How do you capture a photo of the manipulation, the suffering, and the stolen joy that fills the streets of this city? The photo’s taken lack the great depth of sorrow my heart feels for those I come into contact frequently. Where the distance in America between ourselves and others who are in these situations seem to be vast by existing only in textbooks or where we are not, here in K-town, you can’t step out your door without meeting eyes in need.
Beggars on the streets of Indy share the common goal of some financial gain such as the beggars on Sudder Street. But how do you look away without feeling some emotion when the neck of the woman standing in front of you has been horribly discolored and scarred from an oil burn? The group of children who latch onto your arm? The lame man lying on the blue tarp tapping his left arm which stops above the elbow? Then, you see the ten year old boy with shaggy hair holding a naked 2 month old baby boy coming towards you. After serving 4 hours at Mother Teresa’s recovery house, compassion for the small boy and the crying baby surface as they walk towards you on the raised medium of the busy street… that is, until you see the boy jostle the baby upside down when he thinks no one is looking. The next day, when a small girl accompanies him, you see him slapping the child on the right cheek. When the girl tries to get him to stop, you can see him rubbing his thumb to his fingers as if to say “more money”. Witnessing the babies cries every time he was slapped did not make me want to give any rupees, rather, an anger swelled up inside my chest accompanied with so many questions. In the midst of severe poverty, life is unjust. This 10 year old is using a baby as a prop to get rupees from foreigners. The kid should be in school, yet begging could be the only “trade” he ever learns. What mother that spends 10 months carrying a child in her womb two months later sends her child out to be flipped upside down and slapped therefore to cry for a meager amount of change? Think of the mental damage created. My heart goes out to the needy, but even more for the ideologies and manipulation that dwells behind those needy eyes.
When I first saw my new lady friend at Mama T’s recovery house, her back was hunched over with her knees pressed against her chest while sitting on a thin bench. Our friendship has grown over the last few weeks during our visits. After the first day of pampering her with lotion, the second day her eyes greeted me with a warm smile as her cheeks heightened and she lowered her legs so I could sit beside her small frame. There was the day she said I was “shundor” = beautiful, which took two people to help translate into English. I said she was “matha karap!” basically meaning that she was crazy and said she was shundor. Now, pain is seen on her face as she breathes in and out heavily and instead of walking back indoors with just one helping hand for balance, we lift her plastic lawn chair up the 4 stairs to where she eats in the shade. As I sit beside the bed listening to her words uttered that I can’t understand, my heart breaks for this woman, my friend, that is physically suffering. She looks at me with these eyes of desperation and I want to take away her pain, her suffering, yet I know I can’t. Instead, I sing softly as I sit beside her holding her weakened hand.
Tuesday, we sat on the floor of Beth’s flat as we watched a short film about a young Asian girl sold into the sex trade. At the beginning back in her village, she had dreams of her mother and the promise that in America, anything is possible and everything will be better. Once at the brothel, the girl, who was maybe 8, watched the five others ages 10-16 line up as a man came into the room to choose who would service him. Before she was “ready”, a man dropped extra cash on the floor choosing the young girl. She was prepared by changing clothes, putting on a small amount of makeup and a talk by the 10 year old, and given something equivalent to the date rape drug to ease what would follow by the harsh man. As she limped back into the room with the other girls, you can only imagine what type of emotional and physical trauma and long term effects this will have on the girl. The kicker was that she had been sold to the sex trade in America… with no mother to hold her at night, where her dreams and joys had been stolen.
Eh, so it was a short film that students in Florida did an amazing job of portraying something that feels so distant, read in textbooks, seen on shows such as SVU. Yet, when I walked through the red light district here and saw the young women along the streets, I realized there is no barrier, nothing to keep my eyes closed to the truth that I have met women and heart the stories of girls being taken from Nepal and “broken in” by the men in K-town before being sent to another city. These women are not whore’s who choose to sleep around, they are women that because of severe poverty or someone else abusing their power or any one other reason behind their stories are in this situation. My heart goes out to these women for I have tasted a small amount of the cruelty this world can lash out. These women are not only having to deal with the stereotypes and judgments by others, but also lack of value on their own lives and any joy stripped away.
Back in the states, life like this is easily ignored and placed at a distance from our everyday routine. Even if I were to show you photo’s of the woman who has a scar on her neck from boiling oil, the boy slapping the 2 month old in hopes the crying baby will earn more rupees, my friend who’s health I worry about each time I hear her breaths become deeper and raspier, or the women along the streets who place no value or worth on their own lives, a photo would only give you a 2 dimensional glimpse of what I see, of what I live. A photo cannot depict the manipulation, the suffering, the stolen joy of an individual. These are not photo’s in a textbook- this is what I see as I walk the streets of Kolkatta.