“I don’t know what to do sometimes…my reality as an observer to the reality of the red light district is painful. I see things I do not want to see and know things I do not what to know. The responsibility is tremendous and far too much for even a community to carry. My spiritual director asked me this week what I thought God was trying to tell me. Because I had told her that I am having a hard time listening. The circumstances of the last weeks and month, tell me that I am not in control, they I never was in control, that I cannot prevent pain and its affects, that I am not alone but sometimes I feel that way, they tell me that I must endure injustice because cannot stop it, they tell me that I am helpless in the face of most things. If this is what the circumstances tell me, then maybe God is at work in those circumstances…telling me that I am helpless in the face of most things.
Yesterday, only one of the many days in this week that affirmed this truth, was particularly devastating. I currently have little or no emotional margin. Sickness, death, injustice and HEAT have made recovery through intentionality difficult. I am basically trudging, with love on good days and impatience on bad days through this season in Kolkata. As I was saying, yesterday was confounding, wrenching and horrific and I still don’t know what to feel about it because it affirms and destroys me.
As I was leaving Sari Bari on very late lunch break I encountered something I have never encountered in progress in the Gach: A girl being sold on the street. There was a big crowd, mostly men surrounding the girl so I could not see her. I saw the man selling her, well dressed (slimy, wretched man—my thoughts), and I thought why? I knew what was happening because a woman walking the opposite direction told me. The men were fighting…I did not stick around to find out the details. I keep asking myself if I should go in there and grab her or if I needed to protect the 50 plus women who work at Sari Bari by doing nothing. I did nothing. You can and should judge me for this…I am judging myself. It all happened so fast and I was so stunned that I could not think clearing what to do really. I think I was not really thinking about myself but in the aftermath, I wonder if I was…confronting this huge injustice would have meant the end of my time India (because the powers that control the red light area would have made it impossible for me to stay), maybe the end of Sari Bari because in the aftermath the red light community would have ceased to trust our community. The reality is that I walk this lane through the red light area every day, from my home to Sari Bari and back. The lane is infamous…big scary madams sit outside buildings, that we are not welcome to enter as they protect their financial investment and prostitute little girls. I smile at these ladies but I am afraid of what would happen if crossed them. I actually love these ladies and want to see their freedom and the freedom of those little girls but I am not foolish enough to believe their own woundedness and anger is not powerful enough to destroy me. It is darkness powerful enough to destroy me and Sari Bari and the freedom it provides, as it is certainly destroying life after life within the walls of those brothels.
I came home last night and I tell my friend Ranjana what I saw and how powerless I felt and she says, I have seen it many times and also did nothing…your hands are tied, there was nothing you could do…those men would have killed you. So I asked Rajana to tell me her story again. (Rajana began staying with me this week until we find her a room near us). Her story breaks my heart, sold as a little girl when her hair was still short, by little girls who worked alongside her washing floors in a rich man’s house. She was sold by her friends for a mere 100 USD. She was held against her will for weeks before being raped by a fat old man (her description) drenching the bed with her blood and innocence. She says that from that moment forward she became a bad woman. As she told her story, I wanted to hold her and tell her she was anything but bad, that she was beautiful and beloved. But she kept sharing more and more horrible and sad details about being held against her will, never receiving any money for the work she was forced to do on an ongoing bases for customer after customer, being sold many times over as virgin because her own small childish frame betrayed her. After she told me her story, I was numb with sadness and I hugged her and told her I was sorry and I went to bed and then woke up thinking about it.
I woke up thinking about the girl who was sold and all the ways I could have helped her. I woke up thinking that her reality was about become Ranjana’s…a story, that if I told you everything would make you gasp with unbelief as you thought of your daughter or sister or friend. Questioning, I ask myself why I did not risk my life and everything I have and love, for her life. And then I came to my mind this morning, why didn’t I go back to the office and get enough rupees to buy her freedom myself—I could have bought her freedom, saved her from Ranjana’s fate and the fate of pretty much everyone women and girl we know. I am deeply ashamed of my helplessness, deeply ashamed that I was paralyzed. I am appalled at the grotesque ability of men and women to commit evil against one another and at the same ability to not respond when we witness injustice—literally women being sold into slavery before our very eyes….my very eyes. I am crying and have been crying much harder and telling God to forgive me.
There are things that I see and know, that I know I would not understand if I had not seen them myself. Talking to Beth, I know this is true…you cannot know unless you have seen it and experienced it. Just like I cannot know what it is like to sold as a sex slave and live a life beyond that trauma…I will never know. The tears I cry and that I can’t cry for these women will never compare to the tears that they have cried and the flood of tears that they still hold inside. There are stories and situations that compel me to choose other than what I have been raised to believe…to say yes to people and relationships, rather than reason and law. Sometimes, my law abiding nature, causes me to feel ashamed but I will do the wrong thing for the right reason because I love someone. I feel like I did the wrong thing yesterday. Because I love the Sari Bari ladies deeply with my whole being and I would give my life a thousand times over in order to see what has happened to them never have happened, I chose them. I chose them yesterday but I also walked by a little girl being sold into the sex trade…oh dear Jesus please forgive me. This day destroyed me and probably will destroy me in the months and years to come.
Yesterday, my only hope came from a conversation with Gita. She is our Director of New Programs and will be the founding Manager of our prevention unit in Canning, West Bengal. She shared a conversation that she had yesterday with young girl who will come to work for us next week when we open the prevention unit. The girl asked why it has taken so long to start; Gita has been visiting for almost 3 months. The girl said “while they have been waiting for us many girls have left for Kolkata looking for work and many girls have been sold into the sex trade…why didn’t you start sooner.” Gita said, “I am sorry we did not start sooner. But we are starting now and we are going end the trafficking of girls from Canning.” Gita said WE ARE GOING TO END THE TRAFFICKING OF GIRLS FROM CANNING. Gita, beautiful, passionate, strong, 22 year girl, woman, hero, is going to bring LIGHT into the darkness and HOPE to what has truly been a hopeless circumstance of the young poor girls of canning. And she is bringing with her another HERO; a woman has gained freedom from the sex trade and will do anything to see that it does not happen to other girls. Gita, my friend, sister, and tiny Bengali hero will be doing what I could not do yesterday, she will be actively preventing girls from being sold into the sex trade by giving her love and providing employment that will literally save girls from this horrible fate. This gives affirmation of all that we hope for by starting a prevention unit.
These things all happened on the same day, Friday, June 4, 2010. A dark horrible day, a little girl was sold into the sex trade and her future is uncertain. A day of continued promise because of Gita and Shaleha, many, many girls will never face this reality. And a day where I again question, God what are you saying, are you saying from these circumstances I am helpless, that the world is dark and evil and i am not in control,because I sure feel that way…and as I acknowledge my broken state, I ask God so what are you going to do about this? Will you please make this injustice right? Will save that girl? Please… And I wait.”
– Sarah Lance (Sari Bari, Word Made Flesh)
Sarah sent this powerful letter out to supporters of Sari Bari today (http://www.saribari.com).
When I opened my inbox I had no idea what an affect her words were about to have on me; i’m sure many of you experienced the same affect in your spirit. How could we know the Lord and not have a gut-wrenching reaction to the pain she wrote about?
A part of me believes that I should be unburdened with works upon my spirit right now. It’s as if God should absolve me from that kind of painful refinement until my heart is healed and my circumstances are improved. Instead, this appears to be the ideal time for him to etch away at me and work at creating something new. I hate it. well… not really.
I have nothing but time…
The romance is gone, the relationships here are few, and even the job with it’s meager 20 hrs will be a short reprieve.
Nothing but time to look at who I am, the parts of me I haven’t discovered yet, the parts I’ve forgotten, and the call on my life that I’ve all but walked away from.
“shame on me” has been an unfortunate litany of late.
By grace though, it isn’t without hope. It’s more a not-so gentle rebuke and promising reawakening.
An opportunity to return to the matters God has placed on my heart over the years.
Note: you can find Sarah’s blog, Sari Bari, and Word Made Flesh on my blogroll