Weekly Local Biography

 Suchada Tanamaisakul

 

Good maids have a secure place in any household. Special maids have a special place. This is the story of a special maid. It is a story of courage against seemingly insurmountable odds that will bring tears to your eyes.

Suchada was born in an Akha Hill Tribe village outside Chiang Rai. She was one of four girls and two boys. Her father was ostensibly a farmer, but in actual fact never really worked as he was an opium addict.

Suchada did not go to school, as there was no school in her locality. However, when she was eight years old her life changed. Her father owed 1,200 baht to the Yao people for his opium supplies, and pressure was brought to bear on him to pay his debt. He had no money, so he said he would give one of his daughters as payment. Suchada was not the prettiest, so she was given away by him to be a slave.

The eight year old grew up overnight. She tried to commit suicide by jumping out of a tree. She spent that first month in tears, until her mother came to see her, but was told that Suchada had to endure, as the honour of the family was at stake. (At this stage in the interview, we had to stop for a while as Suchada and my interpreter were now both crying.)

For the next 12 years Suchada endured, working as a slave in the Yao camp. She was abused, beaten and degraded, living a life that you and I can only vaguely imagine, until she heard people talk of a place called Bangkok. It sounded like Nirvana. Some people took pity on her and gave her money for the bus and she ran away.

The bus money ran out at Samut Prakarn and the starving girl took a job washing up and cleaning in a restaurant. Her pay? 100 baht a month. She did not have an ID card, so once again advantage was being taken of her.

She was willing and worked hard, even though she could not read or write, but someone from the restaurant tried to take physical advantage of her and she fled again. Hearing of better pay, she took a job in a fish canning factory. The wages were once more barely above subsistence, but she was frugal and eventually saved up enough to return to Chiang Rai as she had a plan in the back of her mind.

She returned to her captors and paid them 1,200 baht. “I pay off the debt of my father. Now I am free!” She also needed an ID card, so went to her home village, but there was no brass band welcome for the young Suchada. She could not recall which was her house, and went from dwelling to dwelling asking if anyone there remembered her. Nobody did. She was dead as far as any of the villagers were concerned, until she went to one house and saw her father. “Do you know who I am?” she demanded. “I am the daughter that you sold.” He refused to acknowledge who she was, saying that his daughter was dead. She then rolled up her sleeve and showed him the unmistakable birthmark she has on one shoulder to prove her identity, but he showed no remorse.

Her time in her village gave her the chance to collect some house papers to secure her ID card, but also resulted in her having her father arrested for brutalising her mother. It was not a happy home.

She left and this time made Bangkok complete with the new ID card and took a job as a cleaner in a hospital in Bang Na. She saved her money until she could pay for night school to learn to read and write Thai, but she could only afford 20 nights of 2 hours duration. But at least it was a start.

However, Bangkok was too expensive on her cleaner’s wages so she went to Rayong and worked as a room maid in a hotel. This was a reasonable job, but her inability to read and write properly was a problem. The other staff got to know that the “X” on the cleaning sheet meant “Suchada”, but she wanted to improve.

She returned to Bangkok, taking a job as a housemaid. She was devastated when she found out her employer had refused to let her family speak to her after one of her sisters was involved in an accident. Once again, advantage had been taken, she wanted out.

She went to Hat Yai as she was told there was good money to be made there, only to find “good money” meant bar work, a line of employment which she would not countenance.

She went to Pattaya, to a series of poorly paid positions, working for people who would pay less than the minimum for a girl with only 40 hours of schooling in her life. The poorly educated downtrodden again. She even worked on a road gang building roads. “That was a good job because they paid 140 baht a day, but when the road was finished, so was the job.”

Eventually she landed a job as the maid for a farang and with it, some decent wages. “Life has changed. I have a motorcycle and some money in the bank. In the future I want to buy some land and build a small house. I like to think my family could come to live with me, but I know that is impossible.” (Another tear was shed.)

And that is the story of Suchada, who is my special maid. A story which I did not fully know until I began to write her profile, and if you ever thought you had it tough, re-read her life’s story. That people can continue to take advantage of the oppressed is an indictment on us all.

P.S. Suchada has started official Thai language classes!