Music from Mali plays while I see on the other side the Mekong. The ladies in the kitchen have become daily more and more friendly to me. Who was it that once told me that Asians were not affectionate? Well, here, the ladies who work in the kitchen they hug me, give me food, keep track of my attempts to eat healthy, laugh, and braid my hair.
I sometimes seat to eat with them. Not always as my attention floats between the people who live around Mut Mee, and the guest I become friends with. When I do the conversations are all carried out in Thai. They laugh a lot. Not discrete laughter, it is laughter that shakes the whole body. I always wondered what it is they laugh about. And I guess it is a bit like us in Brasil with our smiles that seem to rarely need a reason to come out. They just do.
There is the staff of the morning and the one of the afternoon. In the morning since I got here were Joy, Tia, Noy, Wii and Pook. And in the evening Man, Yong and and Gaew. From the beginning I got closer to Joy and Wii. Wii played combing my hair all the time. She is 32. Joy is 43. Joy had told me in broken words right when I first arrived that she had two children one boy who was 18 and a girl that was 11.
I eventually became friends with all of the ladies. Through sharing food, laughter, painting nails, having my hair braided.. it is amazing how few words we need to like people. But Joy and Wii were the only two who would appear from nowhere and hugged me till I could not breathe. Wii would sometimes carry me up even thought she is my size.
Today, as I came to work Joy suddenly said she would not come to work tomorrow. I wondered whether it was her day off.
“Are you coming Tuesday?”
It starts daunting on me that she might just not be coming back. The ladies laugh at my shocked face. That is what they do… like we smile.
“Are you not coming back at all?”
“I don’t know?”
“Take care of family”
“Are you serious?”
I still am not entirely sure this is serious. Joy has been here for more than a decade.
I go out looking for someone to actually translate to me what is going on. There is no one.
I come back. I am sad. I seat and ask again. It is clear she is going
“Are you happy?”
She becomes silent. The other ladies laugh and say she has enough money now, and does not need to work.
“Husband wants me to take care family”
“Do you want to work?”
“Yes. But husband wants me to take care family.”
I don’t know what to say. I feel sad. What will Joy do without the other ladies? Work in itself might not be the harder thing. But not getting her own money, her laughter in the kitchen.
“How about other ladies?”
“They have grandparents. It is just me and husband?”
“Is your husband nice?”
I don’t say anything. I am just sad.
“Sometimes not nice” I do not ask anything when she says that. I don’t know what that means. And in my cowardice I actually thank the fact that I can’t understand the language.
And so it is. It is the last day of Joy. Whose name could not be more appropriate?
I feel sad and angry at how much people intervene in each other’s lives. I wonder what it is that has changed that makes it necessary for her to be home now. I can’t speak the language to know. Without knowing the details all I see is that the ladies laugh. I smile but we all feel sad. Not knowing the details I understand from her movements, from her eyes from the few words that this is not her decision. It is the decision of a man who “sometimes is not nice”.