My Layover in Bangkok
I remember it in detail, my layover in Bangkok. I was on my way to Northern Thailand, to work at a sex-trafficking prevention home. Somehow at the end of college, while my friends were sending out resumes, securing jobs and planning weddings, I was googling flight deals across the world.
After four years of learning from textbooks, the only logical next step for me was to see what the world had to teach me. Volunteering seemed like the right way to do this, and before I knew it, I was by myself at an airport in Thailand, behind two American men bonding over their love of the country. I listened intently, excited as they described the fragrant spices, the bright blue water, the friendly smiles of the Thai people. I could hardly wait to get there. The conversation came to a lull as we passed through security, and picked back up when the first man, easily the age of my father, leaned over to his new friend and asked:
“How about the girls?”
They began to bond further over their indulgence of the sex-tourism industry that presently abounds in Thailand, recounting memories from past trips and their excursions with various women. Now seated at the gate, the men continued swapping stories, as I rested my eyes. As the conversation evolved, the details became progressively gruesome and disturbing. The men described their experiences with young girls, experiences that they “could never get away with in America.” I cringed, but kept my eyes closed, eager to keep my disdain at bay.
To this day, I’m haunted by this experience, not only because of the content - but because of my lack of response.
If I could go back, I would tell them about the 30 Thai girls I lived with at Eden House who came from the hill tribes to get educated, to gain citizenship, and to learn the Thai language so that a life of trafficking won't be the destiny that it is for so many in their same situations. I would tell them about the little hands that love to swing on monkey bars that should never have to wrap their arms around a man five times their age. The little girls who loved lullabies, and horror movies, and dreamed of apples from America. The little girls that plan out tea parties and teach themselves guitar. The little girls that love lotus flowers because they recognize their capacity to grow from dirty water.
I would tell those men about the nights I spent in a cafe for women in foreign prostitution in Copenhagen, Denmark -- where women trafficked from Nigeria would come to warm their hands during their night shifts on the chilly streets of the red light district. In the cafe, a volunteer who had brought her guitar began to play a familiar hymn. What started as a low hum turned into a harmony of ‘hallelujahs’ as the women slowly began to join in. How often is this not the view we think of when we hear the word, "prostitute?" Yet there it was, a melody resounding in my ear that continues to move me in the fight towards restoration and justice.
The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned since leaving my small, college town five years ago, is that like lotus flowers, beauty can be birthed from the mud. What will we make of this dirty water, but bring new life -- to create new springs? To gather in agreement? Like the fermenting process, what we allow to sit in our society will continue to grow.
I participate in Dressember because I don’t want to live in a world or contribute to a world, where those beautiful little girls in Thailand have to compromise their innocence for the enjoyment of a man, or where a woman's hallelujah is broken by a consumer in the middle of the night. I participate because I don’t want the clothes that I purchase to endanger the life of the seamstress that made them. I participate because I can not normalize the exploitation or commoditization of another human in any way, shape or form. And unlike that moment in the airport in 2014, I’ve found my voice in the dialogue, and I’m not quieting down anytime soon.
Why do you participate in Dressember? We want to hear from you! Send us an email with your motivation for the fight for justice to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Madeline considers herself a bit of a nomad, having split her time between three continents over the past few years. Now, digging her roots down in Southern California, Madeline spends her time crafting content for the Dressember campaign, doing yoga and searching the web for flight deals.