Monthly Archives: April 2011

United Nations & IOM Meetings

Rule Number Ten (While in Asia): Monkeys apparently love ice cream.

One monkey in particular decided that he loved MY ice cream! A friend and I went to visit the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu yesterday. The Buddhist temple is on a hill overlooking Kathmandu. It’s very beautiful at the top, but the hike up that hill is a haul. There are over 100 steps, and they’re so steep I felt like I had climbed Mount Everest by the time we reached the summit. We decided to cure our exhaustion by eating ice cream! Little did I know, the monkeys at the Monkey Temple do not play nice. They’re wild, and dozens of them run around the temple (thus its name); however, they are quite accustomed both to tourists and thievery. Right after getting our ice cream, a monkey spotted the delicious treat in my hand and began moving toward me with an alarming determination in his eyes. I got a vaccination for rabies right before leaving, but I had no desire to be bit by this aggressive little creature. So, in order to save myself from attack, I sacrificed my ice cream by throwing it on the ground. Within seconds the little bugger had snatched it up and started licking away.

The monkey holding my ice cream!

I’ve been in Kathmandu for four days now. I’m staying with a family affiliated with the Nepalese organization Red Thread works to support, and my oh my, do they know how to cook (now I know how Buddha got his big belly; homemade Nepalese food is incredible)! Last night, I helped make homemade momos! I didn’t think I would be able to eat that many, but the family jokingly told me if I couldn’t commit to eating 20, then I wasn’t allowed to eat any period! Needless to say, it was not hard at all to eat the delicious dumpling-like delight.

On Friday, I met with the International Organization for Migration to learn more about their work to combat sex trafficking in Nepal and if there may be room for future collaboration. IOM does work in counter-trafficking and has, within the last few years, been researching rehabilitation strategies for victimized people returning to Nepal. However, the strategies of IOM and the organization the RTM supports are very different. IOM focuses on reintegration and rehabilitating Nepalese people who are returning from India and the Middle East following a situation of trafficking that resulted in slavery. Approximately 200-300 Nepalese victims of slavery abroad are returning every year to Nepal; this includes victims of both labor and sex trafficking. IOM is seeking to provide livelihoods for these individuals, while helping them gain citizenship. In Nepal, citizenship is obtained after the 16th birthday. As many people are trafficked out of Nepal before turning 16, it is currently difficult for them to return to Nepal and gain their citizenship. This is due to the fact that citizenship is passed through family affiliation, and, due to stigmatization, many families are unwilling to claim family members who have been victims of human trafficking.

While IOM is working toward a noble cause, the organization we support has found it most effective to combat trafficking through prevention, as thousands of girls are being trafficked into India on a yearly basis for purposes of sexual enslavement. While reports list the number somewhere around 12,000 girls per year, NGO’s predict the number to be closer to 30-40,000 women and girls being trafficked from Nepal into India every year.

The Nepalese organization we partner with is working to eliminate the need to rescue and rehabilitate women and girls who have already been enslaved outside of Nepal by both stopping these women and girls on the border before they cross into India. They are also working to develop communities by empowering women and girls in villages toward successful business practices and anti-trafficking education.

Me with the United Nations Resident Coordinator

This morning I also had the pleasure of meeting with the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. He is the head of UN programs in Nepal and took nearly an hour out of his day to be briefed on the Red Thread Movement and the work of the Nepalese organization we support. Every three to five years, the United Nations programs operating within a country get together to set new goals for the upcoming three to five years. It is a time for them to reevaluate and decide how they can best serve the people of that country. New goals are currently being compiled by the United Nations programs operating in Nepal, and the UNRC informed me that upcoming priorities for the UN will include assisting vulnerable and sexually exploited women and girls in Nepal. The meeting I had with UNICEF later this afternoon also spoke to this goal. These meetings both provided information into the UN’s work toward anti-trafficking in Nepal and opened the doors for potential collaboration down the road.


After Awhile, Crocodile

Rule Number Nine (While in Asia): They will assume you have rhythm and like to dance.

I have been to my fair share of countries, so I think I’m qualified to say that, compared to the rest of the world, Americans are rhythmically challenged. Apparently, the Nepalese are not aware of this because I cannot count the number of times they have asked me to dance. I think they assume that I have some moves they’ve never seen before (which is true, my dance moves probably have never been seen before, but that’s because I’m so bad at it!) I should probably also clarify that when they ask me to dance, they’re assuming that I am just going to dance, by myself, in front of them, to Indian music I’ve never heard before. Yeah, no thank you!

I had two new experiences today:

1. I learned how to drive stick shift. Perhaps I should clarify. I was not actually in the driver’s seat (if I was I probably wouldn’t have lived to be writing this post). The driver simply allowed me to move around the stick while he drove, so that I could learn how to change gears…baby steps.

2. I rode on a motorcycle! I am now convinced that the first vehicle I purchase will have two wheels (and a motor! My mom and dad thought I should also only have two wheels for college, but their version involved pedaling).

A woman in the market yesterday asked me where I was from. When I told her the United States, she seemed thoroughly shocked. She told me that my face was so cute, I must be from the Middle East! While I’ve been told that I look Middle Eastern before, it’s never been justified by the fact that I have a cute face. I got a good laugh out of the encounter!

This morning, I met with the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Analyst. We had met by the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu on my previous trip to Nepal in January, so this time I asked him if he would like to come out and visit one of the border stations supported by the Red Thread Movement. I enjoyed going back to the border and visiting some old Nepalese friends, while showing him around. He is doing research right now for the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report that will come out this summer, featuring a section on the trafficking in Nepal. To read last year’s report, check out the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report.

I also left for Kathmandu today. It was really hard to say goodbye to the girls. I am an emotional wreck when it comes to goodbyes, and as soon as someone else starts crying I just lose it. So, it was a pretty tearful farewell. I only have one brother, so I’m not exactly sure what it feels like to have a sister, but I think it’s safe to say that those girls really became like the sisters I never had. Despite being victimized by trafficking, cheated by love and deceived by lies, these girls taught me what it means to be “home,” how to love purely and fully and what it looks like to be lit from the inside by this contagious joy. I may never see all of these girls together again, but I consider them my adopted family, and the virtues they’ve taught me will stick in my heart for a lifetime.

More to come from Kathmandu:
Tomorrow: Meeting with International Organization for Migration
Monday: Meeting with UNICEF and UNDP

Human Trafficking Law Blog

The Red Thread Movement was recently mentioned on this great blog that a fellow Coca-Cola Scholar started. Check it out! It includes diverse and informative topics pertaining to human trafficking.

Human Trafficking Law Blog

Happy New Year!

Rule Number Eight (While in Asia): Not only is Nepal 10 hours and 45 minutes ahead of the Midwest, it is also ahead by approximately 57 years!

Yes, on April 14, I celebrated New Year’s for my second time this year (this due to the fact that Nepal runs on a different calendar than most of the world).  In honor of this happy event, the girls and I went for a picnic in a park about three hours from the safe house.  They loved the field trip, and the drive to the park was beautiful!  I am a native Minnesotan, so even the foothills here look like mountains and take my breath away.  What also took my breath away was how close our driver got to the edge of the road driving on these “mountains” (I’m not so good with heights).

On New Year’s we also celebrated the House Mother’s birthday with a delicious black forest cake that I hunted down in the market.  The birthday party was a blast as we ate and danced to Nepali/Hindi music (I was also so relieved to get some sugar back into my system).  The Nepalese people, probably for the best, don’t tend to eat many sweet things.  They much prefer salt, lots and lots of salt (oh, and don’t forget the chili peppers).  Needless to say, my mouth has been on fire for most of my time here!

Sugar cane juice has taken the place of coffee in my life!

Yesterday, one of the girls offered me this digestive tablet that you’re supposed to chew to help you digest your food.  The girls were all eating them with genuine delight, so I figured they must be good (and I can use all the help here with digestion that I can get).  I should have known, however, that if the Nepalese liked them, I was probably in trouble.  Chewing that little tablet was like drinking salt water from the Dead Sea (which I have accidentally done), and it was probably one of the top five grossest things I have ever tasted in my life (with pig intestine soup also being on that list). It took chugging a litre of water to get the taste out of my mouth.

In my personal opinion, Nepal's two greatest attractions are its mountains and its markets!

Since being here, I have also learned some of the girls’ stories, as to how they ended up at the safe house.  The following is only one of these stories, but it provides great insight into what the trafficking process looks like and how it operates.  For the girl’s safety, I have not included her name:

This is the story of a 13-year-old girl who studied to grade six.  Due to the size and poverty of her family, she could not complete her studies, so she helped her mother in household activities and her father on their farm.  Her parents were very happy with her, but she was not happy because she had to drop out of school.  One day, a stranger came into her village and proposed that she marry him.  She was young and scared to marry him and initially refused his proposal.  However, the man was not ready to give up, and he and his parents forced her to marry him.  He was 26 years old, twice her age.  Although she did not accept her marriage, she was complacent to go with her new husband when he asked her to leave Nepal for India.  He promised that he would keep her happy, and she believed him, so they went.  On the border of Nepal and India, they came to a border station supported by the Red Thread Movement, where a counselor working there asked the two of them questions regarding their travel into India.  The man told the counselor that they were married and beginning a new life outside of Nepal.  However, the counselor did not trust the man, because he was so much older than the girl.  So, both were separated and asked questions individually, and the girl told the counselor how she had met the man. The counselor explained to her what trafficking was and told her that she had encountered and rescued many girls with stories like her’s, who had been forced to marry men intending to traffick them.  It was then that the girl understood she was going to be sold by this man now claiming to be her husband.  The counselor offered the girl an opportunity to leave the man and receive shelter and additional training at a safe house, and the girl agreed; the man was turned into the police stationed at the border.  After a year at the safe house, the girl has just returned home with an education in sewing and a new chance at life in her village.


Last Friday, Red Thread Music welcomed Aaron Gillespie to Abilene for a benefit show at Monk’s Coffee Shop.

It was fantastic having the opportunity to get to know Aaron and the rest of the crew, they were a blast.

It turned out to be quite an eventful night.

During dinner, Aaron became increasingly concerned about his swollen finger. His past experience with infections, during his Underoath days when he was forced to take time off a tour to have emergency surgery, incited somewhat of a panic. The appearance of a red line down his finger, the visible indicator of blood poisoning, added a sense of urgency to the situation.

After consulting  a nurse friend of the host, Aaron decided to take his chances at the nearest clinic. We walked into the first clinic only to discover a packed waiting room; we got the number for another clinic across town and booked it over there, hoping we weren’t going to have to cancel the show that night.

At this point, I had already told our coordinator at Monks to stall the show as long as possible, then changed my mind and told him to rush the other sets so they could make it back to the first clinic before it closed at nine, and I called yet again when we arrived at the second clinic and discovered a completely vacant waiting room.

The nurse recognized Aaron and ask if he had just played a show yesterday and he said, “actually I’m playing in about 30 minutes,” and she realized the rush we were in and was incredibly accommodating.

He got in to see the doctor quickly while Angela and I sat in the waiting room and chatted. When he came out, he was limping. We asked what was wrong and he mumbled, “I got a shot in the butt,” and we chuckled as he rushed out the doors.

The clinic had blessed us incredibly! Not only did we arrive at Monks a good 10 or so minutes before they were scheduled to go on, but they gave Aaron the medical attention he needed completely free of cost.

Aaron was incredibly proud that his finger ended up being infected, since it proved that he was right and wasn’t throwing a fit over nothing, and they didn’t have to cut it open so he didn’t have to call off the rest of the tour like he had contemplated doing.

The show was fantastic, there was a great turn-out. Aaron said he’d never seen a coffee shop so packed. They were able to load up and hit the road pretty soon after it ended and made it to College Station that night.

Despite the chaos, I was able to have some good conversations with Aaron. He and his wife are very passionate about outreaches in Haiti and Uganda and we talked about the importance of establishing the foundation of mission work on a local level.

He works a lot with Compassion and they operate by partnering with local churches that set up programs to reach out to the local kids in need.

Outreaches aren’t nearly as effective if foreigners come in with the expectation of being able to fix the community’s problems with money and their foreign ideas. You have to be sensitive to the culture and work with, not against, that which is already established there.

For Nepal, that requires girls to go and talk to other girls- their friends, their sisters, their cousins- about trafficking. It requires a better sense of community so that the villages as a whole can work together to protect their girls.  That way the collective mindset that women are inferior can begin to change from the inside out, that way the locals will actually take the lessons taught to heart.

 This isn’t something we can do as outsiders, it requires an inside transformation. That’s why I love the way our partners in Nepal operate. First off, they are a Nepalese NGO, they were not set up by foreigners. Also, they focus on staffing their establishments with locals who are easy to relate to and they are hugely focused on setting up Ambassador clubs and sewing centers in villages as a way of bringing about transformation. I am very hopeful about the effects this kind of structure is going to be able to bring about. There is going to be a great transformation in Nepal!


Geckos Are Not Your Friends

Rule Number Seven (While in Asia): Nepalese geckos are wild animals, not pets.

I saw these little critters running around my bathroom, the walls of my bedroom and all over the safe house kitchen, and I couldn’t get over how cute they were.  I used to have two lizards as a kid, and I thought it would be fun if we were to catch one of these “geckos” running around the house and make it into our pet.  Jokingly, I told my idea to the House Mother, and she just laughed at me.  It was then that another one of the girls informed me that these cute little lizards are in fact extremely poisonous!  If they bite you, there is no cure, and you will die.  Comforting!  I have gone from affectionately watching these little guys crawl around on our walls to running at the sight of them.  From now on: No Asian pet lizards for me!

Anyone reading this who has traveled to a developing country will understand what I mean when I say that Cipro is your best friend while abroad.  I almost didn’t bring any of this potent medication with me on my current trip to Nepal, as I hadn’t needed any while I as here in January, but last night, I was ever so thankful that the doctor had convinced me to pack it.  For those who don’t know, Cipro is what you take when, politely speaking, the digestive track is a bit out of whack.  I am not sure what I ate yesterday to throw my body into this awful frenzy, but thanks to my handy dandy traveling pills, the pain should be over soon.  Moral of the story: Never leave home without Cipro!

On a happier note, a few days ago I had the pleasure of attending a graduation ceremony.  It was a bit different than the ones seen in the States, complete with caps, gowns and fancy diplomas, but it was nevertheless still as meaningful to those graduating.  The ceremony took place in a village about an hour and a half from the safe house; the primitive “road” to get to this particular village made for a rough journey, but I’m kind of partial to these eventful roadtrips!  All of those graduating were women and girls, and we were attending to present them with certificates signifying that they had completed six months of sewing training.  Such an accomplishment is particularly meaningful in Nepal, as many of the girls in this country are not educated and do not have an opportunity to receive such training.  This training will lead to a sense of purpose for them in their village and will serve as a preventative measure to decrease their vulnerability to trafficking.  The women and girls were all incredibly joyful, and I was fortunate to be a part of such an important event in their lives.

Yesterday, I learned how to make milk tea for the first time!  It has become my favorite drink in the entire world (literally), and it even tops coffee in my book, which is a rare achievement.  It is made by boiling whole milk with black tea, this fantastic organic sugar, masala and cinnamon.  The combination of these ingredients leads to pure bliss in a cup!  You can try making it at home, but I assure you the best milk tea can only be found in Nepal!

I am off to sewing training!  My punjabi is coming along, but I afraid I may not ever go out in public wearing it.

Black Out!

Rule Number Six (While in Asia): The electricity may go out while you are showering.  If this happens, remain calm, and try not to slip and fall!

I hadn’t showered in three days (I know, even I didn’t want to be around me anymore), so last night I decided it was probably time to clean up a bit.  I got in the shower after dark.  The electricity had already gone out (it cuts at random times during the day), but the generator was working in my room, so I was using that light to see in the bathroom.  Unbeknownst to me, the generator also happens to shut off at random times during the day (making it somewhat useless?), and it just so happened to turn off while I was in the shower.  I did manage to get some of the dirt off me, but all I could think the entire time was…”Only in Nepal!”

Yesterday, my Nepalese friend took me to the market to do some shopping.  I had to pick up some fabric for my sewing training, so we went to a vendor I had purchased from a few days ago.  He knew who I was (I have only seen one other non-Asian in this city since I got here); nevertheless, he still tried to rip me off.  Now, I have been to Israel a couple of times, and Israelis are the world’s master barterers.  They apparently trained me well.  I sat and bartered, via my friend, with this Nepalese vendor for nearly ten minutes, but he finally gave into to the price I was asking.  Afterward, he was laughing and saying something over and over in Nepali to the vendors nearby who had been listening in.  I asked my friend what he was telling them, and she just smiled and said, “He is telling them what a clever girl you are.”

I got to help cook yesterday at the safe house!  Back home, I am a Food Network junkie, so I know my way around a kitchen.  However, cooking in another country is a bit different from preparing Rachel Ray’s cuisine.  For one, if you open any of the drawers in Nepal to get cooking utensils, you will get the utensil, along with a cockroach the size of your thumb and a few ants.  After a few minor freak-outs, I got over my disgust for the insects and figured that we could use some extra protein in our diet.  In Nepal, I have also figured out, after some confusion, that they have three meals: lunch, breakfast and dinner (in that order).  So at 3 pm, I helped prepare breakfast!  The name of what we prepared, I am unsure of, but it tasted something like Malt-O-Meal, which happens to be my all-time favorite breakfast (it’s actually manufactured in my home state of Minnesota, so perhaps that’s where my affection derives from).  While in the market, I had picked up some dried coconut, so we added that to the concoction.  If you have never tried it, dried coconut is one of the most fantastic things I have ever tasted!  I am not sure where to get it in the States, but I intend to find out when I go back home.

I have acquired three new positions at the safe house: pilates instructor, math teacher and cosmetologist!  The girls and I have been doing pilates every day, which they love!  They giggle the entire time and all groan that their muscles hurt.  Yesterday, I taught them how to flex their biceps and kiss each arm like Hulk Hogan!  We also worked on their addition, subtraction and multiplication yesterday.  It’s a bit difficult to teach the girls, as they are all at different levels of their education, but we started with the basics and used Cheese Puffs to help them learn how to count and do math (some of them ate the Cheese Puffs before we got started though, so that idea kind of backfired)!  The girls and I also put on a fashion show and modeled for pictures one afternoon.  They absolutely love getting dressed up and having me do their hair.  They have the most colorful clothes and make-up, and it was a lot of fun to get dolled up and do something girlie with them!

I am now off to sew the pants to my Nepalese outfit.  I finished sewing my sample punjabi, and now I get to make the life-size version.  I’ll let you know how it goes, but don’t expect great things!

ABC…it’s easy as 123

Rule Number Five (While in Asia): Don’t bare your sole in Nepal!

I found this little tidbit out on my previous trip to Nepal in January.  While in the United States, it is considered disrespectful to point your finger at someone, in Nepal, it is considered impolite to point the soles of your feet at another person, as they are an unclean part of your body.  I am constantly catching myself doing this though, so I am doing my best to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground!

I have begun to teach the girls here at the safe house English.  The office worker here, who is just one year older than me and speaks a fair amount of English, has become a quick friend, and she is helping me translate my lessons.  In college, I taught English to refugees, but I am still finding myself somewhat unprepared for this undertaking here in Nepal.  Nepali writing uses the Devanagari script rather than the Roman alphabet, so I began yesterday by simply teaching the girls the ABC’s and how to spell their names in English.

It’s amazing what you can do in foreign countries without a degree; it’s making me rethink all of my college tuition bills!  Not only am I now an English teacher, I am also the resident counselor for the safe house, a position I am particularly enjoying!  Using curriculum created specifically for women and youth seeking healing from abuse and sexual trauma, I led my first counseling session with the girls today!

We each drew a picture of our family members and shared about them.  The girls put a lot of effort into their pictures and each got up in front of the group to share her picture and what she had written about her family.  Most of them began by telling what each family member did (i.e. “my father is a farmer, my mother is a housewife and my younger brother is in Class One in school”).  Most would then end by saying how loving their family was.  There was one girl who told us that her father and brother were both working in India, which made me wonder if this is how she ended up in a situation of trafficking.  From what the girls shared, it does not appear that many, if any, of them came from abusive families, and, while not knowing their individual stories, I would guess that most of them were influenced toward going to India by the promise of a job, as having a job to support one’s family or living as a housewife is very important in this culture.

Counseling is not a common practice in Nepal, and since being here, I’ve recognized that the girls are very shy about sharing anything personal within the group setting.  So today, after each girl shared about her family, I told them about mine as well and a little bit more about myself, in hopes that they might feel more comfortable talking about their stories in the future.

It’s a Jungle Out There

Rule Number Four (While in Asia): Side effects of malaria medication are generally mild but may include vivid dreams and hallucinations, which are heightened by exposure to sunlight.

Before coming over here, I debated whether or not to take the medication.  I figured getting malaria might just be better than hallucinating; my doctor informed me otherwise.  I was not having too many problems with the medication until yesterday, when I spent about six hours in the Nepalese sun wearing jeans and a long-sleeve.  When I got back to the safe house, I felt incredibly nauseous and dizzy (most likely from dehydration), so I went to bed early.  All night I had the strangest and most vivid dreams of my life, and I woke up this morning not sure if those things had actually happened to me or not, because they seemed so real.  From now on, I plan to stay indoors as much as possible!

Despite the side effects of that six hours in the sun yesterday, I had a great time exploring the city that I am living in.  Church service is held on Saturday here, so, in the morning the girls and I got dolled up and walked over to the church building.  I was intending to dress up more than I did, as I didn’t think jeans would be appropriate, but the girls told me I could wear whatever I wanted, so, in the end, I opted for the jeans.  As we began walking, I was increasingly more thankful that I had worn those jeans.  No one had specified to me where the church was, so I had just assumed it would only be a few blocks from the safe house.  Not the case!  The church was, in fact, a few miles from the safe house, and the path to get there took us through a small river.  I have never appreciated a church service so much in my life, after what it took for us to get there.

I didn’t actually understand any of the church service, as it was all in Nepali.  At the beginning of the service, everyone began turning around to look at me, and I was extremely confused.  By this point, I am used to be gawked at on the streets, but I didn’t understand why so many people at church decided to gawk all at once!  As it turned out, the pastor had been introducing me to the congregation, and I hadn’t even realized it.  I spent most of the service simply observing my surroundings.  There were about 50 people in attendance.  The men all sat on the left side of the building, and the women all sat on the right.  The younger people sat closer to the pulpit, with the older congregation sitting in the back.  The majority of the worship involved singing, and to my surprise, the primitive church building was equipped with a drum set and guitar.  At the close of the service, everyone went around greeting one another by saying “Jai Mashi,” which means “I recognize the Spirit of the Lord within you.”

Following the church service, the girls and I went to what they considered a park and what I considered a near death experience!  At this “park,” were dozens of animals caged up in thin barbed wire pens.  By animals, I am referring to a leopard, Himalayan black bear, python, vulture, hyena and jackal.  Next to these cages, there were also rabbits and guinea pigs, which seemed to me an odd pairing.  Once I got over the initial shock of how dangerous the situation appeared to be, I was able to enjoy the experience of being so close to such exotic creatures.  There were also beautiful trees at the park, with leaves bigger than my face!  All of the trees’ trunks are painted with a white and red stripe.  I thought this was maybe a sealant to keep bugs from eating the tree, but the girls told me it was just for decoration.

Despite being sick, yesterday exposed me to a lot of Nepalese culture that I had not experienced before.  I am realizing more and more how beautiful this small country is!