Friday, October 26, 2007

Red Light District and other things...

Things that are better in India:

-Domestic flights. Our Kingfisher airline from Mumbai to Delhi was like an international flight out of the U.S. The 1 hour, 20 minute ride came equipped with a full meal, cable TV (to catch up on Wonder Years and Laguna Beach reruns), and flight attendants who all looked like Indian models. Cool.
-Tandoori chicken: Tender and moist all the time!
-Driving: We do not see a rhyme or reason but I guess everyone here knows the rules to the insane highways. Three family members and a sleeping baby on one motorcycle, crazy rickshaws weaving through the oscillating cars, 5 ½ lanes forming in a 3-laned highway. But alarmingly, fewer accidents than American freeways!
-Instant coffee

Things that are better in America:

-Train bathrooms: I just stepped into a squat toilet unit with a wet, wet floor. I’m pretending it’s just spilled water.
-Fruit and veggies: Because of the unsanitary water, we’re all dying for just one salad. Please, no more carbs.
-Ecclesia. We miss you.

But we are all having a wonderful, stomach-sickness-free time. In India, monkeys are like squirrels. We saw a gang of them at the side of a road. Converse are only $20, and our time is spent in extreme situations at the opposite ends of the paradigm. One day we’ll be sitting, having a Thai lunch in the luxurious home of one of our friends in Mumbai, then a few hours later, be driven out to the outskirts of the city to visit one small home that houses 23 girls who have been rescued from sex slavery. Tuesday we spent the afternoon with our friends from the faith-based humanitarian organization in the touristy area of Mumbai, seeing the Gateway of India and eating at Leopolds. That same night we witnessed the horror of the Red Light District.

The investigators from this organization thought it best that we stay in our vehicles and only drive through the area. Even still our nice American-looking car and colorful tour bus were give-aways that we were not regulars here. At first it was hard to decipher exactly what we were seeing. The Red Light District is home to 2,000 brothels, but we saw business as usual: vendors selling trinkets, little alleyways that we drove by too quickly to see what was actually going on, people walking along the streets. But that’s just it. We saw mostly men walking the streets. And then we saw women—standing. Standing still, facing the street, with busy-ness surrounding them. Some looked like children, 12, 13, 14. Some looked older. Perhaps the image that most imprinted itself in all of our minds was when the girls saw our noticeable cars—and perhaps the camera in one of them—and drew their hands to cover their faces. Some with their bare hands, others with their shawls, others turning away from the street. Even in such an open, vulnerable stance, the girls began to show a hint of the shame that was inherent in their profession. They did not look happy. They looked like children that unimaginable forces of life had kicked out onto the street. Life had neglected them. Intermixed with these chilling scenes were more bizarre images of a mismatched guru in a makeshift temple, a white goat licking a steel pole in the middle of the sidewalk, bodies sleeping near sewers. It can be painted easily as a dismal, hopeless picture if we did not think of the investigators in the vans with us and the faces of the rescued girls we had met the night before. It was hard to imagine that those 23 girls—our friends—were out on these streets not long ago. And as the investigators explained how they get the girls out of the brothels, the situation turned more hopeful, less hopeless. Before if we would have heard the statistics that 23 girls were rescued out of the thousands enslaved, we would have thought, “only 23?” Now that we have spent a day with them, we realize it was a miracle that even one of those young women was rescued.
And I know that when I return to the streets of Hollywood and Vine, the streets of Mumbai’s red light district will seem like another time, another world. But they are much alike. Swap a goat that licks a pole for somebody walking her jeweled Chihuahua. And just as this organization is responding to Mumbai, we’ll think how to respond to our own backyard, where “massage” and “acupuncture” shops trap girls like our 23 friends. This, above all, is what God is teaching us: to value the souls behind the statistics.


Note: This was written Wed. Oct 24th, but this is our first chance to post since then.

1 comment:

katherine said...

India has a way of impacting you for life. Praying for you and the team-- just a few more short days left. Glad to hear your stomach's have been unaffected! That's amazing. Blessings to you each.

-Love, your cousin, Katherine