By Joan Janzen

The mummy said to to the people in his support group, “I need to learn how to unwind.”

While listening to Yeonmi Park being interviewed, I heard her compelling story unwind, about being a North Korean defector. Growing up in North Korea as one of the common class, which is about 90 percent of the population, she suffered many hardships.

She shared her first memory. “My mom told me not to whisper because the birds and mice could hear me. The first thing I learned was the most dangerous thing I have is my tongue. If I say a wrong word, it will kill an entire three generations of my family.” People are executed for reading the Bible, or watching a foreign DVD. ”People in our neighborhood disappeared all the time, and we always had to go to public executions; even children see someone shot in front of your eyes,” she said.

Yeonmi said people in North America find it difficult to believe what it’s like in North Korea. “The regime tells us what to wear, how to style our hair, what songs we can sing, what dance we can dance, who we can marry; everything is determined by the regime.” There’s no internet and only one TV channel telling the people how wonderful Korea is.

“At school I learned what kind of miracles our dear leader can do, and how bad democracy in America was. We saw Americans in posters and they were made to look like monsters.”

As for the Korean regime, it makes money by selling drugs, weapons, stealing money by computer hacking, and by trafficking their own people. “The regime sends slave labor to China, Siberia and other places where they work for their leader, while the regime holds their families hostage back at North Korea,” Yeonmi said.

Every male who reaches the height of 4 feet, eight inches (people aren’t growing because of malnourishment) is required to do 13 years of mandatory military service, whereby they become labourers.

Yeonmi’s family didn’t have running water and they had to scrounge for anything to heat their home. She recalled having her appendix removed without any anesthetic. More than anything, she recalls always being hungry. “As a child I never ate until I was full; I grew up eating frozen potatoes, grasshoppers and plants.” It was hunger that caused Yeonmi and her mother to cross the frozen river to China in 2007, with the help of a broker, who had bribed the guards so they wouldn’t be shot.

“China has a responsibility to protect us, but the only way we can stay there is to be sold or they send you back to be captured and tortured,” she said. Once they reached China, she was sold to an older married man and she became his mistress. She was 13 years old. Two years later she escaped, crossing the dessert to Mongolia, then went on to South Korea and then to the United States.

In 2014 Yeonmi shared her story on the Internet where it was heard by 50 million people. “Two months later North Koreans captured all my family, even my neighbours and they all vanished because I spoke up,” she said. “When defectors speak up, they pay such a huge price.”

Now that she lives in the US where many people her age are in favour of socialism, she says “If you worship socialism, just go to North Korea. Without capitalism you won’t have food, opportunity, all the devices. I never heard about free speech in North Korea. That’s why everyone wants to come to North America.”

You can contact me at joanjanzen@yahoo.com

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