Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Minh's story

Death anniversaries are important events in Vietnamese culture. Many of our kids do not know their own birthdates, but all remember the date that their mother, or brother, or uncle died. These dates are held sacred, and important rites observed.

Yesterday was the third death anniversary of the mother of one of our boys, Minh (not his real name).

Minh's mother died after an agonising three year illness, that dragged the family from happiness and prosperity into misery and poverty. Minh told me yesterday about how his father had sold all of their belongings to pay for medicine and treatment over three years, hoping that one day they could buy everything back when their mother was well again. It wasn't to be.

Three years ago, Minh and his younger sister came home from school to see their mother laying on the bed, cold. Their older sister was sitting beside her weeping. Minh was 15 years old.

But Minh's decline into poverty, and the loss of his mother, isn't the end of his suffering. After just a year, his father remarried, and the step mother decided she didn't want the kids of the 'old' marriage. So, out they went. Aged 16, Minh moved from his rural paradise in Nam Dinh province to the hostile, filthy streets of Hanoi. He worked as a shoeshine, dodging gangs and avoiding arrest until I met him and found him a home and a school.

And then, another blow: Minh's father and step mother had another child. Minh still does not know if this child is a boy or a girl. If it is a boy, then Minh has lost all inheritance rights. His father's home, the house in which his mother died, will go to this new brother, 18 years younger than Minh. Insult upon insult upon injury.

Yesterday, Minh did not return to the countryside to observe the rites of the death ceremony. He just couldn't bring himself to visit his home and see the family who lives there now - his father, who kicked him out, and his stepmother who is bent on disinheriting him.

In the evening, Minh and I went to a cafe on a boat, indulged in some cake and italian soda, and watched the sun sink into West Lake. There's no happy ending to Minh's story - not yet, anyway. In a few years, he'll go to university, and then he'll find a good job and live a comfortable life. I only wish I could erase the pain of the past that he will always have to live with.


Virtual-Doug said...

I don't understand - as the oldest male, wouldn't Minh keep his inheritance?

Blue Dragon said...

Hi Virtual Doug! How's life in Florida??
We have a lawyer looking in to this, but it seems that Minh is NOT the oldest son of the current family unit. But there's always hope!

Anonymous said...

In VN there is no law of inheritance. The parents can hand down their wealth to any child. With the step mother in the picture, Minh doesn't stands a chance.