The name Father Joe Maier should be well known in Thailand, and especially in Bangkok where his ministry covers the infamous Klong Toey slums. He has been living there for the past 30 plus years, and is a veritable icon in the surroundings, where the poorest of the poor live, or ‘exist’. Some are drug addicts, some are carriers of the HIV, some are children who have inherited HIV and others are just human failures from many different reasons.
The poignant foreword was written by acclaimed author Jerry Hopkins, who obviously knew Fr. Joe well, and what he stood for.
Welcome to the Bangkok Slaughterhouse, the full title of the book (ISBN 0-7946-0293-2, Periplus, 2005) is a collection of short stories written by Fr. Joe which were previously printed in one of the national newspapers.
The reference to the slaughterhouse comes from the days when both buffalo and pig were slaughtered there. As the Buddhists could not carry out this work, as they do not kill, and the Muslims also could not do this because of their objection to pork, the work fell to the Christians, so it was fairly natural for these Christians to need their own priest, and Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R, who came to Thailand as a missionary, was the correct man for the job.
After all these years of being a squatter in the slum, he is now accepted in that environment, though not completely, as there are those groups he has run up against who are not his greatest fans. However, it is apparent that Fr. Joe follows his own guidelines and knows when to pull back, or press ahead against the establishment. “There are different rules in the Slaughterhouse. Law in the slums, crime in the slaughterhouse and the consequent pay-back is based not on legal codes but face.” The slums get by on unwritten codes.
Drugs are everywhere in the slums, with Fr. Joe describing 3K’s, Snake and Horse (Ya Ma AKA Ya Ba). He goes on to say that he cannot remember a single act of violence that hasn’t happened without alcohol or Ya Ma – other than the contract killings! Fr. Joe is heroic, working in an environment that you, the reader, would not volunteer for.
The book is divided into three sections: The Children, then The Struggles, and finally The Heroes. Each section contains many short stories, so it is a book you can pick up and put down easily, though some of the subject matter will make you want to keep reading. One such is the love affair between two HIV positive drug addicts living in an abandoned shed behind the Hua Lamphong railway station.
The RRP is B. 450 and the royalties from sales of this book goes to support the Human Development Foundation, a charity overseen by Father Joe to provide assistance to the needy in his ‘parish’, the slums of Bangkok. It is an eye-opener of a book, and one that you should read. Adversity and human suffering is contrasted with the adult will to survive, and the children’s acceptance of life as they find it.