The Hands That Held My Heart
I didn't know I had a story, or one that was worth hearing until I journeyed to Thailand this May. I have always felt insignificant, insecure, and unsure of myself. But my heart has always been full for women, to come alongside them, to journey in hope to freedom with them. I joined a small group of women from Vancouver and we traveled to Bangkok together, partnering with a Home of New Beginnings. They beckon young women, any women, out of the Bangkok bars where many have been sold for the pleasure of men, exploited, degraded and have been working to pay the debts of their impoverished families in the northern Hill Tribes of Thailand. We invited some of the girls away from the bars to come to a retreat to learn English, and it was there my heart was broken for their stories. We built relationships with them, and though the words were few the connection was profound. Returning to the burn of Bangkok bars from the peaceful retreat was difficult. The women would work tonight, plenty of customers arrived today. But not far off the Red Shirt protests were heating up, and the government was planning to move them out of their barricaded encampment. Within a day the Red Shirt riots rampaged the city, killing almost 100, injuring 2000, and burning 27 buildings to the ground. The blackest day in Thailand. Outside my hotel smoke billowed, gunshots popped and rioting raged on. This was my first taste of what it was like for women around the world who live in fear, while war destroys their homes, their families, their lives. Our reunion with the women a few days later was filled with relief, but great sadness. One woman, a Mamasan, one who is too old to work for sex, but arranges the dates for the men who frequent the bars, was sitting beside me. A 49 year old woman who I had only spent a few short days with, took hold of my 34 year old hand. She wouldn't let go. With no one to protect her during the riots I sensed how traumatized she was, bombs going off outside the red light district she worked in. A tear rolled down the side of her cheek, and then down mine. I tried to express my sadness for her, for every woman in Thailand. But she already knew. And then she started to console me. "Don't worry, Fa", my name in Thai, "you stayed". In this moment I knew she was holding my heart in her hands, thanking me for standing with her during her countries most difficult time. I am forever changed by Bangkok, and by the Mamasan who held my hand.