Distance covered: 31,883 km (19,811 miles)
Subjects found: 74
Marinho and I were searching for fourteen people in China’s Yunnan province; we found eleven. The other three we’ve struck from our list – our single biggest disappointment since the very beginning of our search, in Lombok.
When our journey began I set a highly ambitious target of finding 90 of the 100 portrait subjects. Until now, that target has still been achievable and, on the whole, our search has been an incredible success.
We chased rumours through numerous villages to find these final three, to no avail. Had we continued the search, we may have yet succeeded, but our attention has now shifted to more urgent things.
Marinho and I spent three frustrating days in trying to rendezvous with M’s sister C, who was also trafficked to China in 2011, and returned home under mysterious circumstances before willingly marrying a Hmong man in China the same year.
C lives close to the Vietnamese border, and gave birth to a baby girl the day before we arrived in the area. We’re told her husband is a jealous man, who is angered by calls even from C’s own family. It seems the husband lost his phone the day after we arrived, and took possession of C’s.
With only a basic level of English, it has always been difficult to contact C. Now, without a phone of her own, it has become impossible.
Marinho has been forced to leave the country with an expired visa, and I’m awaiting his return while trapped in a nine-day bureaucratic nightmare of my own. This week has been marked by mounting expenses, lingering illness, torrential rain and dwindling hopes.
The game changes moment by moment, and the ground shifts constantly beneath our feet. One day M and P seem determined to get home; the next, they are resigned to their fates here in China.
I’ve spent the year learning all I can about the border, those who guard it, and those who know other ways across. I’ve been learning about the traffickers and the organisations fighting them, and the powers and limitations of both. My only hope now is to find M, and use this information to help her in deciding her future.
There are significant obstacles before us. Unlike P, M lives in a village where the presence of Westerners will be extremely conspicuous. Jealous husbands have become a recurring theme, and M’s own “husband” seems to be a terribly possessive and manipulative man. It will not be easy to meet with M, or to find a safe place to speak openly with her.
The greatest obstacle may be M herself. Having lived so long in captivity, it may be difficult for her to see the beyond the walls built around her. She’s very trusting, and very easily manipulated by her “husband”. This may be the best chance she will ever have to break away from her captor and begin a life of her own choosing – but does she have the strength of will?
That’s the question we hope to answer this week. If you haven’t already, sign up for all our news here.