Tuesday, 30 June 2009 17:36

No parents, no food, no home

It's the pits to be hungry when you're eight years old. Even with practice. And Master Moe had lots of practice.

Once again Mum and Dad were doing "government service", as it's called. Not locked up in a cell, per se, but it was suggested to them that they stick around the station for a few days and nights. If they strayed? The evening news would report they were "shot while attempting to escape". Lethal, most serious stuff.

"Government service" also meant eight-year-old Master Moe would again act as head of the household, and seven-year-old cousin Sai as "mum" for the younger three, Master Dhuey, Miss Gig and one-year-old Miss Gook.

With Moe and Sai in charge, that day they didn't go to school, after the early morning raid. Too shocked. Too hungry. That night the younger three cried for their momma till dawn, and nature took its course with baby Miss Gook doing her baby thing - poop, soaking the bedding, and the place stunk with a mighty odour!

Early next morning, Moe and Sai were awake and the younger three slept when the drug control lads raided their shack again, just like they did the day before dawn when they "invited mum and dad to visit the station".


A neighbour lady, of a betel nut chewing age, didn't like police uniforms. (She still insisted her son had only borrowed the borrowed goods found in her house last year), so she stormed into the shack, berating the drug squad. They ignored her, but she was loud, persistent and nasty, so they joined the shouting contest and screamed at her to "get out". That drew a crowd. Nobody in the whole slum neighbourhood really liked Moe and Sai's family, but they liked the police even less, just on general principles.

Undeterred by the ruckus, the racket, the children crying and the odour, the police ransacked the shack again. Found a few more pills and some loose change. Not much money, but they took that, too. "Sorry, it's evidence!"

The children watched in horror as the authorities trashed their shack - their home - tearing it apart. They still talk about that day.

A neighbour lady with a two-table, six-chairs, mom-and-pop slum-eating-place told Moe she had some rice she couldn't sell yesterday, but it wasn't spoiled yet. After eating, Moe, carrying baby Gook and Sai leading her little brother and sister by the hand, walked over to the police station to see mum and dad. But now they were in serious trouble. The Drug Suppression lads found the other part of the stash of drugs, which came to nearly 100 pills, but not quite. However, with a bit of "assistance" from the station, the eventual count added up to just over 100 pills. One hundred is the magic number. Mum and Dad were looking at maybe 10 years, maybe a life sentence, with no parole in sight.

Now it was straight to prison. The children arrived just in time to see their folks, climbing into that black van that says "Police" on the side with the cyclone fencing on the windows, and they all started crying. The van waited, took off mum's handcuffs so she could hug her children, hold them one more time. Dad, no.

It was their last hug for several long years. Their momma's parting words: "Go now quickly, take everything to the pawnshop."

Sai knew how. She'd gone with mum before, during some tough times. They carted off their rice cooker and the fan to hock at the local pawnshop for food money.

A fan and a rice cooker ain't no good with no electricity anyway. The mean, nasty neighbour guy next door had cut off their electricity the minute the Drug Suppression team left for the station with mum and dad on the back of police motorcycles. Mum and dad had bought a small, illegal electric metre and dog-legged it to the neighbour guy's normal MEA metre - slum style of course - and arranged to pay him at double the Bangkok city rate per kilowatt hour.

Meanwhile, with Moe and Sai at the pawnshop, the nasty neighbour guy came and carted off their refrigerator, stole it really, in front of the younger children. Told them that mum and dad owed him money, big time. They'd borrowed a bundle at two baht a day on a hundred baht per month. The high interest isn't a problem when you're dealing free and easy, but now, in jail, the cops stopped all that.

The nasty neighbour guy wanted his money, so he grabbed what he could after the cops trashed the shack that second morning. He threw out the food in the fridge with the hungry children watching. Just for fun!

He came back to look for more stuff later that same afternoon, but there wasn't anything else left to hock. Moe and Sai just stood there holding hands, crying silently. Three days later, on Moe's ninth birthday, it all unraveled.

The mean, nasty neighbour guy wouldn't stop; kept complaining about baby Gook keeping him awake all night with her crying. He made lots of racket about it to the community leader. She was horrified seeing the smelly, hungry kids with runny noses and baby with the runny bottom, plus the trashed house.

She had her friend, the teacher, from our slum kindergarten there. What to do with five children, abandoned, an eight-year-old and a seven-year-old trying to keep the family together?

They gathered some slum mums, who all pitched in together. First they fed the older ones all they could eat (which was a lot) and a bottle for the baby; then scrubbed down the kids, cleaned the house, washed the bedding and mosquito net, and gave baby Gook a well-used and well-loved Teddy Bear. They locked the shack door and moved all five to our kindergarten. The teacher stayed overnight, actually moved in to live in the school to give the children a home, till things were sorted out. That was eight years ago.

Now, it's mostly better. Moe's grown up. On the way, he was kicked out of the first grade for the "shoes incident". Said he'd never worn shoes in his whole life, why did he have to wear shoes at school. He learned with his head and not his feet! That wasn't cool. First grader Master Moe walked.

That was just the first time he was kicked out of school. In the end, he went through five schools - and he almost graduated from "secondary school". Almost. Only two weeks to go and he had to run. He'd been too chummy with a girl classmate.

But now, months later, he has a real job. A teacher from that last reform school said: "I know, deep down, this is a fine young man who needs a chance." He put in a good word for Moe, and we guaranteed him too.

He's seven months into being an apprentice welder/mechanic, on a commercial ship plying the waters between Bangkok and Singapore. He went back to ask the girl he was chummy with to marry him.

She's graduated, has a job with the city of Bangkok. A proper girl. Moe asked our Sister Maria if Sister would "speak for him" to the girl's parents. He gave all the money had had for the dowry - 500 baht. Moe is clean. Has never touched drugs or alcohol.

His girlfriend grew up in the same slum. She lives with her parents. She wants Moe to show he can keep his job for one whole year first and made him promise her he would return to school, get his diploma.

Sai, his younger cousin, works in an open-air clothing market. She functions well in English. Makes good money. She rents a shack here in Klong Toey where she's known and feels safe - and we pay her rent sometimes. She started rough. Left us at 15. Wanted to be on her own. Began making her living sassy like, working as a "Coyote girl".

She smokes cigarettes, and her two little sisters berate her all the time. Has promised them she will quit. She hates drugs and still won't speak to her mother.

The next down the line is Master Dhuey. Finally after six years of trying, a most zealous teacher taught him to read comic books and write his name. He left us last year at age 14. He's on the street now, but often returns home to his mum, who is out of prison now, and works nights in Pattaya.

Now Dhuey's on the run. Thought he was cute, broke some slum rules. Payment was bruises and broken bones and left for dead. He wants to come back to live here at Mercy. Our men who work with street kids say, let him stay on the street a while longer. He has to learn or die. We can't protect him.

And the two younger girls are doing well in school. Miss Gig acts tough, dresses like a thug, but always with pink bows in her hair or pink socks. She's cut a deal with our house mum, to look the other way, most of the time, when Miss Gig wears lipstick. As long as she does her homework and house chores.

Her little sister miss baby Gook still keeps her well-used, well-loved Teddy Bear from those days gone by. She loves to hear the old story about her crying and crying, keeping the mean, nasty neighbour awake all night.

And now and then, she rides city bus No205 from Klong Toey back home to her slum kindergarten to see that teacher who held her all those nights so she wouldn't be afraid after her momma left for prison. She says she will see momma sometime, but not now.