A SMALL BATTLE WON. by Father Joe Maier
This morning let me tell you a War story. A story of deadly combat between a nine-year-old Slum girl named Sao and her grandfather, a pedophile. The stakes are the same as in any war: death, maiming, or if you're lucky, injury in any case, with damage not too deep. War is war; only the weapons change. Sao won her battle. She's alive and healing. Her war against drugs and incest is over. But, gosh what a girl. She's one of those one- in- a- million kids. From what we suspect and guess, she fought her battle alone for two years.
Sao's teacher isn't safe yet, and that gives the story a twist. Her neighbors are protecting her, but they can only do so much. They live with their own fears, and lock their doors against things that go bump in the night, like crying children, drunk talk, and pedophiles. .That's why the incest went on for as long as it did - - - the neighbors wouldn't say anything, do anything. They said, "its probably not as bad as all that, so let it go." Sao's own relatives said: "the kid is lying." Not much help there.
This morning, Sao is kinda safe, but not real safe. Her grandfather left town one step ahead of the Police. His amphetamine pills and his drinking and pedophilia and incest shadow him and all the booze and ya baa in Bangkok City only intensify what he might do to her.
The neighbors say openly where they think he's hiding. So once again, everyone knows except the uniforms. Guess you might call it an aberrant form of "blind man's bluff." It's suggested that by local practice, they work best with incentive. We have no incentive to offer except a documented case of incest, pedophilia and probably drug dealing. But that doesn't do much at a bank tellers window, so free he is.
Drug wars, slums, kindergarten teachers, incest, pheodophlia police and their police stations. You see they promised us they would protect Sao and her teacher. I heard them with my own ears: otherwise I wouldn't say so.
The male police wanted to cut a deal: we produce the child for them to see and they protect her. We said, "Produce a woman police officer and we will produce the girl". They said - - - and they told the truth - - - no women police officers were available. Count your fingers and your toes plus one and you have the number of women police officers trained in proper questioning of young children in Bangkok City.
That was the second night, after the teacher had been detained for the second time. Same charges, different set of police. Arrested for "Restraining a child." A lie of course. How did the police come to think this 24 - year - old kindergarten teacher was "Restraining a child?" They were told that by Sao's grandfather, that's how. It was his way of getting even.
It started like this. Her mom left when Sao was seven months old and her dad disappeared about two years ago when Grandmother died, leaving her with her grandfather. That's when everything turned weird for Sao. Five weeks ago, it became unbearable. She began staying late at the homes of her friends, until ten or eleven at night, then sleeping outside rather than go home to Grandfather. .
The neighbors started whispering, and Sao looked worse with every new day. Same dirty clothes. A haunted look. The women began talking to Sao's kindergarten teacher. Yes, at nine years of age she is still in kindergarten. True she went when she was four and five, but then had to drop out, and grandfather never did get around to getting her into the first grade, but that's another story for another day.
Sao's teacher was the only adult she knew she could trust and all she
asked was to sleep in her teacher's house - - - just on the edge of the mat inside the mosquito net so the mosquitoes and the roaches couldn't bother her. When the teacher asked her why she didn't want to go home, Sao was silent.
That was enough. The teacher knew. She phoned and we said, "Can you get the child out right now? Tonight." She consulted with her uncle who is the community leader, and he said: "its late, lets all go to bed and tomorrow morning I, the community leader, will bring the girl to face her grandfather. " The teacher phoned back, and we said: Lordy lord, teacher gets that child out right now!" And she did, but had to wait 3 hours till everyone went to sleep. Didn't even wake her husband. She and Sao ran out of the slum, dogs howling and hailed a taxi. The teacher had forgot to bring money, but Sao had 100 Baht she had stolen from her grandfather. That was what she was supposed to get from each drug delivery she made - - - they use the children, especially girls to make the deliveries because the police are reluctant to stop and search them, but he would keep the money for booze and so Sao had to steal to get what she's earned. Because he would keep the money for booze. So the 100 Baht was taxi fare.
They got to us about 3:20 a.m. and her teacher told Sao she could trust Noi, the House mom, In the morning at school, the teacher told everyone that she did not know where the girl had disappeared. At 8:00 a.m. we brought Sao to the local police station with Noi. Sao sat in the car, the Captain came out to the car and asked her if she was safe and happy and wanted to stay with us. She nodded yes. That was enough. We have a good reputation. It was entered into the Police daybook.
At 3:30 p.m., just as our kindergarten was closing and the teachers shutting the doors, the police came. They SUGGESTED that our teacher go down to the police station. Questions for possible "Restraining a child." They verbally forced our teacher to the station on the word of Sao's pedophile grandfather. Imagine. Arrest the good guy with a complaint from the bad guy. It sounds like a bad western movie. Except in this case, the people are real.
It took hours, literally hours to clear the books. We all got to the station about seven in the evening, left about three in the morning. The part that took so long was that they demanded that we bring Sao to the station to confront her grandfather and we told them that was against the law of the land. But it's scary in police stations. These cats are giant Goliath's and we are David's with no slingshots and no smooth pebbles. There was no one way window for the confrontation. There were no women police officers, no one trained to speak of such things, no rag doll or teddy bear for the girl to point to where this and that might have happenedso she wouldn't have to point to her own body. Just men and their guns and their badges and their polished boots trying to do their job quickly and efficiently, but thoroughly miffed because we kept saying no. We refused to produce the girl. Instead we said we were a Registered Charitable Foundation and showed a copy of the entry into the daybook of our local Precinct Station. Finally we went home. We all understood each other, although we didn't agree. The main thing was Sao remained asleep in our Centre. Her biggest worry was if anyone would give a hug to her teddy bear she had left at home. Sao did not know of our visit to the station and that her grandfather had, finally, been fingerprinted.
It's a tiny incident - not even a footnote in the story of the Klong Toey Drug Wars, now being waged each day. But it's a good guy, bad guy story. Sao and her young teacher are the good guys. The bad guys are her grandfather and his drinking buddies who watched the incest, and suspected the drugs, and knew it was buying the booze they were drinking and were too afraid to say anything. Frightened men whose fear and possible loss of face over-rode, and poisoned everything, even their love of children. Harsh words, but there is no nice way to tell this story.
People like Grandfather sell these pills to their friends, to children and even to Elephants - a Sacred Animal here in Thailand. On the street the other night, I asked an elephant man "Hey Pilgrim, what was your medicine bill today for your large friend here?" He said "nine pills." Ya baa. Amphetamine that sells for about 45 Baht for each pill if you buy they wholesale, 60 Baht retail. That's how they keep the elephants awake at night as they wander the Bangkok streets and then walk back kilometers to the bit of overgrown grassland where they are temporarily camped.
The story gets worse. The next afternoon Grandfather filed another complaint against the teacher. A different set of police officers came to her house in the Slum - SUGGESTED that she produce the child or else She phoned us and came to our Centre a little later with Grandfather, his cronies, and the Police. She had no choice. When I heard, I said to myself "we're in for a bad patch of weather." The Police and the bad guys had pushed, shoved and bullied the teacher calling for a showdown. We had no choice. It was time to firmly grasp the nettle.
I told everyone to lock the doors, not let the Police into the Centre and the grandfather was not allowed to see Sao under any circumstances! Sao was to be kept upstairs on the third floor happily innocent of all of this. We said any police questioning had to be conducted by a trained woman police officer. No men. But it didn't work. Sao looked down from the third floor and saw everything. She was terrified and hide under a bed and wouldn't come out, so two of the other girls crawled under the bed with her and held each other and cried together.
We stonewalled for four and one half-hours until a trained policewoman arrived. Sao was questioned with only women present. The male Police insisted on at least seeing the girl. We refused to let them talk to her, but they saw she was fine and they were satisfied.
Then the nightmare.
The Police - on their own - invited Grandfather and his cronies into our Centre to explain things in front of the teacher. This was after they had promised to protect the innocent I was horrified.
It was after ten at night and tomorrow was a school day. We have 30 street kids living at the Centre going to school in the morning. These are kids who have turned their lives around who don't like policemen in the best of circumstances. Kids who were terrified by the loud voices coming from below and knowing that Sao's grandfather and cronies were there, and if the bad guys could come and take Sao, they could take any of them too, at any time.
My good friends reading this, it gets worse, then a bit better.
After 30 loud minutes of denials and cursing, Grandfather screamed out at the top of his lungs, " Sao I love you, and I will come and rescue you from this hellhole."
She heard him. Came out from under the bed, down to the second floor, where she was still hidden from view and safe screamed back, " You don't love me! You do bad things to me!"
I asked the Police to leave immediately, asking how they could let such a thing happen. Didn't they have children of their own? Didn't they care?
They finally got it and said they were sorry and sent Grandfather and his cronies out into the rain. The policewoman told the 30 girls they were safe. And one of the policemen went out to his car and brought back a teddy bear he said he'd bought that day for his eight - year - old daughter. He gave it to Sao. She thanked him, hugged Teddy, and fell asleep in the chair.
It's not over with yet. Grandfather is still on the run. Sao can not go out of the Centre, but she has put on weight and eats like there's no tomorrow - giggles a lot and whispers secrets to her new friends. I do not know when or if she can ever go home again. We're trying to locate her dad and long lost mom, but I'm not too sure that's a good idea.