Losing my teeth

Posted November 30

One month ago, I was concerned I'd become too deeply entangled in the life of my Hmong friend P, a recent survivor of human trafficking. I couldn't see how to step away. 

After we'd returned from our road trip, and the violent stalker Lucky Charm had made his unwelcome entrance into her life, P said she considered me not merely her best, but her only, friend. 

'Be careful,' she told me. 'If you die, I have no friends.' 

The young Hmong women P knows can be divided into two groups, she says - those who frequent the bars, drinking and "playing" with men, and those who are focused on marriage and children. 

Having recently fled a forced marriage in China, P belonged in neither group, and felt that I was the only one who understood her position. Knowing my visa would soon expire, P herself had expressed her concern as to what would happen to her after I left Vietnam. 

Although the past month has certainly held its share of drama for P, she now has a room of her own, a steady job, new friends, and a measure of stability in her life. 

While Lucky Charm is back on the scene and has not yet given up on his mad desire for P, the danger he presents seems largely to have passed. 

Over the past two weeks, I gradually began stepping away, though P and I would still see each other most days. We'd get ice cream (even on the coldest of days), while P would recount the little dramas of her life. She'd tell me of her newfound happiness in spending quiet evenings alone at home, washing her hair, listening to music and embroidering by her little electric heater. 

She'll be fine. 

There was an unexpectedly poignant moment one evening as P and I were laughing and joking in the main street of our little mountain town. P stopped suddenly, pointing at a lamppost with a flowerpot hanging on either side. 

'Like me and M,' she said. 'Me, I'm like this. She stay in China, like this.'

She pointed first at one flowerpot, bursting with tiny pink blossoms, and then at the second plant, which hung dark and withered from its pot. 

After three weeks of Irish summer - cold, grey and wet - my final week in town was stunning, with sunshine pouring down from clear blue skies. My visa was expiring rapidly, and I told P I was going to miss living in Vietnam. 

'Be careful you don't lose your teeth,' she replied, cryptically. 

I asked for an explanation. 

'When you miss something so much you're sad, you walk around without seeing where you're going,' she said. 'You can fall over and lose your teeth.' 

I packed my bags and said goodbye to P this morning. She'd woken up at dawn to give me an embroidered headband she'd spent the past month working on, to thank me for encouraging her return from China. 

I'm now only an hour's ride from the Laotian border, which I'll cross tomorrow morning. 

If you see me walking around with missing teeth, you'll know what's happened. 

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