Girl escapes deathly custom, discovers new family

By Diep Phan   January 28, 2020 | 11:27 pm PT
Girl escapes deathly custom, discovers new family
Quad discovers a new family. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.
Eight years ago, Tuing sped his motorbike along a dusty road. Waiting for him at his destination, an infant faced certain death.

Minutes before, Tuing was busy watering his coffee trees when Quy, his son, arrived home saying: "A child is going to die in Con Chieng because the patriarch forced the mother to kill it. Do you want to adopt the girl? We can pick her up."

Tuing immediately dropped his watering can, calling his wife and leaving without a moment’s thought.

It was a 80 kilometer ride from his place to Con Chieng commune, Mang Yang district, Central Highlands Gia Lai Province. Both husband and wife were in such a rush they forgot to bring a basket to carry the infant.

"I thought I had to be quick to save the baby," 54-year-old Tuing recalled.

On arrival in Clah Village of Con Chieng, Tuing waited at a friend's house to which the miserable mother was to bring the child.

Holding her baby, the woman explained her husband had passed away after suffering an epileptic fit. The patriarch, thinking she was having an affair, believed God had punished the man.

Another night, the village leader dreamt the land was subsiding, killing many villagers. He assumed it to be a bad signal and decided to kill the baby.

Qua sits between saviors Tuing and Hyenh. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Qua sits between saviors Tuing and Hyenh. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

With customs trumping the law, the mother could do little. The night she delivered the baby, they took the infant into the forest and abandoned her. Some hunters, hearing the girl’s cries, returned the baby to her mother.

However, the  patriarch still wanted the baby dead. This time, she was taken into the forest by her mother, with the hunters having to rescue her anew.

The old leader, giving in, said the family had to provide a cow if they wanted the child to live, which they could not afford at the time.

The mother decided to ask whether any village families wanted to adopt her baby, but no one took up the offer. 

The story of the poor mother found its ways to Tuing.

"God will bring her up. My husband and I will take her back to the village to see her mother in future," said 53-year-old Hyenh, Tuing’s wife.

Holding the one-week-old baby girl, with scratches on her arm, the couple took their new daughter home.

As the ethnic Ba Na do not have surnames, Tuing named her Qua ("Pass" in English), meaning the baby from Con Chieng had passed to his hometown in Dak Doa.

In the first week, Qua did not drink any milk, though her belly continued to swell. After visiting the doctor, they found she was suffering from helminths.

Seeing his baby so slim, Tuing sold his pigs and bought "the best type of milk to help the child grow better."

When there were no pigs to sell, he asked to pay with coffee beans.

When Qua was three, Tuing’s daughter in law left, leaving behind a two-year-old and an eight-month-old. Waking at 5 a.m. each day, the couple cooked and cared for the three babies while cultivating coffee.

The low-income family could hardly afford to take care of the youngsters. When Qua and another grandchild grew sick, Tuing’s son had to stop working in the paddy fields to stay home for childcare.

Since adopting Qua, the family had resorted to eating rice with spicy salt. Fish would only be found during the rainy season. Qua often followed her father around the farm, catching crabs and drying them before having them with salt.

Tuing never regrets adopting  Qua.

Father and daughter. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Father and daughter. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

"God put her in my hands, so I bring her up," said Tuing, who even gave up alcohol and cigarettes to have enough money for childcare. 

When Qua turned six, the primary school required her birth certificate for admission purposes. 

"The day he came here to ask for Qua’s birth certificate, he was about to cry. He asked for my help so Qua could go to school," said Nguyen Van Tuan Anh, a local official.

Tuing had to return to Clah Village to ask for evidence that he had adopted Qua. Both him and his wife were then required to undergo health checks and optain a new marriage certificate to ensure they officially qualified as adoptive parents.

"That was the first time I had my blood tested. I was so scared," Tuing remembered.

After one year, Qua was finally admitted to school. The couple never told Qua she was adopted. In the last year, she started enquiring about rumors at school that she was not their blood daughter.

Hyenh was speechless. She pointed her fingers to her belly, saying in local Ba Na: "I delivered you."

The mother knows it is a matter of time until her daughter discovers the truth.

On an afternoon of lunar December, three of her children were standing in the yard, taking a shower. No shampoo, no bath gel. They used water from a well.

Around them, red basaltic soil of their beloved Central Highlands provide loving nurture, reflected in the selfless actions of their parents.

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