Tonight found me sitting in the the gymnasium of an elite international school on one of the more wealthy islands in Hong Kong. The air conditioning conveniently wasn’t working on the warmest night we’ve had yet this year, and any breeze that was being offered by the humble fans in the corners was promptly sucked up into the blue carpet. It was standing room only by the time the service started, so as I fanned myself with my program, I felt lucky to have a seat. As I scanned the room, I was pleasantly surprised to see more than just Filipino faces. The occasional white face dotted the scene, fanning themselves with similarly folded programs. This was the first Mass I’ve been to in Hong Kong that was in English.
Towards the end of my first month here, I was sitting in a wedding for one of our volunteers that I honestly didn’t even know. One of the guys from the office leaned over to me and said, “Now you’ve been to a wedding, a birthday party and an anniversary celebration. Let’s just hope you don’t round it out with a funeral during your time here.” Unfortunately, tonight, I did.
While I did not know Vicky Flores, I went to show support to the migrant community for their loss. The Migrant Workers, particularly Domestic Helpers, often live in daily fear of their jobs. Employers are often abusive: verbally, physically or sexually. They are underpaid, overworked and grossly mistreated. Their cries are ignored by their sending agencies and shut down by their own Consulate. And now, one more fear is floating in the minds of Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong – fear of death. The shady circumstances in which Vicky’s body was found floating in Tung Chung should have prompted the police to an in depth investigation. Instead, just short of a week, the case was closed, ruled a “Drowning” and filed in Miscellaneous Inquiries. No interviews were done with neighbors or family members, even though they have offered statements of the strange occurrences surrounding the day of her disappearance. It was only after the Migrant Community took a stand, spending 9 hours in the police station refusing to be ignored, after a candlelight vigil with an attendance of over 1,000 people and the scheduling of two rallies that the police have started to offer to look “more closely” into the case.
As I sat in that stuffy room, unashamedly blotting my own tears for a woman I didn’t know, the reality of death and loss became very clear to me. I have attended my share of funerals in my lifetime. I have lost family members to long illnesses. I have lost friends to car accidents and suicide. But never have I been so close to loss at the hand’s of another person. The thought that Vicky’s death was not accidental shakes me to my core. I watched her sister, one of 7 remaining siblings, thank the community for their outpouring of love and support. After the mass, the crowd around her was a circle so thick I could barely make out the top of her head. Announcements for the rallies given over the loudspeaker were met with cheers and a feeble, but thankful, smile from the sister.
I came home to an empty apartment, at once thankful for the silence in which to weep, and weary from the need of comfort.