Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter 35: The Deportation






The Rumors



The Consulate


My wife and warnings


Maesai detained


The Van


Embassy denials





The cell was made up of two rooms, one large, and then a second much smaller room with a closet for storage, next to the bathroom.  It had green painted barred windows along the hallway side and a door.  Here it was that the cell boss lived with others. I was soon invited to here and told that I could pay a fee to sleep in this room, have my own space and blankets, coffee, tea, whatever, and of course conversation.  One man was just leaving.  An older fellow. So I paid 500 baht for my rent, and took his place under the pic of a model out of a magazine that was glued to the yellow smoke stained wall above my spot on the floor. There were no beds, just spots.  There had been beds, but the police took them all when one new prisoner said his money had been stolen, which was rather dubious.


There were about 75 prisoners in the cell, called cell #2, in the Immigration Detention Center, 8 of us being in this one room.


I was in one corner at the back on the right side, the room measured about 12 feet by 12 feet.  The boss, a chinese fellow covered with Tatoos from Singapore, ran the place and kept the food, ice, coke, coffee coming.  I paid for what I wanted, and tried not to eat too much sugar. To my one side was a man with a fungus infection on his face, another man who slept a lot and the boss.  To the other side was a funny guy, older who slept a lot too, then a younger fellow with a smile, always ate his food by himself, and then at the end two chinese fellows who were real nice and came just then from Lard Yao, the big prison, where they did ten years, accused of trafficking in people.  They said there was Akha men in the prison there, that they got treated the worst, that they got fed the worst rice, and that they were forced to work long hours. They didn't know the Akha, anything about them, but knew that they had it really bad. That said something about Thailand, that anyone could see that the Akha had it really bad, the Thais could see it and didn't  care. The Thais were what made it bad. 


Later a scruffy dirty Japanese hippy came. He smoked non stop and I got a cold.  All the smoke from him went to me and up the wall, couldn't miss it. He chain smoked. But he was funny, off handed. He spent his time reading japanese comics and books that we had there.  Funny I was reading a book on the bombing of Hiroshima, complete with pics.  The ironies of life. He had a real nice girl friend and she was helping him. He got picked up for smoking a joint while staying on Koh Sahn Road. It was all sort of arbitrary since the Thais all sold thestuff, especially in the south of Thailand. We got talking, I think his father fought inthe war, my dad served on a ship in the pacific during the war, and here we were trying to keep our kit together in the same cell.


The only scenes in this place were the ones in our heads, so we shared them all around. Asked each other questions, told stories, when visiting across the sea of bodies to someone else, like we were going to town. There was no view out since the barred windows  were up high, and on one side there was a second wall, the other side, two sets of bars and a few open windows and a building to look at where the night shift of guards worked on computers, or hung out.


The boss took a rag and wiped the floor down. He took great care to the room, asked often what I wanted to drink or if I wanted some more food. Kept handing me another magazine when I got done, but there weren't many. When I left he asked me for my spare razor, a pen, this and that which I was more than glad to contribute, I had already given all my spare food away. Somehow he always kept his sense of humor. Humor should require that they deduct years off one's sentence of give them cable and airconditioning. Anyone who could keep humor in a place like that.  He had a mattress once, but when that dip came into the cell and took a shower and then said that the prisoners stold his thousand dollars, the police took everthing nice away, and we all were sleeping on a single blanket or two on the floor for padding. The boss made up each bed roll in the room, making sure that you had it comfortable, and for this care and service one was more than glad to pay a little rent. He was no chiseler or shark, that was how I felt. He had a bunch of chinese emblems above his pillow glued to the wall, a few pics cut out of magazines, a drawing of himself that someone made, they were like icons that marked him as the king of the place. He had certain kinds of canned food and noodles, the raimen kind that I could buy. I bought the noodles now and then to sprinkle the spices on and munch to keep my mind and taste buds busy. He stayed up all night, slept in the day when it was cooler. Someone brought a paper, the day before's. The Embassy woman left me two recent time magazines with articles on strokes. I felt like a stroke had figuratively hit my life, but had no regrets. There were big stakes in this play. It was more than just my family, my in laws, the village, but all the villages in Thailand where the Akha were abused and without a voice for years now.


Sometimes there was a fight, but then the boss would go out into the bigger room and look serious and arbitrate and it didn't go far, not like the white people fight. It wasn't meanness, it was more like results of stress kind of fighting. People trying to cope, not what I sensed with the two white guys down in the other cell. They reminded me of real dogs. Scrags who had burned up every good thing that had come by in their life and now were satisfied to abuse people in their cell, their souls and faces dark, darker than the skin on the Burmese men, dark like black mud, like you were looking into the soot of hell.


The heat was immense, the building wasn't intended as a jail, but looked more like an office building of two stories that got converted. So the building was hot, and stayed hot, as the concrete cooked off all night. Wasn't till 2 am that one dared try to sleep.  Breaking out into a sweat, the overhead fans swirled the air, but little fresh air came into the room or cell. The prisoners smoked a lot, was a likely spot for TB, and the food was bad unless you ordered and bought something from the really cute Thai girl that brought bags of different cooked dishes in the Thai street food tradition. This food was ok, but after a while, even it got boring, and the rice was horrible that was brought to the cell, nearly rotten.


So the fans swirled, the lights never went out, the big long room was so abstract that even the TV with movies didn't do much. The TV only played whatever the guards were watching. Lots of sports, the occasional movie. The perfect recipe for being brain dead. There were few books, no effort to hold classes and prisoners crowded to just enough space for their blankets and a small bag or too.  When it got really crowded disputes broke out about all the stuff that prisoners had which had been there many years.


The traffic to thebath room was endless, the sanitation awareness of the prisoners very low, spitting, stuff like that. There was however a big open tank full of water, and several people were always splashing water over themselves at any time, three to four showers a day this way in order to cool down.


Different visitors came on different days, the missionaries, and the humanitarians who tried to take care of some of our needs.


The people were mostly Chinese.  One man from Yunnan. Numerous older men, one half crazy.  An engineer who slept with his metal food trays, said it kept people in China from shooting him.  Young Vietnamese boys who were there because they got caught fishing on the beach in Thailand, a group of North Koreans who didn't dare go home, and then a group of Chinese guys who I saw in Maesai who had been kidnapped out of China and finally released after three months into Thailand, after their families paid ransoms.


It really was a mottley sad and tragic crew. 


Some people had been there for years. Some had no papers. Some didn't dare go back home, and some couldn't even remember who they were.


There were a couple Algerians. They didn't want to go back home. And then there were some from Kazikstan up that way. Many people from many places, caught between two large moving rocks of life and nearly ground to a powder.


The Algerian man was waiting for someone to bring his passport from Algeria, a new one. He'd been there four years.


He was a devout Muslim and prayed every night.


He was glad to share food.


The man from Yunnan, he was waiting for his passport, what a story he had.  After travelling to Africa and other countries for ten years, he met up with a girl in Bangkok and was living with her. She went to work in a Karaoke and one day the police came to the small room they lived in. She had 1000 ecstasy pills hid away that he didn't know about.  He asked the police to put it all to his charge and the police man gave the girl only 1 pill. She got out in 3 months, but he got ten years. He didn't want his girlfriend's life destroyed, and so he took her sentence. She came to see him often but after a while, he told her to go on with her life and leave him, that he didn't mind but she had time.  It seemed that with reluctance she did. He had just gotten out of prison and was waiting for his papers from China, he figured that he would be out in a month or so.  A missionary sent money to a missionary in Thailand to take care of it for him at the Chinese embassy but the missionary ate the money and didn't come around any more. He told me he never wrote to his mother after his arrest, because he didn't want her worrying all those years, thinking he was there, so it was better he felt if she thought him dead.


She was going to be one shocked woman.


I bought food for some of the prisoners, and tried to comprehend all that had happened and all that I was going to do now that I was being thrown out of Thailand.


It had happened fast. I wasn't surprised, but more surprised with the timing. After a bad year in 2003 where there were so many killings to report, now 2004 seemed more mellow and I told my Akha wife that I hoped for a more peaceful year. 


But the human rights work was catching up with me in a kind of way, there were people who didn't like the light on what they were doing, there were the missionaries who didn't like my photography and reporting, investigations into sexual abuse, and here I was.  Proof of effectiveness and that it was time to move on to bigger events, for the Akha people.


The bathroom had little stalls with plastic doors, I went and hung my clothes over one and took a dip bath.


The water was cool and plentiful.


The visitors came to the bars that lined the one wall in the passage. Near our room the bars were in windows, not the whole wall, so one could hang on the bars, rest their arms on the frames of the opening, and try to get some air. But that was also the designated smoking area just there at our small room, so that was no fun either.


The North Koreans played cards endlessly. There was one fellow, at least fifty, half his teeth missing. He was half crazy. Chinese, but no one knew where he came from. Then there was an old man, all his teeth gone, smoked tabacco rolled in a paper like a chimney, and he didn't even know his name, let alone where he came from, but the inmates told me he was a chinese man living in Thailand a long time but had no papers. 


One younger fellow picked on him a lot till the two Algerians told him to stop and one fellow who was half Akha and half Chinese kicked him in the back and told him to quit. The joking and teasing was making the old man crazy. I gave him cookies and candy and fruit, things that my visitors brought me, to try to make some kindness for him.


Since I bought food for the Vietnamese guys, they would come and walk on my back, sleeping so much made real problems, the heat, the thin blanket on the floor, and the extreme boredom.


I took notes, wrote things down, but I felt like I had it all written in not too long. Boredom can eat your brain like a worm.


I figured if I was going to be there for very long I would start to teach english, work on learning chinese, vietnamese, what ever I could. But no destractions would alter one's awareness that the place killed the soul in people. Jails, I hated them, I didn't believe in them, they were cruel, in human and a bad solution.


The guards  acted as if this was some kind of sporting event.  A couple trustees, prisoners themselves, helped move us around, get us out of cells, take us here and there in the small confines that never went far. Fingerprints, pictures, go here, sit there. The Thai guards had guns, did their paper work moving prisoners through the process, men one by one got called out of the cells to go, or faxes were brought up with different stages of their national documents arriving.


I had so many visitors that the guards weren't sure who I was or why I had been brought there. I read in the paper that I was considered a threat to national security.  I thought that was funny.  Hurting people was not near as dangerous as someone talking about who they were hurting.


Guards walked me out to the ATM machine to get money for the ticket which I gave to the Embassy worker.  He had a folder on me. The immigration guy in Maesai had a really big one. I think when your folder gets to three kilos or something they kick you out of the country.


Course, as my friend and I had always said, if you didn't help a soul, just ran a business, or just had money and got drunk and shouted obcenities at the police and screwed your whore, you fit rightin in Thailand. But get about to helping people have a life, and you'd get thrown out of the country or worse.


The years went darting through my head, not so sad as promising of a whole lot more to come.


The food if you could call it that, came three times a day. I bought other food and snacks so I ignored it. Mostly it was broth and over ripe cucumbers boiled, with a little bit of chicken skeleton thrown in.


The fellow with fungus on his face, he was from China, but he had a baby with a real pretty Thai girl who came and saw him.  I wasn't sure how much longer he had to be there, but I told the jesuit woman what kind of medicine he needed and they brought it for him.  It was ringworm all over his face.


I felt sorry for people like him, and her, trying to have a life, and held apart with tragedy.  Most of the people here, their only crime was to be human, trying to live, trying to find jobs. And they were treated badly.  The cell, the boredom, that was hot and cruel enough.


I thought a lot of my wife and children, there up on the mountain, my boy very young, all of them young, wondering what had happened to me.


The Thai government people, they were a cruel lot. I was reminded why I helped the Akha, that the brutishness of the Thais incited me.


I took notes, determined to fight on. To make the Akha case known in the world.


Some of the prisoners gave me addresses, asked me to write to them.


I knew I was to be deported soon. I felt for sure the US Government, the US Consul, had been involved in the deportation.  I had sent them an email three weeks before when I heard rumors, but they would not reply.


Maybe they knew I would investigate if I knew too much.


The UN Commision for Refugees came and talked to the prisoners about their cases, volunteers, trying to find them money for tickets and a means to get home or to some country which would take them.


But one of the volunteers told me that mostly the other volunteers were lazy, didn't do anything, shoved paperwork around, and really didn't care how awful it was in the barren room with high windows that were a wall inside a wall, so that the air never really made it to us.  The only horizontal fan was one, and it was broken.


13 years of work in Thailand, so many memories, and suddenly it was all changing. I had asked my self the week before, what I was going to do, I could feel it, that the Akha cause needed to go to a new level. That something new had to happen.  And here I was, the Akha cause was going international.


The US Embassy people came to see me about my air ticket, I would fly out Sat. the 24 of April. I had been there since the 16.


I had gone that day, the 15th, to the Maesai immigration point quickly. I had seen that my passport expired on the 14th, the visa in it, but as usual the woman got out the receipt book, I was suppose to pay 200 baht for being a day late, but sometimes when I got there early in the morning if I missed it, which I did on occasion, they would just waive it.


But this day she turned and picked up the phone, and called, and then told me to wait. Soon a silver truck came and a couple immigration thugs, with the chief of immigration, they told me to get in the truck for a minute and come down to the office.  I knew what the case was, that this was it, that this was the day the Thais would kick me out and my work for the Akha would take a new dimension.


At the office one man went and got my truck. I called a friend to come and pick it up. The immigration chief told me that the Ampur of Mae Fah Luang had ordered me deported, it wasn't his fault. But that I had to go, no more life in Thailand.


And then I got what books and notes I needed out of the truck and my friend drove it away, my dear friend that truck. A regular messenger and comfort to Akhas in so many villages.


Two officials drove me to Bangkok. They talked all the way about trafficking in women, selling a woman as a second wife to some guy for $800.


They stopped out in the middle of no where and unloaded some ugly furniture for the one man's mother, at a large all wood house, must have cost a fortune, selling all those women to pay for it.


Built in a flat land abandoned place, no matter how much it was worth, it would never be worth too much.


We drove on all night to Bangkok and the driver kept trying to fall asleep. I tried to order things in my head, wondered about my wife, and all that I had to do now, the game so much bigger.


Nine days in this cell seemed like forever. I didn't know how the long time people survived.


I thought about my small hut on that beautiful piece of land.


The wind, the breeze, the rain, the sun and always my children right there playing.


I didn't think I wanted to go back to America. My parents were old and I hadn't seen them for nearly 7 years, but still I didn't like the American dream.


The Akha village, I could picture it in my mind so clearly, living there so many years.


The Chinese cell boss, from Singapore, he was funny, joked a lot. He had been here three years. Was waiting to get friends to get him a ticket to home. He really wanted to live in Malaysia though.


Another Chinese young fellow couldn't go back, said he'd get a twenty year sentence if he went back to singapore. He wasn't very strong in the mind, I didn't know how he was going to get out of this jam.


There was a couple sick guys, one looked like TB or HIV.


Then there was a guy from Bangledesh but no one really knew for sure and he kept saying he wasn't from there. He spit a lot.


The cell population kept going up, soon to 85.


A slum near the jail burned, Suan Phlu, and smoke filled a couple cells and they brought more over to our side. The cell next to ours had 250 prisoners, only room to sit, none to lay down.


They had to let them out into the hall to make room enough to feed them.


I gave a ten baht coin to the boss and got a cup of coffee. In the evening we could get one hot cup, another  cell passed the cups down, just for one or two of us.


Small things, there weren't many cockroaches  and I saw NO ants. That was good.  I didn't notice any mosquitos either, maybe one.  Another blessing. I could buy coke and in the evenings the ice came, that was cool.  It was all gone by about 1 pm. The boss gave me a second shirt and some cut offs to help fight the heat. I put my other clothes in the corner.  I had a bible with me, so I read a bunch of that, book after book in the old testament.


I took notes on different thoughts till the ink ran out in my pen.


The last few hours before they pulled me out, the guards moved me to a cell near the office. There were two very strange foreigners there, they kept hitting the prisoners, and one of them drug a transvestite into the toilets to mess with him.


The floor was covered with Burmese young guys, all trying to stay alive, trying to find a job, now being trucked back to Burma.


Whenever I got ready to leave to go down the mountain or to other villages, my son Ah Tsah would come out to the truck. I had to prepare him for it or he would cry, and then he'd come out to the truck anyway, calling me, I'd always give him some money, tell him to go stand with his mother and wave to him.  He was only a year and a half old.  But he would take the coin to his mother and then come back to get another one, and that was our ritual every time.


I missed him very much, and the truck didn't come back any more.


I wondered how my wife would cope, how my other son would cope, not knowing what had happened to me, or wondering if I would come back for them? I wondered if I would make it back, if I would be able to get them out, or if other tragedy would step in the door like all the people here had written all over their lives?


What amazed me about Suan Phlu was the kind of hope, resolution, that the men hung on to, coping with long years and insurmountable problems, with no help at all, little to no one who cared.


The guards took us down to the phones. I didn't need to call anyone, cause where I came from there were no phones.  Some of the young guys didn't have money for cards so I bought some phone cards for them. All the cells had different race groups, so after they moved us out into the hall again, the guards brought in a big group of muslim men. I felt like it was kind of an international day in Bangkok.


Back in our cell, there was a big Australian guy there, had his shirt off, trying to cool down, parked in with all the other men, some sleeping, others reading or playing cards and chinese chess. He was in another near empty cell but when they needed it they moved  him. I think someone paid so he could stay there. Then after the cell was empty again they moved him back to that empty cell withone other guy.  He had been in the job selling business, people looking for jobs in other countries, buying one, Thais. But the company had problems and he was a kind of hostage till the government sorted the case with the company.


The Immigration Detention Center Jail was in Suan Phlu.  Just a lot of buildings, in a city, could have been in a city any where in the world.  Jail was jail. I'd seen a few with a short stint here and a short stint there, nothing serious but enough experience for me to know how to cope with it, what the code was, how to keep problems to a minimum, how to do good mental house keeping as to cope with it all.  Keep the mind positive and busy, those were the rules. Do good things for other people, most of them had it worse, from whatever good you could draw on.


Some people came from the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to take my case.  The Thais, they are all so timid, even the good ones, like someone is going to kill them if the blart out loud or look cross eyed. I was sort of surprised that anyone actually cared.  There had been a very good article in the Nation, on the second page of the Sunday paper.


While I waited to get hauled to the airport, the guards brought out scores of women, some with babies, from cells, and lined them up in rows, then went to counting them, big busses in the early predawn darkness, sat there, barely visible, their red tail lights glowing, their diesels rumbling, headed through time to a border and another transition for desperate people.  I wondered what waited the women when they got there at the border with Burma?


I couldn't see any Akha in the line up.


Time came to go, they let me get my bag with all the books, journals, documents in it, they never inspected it, they didn't know what it meant.  I had details there of every human rights abuse case that had been brought to me in two years, right under their noses, documentation on what THEY had been up to.


They got me my phone, a man would drive me to the airport, once there and checking me through, we skipped all the lines, that was nice, and then he passed me over to another officer at the airport and said goodbye, come back some time, he seemed kind of sad actually.


The old man took charge of me and walked me to the plane, to get my boardin g pass and I got on and he was gone.










Have a comment or question? Like to know more? Send me an email at akha@akha.org
Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel