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!