When I relocated to Vietnam, I was forced to visit all of my moral boundaries and readjust where lines were drawn. I can accept that many of my western concepts and ideals were in the end unrealistic and based on a society with a different culture, but one I have trouble accepting is cultural slavery. This situation can often happen when an attractive young girl becomes a woman. Not only does she feel a duty to help her family, but the parents need and want some kind of security for their old age. Opportunities sometimes present themselves that are so attractive to a poor but happy family that decisions are made that can have dire consequence. Let us look at an example what is happening just a few houses down from me.
For years there has been a young woman selling deserts at the side of the road daily. She lives in a small house with her family and seemed a very happy and well adjusted person. The house was unkept and in need of maintenance, and the family somewhat crude in lifestyle, but caused no problems. One day my wife spoke with me and mentioned that the girl had been sponsored to Australia by her family and was their family who was so much poorer could do it but our family did not. I did not know how to respond. Six months passed and the girl is gone. Construction began on their house and has been completed in the past week. Building the new house on their lot cost fifty thousand US Dollars and everybody was so proud and amazed at how the young woman was able to help the family until the truth came out……..
The mother of the young woman has a sister in Australia that was willing to strike a deal (or take advantage). In exchange for fifty thousand dollars to rebuild her house, she would allow her sister to sponsor her
daughter to come to Australia and work without pay for 5 years. Whaa??? No Pay? I imagine like my wife before in Canada, she will be given a room and be fed, but would also be committed to the business 12 hours a day and 7 days a week. If she is lucky but not likely, she may be allowed to take a part time job for extra income. I can see it if it is work for equal value, but five years is akin to slavery in my books. This poor young woman is without future for the next five years. No relationships, no husband………… or is there?
Today, I just got word that the mother has kept 2 rooms available in her new house to use as a gambling den (illegal in Vietnam) in order to make money in order to buy her now Australian daughter a husband. It is not an uncommon practice. I personally know people in Canada and America that were paid cash to marry and sponsor a young woman. Ahhhhh….. Sadly, the trade of young beautiful Vietnamese woman has been the way of business for generations. Many people here see it as just as a normal part of Vietnamese culture, after all, it is about survival of the family.
I walk past the place where the young woman used to sell her deserts and see the shadow of a face that is fleeing my memory. I turn the corner and spy her mother proudly walking into her new house noting the looks of some, and most likely myself am condemning. We are always reminded about slaves from Africa being brought to a new country not knowing their future, and children in the middle east working in sweatshops making garments or goods for export. Next time you go into a nail salon of a Vietnamese restaurant……. You may see her. The Vietnamese have a saying….. Same same but different……. So true.
As a last mention, the renovations are complete and we will be finished cleaning tomorrow. I will post pictures and the final tally in my next blog.