Still Processing…

As I write this, I’m having breakfast for one at a restaurant near my home. Looking out the window, I see leaves swirling in a circle on the pavement. Trees with beautiful fall colors are glistening from the sun’s rays. A couple walks slowly by hand-in-hand as if they have nowhere to be, which makes me smile. It’s hard to believe that less than a week ago I visited places that are so different. At the request of many friends, I’m going to share a glimpse of what I saw and experienced during an incredible trip to parts of South Asia. However, I want to warn you—you may find what I share unsettling. But it is the truth so I’m sharing it with you; resisting the temptation to lock parts of this story away out of fear. I also should clarify that these are my own personal thoughts/experiences and are not intended to characterize or represent the opinions of my employer. Finally, I want to be clear that I am not in any way trying to disparage developing countries. I am simply telling you the story of what I saw in a couple tiny parts of the globe with a bias on sharing the parts of the trip that left me most confused and haunted. I should point out that I met many very nice and hospitable people on my trip and found the government officials to be refreshingly friendly and helpful in each place I visited.

Laugh a Little or Go Crazy

I haven’t injected much humor into my blogs lately, so I’m tempted to spend an entire blog telling stories of all the silly and bizarre experiences: about my adventures (despite being “plain Jane” in the eating department) in trying local food everywhere I went….about how counting down to a big cheeseburger “when I get home” got me through the tough days…about how I was the only one putting on bug spray each day, but ironically was also the only one who got an insane amount of mosquito bites…about how yours truly—a “spider phobic” woman—got bit by a mysterious critter with fangs while sleeping one night…about the many laughs with my colleague during 19 hours of flying in each direction; including the steady stream of foreign passengers who approached us to request assistance in filling out their paperwork (must have been our innocent faces)…about how I worked hard to (only somewhat successfully) surrender my somewhat “germaphobic” tendencies while on the trip—and how our photographer (who has visited some of the roughest places in the world) must have thought I was crazy after I showed up at his door with “an extra pack of Clorox wipes in case you need them!”….about my shock and disgust when the floor of one airplane looked like the ground after a baseball game…about my “too close for comfort” moment with another airline passenger….about how I learned TOO LATE that in certain cultures calling a baby “cute” is believed to put a curse on them…and how surprised I was that a woman in the airport just handed me her baby without asking or sizing me up in any way…about the dirty hotel room, two sets of dirty sheets and the sleepless night that followed that…about the late night cab ride that made me think of the movie “The Bone Collector”….about the Halloween dinner at a restaurant with local waiters dressed up as Dracula while a local band played Shaggy and other American songs underneath a strobe light…about the about the Ayurvedic massage that I’m now renaming “inhibition therapy”…about letting down my guard long enough to try a “fish pedicure” where about 300 fish eat the dead skin off your feet (my feet weren’t a bit smoother after by the way). I want to tell you all about those things and more, but I don’t have the time to tell you those stories because I have more important things to share.

Unfortunately I’m still processing this, so I can’t wrap this up in a bow at the end of the blog. I’m just going to tell you what I saw and felt.

Poverty up Close

I saw a kind of poverty that I’ve only read about and seen glimpses of from the Hollywood lens. But let me assure you that nothing prepares you for seeing it up close. I saw slums that make the poorest parts of America pale in comparison. I didn’t take any pictures of the slums, but here is a picture of a home in a poor neighborhood—right before I took this, a rat the size of a cat walked right through the cloth doorway.

I saw people living on the street. I saw stray dogs everywhere and a random ox or cow walk down the street relatively frequently.

A few times someone came up and gently tapped on the glass of our car window, begging. One woman just said “help me” over and over—that was the most disturbing. The woman pictured below was asking for milk for her son. There is a chance that it was a scam (buy the milk, she returns it and splits proceeds with the store owner) however I avoided the instinct to be annoyed by this because she is poor and this is likely her means of surviving (we gave her food).

I saw this little boy (pictured below) on the side of the road washing dishes in dirty water next to a street vendor and learned that many boys do this job from about 6AM until 9 or 10PM at night in exchange for food and small wages to take home to their families.

Heartbreak

Venturing into red light districts was almost paralyzing–on one street I peered into the eyes of almost 500 seemingly young women lined up on the streets with their pimps. It is believed by many that some prostitutes are there because they feel that is the only way they can provide for their families. Some are there because they are forced to be there. And hidden inside some of the brothels are little girls who are being forced to service customers up to 20 times a day. Some of them got there because they were tricked, some were sold by their families or “husbands” and some ended up there for other reasons. I learned that safe sex is often the choice of the customer, so pregnancy, HIV and other illnesses sadly are not uncommon. While I was sad and a bit shocked (no words on paper can fully explain what I saw) I didn’t feel scared as I went through those areas (although I likely should have been), but I did notice that my leg was involuntarily shaking and I could barely breathe as I looked into some seemingly “dead” eyes; pondering the question “could this have been me if I was born here?” That was the first time on the trip I understood what it feels like to have your heart broken for what breaks His. I silently prayed for everyone trapped in those places and also prayed a word of thanks that I’ve been spared from such suffering.

Light

On the flip side, I got to meet young women and girls (ages ~13-18) who had been rescued from those dark places and was overwhelmed by God’s presence in those moments. The girls seemed to have a kind of joy that only could come from the Lord. As I looked at these tiny, beautiful girls I almost lost it as the thought of the horror they had suffered raced through my mind (second time my heart broke). But I managed to swallow my tears and smile as two of them grabbed my hands to lead me to breakfast. I have never received so many hugs and smiles from “strangers” and was overwhelmed by the unconditional love that they (who had suffered so much) were offering to ME—I can only hope and pray that the silly conversations, games and hugs I gave THEM in return warmed their hearts the way they warmed mine. As I said my final goodbyes to the girls, one that had shared her story with us turned to me and said “God bless you” and asked me to be praying for her. I gave her another hug, told her that she can count on it and reminded her again how brave I thought she was.

There were many other moments of great joy during the trip, including our visit to morning mass at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. And it was great to finally see photographer Sean Sheridan in action—he has gone to some dangerous places throughout his career to document stories of people who suffer greatly so people like us will be better informed.

 

Darkness

As if what I’ve already shared wasn’t disturbing enough, by far the most unsettling aspect of the trip was the spiritual oppression I felt in one particular place we visited. No drama—I could literally feel a sense of evil when I arrived and conversely felt the darkness lift as my plane ascended into the air to leave. It’s not really something you can put words to but I know this feeling from a few times before in my life—constant pressure on my chest, an instinctual shift to shallow breathing as if to “avoid taking it in” and an “odor” so unusual (distinctly different from local scents), indescribable and dark that it simply shocks your senses. Sure enough, I quickly learned why…I learned that where I visited, human sacrifice still exists and dark worship is quite common. It was like a palpable shadow of darkness was over that entire place—I wondered if people who have lived their entire lives in that community even notice it. I was later told about one temple where human sacrifice takes place that has a constant stream of black crows circling its roof—I’m glad I had no desire to go see it when I was there. I was also told by a local that many girls in that location that are “sold” into prostitution are “married” to “gods” of darkness before being placed in the brothels—which must be terrifying for them both short and long-term. Suddenly (while still incredibly tragic) it didn’t seem as unfathomable that there are so many horrible things going on in this community.

Acknowledging the Contrast, Counting Blessings and Everything In Between

In spite of all of the darkness I felt, I always felt safe and God showed up in amazing ways throughout the trip.

A random thought, but…..I am relatively confident that any American atheist would be convinced that good and evil do exist if he or she was with me on this trip. And then perhaps he or she would realize that believing in good and evil is actually a kind of faith—so perhaps they would feel compelled to explore the truth and live in the light.

Like I said, I’m still processing. And I have many more questions now than when I left on my trip. But I do know this—I am blessed to have the opportunity live where I live. And after seeing and feeling such evil and darkness up close, I am incredibly grateful to God for all that is good in this world.

What’s Next

For some, none of this will make sense unless an opportunity to see all of this for themselves presents itself (I highly recommend it by the way). But some friends have already asked me what they can do about the new information they obtained from my stories. So to those friends I say this—the obvious answers work (ex. donate time or service to organizations that are helping to fight oppression), but my strongest conviction after this trip is that the #1 thing people can do is PRAY. Prayers work. Pray that the evil would end, pray for protection of those risking their lives trying to fight it, and pray that the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evildoers would end. And pray in thanks for what you and those you love have been spared. That’s where I plan to start.

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~ by amylucia on November 7, 2010.

5 Responses to “Still Processing…”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience ….even though I am sure words cannot express what you have seen. You are an extremely special person to want to help these girls and women who are in such dark and evil places….putting your own life at risk. I admire you and your passion. We need more people in the world like you, Amy!! Keep up the great work!! Love ya lots!!

  2. love you friend…so thankful for you and for the opportunity you had to take an incredible trip such as this one. i am in awe of our Lord and what he has done in your life (and mine!) talk soon?

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this Amy. Very important stuff and very good reminder that we should pray. It is incredible to see how God breaks hearts when you “Go & See”. Can you imagine what it must be like to see it all as he does?

    Thanks Amy.

  4. so sad. so powerful. more confirmation of a randomly rising gratitude in my heart lately for freedoms for myself and my children. why us? it is God’s favor, because he loves us, not because of anything we have done. and we must join with those who truly know how to define suffering and not leave them to it alone. that is what God is asking of us. oh that i would live that way!

  5. […] a detailed trip report (probably the finest trip report of any trip I have ever been on) check out Amy Lucia’s blog on her experience. Very cool. And I think I would be remiss without thanking the IJM India staff–you were […]

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