When Flower Girls Grow Up (2004)
By Father Joe Maier
This one begins rough. And the middle part is rough, too. And the ending? Well, I guess you swallow hard through the tears and you shut your eyes tight to squeeze out tears so that you can look up and maybe see a rainbow, and then maybe you cry a bit again, because somehow, for so many of us, way deep down deep, we want, we demand, more than a rainbow.
And that isn't how life works.
This one's about two heroines: Miss Gook Gik and Miss Nong Lek. Their scumbag moms were always lurking in the shadows. The money was never enough for their moms, no matter how much their children scored. Mom's rules were blunt: you girls con money from bar bums so we can play cards. The money, of course, was never enough. Money goes fast in a card game.
It's the same here as anywhere else. They let you win the first few hands.
Only in a game of "Let's Pretend" can you find cute, happy heroines. We are taught that proper behavior for seven-year-olds is playing with dolls, hopscotch, jump rope, that they're all whispers and giggles. Not heroine stuff.
Life doesn't work that way, either.
Miss Gook Kik, thin and willowy, her AIDS temporarily in remission, remarked a while ago, "I earned 500 baht each night since I was five and my mom never thanked me once."
JOSEPH H. MAIER
MS Kanok-tip is President and Pioneer/Founder of the Klong Toey Slum Chapter of the Physically Handicapped (the Chapter), that is, the Five Kiosk Workforce. At 38 years of age, she's tough in many ways but very fragile in others. Never went to school. One leg gone from bone cancer years ago. Just recently her husband, while working as an assistant bartender, began a relationship with a short time girl from a remote province who hires herself out of the bar and he left Kanok-tip. One other thing: Tip is four months pregnant.
Note always rode behind his partner, Master Galong, who has a faster make-believe vehicle - an imaginary motorcycle. Sometime Galong has make-believe trouble starting his chopper. Master Note told him that choppers are hard to start in cold weather. Note is extra smart and school bores him. His is small for his age. You can blame Aids for that. Got it from his mom at birth who got it from his dad, both whom died when Note was three. Says he remembers his mom who cared for him as long as she could.
Note's life - lived in that deep part of his soul where nobody else can go - seems to be filled with light and beauty. He loves to draw and, except for the occasional fire-breathing dragon (a monster many kids seem to draw in times of death and sorrow), Note's sketchbook is a kaleidoscope of joyful colours and happy imagery.
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...
click here to purchase this film
by Jeanne Hallacy
color, 50 min, 2002
PHIL JONES: Children singing the national anthem of Thailand -- it's how their school day begins. After the anthem, it's time for their prayers, led by the teachers.
TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: Bow once to the Buddha. The Buddha is great....
Thailand soon became one of the world's first success stories in the battle against the virus, reducing the number of transmissions from 140,000 in 1991 to 23,000 in 2003. Nonetheless, one in every 100 Thais is infected, and AIDS is still the country's leading cause of death.
The Mercy Centre is the first and largest free AIDS hospice in the Thai capital, Bangkok. It is located in the middle of the city's biggest slum, Klong Toey.
The Mercy Centre was established in 1993 by a Catholic priest, Father Joe. Initially, the project was received with disdain and fear by the slum-dwellers, says Usanee Janngeon, one of the centre's health managers.
"When we first began our patients weren't allowed to go outside. But now, they can walk out in the community, buy food and do whatever they want as long as they don't make trouble. The community accepts them. I'm not saying there's no discrimination, far from that. But at least the slum-dwellers have shown acceptance of HIV/AIDS patients."
Fon became our Christmas present, coming to stay with us for a while to share her wisdom and joy - her dance, her song, her innocence. And she led us as we followed the Magi and the Christmas star.