I decided against doing a recount of our trip so far. Because that bores the hell out of me. So instead I will write about my highlights- no, not highlights being places, highlights being the moments that made me smile and deserve to be remembered.
But first, this post is about Māy. Māy is a 21 year old girl who is part of the Black Hmong tribe in Sapa. She lives with her mum and dad and her 5 siblings in a small village. She is the oldest of her siblings. So instead of going to school like her other brothers and sisters, she stayed at home as a child to help her family. From a small girl she would go and sell her families handicrafts for money to tourists. This is highly common of course in Sapa. But Māy, a clever little girl, managed to learn English through selling her wares. Such good English that she was even better then other people we have met that went to university to study English. So here is Māy, never went to school and has the best English amongst the people we have come across so far. (I’m terrible when understanding people with accents, so if I could understand her, she must be A+).
When she was 15 she walked into a hotel and asked if they had any work for her as a trekking guide for tourists, and they did. So here she is 6 years later taking us on a trek after staying with us at the home of a Red Dzao tribe.
While trekking, she answers all of our typical tourist questions about her way of life. They only really celebrate Chinese New Year, and even then the men are usually the only ones to have a day off and drink “happy water”.
But when sitting for a rest break is when things got interesting.
She had earlier told us that she didn’t have a boyfriend. And also that some children get married from 14.
While sitting there overlooking the green hills she said that she had been married before. This surprised us. She told us that she was married for a month. That one day whilst on a trek with tourists, an older Black Hmong lady asked her if she was married and she said no. Later that day, a boy 3 years younger than her went to her home and asked if she would marry him. She refused, however her mother convinced her to say yes. In Sapa, when a man marries a women, he pays the woman’s family around 1000 usd and she then will go and live with his family. And so she did.
She, like any of us I suppose, tried to make the most of it and went to live with his family. But as she is very busy with treks, not ever really knowing when her next day off will be, the boy became angry and they began to fight. Māy’s job was an inconvenience to their relationship because he never had a chance to see her. Maybe once a fortnight she would stay at the house she said. They continued to argue until one day he spoke to her awfully and called her a “dog”. She was understandably upset and ran back to her family and told them what had happened. The family then understood and were prepared to sort out her divorce, which meant giving the money back. While this was being sorted out she shared a bed with the boys sister to keep away from him.
Once she had the money she met with him to give it back and to end the marriage, she handed back the money and said she was going to the toilet and she would be back in a minute. Instead of returning to what seemed a possessive man, she got on the next train to Hanoi and stayed there for a few weeks in hiding.
She laughed about how she tricked him and called him stupid.
Her story of her shitty relationship was sadly very similar to the western world, and the universal themes in our lives and theirs became clear.
She then told us about her current love life. Seemingly even more complex then the last, even though she wasn’t married this time.
She was currently seeing a boy that she had known for a while. She seemed to like him. However they had also been fighting recently. Because he happened to also have another 2 girlfriends. One was a young school girl and the other was a women who had recently been married off to another man, however was still jealous of Māy and the boy being together. She played clever games with him and acted like she didn’t really care. Speaking to the other girls on the phone some times and the girls all hating and being jealous of each other.
As she sat there with her new smartphone in her traditional black Hmong outfit it was so obvious that we weren’t different at all. That even in a minority ethnic tribe the same love games of tuning girls, having multiple relationships, cheating, spite and jealousy were all evident. The same girl-hating-girl rather than hating the guy and the boy still having the power, and treating the girls feelings like shit remains.
I told her that our lives weren’t so different and that I too had felt and experienced mind games. So there we were, 2 young girls from different worlds talking the same ol’ boy talk. She saw my happy relationship and I told her that you just can’t settle for less than you deserve. She seemed so grounded and confident, and she had a great wit and humour. I was so glad she didn’t give up her work for the first man, and that even though she might have requirements to follow she still had sass and wasn’t going to take any nonsense.
We continued on our travels and it’s been multiple days since we departed our new friend, and Cody and I both find ourselves talking and thinking about Māy. Not necessarily this story she told us, but simply how cool and real she was. A really unique and inspiring woman living a world away, but all too close to home.