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Why not Wednesday

My boyfriend has a saying. It starts when I make a proposal like, “Hey Joshy, you want to get some ice cream?” His answer is, “Why not? It’s Wednesday.” Sometimes I’ll suggest we go for a run. The answer is usually, “Why not? It’s Monday.” One time, we were sitting in his basement talking about riding bikes. Only it was 2 :00 a.m. and cold outside, so riding bikes wasn’t really an option. Our eyes both landed on the treadmill nearby… My jaw fell to the floor. “You want us to ride bikes on the treadmill?” I think you can guess the answer. “Why not? it’s Friday.” My boyfriend is a free spirit. (Note: riding bikes on a treadmill in the middle of the night was not a particularly intelligent, safe, or successful endeavor, though it did lead to copious amounts of laughter.)

I envy, but do not generally share his free spirit. I tend to stick to the book. It’s familiar, and besides, it’s usually easier. When I was in North Carolina last summer, I met Anna, a twenty-something victim of trafficking who lives even more by the book than me. She’s suffered enough in her life to put the unfamiliar out of the question. She likes a few things, and she sticks to her habits religiously. I liked her simplicity, even though it was born of destruction. Then one day out of the blue she announced that it was Wednesday and she was going to try something new. I glanced incredulously at the residence director of the Hope House. “Is she for real?” The residence director shrugged. “She does that.”

I never asked for the details, but Wednesdays are a part of Anna’s ugly past. Apparently something terrible would habitually happen to her on that day. Whatever it was, it was sour enough to put her in a sullen mood every Wednesday, even now. In an act of unforeseen courage, she vowed to dedicate Wednesdays to change. It was always something small, but healing. Once she wore her hair down and put in some earrings. It was entirely out of character. There was hope hidden in that spontaneous decision. Here was a soul coming alive! How could I not rejoice with her rejoicing? It was a minuscule act of defiance,  but I loved her tenacity. So a few weeks ago, when a friend invited me to a kickboxing class on a Wednesday, I thought of Anna and said yes. And last Wednesday when I woke up and reached for my usual jeans and t-shirt attire, I paused–then grabbed a dress instead. Maybe today I’ll do something scandalously outrageous, like eat salmon for dinner, even though I hate fish. Why not? It’s Wednesday.

Sometimes my free-spirited boyfriend likes to ride bikes and wear flags.

An evening with Somaly Mam

Somaly Mam at the Santuary on Penn in Indianapolis

The college life is one of lectures. From the first hour of Welcome Week, to the last speech at graduation, everyone is talking. Every once in a while, you hear a lecture that matters. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to one of those lectures when anti-trafficking activist Somaly Mam came to Indianapolis to talk about her anti-trafficking efforts in Cambodia. She left me pondering at night for several weeks.

Somaly Mam is a Cambodian trafficking survivor, human rights activist, and author. She was born into a marginalized ethnic group in Cambodia, and later trafficked by a man who pretended to be her grandfather. The man sold her to a brothel where she was raped and abused for many years before she worked up the courage to escape. She soon returned to Cambodia, where she started an organization dedicated to saving victims and empowering survivors of trafficking. To date, Somaly’s organization has helped an estimated 7,000 victims.

When she stood up to talk, I hadn’t yet read anything about her life. I was hoping to get the full dramatic story of her experiences, but the first thing she said was something like,

“I am Somaly. I was trafficked. It is very sad, but I’m not here to talk about that. We’re not here for crying; we are here to talk about solutions.”

At first, I was thrown off by the way she breezed over her own life. Then I realized she had said something very important. I wanted to stand up and applaud her. Here at last was a woman with whom I could relate! Even more exciting, she was credible, thanks to her years of personal and professional experience. It was simple. It was beautiful. I could have danced. (I never dance. Ask my boyfriend.) The root of what she was saying came down to this: solutions.

Human trafficking is one of those social justice issues that will convince you in five minutes you’re a die-hard activist. When a little girl with big brown eyes tells you about being raped by her own family, you’ll do anything to be her advocate. Trust me. There are so many tragedies, and all the stories deserve a voice. (I do believe that, or I wouldn’t be doing this project.) But in Somaly’s words, the stories are about recognizing tragedy and creating solutions for it. She asked us to get down and dirty, to the very core of the issue. How can we rescue more girls from trafficking situations? How can we educate them and give them a chance to live another life? How can we fill them with the food every soul longs for (the Gospel)? How can we teach our men that objectifying women contributes to the problem? How can we explain that pornography goes beyond innocent “me time,” because it destroys young girls’ lives? The list goes on.

There are individuals who dedicate their lives to rescuing the broken lives of trafficked individuals. They are daily creating solutions and actively answering the questions above. Somaly is one individual who spends the majority of her time working with girls in the brothels of Cambodia. Little people like me are here to honor their lives and contribute to their life work. These stories and the artwork are here to educate and raise money that will go back to an organization that does work like Somaly’s in the United States. The money is for solutions: a home for the homeless girls, an education for their new lives, life counsel for their broken hearts, and outreach for those still lost. Maybe you will join me, when the time is right.

Kyle

 

*Information about Somaly Mam was taken from the biography on Somaly Mam’s website, http://www.somaly.org/

Persistence

Wings in a jar

I’ve been working up a storm recently. You can see one of the results of that storm above. It feels rich and lovely, doesn’t it? The birds are singing, the sun has come out, and my paintbrush has been a dear friend again. Art is like that. Some days, the inspiration is there. Sometimes it’s not, and then the question is whether you keep plowing through or burn your failures and just give up.

When I was growing up, my dad was a high school art teacher. On Christmas break, when the high school was empty, my dad would pack us all in the family minivan and we’d have the place to ourselves. He’d unlock the gym and pull out some basketballs for my brothers, and then take me down to the art room where he taught. We made all kinds of stuff in there. My favorite thing to do was build sloppy little sculptures out of clay. When I got older, he taught me how to throw pottery on a wheel. I remember watching him pull and push the spinning mound of clay into beautiful shapes he’d bring home to my mom to be displayed in our home. The first time I successfully managed to pull together something that might sort of pass as pottery, I happily looked up and waited for his approval. That’s when he came over and smooshed it into a crumpled lump.

…Wait, what?

Yup, he destroyed it. Then he said something like, “Good job. Try again.” I sat there and stared as the ruined lumpy mess went around and around. It was a small miracle I had managed to pull a shape out of that glob of grayish brain matter. How in the world was I supposed to do it again? It wasn’t exactly the perfect warm fuzzy ending to the cute anecdote from my childhood. Now, don’t get all worked up. My dad’s not a ruthless barbarian who derives his joy from his children’s pain. He was helping me. He was teaching me one of the most valuable lessons I picked up in that art room: “Don’t fall in love with your first idea.”

First ideas are rough. They are (in my case) lopsided and they tend to be incomplete. Excellent work usually comes from several attempts at the same idea. You get better at it the second time, because you get a chance to work out the kinks. You get a little bolder, a little braver, a little more ambitious every time. The lesson wasn’t, “Your work stinks.” The lesson was, “Don’t fall in love with your first idea, because you’ll miss out on your best idea.”

I know it doesn’t look like much, but I’ve been working on the piece you see above for almost 6 months now. Some pages are marvelous. They fall in your lap and come out in a storm of creativity. Others require a long, frustrating, laborious process. This piece is definitely in the second category. I’m going to do something I never do: allow you see my failed work. Below are the first  two drafts. I dislike them both for various reasons, but I show them to you so you can see what the process of painting looks like. The explanation behind the work will come later. Today is just about persistence, and the sweet relief that comes with hard-earned success. P.s. I love you, Dad.

First attempt: March 2012. This one was simply too pretty for the story that goes with it. It didn’t sit well with me.

Second attempt: July 2012. I wanted to play with the collage of geometric shapes you see in the bottom right corner. That was about the only success in this painting. The rest is disjointed. I disliked it even more than the first.

While in Peru

I went to Peru in May. For real. We’re talking South America. (I never thought I would be able to go!) The honors college at my school paid for it. Those guys are fantastic, no joke.

It was the first time I traveled outside the U.S. just for study. Something like 9 days filled with tours, and free time was for more tourism. We learned about the Inca. We saw the iconic ruins of Machu Picchu. We bought alpaca wool sweaters, we spoke Spanish all day, and we ate guinea pigs for dinner. And then one day we went to an orphanage.

I have always known human trafficking was a global problem, especially sex trafficking. I knew it in my head, at least. I didn’t expect to run into it on my Peruvian paradise vacation.

When we went to the orphanage, our tour guide told us there was a building that was dedicated specifically to victims of trafficking. My professor and I exchanged a look and asked if we could meet them. He ushered us into a courtyard with a volleyball court, and we waited for the girls to finish a lesson of some kind in an adjoining classroom. I felt nervous–at that point, I had never met a “victim of trafficking” before.

I took in the facts. These were girls, ages 12-16. We were told that they had been rescued from the surrounding mining areas. The girls were trafficked by women who had promised them jobs babysitting or cleaning. The women pimped out the girls to men working in nearby mines. (Not-so-fun fact: women can be pimps, too. In fact, a lot of pimps are women.) It was a perfect opportunity for profit: lonely men living in terrible work conditions looking for diversion. Fortunately, we were told, the Peruvian government has been cracking down on the trend. There were 6 girls currently at the refuge, but the women running the program knew there were many more.

And then “Julia” came running out. Seriously–she ran to greet us. She was beaming, elated, warm, radiant, and beautiful in every way. She hugged us earnestly like old friends. She laughed and rejoiced and set an example the other girls followed. She was startling. I guess I pictured victims of trafficking to be a little more… victimized. Not so. She smiled, she charmed, she blew me away.

“Julia” with a bracelet she had learned to make at the refuge

She told me about the boarding school program for the girls. I asked her which classes she liked best. She told me she loved to read. I asked her what she read. “La Biblia.” She ran away for a moment and came back holding a pristine black leather book with gold leaf pages. A missionary had recently donated it to her, but she treated it as though it were an invaluable heirloom. She flipped through the pages, searching for something in particular, when her finger came to a stop. “Here! Revelation.” The Apocalypse? What a weird book for a kid, I thought. And then she read aloud, “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.'” She looked at me with a great deal of satisfaction in her eyes and said, “See? Christ is coming back for me.”

She shook me. I marveled at her hope. Pure, deep, unyielding hope in the face of tragedy. Something so honest could only come from a place of healing. I loved her. They begged us to stay. She pulled at my heart. How could I say no? I have thought of her often. Sometimes I feel burdened by the tragedy and loss involved with human trafficking. I feel silly making art, as if that could provide any significant measure of change. And then I remember a girl raped and abused totally changed by the hope of the Gospel–she needs the best I have to offer. Her story is redemption and it deserves to be told.

Conversation Between Souls

I got another poem from Anna this week. (You can see her last poem in this post.) It’s rather long, but worth reading. The very first time I met Anna, she brought me a little black book filled with her poems. I was surprised that she was willing to share– she didn’t even know me. The book was filled with all kinds of thoughts and memories scribbled down at night when she can hardly sleep because they haunt her. I took in each poem one at a time, gasping for air in that way that happens when you’re trying not to cry. The range and color of her emotions were astounding. I wanted to sob, but I looked her in the eyes, smiled, and said “These are lovely.”

 

One in particular stayed with me months after I read it. Anna really struggles with faith. Years of abuse that have led her to question the existence of a loving God at times, and to affirm his existence but detest him at others. We talked about it many times in the weeks we spent together afterward. This poem gives me hope that someday she will see. I pray for her often.

Kyle

Conversation Between Souls

Am I the one to be stoned?
When you created me,
To always ask for more.
Too much pain to become sore.
A heart only to be torn.
The tears left in the floor.
What’s the meaning,
Says the whore.

The cold settles in.
He says,
I’ll be here even after the end.
Only, she knows better than to pretend.

Thinking of all those times,
He left her alone to fight.
Knowing, she would always,
Lose to that night.
He didn’t make her strong enough,
To make it alright.
She goes pale.
Only to say,
Where was your hand then?
I have to be my only friend.
I am the forsaken one.

He replies,
My love will never die.
I was there during all those times,
When trust was so hard to find.
I was the one,
Who cried as you cried.

 

She’s agitated by his response.
No understanding,
Of why she was always chosen.
She screams,
You were only left to watch.
How creepy is that!
You couldn’t pull me out from under.
Or at least warn me that there would be others.
You never bothered to care.
You always left me there,
To always pick up the pieces one by one.
To always know,
That there would be another one.
Never to be prepared.
Always left to be scared.
Never to be spared.
Now you want to act,
As if your hand was there.
When I was the one,
Always left to care.

His face becomes a somber.
As he says,
Don’t you remember?
I helped you more than you’re aware.
Every time you faced that harm,
I quieted the alarm.
You faced it way more than once.
But know, it was never your fault.
I helped you keep,
Love and trust from that vault.
I helped you move on,
In spite of it all.
Every time they knocked you down,
It was I,
Telling you to get up now.

She cries,
Why didn’t you just let me die?
(Preferably that very first time.)
Why couldn’t you just take me?
Instead you let them continue to have me.
Was I not deserving of your mercy?

He reaches out his arms,
Yet she pushes him away.
He asks,
Why must you push me away?
When all I do,
Is wish you not to stray.
She responds,
I’m just an ally cat,
Who knows no home.
You left me in that cold.
Now you want me to seek gold.
When that story
Could never be told.

 

Light encircles him,
As he replies.
My child you learn much.
But your heart,
Keeps you with a crutch.
Let go, believe you were made from me.
Know that I know
All the secrets that keep you awake.
That story has been told through me.
I will never leave you alone,
To carry the pains.
I never meant you any harm.
I never foreshadowed,
This pain for you to bear.
It is not your shame or mine.
Believe,
You will heal in time.
For your life is worth more than any rhyme.

He grabs her hand.
Assuring her,
Faith is on our side.
Home is what she’ll find.
As he says,
I made you strong enough,
To always survive.

 

A heart in five pieces

A miracle happened this week: I put some paint on the page and didn’t totally hate it. (Maybe by now, you forgot I’m supposed to be making some art. If you’re confused, you should probably check out the About this blog. page) You can have a look if you want:

Heart in five pieces

Hers is just a heart in five pieces.

“Um, cool. What the heck is that supposed to mean?” you ask. Or at least, you might ask it. I don’t know. Artsy things can be vague and they don’t always make sense. The art I am making is like a journal. Each page is a small part of a larger story. On its own, it only holds a clue. In the context of several pages, my goal is that you will start to learn piece by piece about the girls. Hers is just a heart in five pieces. It’s a clue– a small piece of a life.

This page refers to an issue I have seen in more than one trafficking victim: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). You may have heard it called by its former name, Multiple Personality Disorder. DID is classified by the American Psychological Association as, “the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the self).” More simply, individuals with DID have at least one alternate identity. This goes beyond the different personalities we all experience. You might put on a more professional face for work, and save the “real you” for home. That’s normal. Individuals with DID experience something far more developed than that; they acquire personalities with different names, genders, ages, races, memories, and core personalities.

The most common model suggests that DID is something like a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. In this model, DID is response that occurs after a tremendous amount of long-term abuse in childhood, especially sexual abuse. Children will compartmentalize in an effort to repress memories. As children acquire and repress a large number of distressing memories, they eventually develop into distinct, alternate personalities. Research indicates that individuals with DID have an average history of 2 intensely traumatic experiences per week, for at least 50 weeks a year, for a duration of 10 years.

That’s a lot of abuse. It is worth noting that there is some controversy about the existence and proper diagnosis of DID. What we do know is that there are a lot of victims of trafficking that follow the above model, whether you want to call it DID or something else. The aftermath of extended abuse is terrible. Sometimes the abuse goes beyond physical damage– psychological scars like DID can be left for years. I met a girl who suffered from DID and had five distinct personalities. They each had different names, ages, and personalities. Sometimes, she didn’t even know who she was. Hers is just a heart in five pieces.

Kyle

*Information about DID has been taken from a 2009 South African Journal of Psychology article titled “Defending a Diagnostic Pariah: Validating the Categorisation of Dissociative Identity Disorder,” by Craig M. Taub

Under Construction

Things are about to get crazy in here… I’m under construction. Be warned in advance: there may be sudden changes in appearance, color, or design.

Kyle

Mourning Anna

Some days, you get a little numb to the human trafficking thing. After hearing so many stories about rape you become insensitive to its cruelty. But other days, you aren’t so numb. You feel a little more than you want to. You feel haunted by memories that aren’t even your own. You lay in bed and cry for an hour because the world is a broken place.

Over the summer I met a girl who had been trafficked by her parents. I will call her Anna. She is a heartbreaker, but not in the usual sense. Listening to her talk will break your heart every time. I have never met anyone who has suffered so much as Anna.

She writes a lot of poetry. We’ve been emailing back and forth recently because I wanted to include some of her words in my project. Last night she sent me the following poem with an explanation to go with it. I have edited a few details in order to maintain anonymity, but I wanted to share it with all of you because she asked to be heard.

I hope I don’t overwhelm you with what I’m about to say but I would like to explain it. I have been dealing with a really hard memory. One that I could never speak about for two reasons, one being that I was scared and the other because I blamed myself. It is a tough one from when I was eight. There was another girl at one of the houses [where I was raped]. She was nine and her name was Brigitte. I would have to go [to be used for sex] on the weekends. The first time I met Brigitte, she was crying and he kept beating her. Somehow, I managed to save her by pushing her off the bed and taking her place. Although, the third weekend at that particular house, there were three guys. They choked her. I tried to save her but I was knocked unconscious, only to wake and find them carrying her out of the room. She died and they buried her under cement. She had no one and to remember this is still extremely sad. I try to remember the good moments we did manage to have. Like, spinning in circles in the backyard and falling in the grass. Her laughter was precious. I’m sorry if this is upsetting. I wrote a poem and I believe it would be nice to include her in your magnificent art work. I hope you like it, it is a bit long.

Saving Brigitte

Death becomes her.
The concrete grave waiting.
Refusing to just go dancing.
That evil howls,
The earth shakes.
Leaving only two little girls,
With only our souls to take.

She cries,

As if it would freeze time.
Icicles fall nearby.
Why all the lies?
Just wanting to hide.
Only to reach out from the inside,
Fist held high.

Knocked unconscious by surprise.
Only to wake and find.
Her body being carried out to die.
Three men taking a limp, lifeless soul.
As if that was their goal.
Finding myself to fold.

Searching for her.
Finding her in a dark room.
Holding her,
Only to feel the cold.
Tears fell,
Hearing my words yell.
Wanting her to wake from this hell.

Covering her with a blanket,
Crossing her arms.
Failing to make any improvement.
But not wanting to leave her side.
Kissing her forehead,
To say good bye.
Left to question,
Why couldn’t I have died?

That grave calls her name.
Yearning for her to know,
There is no shame,
For you to frame.
Now it’s up to me,
To play the game.
These men
Are the ones that are insane.

Three against one.
Hands around my neck.
Wanting the pain to fade.
Only, to remember yesterday.
How I wanted to protect her.
Only to fail,
Letting their evil continue to howl.
Only to realize,
That wasn’t their win after-all.
For seeing her soul,
She still holds.
Knowing,
It will continue to grow bold.

The seeds left in my chest.
Waiting for something other than death.
Giving in to only my breath.
Fighting back,
They release.
Listening to only my heartbeat.
Realizing,
Her heart is still entwined.
I’m holding her heart with mine.

Those feelings continue to press.
But her smile is no longer,
Buried in that dress.
She helped me overcome death.
Her soul is finally at rest.
We will forever be sisters,
In life and death.
She will always be my angel of night.
Together we will hold the light.
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