Dinh's Journey

by Andrew Passey

Chapter 4

Bao sighed loudly as if he didn't really want to answer. However maybe he realised it can be cathartic to tell someone however painful it is.

"My story? My story is like yours. Full of pain, suffering and humiliation . I've never really told it to anyone as aside from you everyone I've met is involved is involved in this fucking business. I guess I'll start at the beginning. I grew up in a small village a couple of hours or so from Ho Chi Minh City. We didn't have much money and made what we could from tilling the small rice paddies we had. We just about grew enough rice to survive. I helped work in the fields. My brother was a few years younger than me though so he wasn't much use! I studied hard at school to get good at speaking English and wanted to improve myself so a family friend suggested I go to Ho Chi Minh City. His son was there and had said there were loads of jobs for English speakers in the tourist industry. Even though I was only just 15 my parents thought it would be a good idea and I was very keen. After all, if I could earn money then my parents and brother would have a more comfortable life.

So I went to the big city, I met up with the son of the family friend who introduced me to some other boys my age and we hung out in the city for a few days. Eventually they took me to a small flat with a few older boys who seemed nice. They welcomed me to the city and said they knew it was hard to make ends meet. So they gave me some money to help get myself settled in the city and said to come back when I'd spent it. So I had a week of fun with my new friends before the money ran out and I went back with my friends to the house where I'd given me money before.

This time they said there was no money without me doing work. One of the boys said he'd take me to see someone who could give me a job. I wanted to stay behind with my friends but he insisted saying that I could leave with my friends now if I could pay the money I'd been given.

Clearly I couldn't so I had to go with the older boy. That was to be the last time I saw my friends. They couldn't meet my eyes as I left which should have been a warning sign. Looking back I don't know how much involved in the whole thing they were. Did they deliberately get me into all of this? Were they themselves victims as well? Did they have to lead boys like me into this whole thing to survive?

Of course at this stage I was none the wiser. I honestly thought this was a great opportunity to earn some money. I imagined we were off to some tourism company where my English skills would be useful. I ended up at a house not too far away where we were let in with the door bolted behind us. This house was full of men rather than boys and I felt uncomfortable straight away.

One of them came over and the older boy explained my situation. The man smiled at me and said to follow him. I did as I was told, leaving the older boy behind. We went into a room with a couple of chairs there and I sat down at the man's insistence.

He said he knew I was poor but he said they wanted to help. I said I was happy to do anything and that I spoke good English so I wanted to work in the tourism business. He smiled and said that being good at speaking English would give me a world of opportunities.

"Unfortunately Bao, no one will give you a job in this city. A poor rural country boy like you? The kids here are fluent in English and know how to deal with foreigners. However they think small, you should think big! Would you like to go and work in the UK? We can get you lots of work there earning good money. You'd be able to send money back to your parents so they could live a better life. You'd be able to come back here in a few years, richer than you could possibly imagine."

It sounded interesting but I said I wasn't sure.

"I don't know. It's a long way away? How would I get there? I've never been on a plane before. I don't have any money."

The man laughed at that. "We have a good overland route that boys like you have used before. As for the money, don't worry about that Bao, you can pay us back." He smiled broadly at me but I wasn't convinced it was a genuine smile. There was something...I don't know how to explain it but faintly predatory about it. A smile devoid of warmth and it made me feel concerned. I decided I wanted to get out of there and talk it over with my friends. Yes it sounded a great opportunity but I didn't want to just make a rush decision,

"Thank you for the offer. It's one I will definitely consider. For now I'd like to go back to my friends but I will come back in a few days when I have made my decision."

As I said this the smile faded from the man's face. He then shrugged. "It is of course your choice Bao. You're free to go. Just pay us back the Dong we lent you and you can leave."

At that statement I started to feel a rising panic. I had no money and I couldn't pay them back. He clearly knew it and I began to realise I'd been set up. How had I been so naive and stupid?

"Um I don't have any money to pay you back, but I can get some," I said slightly desperately hoping the man would take sympathy on me. Sympathy was clearly in short supply as he shook his head in mock sadness.

"I wish I could let you go and get some but debts need to be repaid and I can't trust you. However I am not totally without heart so you can pay some of it back now," he said, standing up and pulling his trousers and underwear down.

At this point Bao stopped his story and I could tell it was hard for him to continue. Even though it was difficult he proceeded to tell me what happened next. How he was forced to give the man oral sex and then other men in the house as well. How he was kept captive and beaten and even raped once. He was continuously told there was only one way out of the house. That was to agree to go to the UK and sign a piece of paper saying that he owed them 700,000,000 Dong for his passage to the UK.

Eventually he felt he had no choice and signed the paper. He was also told they knew where his parents lived and if he didn't work hard in the UK and pay off the money then they would hurt his parents and make them pay.

I felt a great deal of sympathy for Bao and realised why he looked broken. His story had certainly started worse than mine and I hoped the journey wasn't as bad for him as it was for me. Unfortunately it was just as bad. He was beaten and raped on his journey here and things got worse on his arrival. Unlike me he had a job before working in this cannabis farm. He was prostituted out to men and women, driven from place to place and treated like a plaything. Despite all that had happened to me his story brought home the horror of the situation we were in. At that moment I promised myself that if I ever got out of here I would try and do something about it.

I listened as Bao then told how one day the prostitution just stopped, "I was driven to what I assumed was another client but once I got here I realised I was to be looking after these plants. The relief was amazing. I'm under no illusion. The plants are worth more than my life and your life. We aren't important to the bastards in charge. We're slave labour and can be discarded at any point. However it is better looking after these plants than what came before. I just can't believe how naive and stupid I was. A life of riches over here? I imagine I'll be working for the rest of my life to pay off my debt."

I patted Bao on the shoulder, "That's how they thrive. They take advantage of naive innocent boys and girls like us and before we know it we're in too deep. One day they'll pay for what they've done. One day they'll be free!" I said vehemently.

Bao smiled sadly at me, "I want to believe that Dinh but I don't know. I worry the only way we're getting out of this place is in a coffin."

I told him that wasn't true and things would get better for us. The words sounded hollow even to me but I tried to believe in them. I know they say that it's the hope that kills you but when all you have left is hope then that's something to hold on to. One day this would all be over and things would be better. That's what I was going to keep telling myself anyway.

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