MA LI YA: I used to dream every night, mostly about the people that I worked with and about the kind of work we were doing. For example, if I had been working with you during the day, then I would dream about you and about working with you. It was very real. Only when I woke up did I realize it was just a dream. I used to have a very light sleep so I dreamed a lot.
When Xiansheng died, I dreamed I was with him. I dreamed about him every night. In my dreams he said: “You are dreaming. What are you dreaming?” It felt as if he were there with me just like he used to be. Then I woke up and I realized it was just a dream.
I also dreamed about my mother when she died. And about my father, who had died before my mother. I met all my dead relatives in my dreams. I think it’s because of my disease that I have so many dreams, because it wasn’t always like that. I started having more dreams after my father died, and I wondered why. Now I think it’s because of the disease.
I have leprosy. In my first year at primary school I lost one finger. When I was writing something, my classmates would come and watch me. So I was afraid of going to school. My brother said: “Why don’t you go to school? You can still learn to write even if you are disabled.” I said: “I don’t want to go to school. My classmates are making fun of me and my fingers. Do you understand?” He said: “If you know how to write you can still have a job and earn a living, even if you are disabled!” But I just didn’t want to go to school. You know, in a small village people can be very cruel. When I went to school or to work, all the neighbours would come to see my hands. I didn’t want them to see my hands, so I tried to hide them. When I went outside I put my hands in my pockets. In the first year of primary school, I lost one finger, in the second year another one, in the third year another one. Year by year I lost my fingers.
My mother felt very sorry for me, she knew I suffered a lot because of my hands. My sister in law wanted me to enter a leprosy village but my mother didn’t want me to go, she cried a lot when I went. I also helped to do some work at home. We raised silkworms and grew bananas and cane. I helped my mother raise the silkworms at home. Silkworms eat mulberry leaves and I used to pick the leaves and feed them to the silkworms.
I was sent to the leprosy village because my hands were almost completely destroyed. My mother was very sad when I went. I came here in 1976 and I’ve been living in the village ever since. At first I worked in the emergency room. Back then the situation was very hard. There was no food, no work. A bucket of rice cost 15 RMB and people didn’t have the money to buy rice. The government gave out rice in our district. They gave rice cards to the families so people could buy rice. I always continued working; I went to work every day and did many things. I worked as best as I could. In the work unit we had to cut cane or grass, those kinds of thing.
One day I was carrying a bowl of rice and I fell, I hurt a finger. And a few days later the same thing happened again. The finger looked all right, it was straight but it felt completely numb. It got infected and I lost it. The same thing happened to my feet. My mother said the places I went to were very dirty and I should wear shoes, so I bought a pair of rubber boots. But then I got blisters on my feet and they got infected. Well, I’m still alive and I’ve been working every day. Later on, the Catholic Church set up a special medical centre to help people with amputations and ulcers. One of the doctors was a very good-hearted man and he called me to work there. I washed mosquito nets and bed sheets. That’s what I’m still doing today. But this year I’ll stop working.