Distance covered: 34,073 km (21,172 miles)
Subjects found: 74
I’ve spoken to M five times in the past two days.
It has been extremely difficult to determine her precise location, as M herself seems to have little understanding of where she is. There are no hills, no rivers, and no landmarks, she says. There are only houses, trees and cucumbers.
After five days, however, Moreno and I have narrowed down her location to a five-kilometre radius centred on a small town, only 23 kilometres from where I write. Meeting M and helping her, however, will be another challenge entirely.
There are many elements against us – M’s “husband” and his family, M’s own father in Vietnam, the traffickers, Chinese and Hmong cultures of male domination, and the current political climate between China and Vietnam.
M’s “husband” is a 25-year-old taxi driver – a ‘very mean’ man and a ‘liar’, she says – whose family keeps M under close watch in their house. He has threatened to destroy M’s phone (her only link with the outside world) if he catches her speaking with us, and will do all he can to prevent our meeting her.
M’s own father in Vietnam seems to support the “husband”, whom he believes to be a good man. He insists on M being a good and obedient wife, and doesn’t want her to come running back to Vietnam. Sadly, M herself has been partly responsible for her father’s mistaken beliefs, in wanting to hide the worst of her situation from her family.
Surprisingly, we’re told the traffickers who sold M to her “husband” two years ago are still in semi-regular contact. Having once been frightened herself with their death threats, M is now concerned for the safety of Moreno and myself should we come too close.
‘Maybe they take you,’ she warns. ‘Not take me, but take you.’
Earlier this month, the Chinese erected an oil rig off the long-disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, and a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese boat attempting to enter the area. The incidents have stirred long-held anti-Chinese sentiments in Vietnam, triggering unprecedented waves of deadly riots and factory torchings, and tensions between the two countries are running high.
Our contacts in Vietnam, who have rescued and repatriated dozens of trafficked girls from China, are currently hampered in their operations by the soured diplomatic relations. Even if we are able to find M, it’s difficult to say what we can do to to help her.
‘Right now I don’t know what I can do, I’m thinking a lot. I would like to going back to Vietnam forever, with my family or with another husband or something like that, but right now I cannot, you know why? Because I have a baby and if I going back her will miss me a lot, her will cry a lot, I will miss her a lot.’
There is a Khmer film whose protagonist – after being mortally wounded, and having his love taken from him – is taunted with this line:
Now do you see how high the mountain is?
I think we’re all beginning to see how high the mountain is.
Let’s keep climbing.
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