A “riveting” crime thriller about human trafficking and sex slavery set in America and southeast Asia, “Petrocelli” is not for the timid or faint-hearted.
Lenny Petrocelli had always been a slacker, a mediocre low-life, getting by on his good looks and street smarts. One day he woke up. Entangled by his gangland bosses in the web of child prostitution and human trafficking, he was being set up as the fall guy to take the rap, if the horrifying but lucrative enterprise went down.
Seeing the violence and abuse young girls from Asia were subjected to in the gruesome world of sex slavery, Lenny did the most difficult but the most important thing in his entire life: He became a better person. Now he would risk everything, even his life, to put an end to this savage exploitation.
Peer into this awful world. See it through Lenny’s eyes. Discover what’s possible even in the face of the worst, most pernicious evil and cruelty.
Embrace the promise of redemption and the power of love.
If this gritty novel rings true, it’s for good reason. “Petrocelli” is based on actual stories from a violent and gruesome under-world, where millions of children and adolescents across the globe are held in bondage as slaves.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-118
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Various authoritative articles and news stories, and the widely reported protests against the use of child and forced labor by prominent American corporations or their direct suppliers — the Gap, Nike, Levi-Strauss, Walmart, Phillips-Van Heusen, Hanes, J.C. Penney, Firestone, to name a few — had years ago piqued my awareness and concern about widespread practices related to trafficking. But it was the time I spent during 2007 living in Africa, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia which really codified my understanding of the flesh trade for both sweatshops and the sex service industry. It is currently estimated that human trafficking is annually a 36 billion dollar business worldwide. I have also read there are more than 25 million people in the world kept in bondage as slaves. I fear this is a low figure.
A non-fiction book I read while in Thailand called Sex Slaves by Louise Brown (© Copyright June 1, 2001: Vurago UK) became the central inspiration for this novel. It elucidates in excruciating detail what countless young girls (and boys) must endure as they are bought and sold in the ever-expanding global market for young prostitutes. This relatively brief but powerful book prompted the extensive research on my part into human trafficking, which became the factual underpinning for my story.
Though Petrocelli is entirely fictional, shortly after I finished writing it, I started to see more and more articles appear on credible online news services (e.g. mainstream sites such as BBC and CNN) which paralleled my story line. These reports both confirmed the accuracy of much of what I describe in the book and illustrate the expanding scope of these criminal and abusive enterprises.
While there is no shortage of crises these days, human trafficking is emblematic of a sickness that is spreading throughout the world. It is a horrible and heartbreaking indictment of our lack of progress in many areas of human rights and one that goes to the core of pandemic contemporary amorality. Many thought we'd be doing better by now. Of course, that's just me talking and I am interested in what you have to say. Please feel free to email me your comments, though I am not accepting death threats or proposals of marriage at this time. You can be brutally frank, though understandably I would prefer you to be brutally kind.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Lenny Petrocelli, the lead character, was named after a roadie in a rock band I used to manage. The similarities end there. I grew up in Detroit. Punks were a dime-a-dozen. I could've been a punk too but I was raised virtuously Catholic.
There is quite a chorus of characters in "Petrocelli". Inspiration for each and every one arrived on my doorstep, whether I wanted it or not. Read the papers. Walk down the street. There's an audition going on every minute 24/7, all aspiring to be in a book, hopefully one that'll become a movie. Everyone is crazy, colorful, irrational, rational, moral, immoral, beautiful, ugly, funny, moribund, frenetic, comatose. Take your pick. I've had people say my characters are really unique. I ask them: Have you been living in a closet all your life? Everyone is fascinating. The only question in terms of characters for this book is: Will they get along? I sure hope not. Agreeing to agree is the essence of boring. It's all about conflict, something else hardly in short supply.
I do like to laugh. So you'll find in the middle of this grisly mess created by greed, lust, sociopathy, and the slime which humans are capable of, quite a bit of humor. Cute stuff. Stuff to make you laugh while your soul bleeds and your heart screams for innocence lost and dignity violated.
In Bed with the King
Luxury hotel room. The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok. Breathtaking view of the Chao Phraya River.
Christine is beautiful, blonde, smart and wholesome. Inviolably virtuous. The crucifix on her necklace is not a fashion statement. She is the real thing. She even saved it for marriage. God bless her.
The phone rang and her anticipation was evident.
“Ohmigod. Tom, it’s you! Oh sweetheart, it’s so good to hear your voice. Things here are going great. They couldn’t be better.”
“Have they given you the grand tour? What’s it like?”
“Wonderful. Wonderful. The kids are so beautiful. Their faces. Their eyes. It’s all I can do to keep from crying.”
“And they seem to have it together?”
“Oh yes. Very organized. We spent three days on the trip. Two whole days in Nong Khai. It’s right on the border of Laos.
They have like a school, or monastery, some kind of big ancient building. That’s where the children live. For now.”
“Boys or girls?”
“Both. Maybe more girls than boys.”
“How old are they?”
“I’d say 10 years to maybe 14. It’s hard to tell. But they are so adorable. The way they hug you. They’re so full of love. Just craving some affection. They’re a little shy but then they really warm up.”
“Just so you know, everything here is fine. Megan might spend a night or two at her friend’s house. Danny’s his usual invisible self. I think maybe I hear some stirrings from upstairs. We’re just getting our day started.”
“So what time is it there?”
“A little after seven. It’s early morning.”
“Right right. Twelve hours. Oh goodness! I have to go. I really have to go. The banquet. Give my love to Megan. Tell her mommy misses her. And Danny too. Love you. I’ll be back in just a couple more days. Love you. Love you so. God bless.”
She looked in the mirror and frantically started to fool with her makeup but then looked at her watch. Better not. Can’t be late for the big night.
The banquet hall was full, everyone in formal dress. She was escorted to her seat at one of the VIP guest tables by a short but very proper young man. A speaker was well into his oration.
“… one of the real rewards of my job, being part of something which is of inestimable value to everyone involved. Everyone here knows that this program has set a new standard for humanitarian assistance. And it provides an irreplaceable bridge between our two great nations …”
“I’m sorry. But what is his name?” she whispered. Christine loved people but was so bad with names.
“Nitya Pibulsonggram. He’s the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Here, let me write it down for you. It’s a difficult spelling.”
“Thank you so much,” she pantomimed. She took the piece of paper and entered his name in her PDA.
Speaker after speaker came and went. Their English was surprisingly good but as the evening rolled on the speeches started to sound all the same. Even so, Christine’s energy was unflagging and she took care to catalog each and every one, name and title. You never know. Might need a favor down the line.
The banquet climaxed with a brief but ceremonious appearance by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself. With the first lady no less, Queen Sirikit! Short speech. Miracles do happen. Unctuous applause. Kodak moments. Then to Christine’s astonishment at the close of his remarks …
“Finally, I wish at this time to give special recognition to our American counterparts, three individuals who have demonstrated special commitment and extraordinary initiative in this effort. Mr. William Parker. Please stand. Mrs. Geraldine Freed. Thank you. Thank you. And last but not least, Mrs. Christine Lindholm. Mrs. Lindholm, stand so we can see you. Everyone, please show your appreciation for the hard work and dedication of these individuals. Thank you. Thank you. And now please enjoy the rest of your evening and the splendors and charm of my beautiful country.”
Their names read off of prompter cards. But it still felt good. Christine was reeling as she mixed with the guests and other dignitaries, now that the formal banquet program had ended.
Whew! What an evening! What an adventure this has been! God bless this amazing country and these fine people.
Children of Nong Khai
It was business. These pathetic women should be grateful for small favors. And now they think they can change their minds. Just like that. Sentimental old fools. They can’t afford to feed themselves, much less their children. So be it. At least the little fuckers won’t starve to death. Their husbands know the real deal. You don’t see them bellowing like swamp buffalos over this. It was business. Pure and simple.
Once the real money came in, Dok Phnom could claim clean hands and walk away from all of this misery. Unfortunately for now, he had to just sit tight. He sure hoped the Americans would come through soon. They promised. These children would be leaving early next week. The money better be here by then. He had to be back in Nakhom Phanom very soon. Had some handwringing Hungarian delegation coming. Some bleeding heart Belgians right after them. This was almost too good to be true. He would retire within two years. Move back to America.
The Siddartha Schools were a stroke of genius. Certainly he had no problem filling the schools with beautiful little starving faces. Poster kids for all of the relief organizations and their fundraising campaigns. Sad eyes and skinny limbs meant big bucks. From America and the EU countries. And he had them all coming to him! Beating down his teakwood doors. Save The Children. Children International. TEAR Fund. Compassion International. Christian Children’s Fund.
It started way back. Maybe the toilets didn’t flush but they had internet access at Vientiane High School in Laos, and that paved the way for his B. S. degree at Syracuse University in the States. Then on to the graduate program in NGO Management and Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. That was where he really got wind of the goldmine there was out there. NGOs funded by all of the corporate foundations. CEOs trying to gussy up the image of the corporate plunderers with high-visibility philanthropy, squeezing every bit of public relations juice out of what amounted to pocket change donations. But all that petty cash coming in from a lot of different places added up. Some of these save-the-world institutions were awash in money. All you had to do was say the right things and on went the spigots. Make them look good. They write the checks. That was the name of the game right down the line. Everyone winked and slept well.
Dok Phnom chose his squalor with the eye of a saint and the heart of a pillager. It was ironic that these cesspools of poverty were to be his fountains of affluence. Chiang Rai was doing well. And Nakhon Phanom definitely held its own. But Nong Khai had been his first setup and remained the flagship in the fleet. Everything had fallen into place from the get go. The abandoned monastery was huge. Ready made for over two hundred kids, if you packed them in just so. And Nong Khai itself never ran dry of the on-the-brink-of-starving families ready to offload one or two offspring, just to ease the burden of survival. Both from the city and the surrounding countryside. The hill tribes were especially easy prey. Too dumb to breathe.
Dok took an almost sick delight in seeing the expression on a mother or father’s face when they found out that not only would their child receive food and shelter but were being enrolled in a special school for spiritual development. Based on newly discovered secret teachings of the Buddha himself no less.
The child sponsorship groups loved it. Even if they weren’t, the kids were billed as orphans. Poor little dears. No where to turn. But you can help. Put your bloated wallet to work and get a picture for your marble mantel, your own little sad-faced abandoned boy or girl from Bangladesh. Or Malaysia. The Philippines. Or Thailand. It didn’t matter where. This was better than Prozac and a martini to wash away the white-guilt of the master race.
Everything went so smoothly until it was time to ship them out. Then the mothers started bawling. Oh how they wailed and whined. “I’ll never see my baby again.” Boo hoo. You’d never see them again if they had starved to death. You made your deal. This is business.
Dok never asked where they ended up. But it didn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out where the market was for this kind of trafficking. Bodies were bodies and did what bodies did. They ended up either in a factory or on the streets in some big city. Boston. New York, London, San Francisco, Houston, Frankfort. Even Bangkok itself. He was just filling billets. Nothing personal. And as far as he could tell, they ended up better off than they would have here in northern Thailand. In this disease-ridden filth and blight. If starvation didn’t take you down, then yellow fever or tuberculosis would. Or maybe H5N1 Avian or H1N1 Swine. That was the latest off the runway of human misery. Count your blessings, you little fucks.
One Night in Bangkok
After the formal banquet and especially after being personally singled out by the King of Thailand, Christine was beside herself with excitement. She wanted to call her husband Tom right away and tell him everything, but he would be at his office. It would have to wait. She tried to relax but couldn’t sleep. Finally the adrenaline dissipated and she managed to sleep a couple hours.
Next morning, she headed out early for a day of splurge shopping. Bangkok had everything. From junk and trinkets to high fashion. At the end of the day, most of the time being spent at the MBK Mall and Siam Discovery Center, respectively huge and exquisite, she had filled a newly bought suitcase with the day’s plunder. Clothes to die for, souvenirs for friends, shirts and silk ties for Tom, and a few gifts for her two kids.
When she returned she had a message waiting for her from Roger. He was an old friend from college who had kept in touch over the years and was now based in Bangkok. Finally, they would get together again, catch up, and certainly reminisce about their days together in Campus Youth for Christ, the organization where they had met. It was there, she was introduced to and charmed by her husband-to-be. Those were heady days. How much they all craved the chance to truly get involved and change the world. Spread the blessed teachings of the New Testament, try to eliminate some of the horrible suffering in the world, and in general just build on the good works of the Lord Savior Himself.
Christine got in the back seat of the bright pink taxi.
“Thongchai, thank you for coming so late at night. Good to see you again.”
“No problem. Good see you.”
“You have been so good to me. Taking me everywhere in this crazy city. You are the best driver in Thailand!”
Face beaming. “Tank you. Tank you. Where we go tonight?”
“I am meeting my friend Roger. It’s somewhere off Sukhumvit. I have it written down.”
“Long street. But not far way.”
Christine pulled her PDA out of her purse and started tapping on the keyboard.
“Here it is. I am supposed to meet an old friend at Nana Entertainment Plaza. Is that some sort of shopping mall?”
The look of mild shock registered on Thongchai’s face in the glow of the dashboard lights. “Sure that right? Sure you want go to Nana Plaza?”
“Yes yes. That’s the place. Nana Entertainment Plaza.”
Thongchai headed down Sukhumvit Road, one of the busiest streets in Bangkok, where businessmen and tourists came from all over the world to enjoy the unique attractions of the city and spend copious amounts of foreign cash.
Christine was transfixed by the lights, the intensity of activity, the seemingly endless streams of people. They came to a very congested intersection and waited for the light to change.
Thongchai pointing. “Right there. Very close”
Beautiful young ladies, dressed immodestly to the teeth teemed the sidewalks.
“All of these girls. They are beautiful. But … what are they all doing here?” Noticing one whose microscopic skirt showcased her exquisitely slim legs and whose D-cup breasts burst from her delicately provocative tank top. “My goodness, look at that girl in the white top and yellow miniskirt. She’s a young thing.”
Thongchai started to laugh but then respectfully stopped and smiled at Christine. “That no girl. That a boy. A ladyboy.”
“That’s not a girl? I am so confused.”
The light changed and they edged around the corner, splitting the throngs of jaywalkers. Thongchai pulled to the side and Christine looked into what looked like a scaled-down but no less dazzling version of Las Vegas.
“There he is! That’s him in the blue shirt. Can I get out here?”
“No problem. Me wait?”
“No no. My friend said he would get me back to the hotel. Thongchai, my friend, thank you so much. Kòp koon. Kòp koon. I go to the airport tomorrow. I guess I will see you then. Okay?”
“Have good time, Miss Christine.”
She crossed the busy street, nearly getting hit by a motor scooter. Normally someone totally in charge, she felt uncharacteristically overwhelmed. The noise, the glare, the crowd, the frenzy, all came at her from every possible direction. She felt extremely vulnerable and struggled to get her bearings, when the strong reassuring arms of a still familiar thirty-something male, engulfed her in a big bear hug.
“Christine! My goodness, look at you. More beautiful than ever. Marriage is good for you!”
“Roger. This is crazy. What are we doing here? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. It’s so good to see you again. Really. I sincerely mean it. But frankly I am a bit dumfounded by your choice of meeting places. Where are we?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll explain. It will all become very clear. Let’s walk.”
Christine was tentative but Roger confidently led the way. They walked a short lane into a three-story mall. But a mall unlike anything Christine had ever seen, or could have even imagined. Bars fronted both sides of the lane. Each had indescribably sexy young girls seated on barstools, giggling and waving. Some held drink special signs, others just smiled and yelled out invitations to come in. Several paid special attention to Roger, coming up to him, trying to lead him by the hand or arm into their respective establishments. One very pretty girl in a bikini held a sign to Roger’s face that read …
Glass Beer All Night 60 B
“These girls all seem to know you, Roger. I see you … you’ve changed.”
“No. Yes. But no. Them? I’ve never seen them before. They are just doing business.”
“What kind of business, Roger? Or do I need to ask?”
They moved into the huge courtyard area, itself holding several cabana bars, also populated by young Asian ladies. There were scores of middle-aged white men scattered among them, luxuriating in the attention of the girls.
“I think I have seen enough, Roger. Can we leave?”
“Actually you haven’t. Trust me. This is important.”
He guided her forward. She couldn’t help but stare at the huge fluorescent and neon signs advertising the names of the clubs … Pretty Lady, Cathouse, Rainbow, Obsession, Voodoo, Fantasia, G-Spot, Lollipop, Spanky’s, Playskool, Hollywood Rock. They all had very skimpily dressed girls, posing provocatively, seductively flirting with potential customers.
Christine shuddered, closed her eyes and shook her head. Roger took her by the arm and pointed to a door, above which chaser lights over a garish flashing background spelled out Obsession.
They walked in and Christine was immediately subjected to suspicious looks by the several girls standing by the door. But a waitress glided over and guided them to a bleacher-style seat close to the stage.
Embarrassed and growing increasingly angry, Christine hesitatingly glanced up at the raised catwalk in front of her. Eight stunningly beautiful young Asian girls dressed in miniscule silver lamé bikini tops and black fine mesh miniskirts, through which the shadow of their pubic hair could be seen, danced and swayed. Each had a spot marked by a pole and when a song ended, they would rotate to the next position, allowing the customers throughout the room the opportunity to see each girl. At the end of a rotation, the last girl would come off and circulate the club, usually going up to some man she had made eye contact with from the catwalk. A new girl would come onstage to replace her. In the club were perhaps twenty five or thirty equally bewitching girls, providing a breathtaking visual parade of young flesh that Christine could never have imagined possible. Astoundingly, this was just one club of dozens in the complex. Her face betrayed both her bewilderment and disapproval.
Finally, she could not look anymore. She had seen enough for an eternity. This was a corruption of God’s design and a debasement of the human soul which filled her with a rage she had never had to brook. She turned to Roger, placing her hands directly on his cheeks, turning his head toward her. She held his face resolutely and stared directly into his eyes.
“Roger, yes or no. Do you still accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”
“Yes, of course I do. But …”
“Then why did you drag me here? This is disgusting. What exactly are we doing in this child brothel? ”
“Christine. Please, just listen. You’re working for that child sponsorship organization, right?”
“Yes. What’s that got to do with it?”
“I … I … I don’t want to be the one to have to break it to you. But …”
“But nothing. I am very offended. And I want to leave here immediately.” She started to get out of her seat.
“Wait.” He gently took her arm. “It’s very simple, Christine. I just thought you should see where some of your young girls end up.”
If incredulity were ice, then Christine instantly turned into a mountain-size glacier. Her mouth dropped open as if she had been shot full of animal tranquilizer. Her eyes were as big as saucers, as her thoughts tossed about in the blizzard of disbelief and shock Roger’s last statement had unleashed in her head.
“You’re crazy, Roger. I’m leaving.”
“They toured you through a monastery in Nong Khai, right?”
“Roger, I’m leaving. With or without you, I’m leaving. Right now!”
“Wait.” Pointing to a waifish little girl, perhaps the youngest one there, who was leaning against a table next to the stage. “See her. The one with the blue things in her hair. She came from Nong Khai. I’ll go get her. You can ask her yourself.”
Christine glanced over at the girl. She had to fight back the tears. This was an especially delicate looking one she had noticed right after they sat down. So young. She barely had breasts and still had the sweet face of a child. Twelve? Thirteen? Was that legal? Was Roger telling her the truth? She had been to the monastery. It had been one of the most special days of her life.
No! No! There was no way what he said was true. Something had happened to him. Maybe Thailand had driven him over the edge. Or he had embraced the dark side. If the Beast lived anywhere, it was here in Bangkok. In any case, this wasn’t the time or place to analyze or judge any of it. For the moment, she only knew she had to get out of here. Immediately! Before she started screaming.
“Roger, I don’t know why you’re doing this. But you are making this up. This is some sick fantasy. Or maybe I should give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you have just lost your mind. Whatever is going on with you, I don’t know and I don’t care. I do know I am leaving this playground of filth. Right now! Don’t try to stop me. You will be in my prayers, Roger. Good night.”
Christine was out the door before Roger even got to his feet.
“Please, Christine. Listen!”
The courtyard area was even more crowded that it was twenty minutes ago when they had arrived, but Christine pushed through like a Big 10 fullback. Roger couldn’t begin to keep up, girls still blocking his way and grabbing at him as he tried to catch up with her. He made it to the sidewalk in front of the plaza just in time to see Christine close the door of a taxi, which quickly joined the line of cars turning onto Sukhumvit Road. He was devastated by his sense of failure. With her credibility and connections, she was his best hope. And now he doubted she would ever speak to him again. But she had to. Too much was at stake. He had to do something. As he headed back to his apartment, a single thought kept running through his head: You will be in my prayers, as well, Christine.
The open-bed truck pulled into a small space next to the market. Driving over scattered piles of garbage. It was shortly before noon. And the market was teaming like a huge Petri dish. The air hot and thick with humidity and the vapors of desperation. Even the faces of the young looked weathered. The old mummified.
Rice, flour, oilseeds, fresh vegetables, fruits were portioned. A few measly bahts tendered. Hopeful tinges of gratitude softened the eyes of the vendors, at least for the moment granted another few hours reprieve from total hopelessness.
The monk and his assistant got out of the truck leaving the driver behind the wheel smoking a cigarette.
They circled through the stalls. The monk would point at a child crouching behind the bags of rice and cassava. The assistant would then talk to the mother or father, preferably the father, then gently lead the child back to the truck. Pat on the head. Maybe hold his or her hand for assurance. Then into the flat bed of the vehicle he or she went.
There were a number of markets in Nong Khai, each serving its area of the city. Today had gone well. They had over twenty children, all under fourteen or fifteen, more girls than boys, as had been instructed. The Master would be pleased. The school term was filling up fast. More young souls to surrender to the egolessness of Buddha’s wisdom.
At the monastery, every day started the same. Up at 4:30 am, into the great hall by five. Each child brought a prayer mat and assumed the humility position, kneeling but curled forward in a little ball. Eyes closed and forehead on the mat. They stayed like that for only an hour but it seemed like an eternity. No sleeping allowed. The master had a sixth sense about that and dealt a cruel blow to the back of anyone who drifted off.
There was a gong struck at the beginning and end of the hour. Three severe looking monks off to the side provided the shrill mantra of backnoise music. More drone than melody, and not enough rhythm or dynamics to break the hypnotic, dumbing shroud weaved by the relentless inculcations of the Master.
What he said was of little consequence. It was the way he said it. Alternating between low, authoritative repetitions and a high singsong which almost sounded maternal, the words either drubbed their ears until they wobbled punch-drunk and defenseless, or the syllables danced a blissful but sedative ballet, rendering their inchoate little minds docile and contrite.
The Master’s mesmeric evangelism trained on two parallel tracks: Obedience and discipline. Obedience to the random senseless demands of others who wielded the power. Discipline to immediately retreat into the void of comatose surrender whenever reality required it. Obedience. Blind. Unquestioning. Complete submission to the iron shackles of rolled dice tyranny. Discipline. Instantaneous and resolute. The inversion of consciousness when life became intolerable. Too painful. Too humiliating. Or just too inexplicably cruel.
One hour every morning. One hour every evening. Sunrise and sunset for little minds.
If the meditative brainwashing which opened and closed each official day of “schooling” was the theory, the long and exhausting twelve hours between them was the practice. Each and every day, the children saw the daylight hours come and go, working at a wide range of exhausting, arbitrary, and transparently meaningless tasks. Scrubbing to no visible effect the stone floors and walls. Digging and hoeing but never planting huge tracts of barren soil. Carting water from the wells to huge cisterns that seemed to feed no irrigation system or laundry or household room. Parading the grounds in “orbits of the sun and moon” to honor the spiritual quest and earthly mission of the greatest teacher of them all, the Buddha himself.
In the summer, this took place in a hot dank cauldron. In the winter, the cold air penetrated to the marrow of their shivering bodies. Which was worse? More children died of exposure in the winter. In the purgatory of summer they just collapsed.
The latest fresh batch was coming in at the perfect time. Probably won’t lose any of them. Just need to make sure and move them out before the New Year and the onset of lethally severe cold.
Four months was usually enough training. The children arrived already weak in both body and spirit. Poverty delivers the perfect body blow to human tenacity. A void in the stomach creates a vacuum in the soul. And the Master was there to fill it.
The only relief from the tortuous schedule for the children took two forms: the tri-annual photo portrait sessions, and a rare visit by a group of well-meaning benefactors from one of the child sponsorship agencies. Just a couple weeks ago, a large delegation from New York came here to Nong Khai. The Chiang Rai facility had a delegation visit the previous spring — five hyperventilating round-eyes from Indiana and Illinois who smiled and cried and thanked the Lord for all the wonderful things everyone there was doing to give hope and make life more bearable for these beautiful little creatures.
Round-eye: “And what’s your name?”
Little boy: “I’m hungry. Are you my new mommy?”
Translator: “He says he is Kongbej Mee. And he loves Jesus.”
No one at the Siddartha Schools had the entire picture. The young monks did as they were told and didn’t question the severity or hardships, since the treatment of the children paralleled their own preparation for the holy life. Even the Master willingly adopted to a see-no-evil myopia. He merely focused on preparing the children for their new lives in the cradles of affluence, and so doing reaped the generous financial rewards for keeping his normally perceptive gaze blissfully averted.
Young monk: “The children are tired and hungry.”
The Master: “And we are grateful for the strength these sufferings will engender.”
Young monk: “The little one we called Yen Ying Pim passed away this morning.”
The Master: “And joined the egoless Oneness that is All. We should envy this little flower.”
After enduring four months of the spiritual boot camp, each new batch of Buddha’s dutiful little soldiers were treated to a devotional rite-of-passage party. The monastery’s main hall was filled with music, food, desserts, games, balloons and festive flags. Most of the children had not smiled from the day they had arrived. But the monumental contrast of this final lavish event with their prior spartan living conditions and with the Master’s obsessive attention and smothering pedagogy, coupled with the realization that they were finally getting out of this dreadful place, brought laughter and cries of playful abandon to all two hundred plus innocent little faces. Which, of course, were photographed and videotaped from every possible angle and in every euphoric light. These were the photographs shown to inquiring dignitaries and prospective donors. These were the photos and video clips posted on the web, for the world to see and marvel at what the Siddartha School was accomplishing in this blighted area of northern Thailand. The curious and concerned were awed and pleased.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej was especially proud of the fine example set before the international community.
The children ate and played and sang and laughed. No getting up at 4:30 am tomorrow. Tomorrow began the next phase, their lives in the real world. So let them party themselves silly tonight. Because by this time tomorrow, they would all be gone. Making room for the next little orphan army. Buddha’s little photo ops.
And that Dok Phnom. What an amazing and efficient administrator he turned out to be! Educated in America. Connected with every world-class child sponsorship organization in the world. He ran a tight ship. You could tell he really loved his work. He was as tireless as he was timely. At exactly 12 noon tomorrow, the buses would arrive. Thirty minutes later, off they would go.
Thus the children came and went. Photos landed in the mailboxes of their foster parents in America or Denmark or the United Kingdom. $25 per month per sad face. The money was divided up. The Master’s cut was deposited directly by Dok Phnom in the Siddartha School Enlightenment Trust. Praise the infinite wisdom of the Buddha. And the generosity of the round eyes.
And the children? Yes the children. Into the slipstream of fate. Fate and fortunes.
Fortunes made and paradise lost. Little souls overwhelmed by the raw power of Original Sin. Little souls who would never get close to the Garden. Or be able to ask the round-eye God …‘Why?’
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