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Pineapple and Pornography

September 22, 2011

From the Field

Lynette (pictured w/ and Blah, SOLD's Scholarship Director)

Lynette Polinder is our Education Coordinator in Chiang Rai, Thailand. She is currently living in Bangkok for a brief time, and the below post is a reflection that puts beautifully the strange contradictions of Thailand: a beautiful land and a dark history, a tragic profession and a noble heart. 

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I have been living in Bangkok now for the past few weeks. It is a different world than living at the Akha Youth Development Center in Chiang Rai surrounded by rice fields.

I am living in a small studio apartment in the middle of the city, surrounded by sky scrapers on all sides, poverty, wealth,  and cultural diversity like few other places in Thailand. In my apartment building there are tenants from Dubai, Burma, Ethiopia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, India, Europe, and the States. Elevator interactions are always interesting around here with so many cultures colliding in such a small space.

I also live in one of the two biggest areas of the city known for prostitution. Walk out of the door and you are offered porn, fresh pineapple, chicken schwarma, weed, hummus, fried bananas, sex toys, cheap movies, lady shows, gelato…well you are maybe starting to get the idea…a little more colorful around here.

I think people have been trying to figure out where to place me in this little community. A pregnant, white young girl who is usually seen alone. I wonder sometimes if they assume that I’m a backpacker who got pregnant on her travels and is stranded here. A few curious vendors who sell me fruit have asked me what I’m doing here and after I tell them a bit about myself their strange stares have turned into warm smiles. More smiles too in the last few days after Rusty arrived back and they see us walking around together.

Last week I went to a local non-profit here that provides an aftercare program to girls who have chosen to leave the sex industry. While sitting with the director of the organization and hearing story after story of these women, and girls, my heart was mostly deeply saddened. Next week I will start teaching English in the mornings to the girls and am looking forward to connecting with them more individually.

It is estimated that just in this immediate area around me in Bangkok there are around 7,000 girls working as prostitutes. Customers come from all over the world to enjoy their vacation of pleasure. The stories I heard were the gut wrenching kind. The kind of stories that are impossible to forget.

One story of a girl at the center started when her father left her family when she was five years old. Having three children to support, her mother started trying to sell small items on the street on a bamboo mat. The money was inconsistent and provided no guarantees that they would have enough to eat on a day to day basis. When a Japanese business man approached the mother and asked how much for her eldest daughter she took up his offer out of desperation to support her family. Every few days the business man would pull up on the curb in his expensive car and take her daughter (6 years old at the time) into his car and have his way with her for the next few hours before depositing her on the curbside again with a chunk of money. This went on for months. One day out of fear, the little girl jumped out of the car and started running. Thankfully a police man saw this strange interaction her and actually decided to help. The Japanese business man was scolded and fined a whopping $400 dollars. The mother was taken to prison and her children taken from her care.

A few years down the road this girl was back working as a prostitute to support herself and younger siblings before she had someone reach out to her and she learned about an organization that would give her a safe place to live and provide her with food and job training.

This was her start in life.
Sex for her wasn’t a choice.
She did it out of selflessness for her family.

I heard heart-breaking story after story. Eighty percent of the girls living at this particular after-care facility were sexually molested as children by family members or sold into prostitution as children to provide for their families.  Many prostitutes here are without citizenship which leaves them in positions to be easily taken advantage of. Many are Akha girls coming to support their younger siblings to study. Many are Burmese, Cambodian, and Thai women from impoverished families. You may say they are choosing to be here, at least the ones who haven’t been tricked or trafficked into these jobs. I’m not so sure I would call it a choice anymore. For most of them they don’t see it as a choice—but being self-less, and giving up their lives so that their younger siblings and family have enough money to eat, or even a chance at education.

I went to this after-care center on one of the days that [my mother-in-law] still hadn’t woken up from her brain surgery and we were walking around with heavy hearts full of worry. I left thinking about no matter what circumstances come our way and how hard they may be…that at least we live with hope.

Not a hope that God will always intercede like we want him to and long for him too, but a hope that  there is more to life than everything we see around us here. That no matter how broken, heavy, or difficult things feel, that we have something more waiting for us on the other side. And then I started thinking about what life would be like without a hope like that…and I can’t seem to shake that thought.

——
Lynette and her husband, Rusty, live in Chiang Rai, Thailand and work with the Thai-Akha Ministries Foundation, where our Akha SOLD students live. They are the parents of Olive Hope (Sept. 2009 – Jan. 2010) and Baby Boy Polinder (due December 2011). You can follow their journey at rustylynette.blogspot.com

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