Brittany Partridge, Honors Student, Blogs From Nepal About Working With “Red Thread Movement” To Stop Sex Trafficking

by   |  04.26.11  |  Uncategorized

Geckos Are Not Your Friends

By redthreadmovement

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.

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April 7, 2011

Black Out!

By redthreadmovement

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!

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April 4, 2011

ABC…it’s easy as 123

By redthreadmovement

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.

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April 3, 2011

It’s a Jungle Out There

By redthreadmovement

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!

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March 31, 2011

This Little Piggy Went to Market

By redthreadmovement

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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March 30, 2011

Brothels 101

By redthreadmovement

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!

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March 29, 2011

Namaste, Nepal

By redthreadmovement

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.

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March 25, 2011

From the Brothels to the Border

By redthreadmovement

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.

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March 24, 2011

CNN Freedom Project

By redthreadmovement

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

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March 23, 2011

Bombay Brothels

By redthreadmovement

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