Monthly Archives: March 2011

This Little Piggy Went to Market

Rule Number Three (While in Asia): No forks.  No spoons.  Just your right hand.

It is easy to set the tables here, because no silverware is used.  For meals, you just eat everything with your right hand.  For those of you lefties out there, I apologize.  Using your left hand to eat is considered extremely unsanitary and somewhat offensive.  This is because your left hand typically replaces toilet paper!  I also found it interesting that the girls here only paint the fingernails on their left hand, as they do not want to contaminate their food when they eat.

Today, the girls and I went to the local market.  We got fancied up in our punjabis (the customary Nepali dress) and walked about twenty minutes to what Americans would consider a Farmer’s Market.  There were dozens of vendors sitting on the ground under blue tarps selling freshly grown vegetables and lots and lots of bananas (this is the fruit in season right now).  I tried two new drinks while I was there.  One was freshly squeezed bamboo juice, and it was fantastic!  I actually watched the vendor mulch the bamboo shoots to extract the juice.  The second was much less appealing.  In Nepal it is considered a “soda,” but after two sips, it was clear that the drink was merely carbonated water with lime juice and salt.  Not only did it taste awful, but drinking the water here is not a pleasant experience for foreigners, so I am expecting digestion problems in the near future.

I began sewing lessons today as well!  The girls at the safe house receive sewing training for two hours everyday, so that when they leave the safe house after 6-8 months, they have a trade that they can bring back to their villages.  In middle school, I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, and I designed clothing day in and day out; however, I never actually learned how to make the clothes I designed.  So, I have decided to buckle down and learn how the make the traditional Nepali outfit!  We’ll see if I am actually able to wear any of my creations!

A few nights ago, the girls talked a lot about trafficking, and it was a great opportunity to educate them further on what trafficking is.  A staff member from the Nepalese organization operating the safe house had come to visit, and she had not met any of the girls currently at the safe house.  She asked the girls to introduce themselves, giving their name, their age, their education level and where they came from.  I learned so much from these introductions.  Most of the girls did not go too in-depth into their stories, as it was a public setting, but they did share enough for me to better understand their situations.  None of the girls here have been educated beyond the tenth grade level, and one of the girls only has a third grade education; she is 13 years old.  The majority of them left home because of poor or abusive family situations or poor financial situations, and they were stopped on the border before they went into India.  Although not all of them had previously encountered a trafficker when they were rescued, their intentions to travel alone to find work in India would most certainly have landed them in a brothel.  Because of this, not all of the girls here understood all that trafficking entails and the realities of  sexual exploitation and of the brothels, so we had a time of educating them on what we learned in Mumbai about sex trafficking, what happens to the majority of Nepalese girls leaving Nepal for India on their own and how they can educate their villages and protect themselves from further exploitative situations when they go back home.

I am thankful that some of the girls here were rescued before they encountered sexual abuse, but that has not been the case for all of the girls.  Some of them were forced by their families to marry men that secretly had intentions to traffick them after marriage; this is becoming prevalent in situations of sex trafficking.  And there have also been girls that have come to the safe house pregnant.

I am learning more and more about just how vast human trafficking is.  There is no cookie-cutter trafficker, and that makes it an extremely difficult injustice to both prevent and stop.  Parents traffick their children, husbands traffick their wives, employers traffick their workers into brothels and the list continues.  This is why education pertaining to sex trafficking is so important, so that the girls themselves are aware of what trafficking entails, so that families and communities learn to respect and value women, protecting them from the realities of what is occurring in their midst, and so that women are no longer viewed as a commodity to be exploited.

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Brothels 101

Rule Number Two (While in Asia): It is not customary to say “thank you” every time someone serves you or pays you a compliment.

My first day at the safe house, one of the few words in my Nepali vocabulary was dhanyabahd, Nepali for “thank you.”  In an effort to impress the girls here with my new word, I used it at every opportune moment!  It seemed natural to me, but according to my Nepalese friends, Americans overuse this phrase, and I am now laughed at whenever I say the word dhanyabahd!

Due to a lack of electricity and internet availability, I was unable to write in detail about my time in India.  However, visiting the brothels in Mumbai was a life-changing experience that not many people have the opportunity to encounter, and, as much as I can, I want to give you the clearest picture of what it was like.

A brothel is a building.  So when I say that we visited the brothels, picture a small community of buildings in a run-down area of town.  We visited only two of these brothel areas, with one being primarily worked by Nepalese girls, but there are many in Mumbai.  As these areas do not become active until the evening, we went around sundown, when most of the girls are sitting outside of their “shops.”  The streets in these areas were dirty, with ducks and cows roaming about and cars and people traveling by.  In a certain sense, the whole setting seemed natural and not out of the norm; as we stood beside the brothels, people were walking by us acting as if nothing were wrong or out of the ordinary,which to some extent is true; brothels in Mumbai are not out of the ordinary.  It was just altogether an eerie and dark atmosphere, as we saw dozens of girls sitting alongside the streets, their faces caked in brightly colored make-up.

There was one instance where we lingered in the street long enough to arouse suspicion, and an older man appeared from inside one of the brothels that appeared to be a pimp.  Apart from that, the only pimps I encountered were, ironically, in my opinion, women.

As far as I can gather, the majority of the clients visiting the brothels in Mumbai are tourists, with many coming from Germany and the continent of Africa.  However, Indian men also frequent the brothels, especially before marriage, as Indian women are expected to keep their virginity until married.

Here were the reactions of some of the Nepalese staff after visiting the brothels:

“I was very sad in the brothels.  I called home the night we visited them and told my wife that we must care for our daughter as much as our son and not discriminate based upon gender (it is common to favor the son in Nepalese culture; girls are typically seen as someone’s property).  I saw my daughter in the position of those girls in the brothels, and I felt like crying.”

“I worried about the children I saw in the brothels.  What will be their future and security?”  (Likely the boys will grow up to become pimps or traffickers and the girls will become prostitutes).

“I’m free, but they’re in captivity.  We are all human beings, but I am exercising my rights, and they are deprived.”

“I have a question in my heart: There are many organizations working to end the trafficking of Nepalese girls, but why are there still 20,000 of these girls in bondage in one area (that which we visited)?  Despite this, I am still saving girls on the border; my focus is on each girl individually.”

I was once told that you have to understand the larger problem to be effective at what you’re doing to solve the issue on an individual level.  Human trafficking is occurring internationally.  One person is not going to change that.  You are not responsible for the whole thing that seems impossible, but you are responsible for what you see and what you know.  Therefore, if we understand the problem of trafficking at large, we will be most effective at working in our communities to solve it where we encounter it, and together, across the world, we will create change!

“Whatever you do will not be enough, but it matters enormously that you do it.” -Gandhi

p.s. the girls taught me how to make a Red Thread bracelet today!


Namaste, Nepal

Rule Number One (While in Asia): When women wear matching toe rings it means that they are married.

I was not aware of the meaning of this “fashion trend” when I bought my toe rings in India.  When I put them on, I got a few strange looks from the people traveling with me (who know I am not married), and then someone finally explained to me the symbolism.  I chose to continue wearing them in Mumbai to ward off the shameless Indian male paparazzi that kept insisting that I be in their photos.

“Welcome to Nepal!”  This is what the red and yellow arch greeting me at the border read.  After two solid days in moving vehicles, I have finally arrived back at the safe house!  I must say, the journey across India by train will go down as one of my fondest memories to date.  One of my favorite movies is Slumdog Millionaire, and the Indian train scenes in that film made me a bit nervous to get onboard with this mode of transportation; I half expected all of my belongings to be gone by the end of the trip.  While the train ride, thankfully, did not live up to this expectation, it came through on all the others I had: the bathrooms were a hole in the floor (and on a moving train, need I say more), the bunk beds we slept on were stacked three high (being 5’ 8,’’ my feet stuck out the end) and I danced and sang the hours away with my Nepalese friends to their cultural songs (I taught them a few Justin Bieber songs too; they had never heard of him).  I am now convinced that the only way to travel is by rail.

I just moved into the safe house tonight!  It was the sweetest welcome; on my way in, I was greeted in the street by two of the girls I had previously met in January.  I was so excited to see them again, and I am so blessed to spend the next month with all of these beautiful girls.  Stepping into the safe house truly felt like coming home; it is such a place of joy and warmth.


From the Brothels to the Border

Getting ready to leave India and take a 36 hour train ride to Nepal! I have heard that the train is fitted with bunk beds that we will sleep on during the trip. This should be a most interesting experience, as I am about one foot taller than any Nepalese person! I will not have internet for a few days, but I will write more once I am at the safe house.


CNN Freedom Project

Check out CNN Freedom Project, and comment on Red Thread Movement in Bombay Brothels!


Bombay Brothels

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth. – Habakkuk 1: 2-4

Yesterday, I visited one of the Red Light Districts in Bombay, India. In this one district, there are 20,000 Nepalese women and girls in bondage to sexual slavery.

By the age of 16, 60 percent of the girls in this District have contracted HIV.

Within three years of being trafficked to the brothels, these women and girls abandon all hope of freedom and sadly embrace this way of life as their ‘karma.’

In January of this year, I stood on the border between India and Nepal. As I watched the masses of people going back and forth at the border stations, I knew that on a daily basis traffickers were taking Nepalese women and girls into India to sell them to brothels.

However, it is one thing to know something, but it is an entirely different thing to see the reality of what you know staring you in the face.

Upon entering this Red Light District, it was immediately evident that the women and girls working at the brothels were Nepalese. I am in India with Eternal Threads’ Founder and one of its Board Members and the staff from the Nepalese organization the Red Thread Movement partners with. Watching the Nepalese staff’s reaction to the brothels enslaving their own people was heart-wrenching. Having, myself, seen numerous documentaries and movies related to trafficking and modern-day slavery, I had expectations of what the brothels here would be like, but the staff had nothing to prepare them for what they saw.

At one point, we visited a day care center in this particular Red Light District. The day care provides a safe place for the children of the women and girls working in the brothels to go while their mothers are servicing clients. The day care center was in what was once a brothel house, and the metal rods that used to hold the curtain room partitions were still intact. The room was only about 10 X 16 feet, but the beams indicated that seven women had serviced clients in that one small space. We were told that before the day care center was established, the children would play under the beds in that room, while their mothers worked.

It is stories like these that make me wonder if there is any humanity left in the world.

However, seeing the Nepalese staff react with such pain, coupled with intense compassion, for these girls, their own people, reminded me that there is still good in this world. There is still a spirit of hope and determination spurred on by love, even in the darkest places. I was reminded too of the girls at the safe house in Nepal and how truly privileged they are that this Nepalese staff I am here with in India stands and keeps watch on the border between Nepal and India to rescue girls like them from the brothels we have seen!

‘”Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me.’ – Habakkuk 1:5; 2:1


Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

‘The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ -Frederick Buechner

I did not expect to be going back to Asia within months of my last trip abroad with the Red Thread Team, but this afternoon I will be flying back around the world to spend the next 5 weeks in India and Nepal!

For five days, I will be in Mumbia, India! Then, I will be going by train across the Indian border into Nepal, where I will spend the month of April living with the girls at the safe house the Red Thread Movement helps to support; I cannot wait to see my dear friends there again! I have traveled abroad quite frequently over the years, but this trip to Nepal will be my first overseas experience as the sole American. I am looking forward to truly embracing the Nepalese culture, and I will have my trusty Nepali phrase book on hand at all times!

I would like to especially thank all of my personal supporters for this trip: you are a blessing and great encouragement to me, and I would not have these opportunities without you! I would also like to thank Plum Creek Community Church for their support and the Abilene Christian University Honors College for supporting me, as one of their Honors students, on this trip and for their support of the Red Thread Movement on ACU’s campus.

I welcome anyone reading to follow me over the next five weeks on this new adventure, and I look forward to sharing many stories and experiences with you as I go!

‘Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.’

-B


Red Thread Movement Website

For more information about the Red Thread Movement and how you can be a part of it, check out www.RedThreadMovement.org.