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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sleeping on Concrete

The flu hits like a heavyweight.

One second, I'm cleaning up after dinner and the next I'm curled up in bed, shivering. Wishing for death. I may as well put my thumb in my mouth. My pillowcase is soaked, the sheets are a swamp. And I'm freezing.

I can call off sick, work from home. My back aches from inflammation. My sinuses are leaking brain fluid. Oh, why me, why me? WHY ME?

Somewhere in North Korea there's a labor camp where someone has the flu. They're curled up on patch of concrete. No sheet, no blanket. If they're lucky, if they're big enough, strong enough, high enough in the pecking order, they sleep next to the heat vent.

If not, the concrete is cold, too.

There's no doctor. No Tamiflu. No sick days.

When dawn breaks, they report to work in the snow, in the rain, wearing the same clothes they've worn for two years. The pants are stiff with sweat and grime. The shoes have holes. If they are slow, they are beaten. If they fall down, they are beaten. If they pass out, they are beaten. They eat watered down cabbage soup. Not enough to replace the calories they burn. They are always hungry.

And they work like this until the day ends. If not, they are beaten.

The Nazi concentration camps lasted two years. North Korean labor camps have existed for 50. Some people are born there. They will die there. They have only known concrete.

I have a bed. A house. I have very minor problems. And, sometimes, I lay awake at night, wondering how it could be better.

Shin Dong-hyuk is the only known person to escape Camp 14, one of the fiercest labor camps in North Korea. He didn't go to hell. He was born there. And it didn't happen a long, long time ago. It was five years ago.

We should all know his story.

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