their auntie took them in. A famously ferocious lady around the Slaughter House, she had long lived alone except for her cat (an experienced animal, accustomed to ''sizing up'' and then walking away from rats almost as big as he). She dwelt in a wooden shack, a box really, above an active pigpen. The walls consisted of throwaway packing crates tacked together. Leading down to the cement floor of the pigpen was a ladder with three steps that was pulled up at night by an old throwaway piece of plastic twine.
The furnishings consisted of a rickety wooden food cabinet, cups filled with water placed under the legs to keep the ants from crawling up; a fan, one light bulb, a sleeping mat and a mosquito net. Bathing and clothes washing was done in the pigpen during the day after fresh water was put into the vats. A pot served as a toilet that was emptied in the morning into a runoff trough leading back into the canal. When the girls came, auntie borrowed two more plates, bowls and drinking glasses from the temple plus sleeping mats and a second mosquito net from us. To get in and out of the 'house', Miss Mott and sister had to step around the sleeping pigs.
Working in the Slaughter House is not easy and there were always stimulants to fight the exhaustion from the nightly butchering of pigs, cattle and water buffalo, but this usually meant leaves from the kratom tree, at 10 leaves for 1 baht. Then suddenly, a new ''stay awake'' drug came to the Slaughter House like a death plague.
In a matter of weeks the new drug was on sale everywhere. Prices were higher, but the new powder dissolved in liquid and sold for 10 baht a shot was stronger, quicker and longer lasting. Next it appeared in pill form, lethal and addictive. The new business of supplying the pills needed errand girls and boys, but especially girls, as folks think they are more dependable.
The Slaughter House of Klong Toey quickly changed into a savage place. The neighborhood was no longer safe. Thievery skyrocketed. You couldn't even hang clothes on the line outside your shack. Money was borrowed at 20% interest per week. No way to pay it off really, except to join the drug trade. The lives of our girls here were shattered. They were proposing to the men driving the trucks that arrived early each early morning to bring in the pigs and getting jobs in bars and ''tea houses'' as their gangster pimps strutted around. Everyone was caught in the maelstrom.
Miss Mott, now 14 and five years now living above the butchering pens, was the ideal errand girl. Everyone knew her: smart, sassy and slaughter-house wise. She and baby sister, 12, were among the Slaughter House's most trusted drug runners. They knew where and when to buy, from whom and at what prices, and there were always tips for quick, safe-delivery.
The girls went to school only maybe, and for the first time in their lives, they had money to buy enough to eat, with some left over for auntie. And even fish heads for the cat.
That same year Miss Mott moved out from auntie's home and took up with a boy she really liked. But after a couple weeks she realised, broken hearted, that he just wanted to use her to get money for his drugs. She said: ''I have my dignity. I can buy and sell drugs myself – besides, I don't sell to kids.'' So she walked.
But she was so discouraged that she decided to try drugs – just once. Her baby sister panicked – begged her not to do it; but big sister was distraught, and so it began.
Although she was still under legal age, a Slaughter House girl friend got her a job as a cleaning lady in a downtown bar. That's when she decided to learn English. Somewhere along the line, she'd picked up the HIV virus and spent some time in prison. She met this foreign guy – moved in with him to improve her English (although he didn't know that was her main reason). She'd taught herself how to read and write Thai by the time she was six by reading comic books and watching cartoons and figured the same formula would work for English. She got this foreign guy to buy her English-language comics and subscribe to TV channels showing English cartoons. She stayed with him about 18 months, and learned a good bit of English.
About that time, she became a ''cover girl,” something she instantly regretted, and that's why she left him. He gave her some product, got her to pose and asked her to demonstrate the finer points of heroin injection. Then he sold the photos to a lurid underground magazine. I understand that the photos won an art award somewhere in Eastern Europe.
When she saw the magazine in the foreigner's apartment, she went back to Klong Toey to meet some people she knew, got some product and placed it on his kitchen table. Then she gathered up her clothes, left him sleeping in the apartment, went back home to Klong Toey and phoned the police.
She had some money he'd given her so she and baby sister re-built the old home next to the smugglers dock that was burned down years after dad passed away. She moved her maiden auntie and the experienced cat from the pig-pen shack and sold it for 1,000 baht.
Baby sister was going to school quite regularly now. She had stopped being an errand girl and she watched in horror at her sister's addiction.
Just before they re-built their old shack, she watched a delivery go bad. Someone had ''taken the shilling'' – been paid off. She watched the ''drop man'' go down in a hail of .44 caliber bullets fired by an army special team brought in for the hit. A long-time neighborhood cop who was a kindergarten classmate of her dad years before watched it all. He asked baby sister: ''Little daughter, do you have any product?'' She said, no, she'd delivered it all, and he said: ''Run and don't ever make another delivery again.''
Baby sister remembered what he told her.
With the shack re-built, they were together again as a family, at least for a while. Miss Mott was now the bread-winner. She would come and go. Do her own thing. Still into drugs. Don't ask questions.
The same neighborhood cop asked Miss Mott to come to the station one afternoon. He said he was sorry – he remembered how he had fought the communists beside her dad in Laos, but the law is the law, and she was certainly a suspect. The urine test proved there were drugs in her system. Plus, she was really dumb. She had missed three of her monthly parole dates at the police station. The judge gave her two years.
So now she's back in the federal women's prison. It's probably the safest place for her right now, and her English skills serve her well.
Non-Thai speaking prisoners need to communicate with non-English speaking guards. Miss Mott translates. And with this, favors come, like cookies and cake, instant coffee, when visitors bring presents. She particularly likes doughnuts. Plus, if you're a Klong Toey Girl in the women's prison ... Well, there's a bit of space, because no one fancies several of Klong Toey's finest lasses paying a midnight visit in the ward.
There's much more to tell, but to hit the highlights, both maiden auntie and the experienced cat died of natural causes last year. Baby sister has a good-paying secretarial job with a shipping company in Klong Toey Port.
Miss Mott remains a Slaughter House girl born in the Year of the Rabbit, and she'll be free again in less than a year. The prison supplies anti-virals for her HIV and she is healthy for now. She says she's got lots of energy – still young at 42.
''I'm off the drugs after 30 years, and the HIV is dormant. And before it's too late, I'd really like to be a mum,'' she says.
There's a girl she met in the prison dying of cancer, and she has a two year old and a three-year-old living with her frail, sickly grandmother. For sure, the children will be orphans, so Miss Mott told the girl: ''I'll take your kids for you and even bring them to the temple when you die, and I'll look after granny.''
She figures she has just enough years left to raise the kids proper – just like they were her own blood ... and she promises to be the best mum the Slaughter House has ever seen.
Our social workers are working hand in hand with the Rom Klao community, following the devastating fire that left 400 residents without shelter. Just two weeks after the fire, real progress is being made. This community will become whole again.
Our thanks go out to all our friends for your generous support.
Late in the afternoon this past Saturday a raging fire engulfed the Klong Toey neighborhood known as Rom Klao. Fire and rescue workers were able to save the community from total destruction, but not before 72 homes were leveled, leaving 428 residents, including 98 children, without shelter. Everything the victims owned was destroyed.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.
Our own Rom Klao Mercy Kindergarten still stands, amazingly, less than 20 meters from where the flames turned just before the winds changed and the fire went back on itself.
In helping the Rom Klao community become whole again, we are focusing on what we do best. First, since we have 40 years of experience in rebuilding poor communities after fires (and in doing so have built over 10,000 homes) we are helping the community to organize and fight for its rights and needs. In addition, we are providing the essentials in getting adults back to work, children back to school, and all residents back to the regular affairs of their daily lives.
A few examples:
Our social workers have helped all the homeless residents fill out the government paperwork required for compensation and emergency funds.
Since many Rom Klao residents make a living as food vendors, we are furnishing all the items the cooks need to keep selling their goods and earning a daily income.
We are also providing school supplies, shoes, and uniforms for the children plus clothes for all families, and mosquito nets for the homes still standing.
By Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Bangkok Post, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, Spectrum Section
There's a quiet revolution stirring amid the ponds of Klong Toey, where students are taught to ask questions and dare to speak out
Let me tell you about an old-time Klong Toey revolutionary: a slum kindergarten teacher. Still going strong in her seventh cycle of years – that makes her more than 72. But don't dare ask her if her beautiful hair is turning slightly grey, even around the edges. No guns, no knives, only pencils and paper and nursery rhymes. You'd say: ''What? A kindergarten teacher revolutionary? You're daft.'' But that's the gig. As long as she can remember, that horrible proverb rattled around in her head – not enough children to tend our water buffalo. Even as a little girl, she told her mum, that's not right. And schoolmarm mum said: ''You're right my daughter, so you change that.”
She's dangerous beyond ''their'' worst fears. ''They'' are the ones who say we need more factories. We have enough schools. An even worse crime, she tells kids it's okay to question what adults say. It's okay for her students to say out loud what they think is right and wrong. And to be praised for the saying of it – not told to hush up. Another part of her crime – believing that every child, especially the girls, must go to school.
She's helplessly and hopelessly in love with teaching. To teach every slum child she meets to count, read and write. How many kids has she taught? At last count a couple years ago, a bunch over 2,000 girls and boys –math, reading, writing, telling nursery rhymes. And she's still teaching today.
We are a poor community organization, and usually at a loss when it comes to raising funds. It’s no exaggeration: fundraising is not our strength. What we’re best at is in protecting, sheltering, and educating the poorest and most vulnerable children. At fundraising, we struggle and stumble on.
This Saturday is different! With help from friends and family, we are doubly blessed!
Two fundraising events on behalf of our children are happening, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon.
Event #1: The Oriental FANtastic Fundraisier: A 10-KM Walk or Run in Lumpini Park, sponsored by the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. Presiding over the event will be Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who will fire the starting pistol at 8am. Following the run, you can enjoy a family fun day in the park plus a luncheon feast prepared by the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s culinary team. For more information, please contact the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok at 02 659-9000.
Event #2: Classical Music for Mercy: Acclaimed classical pianist Marina Baranova will perform music to move, soothe, and uplift the spirit, all in the name of Mercy. Presiding over the event will be HRH Princess Srirasmi. Time and place: Trinity Hall, St. Joseph Convent School, 3:30. For more information and tickets, please visit ticketmajor.com or call 02 262-3456. Tickets range from 500 to 2,000 baht.
Wait! One more event! In the evening, at 8:30, our Mercy Children’s Thai Classical Orchestra will be performing in front of Central World on behalf of the “1Love Playing for Change Foundation,” with all proceeds going to teach music…and love…and peace to poor children worldwide. Following a full day of fundraisers, our children will be giving back in kind, as best they can.
We invite everyone to join us at any or all of these events! Hope to see you this Saturday!
Kind regards and prayers,
Fr. Joe Maier
Director and Co-founder
This past Saturday a fire broke out in Pai Sing To, a small slum community located across the street from the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre. Thankfully, nobody was injured, but in its wake, 22 houses were destroyed, leaving 31 families, including 71 individuals, without a place to live. Most adult victims work as day laborers, food vendors, maids, and security guards, earning close to the legal minimum daily wage.
As the fire was being put out, our social workers arrived and began providing emergency relief. And when the final embers were doused, we also began working with those left homeless and their community leaders to start rebuilding.
We have already provided each homeless family with the costs for clothes, tools, food and all necessities, plus new school uniforms, school books, back-packs, and stationery for their children.
The families who lost their homes are currently residing in the Pai Sing To community center, which for many years past had been one of our Mercy kindergartens.
In these situations, urgent action is always required. If the residents are stalled in rebuilding their homes, outside forces will likely step in to have them permanently removed. In the case of Pai Sing To, a small and powerless community, there are powerful outside forces who wish to demolish the entire community and build something in its place for other people.
In the past 41 years, our foundation has built over ten thousand homes following devastating slum fires. We are well versed in every possible contingency. One thing we know for certain: the faster the residents remove debris and begin to rebuild, the less likely they will be challenged to leave.
Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.