A Woman Of Little Education
While I could be telling you another Sick Water Buffalo story, this one isn’t quite that. It’s the story of one lady and her family, put together from bits and pieces over the long time I was acquainted with them, their friends and neighbours.
The names and places are changed, but not the story.
I first met Lek at Mee’s and Mai’s beer shack. This particular beer shack was situated on the way back to my rented house, and our regular group used to like it as it didn’t get crowded, they did not have a karaoke booth, and the beers were cold. Mee’s husband was an officer in the military, and Mai’s husband did construction work. Both girls (they were sisters) were on the loud and slightly crude side, so you could tell crude jokes and they would join in the general mirth. I’d see Lek at the beer shack once, sometimes twice a week. Apparently they all lived in the same village and had known each other since childhood. Lek would come to help out, and during the school holidays both her daughter and Mee’s daughter would help serve the beers. As the girls were in their teens, the shack was a lot better patronised during the school holidays…
Lek was different from the other two. For one, she was not rowdy like the two sisters, but would have a smile for everyone there. When I asked why she wasn’t there every night, she said she had a job somewhere else, so only when she didn’t get overtime work, she helped out here.
So, over many months, we all became familiar faces. Mee’s and Mai’s became the evening venue, while we’d go into the village for lunch. We’d sometimes run into Lek having a bowl of noodles with her work colleagues. She worked in what I would consider a ‘sweat shop’. It was a small room with almost ten girls there, making cases for mobile telephones. She didn’t get a lot, but she said it was enough to get by on, as she supplemented this by taking in washing and ironing.
She had come back with her two children because she wanted them to go to school here, and would be close to her parents’ place. Where she was before, out on a rubber estate on the Eastern seaboard, a proper schooling would be difficult to get. She was determined to let her children get the education she never had. Her husband had stayed behind to tend to his work.
This is her story.
‘I should have been born as a boy’, she laughs. She recalls people telling her that hers was a difficult birth. Her mother had been at a ‘Tum boon’ (merit-making) ceremony when she went into labour. So she was born amid the chanting of monks. ‘I came feet first, too, not like everyone else’, she continued. She lived with her mother and step-father, and didn’t meet her real father till she was in her twenties. ‘When my mother was pregnant with me’, she says, ‘my father got his mia noy pregnant too.’ ‘And when she found out about the mia noy, she was almost at full term, and so came here to stay with relatives.’
‘I had a difficult childhood, as my step-father doted on his children, not me. I wasn’t allowed to go to school, and had to do all the menial work around the house. Eventually I went to work at a relative’s factory doing stone polishing of semi-precious stones. Children were preferred for this as they had small hands that were more suited for the job.’
When she got jaundice more than a year later, she was sent back home.
‘When I was eight or nine, I started working at a building supplies yard. I had to prepare moulds for cement bricks, then fill them with prepared cement. It was hard work, but I got a few satang (1 baht = 100 satang) for each brick. If my step-father saw me buying ice-cream or sweets, he would make me buy some for my step-sister too, using my own money. If not, he would hit me. I would cry a lot then.’
She eventually went to Bangkok to work as a construction worker with some of her relatives. ‘I would get twenty baht a day’ she said. Not a lot, but she’s proud of the fact that she was able to make those wireforms for concrete pillars, pour cement, lay tiles – in fact she eventually built her own house!
She met her husband at the construction site. He was a welder, and got better money than she did. ‘In those days, all the girls and the guys had to go out together in a group. We were never allowed to be alone together; it was chaperoned throughout. I liked my husband, he seemed a nice, quiet guy who didn’t cause trouble when he drank his whisky. We eventually got married; the funny thing is, even though I didn’t feel love, we get along well.’
When she found manual labour beginning to wear her down, she started taking care of the other worker’s children for a small fee. Her logic? If the female worker had to take care of her child, she’d lose a whole day’s pay. But if that worker gave a small percentage to her to take care of the child, she’d still earn money, and the child would be cared for. So she would have six to eight children with her every day. With what her husband used to get, she put the money in the bank, but gave him enough for cigarettes and whisky. They eventually saved enough to buy a ten-rai plot of land (A Thai measurement of area – One rai has four hundred square wah. One square wah is about the equivalent of four square meters) on the Eastern seaboard.
They eventually moved back to the Eastern seaboard, where her husband’s family lived. He went back to tapping rubber. She helped with that and some farm work. Eventually she went for a course of study with the government dispensary, and graduated as a nurse’s assistant. She also went back to school, and said, with a twinge of regret in her voice, ‘If I hadn’t brought my children back just now, I would have completed the equivalent of Mor (secondary) 6 in the adult education program. But that’s still better than my step-sister, who although was given the opportunity, has only a primary two education. At least I can read and write now, although it won’t help me with a job opportunity. But my children will have that chance.’
Well, she’s a grandmother now. Her daughter finished school, started working in a factory, got married and now has a son. I was one of the honoured guests at her daughter’s wedding. Her son is still in school. She has planted the plot of land with rubber trees, but it won’t be productive for a while yet. No matter, she says. It’s for the children. When it is productive, it will provide a steady income. ‘I don’t need a lot, and I never really have. I’m happy, and the children will be provided for.’
That is one lady who had the determination to make it. And, in my eyes, against many odds, she has. Just think of where she would be today if she had been given that education then…
Good on her! We need more stories like this.