Below is an interview done by The Blind Project with a woman named Mint. Mint is a survivor of the commercial sex trade and an employee at The Blind Project's Biographe lab in Bangkok, Thailand. Since Reclaim was based around Mint's story, we felt it would be good to share it in interview format so you can get a more personal look into her life and have deeper insight into the exhibition.
TBP: I’m sure your story is hard to talk about and I’m sure you’ve told it many times before. So we thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
Mint: You’re welcome, I’m doing it for God and for all the women who might be thinking about prostitution.
TBP: Are you o.k. to continue?
TBP: Tell us a little bit about your hometown? What was it like there?
Mint: I grew up in a rural area, very poor, no father and lived with my grandmother and younger brother. I grew up with my grandmother because my mother worked in Bangkok from the time I was quite young. So my grandmother took care of us. I didn’t really get to see my mother until I was about 10. She came back because she wasn’t well and she died soon after. She worked in Bangkok as a maid, but her husband went out with women, particularly prostitutes, and contracted HIV and gave it to my mother. She died within two years of contracting the disease. My brother was about 1 year old when it happened. It was very difficult. I didn’t have a chance to study when I was young. Everyone was doing their own thing. My older brother was in Bangkok, causing trouble. I helped my Grandmother and would plant or harvest rice – I helped her Grandmother whenever I could. At first I came to Bangkok to sell papaya with my aunt and worked at a factory for some money, but had to do it under the radar because I was only 14. I spent my life from 14-15 just drinking and having boyfriends and didn’t pay attention to my family. I actually got pregnant when I was 15. I was not really scared to come from country to city. You have to find a way to take care of yourself- it’s a survivor mentality. He was not a good person, used and sold drugs. When my baby was born, he took no responsibility. I had to work extra hard just to take care of the baby – even though I was a teenager. Eventually my boyfriend was arrested and put in jail. I was embarrassed and didn’t bother to tell my grandmother or take my baby to her. I would take medicine to sleep and tried to kill myself. It was a very bad time. I eventually I took my child to be with my grandmother.
A man from Singapore approached me and asked if I wanted to make enough money to support my family. It was selling my services in Bangkok. I had an aunt who lived next to our village who had a good amount of money and contacts in Singapore. She brought my child to my grandmother who cared for her and got me a job at the massage parlor. one day, I had a conflict with one of the customers; because the mamasan would tell customers that they could have sex without a condom. I would argue with them and say that I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t really know at first, but my aunt said that if I didn’t have sex with the customers, I wouldn’t really make enough money. There was a lot of pressure to support myself and my family. I was afraid of having unprotected sex and because of conflicts with customers, I had to leave that place. I left on my own. And then my aunt took me down to Soi 3, where I could be freelance and I could control things more.
TBP: Were you able to make money?
Mint: I was able to make money, but I was spending the money very fast too. I don’t know how much the mamasan got, but I got 300 baht per customer. I didn’t have that many customers in the beginning. At first, I had 5,000 baht salary per month, then I got about 300 per customer. I was at the massage parlor only about a month before I had all the problems. There was actually a 2 year period when I stopped working on the streets because a man from Turkey took me under his care. I was taking a lot of drugs at that time. He eventually overstayed his visa and was arrested. At that time, I was back on the streets.
TBP: How was it with a mamasan?
Mint: I didn’t really have a close relationship with her, but their role is to tell the customer what each girl does well and to promote them but also take care of them. So I just lived with my aunt and her friend until my aunt went to Singapore and then I was by myself.
TBP: Your aunt took you to the streets. What was that like? Was it scary or did it feel risky?
Mint: At first, I was very scared. Mainly because you would have to go to wherever the customer is staying. You don’t know this person, and you are going to a place you don’t know and it was scary. But I got used to it.
TBP: A lot of people don’t know what Soi 3 is like. Will you describe the atmosphere?
Mint: The majority of the people on Soi 3 are tourists, usually Arabian and Persian. On the streets, you have women, as well as transsexuals, who sell themselves to Arab tourists. However, not all of them are Thai, some are Uzbeki. You’ll find there is also a market that sells food.
TBP: What were your interactions with the customers? Can you tell us some of the emotions you were experiencing ?
Mint: At first, language was the obvious, most difficult thing. Eventually, I viewed it as just a job. They pay and I give a service. But people know about the reputation in Thailand and so that’s why they come here.
TBP: You were making good money on the streets – why did you leave it? What changed for you?
Mint: After I was with the man from Turkey, it was terrible, because I had no customers from before. It was a difficult time. I was getting a lot of customers from Africa. Who really either didn’t pay me or would only pay me a little and they would rape me. I would fight with them, but it was not really financially stable. One case in particular, a man put a pillow case over my head and raped me. I couldn’t tell the police because they wouldn’t help me. Many of these Africans were part of the drug trade.
TBP: You had no one looking after you. How was that?
Mint: It was scary, but I had one customer from Africa who started talking about God. He said “You are a beautiful person, who has value, why are you doing this? Don’t you want to know Jesus and have a different life?” I explained I had no other way of making money. I need to support my family. I had no money for drugs, so I was buying small amounts of a strong Thai alcohol to deal with the pain.
TBP: Looking back as a Christian, looking back at that person and that situation...wasn’t it weird that you had a customer that was a Christian?
Mint: You can look at it two ways; one being the negative way that maybe he was a Christian and was far from God, but on the positive side, maybe God brought this person into my life so I could hear about God for the first time. If I didn’t meet that person, I wouldn’t have heard about Jesus.
TBP: Had you heard about your value before? What did it mean to hear that?
Mint: That was the first time I had ever had someone say that I was beautiful and that I had value. Most of the time, a customer just gives me the money for the service. He invited me to church and I went with him and he would dance in excitement and I thought – this was too over the top for me, and I went back to working in Soi 3.
TBP: Tell us about meeting people from Nightlight. (Nightlight is the aftercare facility where she is now)
Mint: So, I’m on the street and I’m saying “God if you’re real, then find me a job where I don’t have to do this anymore” I started to work in a hair salon, but I made so little money that I worked on the street on the side. It was at that time that I met a women named Esther who told me that I should go apply at a place called nightlight, which I did. So I came to apply at nightlight and I was offered a job and was so excited!
TBP: What has working at Nightlight meant for you?
Mint: I was so excited that I got the job there. I knew there is a God! I didn’t really know that this place was helping people like me. I just thought they made jewelry. But when I came to work at nightlight and I was at the morning worship – I just started to cry and cry and I realized that this is where I want to be, this is where I need to be. This is solving every problem in my life.
TBP: What has changed between your life on the street and what you life is like now?
Mint: First thing is that when I worked on Soi 3, I just thought about getting money and taking care of my family. That’s it. Money and family. Whatever I can get. So when I came to NL, I began to learn more and more about God and what the bible says. But I’m still thinking that the money I get at NL is still a lot less than on the street. But at the same time, the more I came to worship and hear what people said about the bible, it got into me. I didn’t want that life any more. The money, the drugs or the alcohol. Even though I came to NL and got off the streets, it didn’t make it much easier. My family in the country wanted to know why I wasn’t sending money anymore. It was a big sacrifice. At first when I got to NL, I was still drinking, but eventually was able to stop.
TBP: Has your sense of value changed?
Mint: Eventually, I did see my value and that I have great worth. Again, it didn’t make it easy. But now I have hope: I don’t want to kill myself or want to hurt myself anymore. In coming to NL, by reading the bible, if I seek out the Kingdom of God, then all things will come to me. That’s the biggest change.
TBP: If you could send one message to people what would it be?
Mint: When you do the kind of work that I did, there are people, women, who have been killed. There’s lots of stories about women in the news that have been killed or hurt. Sure, when I was in this job, the money was good. But, there are people who will kill and hurt your body. There is also the risk of getting a disease; I was given HIV – I’m not sure how or from whom, but that is a big risk. I would want to say to women: it’s not worth it. Sure, now I’m working at Nightlight and I know God and have hope. The money is just enough to get by, but now I have hope. That’s something I didn’t have when I was working as a prostitute. God helped me to see my own value and my own heart. When I first found out I contracted HIV, I immediately thought of my mother who died within two years. But, then as I read the bible and it said that God has a plan for me, and for good. I realized that it is not the end. And when I shared what happened with the head of our company, she didn’t despise me or hate me, instead she loved me and understood, and encouraged me. And I know now that I can have hope because God does everything for my life. And I believe that I will live a longer life because of what God promises me and because God is the one who appoints our lives. I know that the bible says: we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so we need to live for now. While I’m doing that, and not knowing about tomorrow, I can help my friends, I can serve other people and I can talk to them and share with them. I now believe that I have a future.