By Father Joe Maier
The "three grandmothers" is the most famous story in the old part of the slum known as the Klong Toey slaughterhouse. The kindergarten kids love the story and ask the teacher over and over to "tell us again" before their afternoon nap at school.
One of the teachers is the granddaughter of one of the notorious grandmothers. She’s the one who convinced Ms Joy’s mum to let her stay in school, and "was there" when Ms Joy needed to cut and sell her hair. But more on that later.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
The sacred tree is a mysterious thing to many, but not to a group of six- and seven-year-old orphans in Bangkok’s biggest slum
There’s a really big tree with roots all over the place and beautiful deep green leaves shaped like a Valentine’s Day heart. It's a nice tree, but it’s slightly unkempt. However, Auntie Gung and our children say it’s fine for a sacred tree to be unkempt. And this is a sacred tree with a sacred spirit, or angel. It's called a dhon pho tree in Thai and it’s in the back of the Klong Toey slum flats.
Auntie Gung visits the tree about once a week and brings some of our girls, if they want to go, and a regular visitor is Miss Sprite, whose mum died of TB and HIV/Aids a few months ago. Auntie Gung tells the children she believes she is protected by the spirit of the tree, as is Miss Sprite.
Auntie Gung had been with us for 10 years and remembers the day six-year-old Miss Sprite arrived after the cremation of her mum. The spirit knows that Miss Sprite’s mum died of TB-HIV/Aids because Auntie Gung told it so.
Even in a slum, a mother with nothing can still hear her daughter's desperate cry for help and come to the rescue.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
There was lots of screaming and shouting in the slaughterhouse neighbourhood. Miss Ploy was throwing a loud tantrum against her mum.
Just a quick glance at Miss Ploy walking by in the slum and you would know, this is a special kid.
She’s 14 years old, too skinny and obviously under-fed, with Raggedy Ann hair. She’s the proud owner of a grand total of one school uniform with no shoes. But that’s not the issue.
About two thousand years ago that raggedy handful of Jerusalem street kids saw it all happen. The bad guys ordered their foreign occupying forces to capture him and execute Blessed Mary’s Son. But they also made it look legal so these bad guys could get away with it and wouldn’t have to go to prison. Lots of people were shouting to get him up the hill for execution fast.
The kids whispered among themselves: “That guy carrying the cross with thorns stuck on his head, wearing the purple cloak is Jesus the Holy One." The scavenger dogs were barking, but strangely not barking at Jesus.
Born in a shack, half-blind and fearless, but there's still honour in a wasteland child.
by Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
It’s a story that simply needs to be told. Sai Chon, the half-blind, no-fear, ex-rubbish dump kid. He’s moving up the social ladder. “Shack-born” in a city rubbish dump, where he spent his early years, he's now only a part-time street kid.
He’s done well in life so far. A sixth grade graduate of the Blind School, he can read and write braille, but not brilliantly. He admits to being a bit lazy in lessons, since he can still see partially out of his left eye.
Three months in detention for vagrancy and loitering in a public place (ie, begging) is unfair, he said. He told them he didn’t do anything wrong. But the uniforms wouldn’t listen. To them simply hanging around is vagrancy and that breaks the penal code. They said three months and that was that.
Even in forgotten places, there’s a touch of Christmas in the moments families share together.
Published in Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum, Dec. 21, 2014:
By Fr. Joe Maier
Christmas this year — the date is marked in local calendars as the fifth day of the rising of the moon in the second month of the Lunar New Year. The word Christmas is not mentioned.
Christmas here in Thailand can silently slip by, unnoticed, if you’re not alert. Our annual commercial Thai greeting cards sold in the shops do not mention the words Merry Christmas, only Happy New Year. Christmas day this year, Thursday, is an ordinary weekday: school for the kids, banks, post offices and government offices all open, an ordinary night to butcher pigs in the slaughterhouse. The usual television soap shows.
Maybe there will be a short mention on the evening news. Officially, Christmas doesn’t exist. That’s why it’s so important, vital that we make the birthday of Jesus meaningful for ourselves, for our children, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian.