Sitting in the car we were discussing what it will be like. Bar outreach that is. We went at an early time where the girls begin to come to the bars to start work. We went at this time so they aren’t yet drunk and are more likely to visit with us because there are less men around.
We parked the car and begin our walk. We walk into what looks like an ordinary outdoor market, food stands and courtyards where people were gathered. As we got deeper into the market the food stands turned into outdoor bars. Small outdoor seating areas, with a roof over it that was a bar. Each one had a different sign with a different name like “Don’t Tell Mama”, or “Devil’s Tongue”. There had to be at least one hundred of these little “bars” within a 1 mile square radius.
Then we sat at a bar named “The Laughing Bar”. Immediately we were greeted by a very friendly Thai woman, who we all agreed was just gorgeous. Her name was Ning, she was 41 years old and had a 17 year old son. She came to Pattaya 3 years ago, for what we assume to make money for her family back home. We offered to paint Ning’s nails but she graciously declined.
As we sat together taking in the smell, the sights, and the sounds Megan (our team leader) pointed out things to watch. Watch to see if the girls are drinking. Look at the faces to see if any look under age. Pay attention to girls who may be in the process of being “groomed”. Pay attention to the men… the men.
There were three of them there at Laughing Bar. White, older than 50. One was playing pool, the other watching the women with this sickening expression of lust. We sat and observed it all. One girl would come and speak to us, share a few smiles, and then another. We were fully enjoying their company just as woman enjoy some good girl talk.
Then there was Moo.
I watched her from a distance, she looked so young, maybe 15 years old. She played pool with a man who had to be in his 60s. Planted on her face was a forced smile, and as she turned to face a direction she thought no one could see that smile disappeared and heart break briefly showed its face. She was fully clothed (unlike the others who pranced around in tight clothing, or clothes close to being lingerie), and had a face of innocence. She finished her game of pool, and then she came to our table and asked if anyone wanted to play, without any thought I stood up and said yes. I firmly believe Christ had pushed me out of my chair in that moment.
Her real smile was so beautiful. We played a game of pool, just like any friends would. Exchanging jokes, and laughter. I won and at the end she gave me a high five. When we were done my heart hurt a little bit, this time to pretend like we were lifelong friends was over. She played another game with another team member, and then I played a game with Ning. After I longed to play with Moo again, so we did. Again, we shared in the joy and happiness as two girlfriends would.
When we were done I sat down with her and we talked. I learned she had come down from a village 3 months ago, and during the day she cooks food. She told me she was 23 years old, but my heart did not believe it. I told her she was beautiful and I really enjoyed her time. We just talked. We just spent time together.
Then… It was time to go. We both looked at each other with sadness. My heart was breaking because I knew what was going to happen to her. I had to just leave her. My new friend, my friend I had felt I had known for years. I had to leave her there, with those old men who looked at her in such a degrading way. I had to leave her to go home to my comfy bed, and husband who supports and loves me fully.
I had to leave her.
I gave her the necklace I had been wearing with the hopes that she will never forget this moment we had together. She quickly put it on. We said goodbye and I lifted my hand with the hopes that she would accept a hug, and she was quick to throw her hands up and wrap them around me. As I wrapped mine around her I told her she was beautiful and so loved. My heart was aching to cry.
Then, we said goodbye. I walked away. I looked back and she was there getting ready to play more pool. I looked back feeling helpless, as if I just left my best friend to stay to be gawked at by old men. I just left her.
I will never see Moo again. But my hopes for her is that this moment together will be held in her heart forever. That in the times where she feels worthless, and hopeless she will remember the moment we shared. The moment she had a best friend. The moment she was really loved. I pray that the nights she is raped and longs for an escape she can escape to our memory.
Our special moment where we were best friends.