Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day Three: A Personal Reflection

With extremities in the van, the distance between Tessa and the woman was unnerving. With her gaunt eyes, ratty hair, and dirty clothes, her persistent begging made the surrounding students squirm in their seats. After a wrong turn or two, we arrived at Save the Children India for our second day working with students. Having met with a few girls from Save Our Sisters, I was incredibly moved and intrigued by their pasts and current lives. By chance, Aditya (from Andover), Piyush, Mr. Mundra, and I were able to go visit the girls for a second time.

A stern woman in uniform greeted us at the top of the staircase leading up to the floor, which had been devoted specifically to SOS. After she opened an incredibly ominous gate, we passed by a few barred windows, removed our shoes, and were greeted by an enthusiastic group of girls who were interested in continuing our conversations from the previous day.

Amidst the colorful walls and bright saris, I connected with the girls through Piyush, who was an excellent translator. When we began, only one girl answered his questions. While some of the girls whispered questions to her, spoke amongst themselves, or simply sat to enjoy the experience, the group became more and more relaxed as the girls became more comfortable with our presence.

In our hour-long meeting, we shared photos, songs and candy. As a side note, Aditya, Mr. Mundra and I were asked to sing an American song. To be quite blunt, I do not sing. Despite having a long relationship with music, my vocal chords have never benefited from those years of lessons. Thus, upon their request to sing an American song, I simply did not know what to do.

“This is a once in a life time opportunity,” Mr. Mundra said (of course there was no pressure here). So, after a good few minutes of mumbling, reddening cheeks, and changes in keys, with the help of Mr. Mundra and Aditya’s humming, we finised the American national anthem.

This post has come to be more of a summary rather than my opinions on the event simply because I find it incredibly difficult to put into words what I have been seeing. To talk with these girls, see their reactions to our questions, and hear their lives, one would not see that they are survivors of years of trafficking, egregious sex crimes, and for me, incomprehensible lives.

For the readers, here is what I am trying to comprehend-
• How a girl who is more or less my age can have a four-year old child.
• How she can only see that child once every two weeks.
• How these girls have no freedom- they are in the possession of the government are refined to the government sites. Any desires to leave this compound (to see a movie, buys clothes etc.) must be down under strict supervision.
• How distressed one girl became when we talked about our age, birthdays, birthday parties and astrological signs- she did not know any of that information.
• Although all the girls looked quite different, due to the fact that they are not only from various rural villages from all over India, but also the surrounding countries, one girl looked part Caucasian. She completely understood English.
• How one girl, who was incredibly confident, said she would have liked to become a phone caller. She will not be able to because of her current situation.
• How the girls described that they really wanted to be able to travel. The listed London, Germany, Italy and America as their top destinations. All of those locations are prominently featured in Bollywood films, they described.
• What they do when they are in their government compound- talk about their pasts, as one girl said.
• How much I connect with these girls, how similar I feel to them, yet how incredibly different our lives have been.
• How privileged I am.

After finishing off our day at one of the nicest restaurants in Mumbai, (which, per person, came to cost less than our sandwiches in Logan airport) we walked a few blocks to a ritzy, chic gelato place, much like ones we would see in any major city in the U.S. Yet, being Mumbai, surrounding the small entry way were children begging for food, money, anything. As the first overweight Indian teenager I have seen left the gelato place, a malnourished child approached our group, tugging on our sleeves, pointing to his mouth. Whether or not it was the fact that I am lactose intolerant, was bloated, or had just seen a child dying from hunger, for some reasons, which I still cannot identify, I never ordered a dessert.

I encourage all readers to learn more about the SOS program via the STCI website (which you can find on the side bar under links). Questions and comments are, of course, welcome.

Best wishes to all,
Celia Lewis

1 comment:

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