Distance covered: 34,063 km (21,166 miles)
Subjects found: 74
Using what tools we have and the information that she herself has been able to provide, Marinho and I have located the area of China in which M now lives. It’s a very small area by Chinese standards, yet M is only one of 9 million people here.
We arrived here late Friday night, after an overland journey of 30 hours and more than 2,000 kilometres – and lost all contact with M for a full 36 hours after arrival.
The silence was broken at last by a lone text message. Given M’s low level of written English and basic understanding of technology, there is an art to deciphering her messages, and
i so sorrng vey i can now to misw you
I’m so sorry, Ben, I cannot meet you.
Two days earlier, M had told her “husband” that a friend from Australia was coming to visit her. In a fit of rage, the “husband” snapped one of her SIM cards and threatened to break her phone. His mother emptied M’s pockets, taking what money she had, and M was kept in the house, watched by the family.
M called me at the earliest possible opportunity. We spoke for 78 minutes, our longest conversation yet, and I learned a great deal about her domestic situation. Needless to say, it is not a good one, and she very much wants to meet me.
That was the first in a series of perhaps a dozen calls M made to me over the past two days. Communication ended abruptly once more this afternoon, when her “husband” threatened to take her phone and change the number.
It was an extremely enlightening, if saddening, series of conversations, and I’ll be sharing more details over the coming days. Long-term ex-pats living in the area have been assisting Marinho and I with their local knowledge and language skills, but a meeting with M in person will be extremely difficult to arrange, and her “husband” is determined that it will not take place.
Today, M sent me seven photographs of herself, her “husband”, and their baby girl. It was the first time I’d seen a new photograph of M in three years. The photographs are not to be shared publicly, but given to M’s family in Vietnam.
When I told M that her other friends would be very interested to see her, however, she did give permission for me to share one of the photographs on her Facebook page. If you know her personally, you’ll be able to see the picture of M and her child there.
I’m hoping to hear from M again in the coming days. In the meantime, I’m playing the Decemberists:
When we die, we will die with our arms unbound; this is why, this is why we fight
If you haven’t already, sign up for all our news here.