Ann has tiger blood.
Many of you have been following our gym since the beginning and remember Ann from Lindsey Newhall's article on FIGHTLAND, Just Three Hours a Day: Isaan Girls and the Importance of Muay Thai.
Ann is one of our top prospects, that is until she was taken from our gym. Earlier this year Ann's father was arrested for selling drugs. He went jail and just five days later his mother passed away. Despite these heart wrenching circumstances, Ann's father was not allowed out of prison to attend his mother's funeral and the ceremony proceeded without him.
Ann was abandoned by her mother at birth. Her grandma raised her while her Dad attempted to find meaningful labour between Bangkok and the village. Now, at only 12 years old Ann and her 8 year old sister were left parentless.
A deal was made with Ann's great Aunt, in exchange for getting her father out of jail, Ann was sent to live with her in the city. No one ever asked Ann what she wanted, instead she was used as a pawn to pay for her father's mistakes. Her sister, Nam, was sent to live with her maternal grandma near by.
Ann was unhappy for a variety of reasons, her great aunt's intentions were suspicious. She was to focus only on school and no other extra curricular actives were permitted, including visiting friends. She was kept busy at home; cleaning, cooking, as well as taking care of the dogs and chickens. In just a short time, her great aunt had planned out her entire life, the university she was to attend, the studies she was expected to specialize in, and the house she would live in for the rest of her life. Her great aunt wasn't going to let her go anywhere.
It was clear to everyone what her great Aunt's intentions were; it was expected that Ann would remain with the family, taking care of her great aunt, as well as her unmarried daughter. As for Ann, nobody thought of what would happen to her.
Mid-term break Ann called me to pick her up. She managed to get a way for a few days to see her Dad. He was living in a near by village with his new girlfriend and new baby girl; Dutch-Milk had been born while he was in prison. Since returning from jail his motorcycle had been repossessed. Getting around was difficult, they were heavily reliant on the support of neighbours, and were often left to walk through the village's poorly paved roads in the oppressive heat. To make ends meet, Ann's father was raising fighting chickens.
As it stood right then, he had no intention of looking for work, and thus lost the ability to care for his two other daughters.
Ann came with me to the gym and jumped right back into training. She told that me that when left alone at her aunt's house she would study Muay Thai on YouTube. Her diligence paid off, despite having not hit pads in more than three months Ann looked like she had improved.
Later that evening her dad called. He said that she needed to come home, otherwise her great aunt would be upset. Ann looked up at me,
"My dad cares more about what other people say than he does his own children."
I told him I would take Ann back in the morning, she wanted to go see her sister Nam first.
Ann spent the remainder of the week with me, although it was nice to have her back we were both stressed out by her uncertain future. Ann's Dad said that he had to respect the great aunt's wishes, as it was her to who had gotten him out of jail.
At this time Ann's family that lived in the village was gone visiting relatives. She asked that we drive by her house so that she could light some incense and pass a message on her to beloved grandmother. It was dark, and Ann was of the ghosts, so we stayed in the car. She rolled down the window and called to her grandmother's spirit.
"Mom, I am home now. I am safe, I am happy. You are not forgotten."
Three days later her family returned and I took Ann to go stay with them for the remainder of school break. I was told by Ann's father's sister that Ann had been bought by the great aunt and that if I wanted her I would have to pay. No problem. How much? Ann is my fighter, she fights for me and I will fight for her.
The family didn't know what to say. They themselves were in a difficult situation, there are too many mouths to feed in that house. They couldn't care for Ann, but didn't want to give her away to someone who wasn't family. I understood, and gave everyone their time and space.
Ann's great aunt finally called. She said she doesn't want Ann or anything to do with her anymore. Dirty words were said, and Ann was warned that if she returned to get her stuff the police would be called. Ann polity listened, for what seemed like hours.
The next day at the gym she came running up to me,
"I get to stay! I get to fight!"
This time she had brought her little sister and cousin to the gym, pushing them hard like real fighters. Ann told them, that if they work hard, together they can make enough money to take care of themselves.