Shalom Until Next Time

July 9, 2012

A short time ago I turned in my last paper for my University of Haifa classes.  Yes, they were due two weeks after I returned home.  Some universities operate quite differently when it comes to final exams, apparently. But I’m not complaining – it meant that I could make last minute day trips, talk with friends until the wee hours of the morning and squeeze the most out of my last week in Israel instead of having to write my papers while I was there.  One night during finals week, a friend and I even went to Tel Aviv just for dinner – it takes about an hour and a half to get there by bus and train from Haifa.  Now, having officially ended the most incredible semester of my life with the turning in of those papers, I am left with only an aching loneliness for all that Israel meant to me.

Right now, I’m back on campus at UR for the summer doing an internship, where I’ve had the chance to catch up with a few friends.  While the quality of our friendships hasn’t changed, there is an odd distance between us.  I was told it may be hard to adjust back to life at UR, but I didn’t believe it or understand why.  I do now. I find my thoughts wandering while I am in the middle of a conversation, and I am back in Israel, hiking down into a rocky ravine in the north with the snow peaked Mt. Hermon standing guard above me, getting lost time and time again in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, watching a sunset from the beach in Tel Aviv, weaving my way through Haifa’s vegetable market on a crowded Friday afternoon, or just sitting beside a trail somewhere near the Sea of Galilee soaking in the freedom and beauty of the moment.  Israel has left an imprint on me, the depth of which is almost impossible to convey to those who didn’t share the experience with me.

I miss Israel.  I miss the hiking, I miss riding the bus, I miss the endless adventures, I miss my generous roommate, I miss cooking Shabbat dinners in my friend Emma’s apartment, I miss the glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea on my walk to class.  But parts of Israel will always stay with me.  The person I have become because of that semester, who is more confident, more willing to set out on adventures, and hopefully able to understand the world a little better, will remain.

Looking back on my thoughts and feelings at the beginning of this semester, I realize I didn’t come close to imagining what Israel would really be like.  I imagined sites from ancient history, but I didn’t imagine how the land feels old, how every mountain, every ruined city, every coastal town has a story to tell.  I imagined myself learning Hebrew, but I didn’t know about the pieces that would be added to my personality through the new forms of cultural expression I would learn.  I imagined beautiful landscapes, but I didn’t see the colors of the desert sweeping up to meet the sky with a beauty that left me gasping for words.  I expected spiritual fulfillment, but I didn’t grasp the depth of what it would mean to live in the country where the very events that shaped my faith took place.

My four and a half months in Israel were probably the most significant and formative of my entire time in college.  I know I will be looking back and processing the experience in the months and years ahead, and drawing up the memories of moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.

One thing I particularly like about Hebrew is that ‘shalom’ can mean both goodbye and hello.  So, shalom until next time, Israel.


“I’m leaving on a jetplane…

June 14, 2012

…don’t know when I’ll be back again.  Oh babe, I hate to go”.  Those are the lyrics from a song that was sung each year the night before graduation by an a capella group I was in at my high school.  For some reason this was the only thing I could think of as I was packing to leave.  Based on the title of this post you’ve probably already guessed that I’m back in Virginia safe and sound!

It was a long journey, but I made it back to the U.S. three days ago.  I wanted to wait until I was unpacked and settled to thank you all for following me to and from the Netherlands.  I thought I’d start this post by telling you about my trip from the Netherlands to the United States.  What was supposed to be two flights spanning one day turned into two flights spanning two days.  My first flight from Amsterdam to London was delayed approximately an hour and a half because of bad weather in London.

Because of that I missed my connecting flight to the U.S. since my layover in London was only an hour and a half.  Luckily my mom was there to handle it.  She had been in a similar situation dealing with re-booking flights and finding a place to stay for the night.  If she wasn’t there I honestly might have spent the night in the London airport!  Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend the night in the airport, but I did have go back at 4:30 a.m. in order to make my 7:30 a.m. flight.

I managed to get a few hours of sleep on the plane then landed in the U.S.  I thought my long two-day journey was finally over.  It wasn’t.  I waiting at the baggage terminal only to be told that my luggage was still in London!  After filling out a claim I was finally on my way home.  First stop: Chipotle.  There’s not a lot of fast food in Maastricht actually, it’s basically non-existent compared to the U.S.  Towards the end of my trip I was missing fast food for the sheer fact that it meant I didn’t have to cook for at least one meal.  Now that I’ve gotten my fill of fast food and I’m all unpacked, the next thing on my list is to overcome the jet-lag.  For the past few nights I’ve been going to bed around 8 or 9 p.m. (which is 2 or 3 am in the Netherlands) and waking up around 6 a.m.

For those of you who don’t know me, I cherish the weekends because it means I get to sleep in.  Waking up at 6 am is not an ideal time for me, but thankfully I’m slowly overcoming the jet-lag.  Needless to say I’m slowly but surely re-adjusting to being back home.  It’s different from the Netherlands in many ways.  For example, among other things, I’m back to driving instead of walking or biking and the sun goes down earlier.

Even though it was time to come back home and I couldn’t stay in the Netherlands forever (especially since I’m graduating next year) I will truly miss Maastricht and all of the people I met while I was there.  It’s funny how fast a place can become home.  Being in Maastricht and away from everything that was familiar taught me how to be patient.  Maastricht was such a small, slower paced city compared to Richmond.  It was nice going around and seeing people who I knew while I was on my way to school, the grocery store, or home.  It was nice to be able to take my time going somewhere instead of rushing.  That is one thing that I will miss once I’m fully back to reality and have to go to class and work.

Maastricht will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to go.  I made the best choice I could have made and have no regrets about my time in Maastricht.  I took advantage of a variety of things that was offered to me and was able to have a well-rounded experience.  Basically what I’m trying to say is that my study abroad experience was something that I am grateful for and it is something that  I will never forget.


Time flies when you’re having fun

June 4, 2012

It’s been a while since you all last read about my adventure in the Netherlands so I’ll start this post by quickly summarizing what I’ve been up to for the past two weeks.  Since Queen’s Day I have spent a weekend in Paris and I fell in love.  I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about Paris, but after going and seeing it for myself I gained an appreciation for its rich culture, famous sites and history.  My favorite place was the Eiffel Tower.

I spent the following weekend in Belgium.  If you recall from a previous post I went on a trip called Discover Holland (I went to six cities in two days).  This was similar; Discover Belgium was four cities in two days.  It was a lot of fun.  Good waffles and chocolate, but it reminded me a lot of the Netherlands, so I personally was a little disappointed.

During my last weekend, I spent time studying and writing papers since it was our exam week.  Today was the last day so I am done with my two papers, one take home exam and one group paper/final negotiation which means that I am officially a senior!  My study abroad experience went by really quickly and it’s strange to think that I’m leaving Maastricht soon.  It’s  stranger knowing that I’m graduating next year, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

Even though I’m done with classes I’ll be staying in Europe for another week before coming back to the U.S.  My mom arrived today and we’re going to Italy and Switzerland to celebrate her birthday and the end of my study abroad experience.  The next time you hear from me my study abroad will officially be over and I’ll be back in the U.S.  I’m looking forward to going back home and back to the University of Richmond.  I’m curious to see how I’ll readjust to being home, and if I’ll have any moments of “reverse culture shock.”  Well, I guess time will tell.  Until next time, I hope everyone is having a great summer!

Below is a picture from Drielandenpunt (means three countries in English).  This is the point where the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany touch.  I took a day trip there with a friend before exam week started.  In the picture I have one hand in Germany, my body is in The Netherlands and my other hand is in Germany!  I thought this was so cool so I wanted to share it with all of you.


Back in the USA

May 30, 2012

I am back in the U.S. and it feels surreal to think that I just spent five months living in Bangkok.  After my traveling this year, it scares me a bit how easily I move between locations and stages of life–since August 28th when I left my hometown for my first travel experience my schedule has been: Boston, Amsterdam, Kenya, Tanzania, Kenya, Amsterdam, Germany, Amsterdam, Boston, Thailand, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Thailand, India, Thailand, London, Brussels, London, Boston, and soon onto DC.  I haven’t had the “ah ha, I was in Thailand” moment, which I think will come once I start going through all of my pictures.

After leaving Bangkok I spent a week and a half traveling in London and Belgium visiting my family.  I had my “oh my gosh  I’m not in Bangkok anymore” moment, when I got caught at Buckingham Palace in the freezing cold, in the midst of a ceremony practice for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Red coats, black fuzzy hats and all, I was surely not in Bangkok anymore.

Throughout this time, however, and since catching up with friends at home, I am constantly asked “so how has this year, or this semester changed you?”  I can’t put it into grand and poetic terms, so I will keep it simple:

1.  I got home, and was embarrassed and appalled at how many clothes I had in my closet. So I cleaned out the whole thing and since then have given two bags of clothes to Goodwill.

2.  Before this year, I had every intention of moving to London after graduation to pursue some sort of career there.  Now I think more likely that I would move to Bangkok or somewhere in Africa.

3.  I want to learn: read books, travel, talk to people as much as I can to learn as many different things as possible.

4.  I will never ever complain that 85 degree weather in Massachusetts is “hot.”

5.  “May pen ray” is my new favorite motto.  It’s the Thai version of “hakuna matata,” meaning no worries, take it easy, everything is okay, no sweat.  It is Thailand’s slogan, and truly governs the Thai lifestyle.  And despite being extremely organized, and a very Type A personality, this is something I have really embodied this year. Just go with the flow.  It doesn’t matter. No worries. Take it easy. Adapt to the situation. Love every minute of it.  Don’t think too too much about “what if.”  Just relax, and enjoy it.

I just hope once I am back in the grind at Richmond, or even working on my internship this summer, that I can continue to keep “may pen ray” in mind. It really is a great way of living!

 


Midterms and Hiking

May 25, 2012

Are the two things that have been occupying most of my time lately.  But really, mostly hiking.  A few weeks ago my friend Bekkah from Ohio and I hiked the Jesus Trail, a 65 kilometer trail that runs from Nazareth to Capernaum.  Because of Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day we had a few extra days off, so we were able to take five days to complete the trail.  Most of the trail runs through small, predominantly Arab villages, farmland and parks.  We took the first two days pretty slowly, taking many long breaks beside fields or on hillsides, pondering life and soaking in the sunshine.

On Friday, however, it was a different story.  We got an early start, which was good, after spending the night in a guest shed at Yarok Oz organic goat farm.  Our first obstacle was a series of farm fields that for some reason were infested with flies.  Now I know why the Biblical plague of flies was, well, a plague.  We finally made it through that area and ended up on the outskirts of Kibbutz Lavi, where we visited their Holocaust Memorial and refilled our water bottles.

We were glad we did, because after that we ended up taking the wrong trail through the kibbutz, and by the time we realized and corrected our mistake we were four hours behind schedule and had spent so much time wandering through fields that we were dangerously low on water.  Also, a blister the size of Texas was forming on my toe.  We ended up cutting out a loop of the trail and heading straight for Moshav Arbel, where we spent the night.  The next day we climbed down Mt. Arbel and stopped for a break at a gas station.  I think we were still feeling the effects of being dehydrated the day before, because once we sat down we didn’t want to move again.  So we took a cab straight to Tiberias, where we stayed in a hostel for the night and then rented bikes and rode from Tiberias to Capernaum on Sunday.  So we ended up finishing most of the trail, just not on foot.

The whole trip was amazing, and quite possibly my favorite time here so far.

I was able to see an incredible variety of landscapes, and because we needed to ask for directions so much, we interacted with a lot of different people along the way.  There was something really meaningful about spending five days without internet, and without trying to communicate with anyone who wasn’t right there with us.  Too much of my life is spent in the virtual world of the internet and my phone, and getting away from all of that to focus on absorbing the experience of the moment was liberating and incredibly rewarding.

The following weekend the International School took us on a hiking trip in the north. the first day we hiked near Sefad, and the second day in and around the Hula Valley.  We saw Banias Falls, which was beautiful.  We slept under the stars at a campsite, which was exhilarating (but incredibly cold), and I woke up to little birds hopping around on my sleeping bag.  I’ve discovered how addicting hiking is, and I think this realization will result in a permanent lifestyle change once I return to the States.  Bekkah and I are even thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail the summer after graduation, I’ll keep you posted on how that goes!

I have actually spent some of the time in the past four weeks doing schoolwork, studying for midterms and writing a couple of papers.  My roommate told me that I was talking in my sleep the other night, and some of what I said was in Hebrew.  So I guess that means I was dreaming at least partly in Hebrew.  This makes me quite excited; I love the idea that the language has sunk into my thoughts enough for this to happen.


Barbados, Week 14: Reggae on the Hill

May 23, 2012

It’s exam time at UWI, and the blocks have become pretty quiet now that everyone is holed up inside studying.  However, not even exams could stop me from buying a ticket to one of Barbados’ biggest days in music, Reggae on the Hill.  I’m not going to pretend like I know the history of the concert or when it started, but if I had to compare, I’d say it was like a Barbados-sized Woodstock.  Obviously I’ve never been to Woodstock either, so I suppose I’m going out on a bit of a limb there too.  Point is, there was a ton of hype about the all-day concert, and when some friends and I cabbed over we started hitting traffic miles down the road from Farley Hill National Park, where the concert was taking place.  Some of the biggest names in Reggae music were scheduled to perform that afternoon, but I only recognized one artist, Chris Martin, winner of 2005’s “Digicel’s Rising Stars” (think Caribbean version of American Idol).

Security was pretty tight for an event of this scale, and I was a little surprised when I encountered a TSA-like pat-down before being allowed entry into the park.  Speaking of which, they couldn’t have picked a better spot for the concert:  the park was covered with huge trees providing cover from sun and rain, with a comfortable lawn perfect for spreading out a chair or blanket for the 8 hour show.  Knowing that the hill would get progressively  packed as the night went on (naturally, Bajans would be expected to arrive on “Bajan” time) we decided to take advantage of the myriad of different food vendors set up on the outskirts of the park.  Fish, chicken sandwiches, and hamburgers abounded and, unlike concerts in America, they didn’t even jack up the prices just because they knew they could.

Reggae has come a long way from its beginnings in 1960s, but the spirit for which the music stands was still evident in the crowd at Farley Hill.  From its birthplace in Trenchtown in Kingston, Jamaica, it has taken over the Caribbean and disseminated to every corner of the globe.  The genre was heavily influenced by Rastafari such as the legendary Bob Marley, and many people in the crowd were waving the Rasta Flag, a triple layered green, yellow, and red flag with the Lion of Judah in the center.  The audience, although clearly excited for each artist, was notably more laid back than a typical American concert in which some of the most popular musical artists of the year were present.  There was no pushing, shoving, or raucous jumping up and down, but rather everyone gave each other sufficient space to actually breath and enjoy the concert in their own space.  Below I have included a YouTube video of one of my favorite songs of the concert, enjoy:

Jah Cure – Call On Me

If you’re a Marley fan, it’s not a guarantee you’ll dig these tunes as well, but it’s catchy, contemporary reggae at its finest and an interesting example of how far the genre has come in 50 or so years of innovation and development.  I will admit, I missed American rock, rap, and top 40 for a good month or so after I arrived in the Caribbean and refused to embrace these types of songs until much longer than my exchange counterparts.  I ignorantly insisted that “they all sound exactly the same” and couldn’t even understand a word of the lyrics.  However, there came a point where I found myself bobbing my head and tapping my foot to the beat as I realized that as much as I tried to convince myself that I didn’t like the music, it had seeped into the part of my brain that overruled cultural attachment.

The sun set behind the hill, it started to pour rain, and the line-up of reggae artists continued to perform their sets with exuberant energy.  I looked back at the hill that had been dotted with people only hours before and saw that the hill was absolutely packed.  The young, married, and old alike had taken out their umbrellas and were determined to fight the downpour in order to finish out the most celebrated concert of the year.  I think that’s what struck me most about the concert. The fact that, while concerts in America are generally populated with a homogenous crowd, its demographic depending on the band playing, Reggae on the Hill was able to bring together Rastas, students, couples, and older people alike to enjoy the concert.  I may have been slightly more stressed the first day or two of studying for exams, but it was one hundred percent worth it for the experience.


Leaving Bangkok

May 21, 2012

I am writing now sitting at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, waiting to board my flight to London.  I have finished my exams, I have said my “see you soon’s” I have done the absolute impossible (only thanks to my fantastic roommate) and have fit 5 months worth of purchases and clothing into only one checked bag (I am not pleased with my airline about this), and I took my last look at the beautiful Bangkok skyline from my bedroom window.

Yesterday and today, ironically, I had the best Thai food of this entire semester, food which I will definitely miss.  I am off to London now to spend a week traveling within Europe to visit family, and while I cannot WAIT to see my family, I am absolutely sad that I am already leaving Bangkok.  It is an incredible city that very quickly came to feel like home, and I could have easily continued on living here without hesitation.  It is very rare that a city can offer so much, from incredible food and cheap amenities, to fantastic weather and the kindest people you will ever encounter.  It will certainly be interesting, after this year of travel, to go back to the “real world.”

Once I am home back in US I will do one last blog post on how the readjusting is going.  Until then, for those who have never been to Thailand before, I highly recommend researching how you could make a trip to Thailand possible. Thailand has everything to offer, and is absolutely worth the trip half way around the world!


Bangkok to INDIA!

May 16, 2012

I just came back from some of the most incredible five days of my life.  I have had a pretty fantastic year filled with travel – by the time I land back in the U.S. on May 22 I will have conquered eleven countries on four different continents in nine months.  And still this past week was one of the most life-changing and memorable weeks of my entire adventure.

I was given the opportunity to visit Kolkata with a friend of mine who lives in Bangkok, and who has family friends who live and work in Kolkata.  I am in the middle of finals, so the decision to go was really because I was eager to visit the non-profit organizations that our hosts work for, and despite all my travels, India was still a country that made me a bit nervous about traveling to.  So all the more reason to go!  It’s funny though, because most people don’t go to Kolkata as a final destination.  So when I mentioned that I was traveling to India, specifically Kolkata, most people asked, but where are you really going?  And exactly as I was warned Kolkata itself is a dirty, dilapidated city, that is plagued with poverty; it is inescapable.  The thing is though, that once you see past the poverty, the dirt, and the grime, there is so much to discover in Kolkata, and so much hidden beauty.  I could write pages about how amazing the trip was, but I will summarize my trip into two parts: the high and the low.

The low point of the trip was the morning of Day 3.  We had just come from an incredible (and very early) morning visit to the Mother House, where Mother Teresa lived, died, and from where she did her incredible work.  Learning about her story, seeing pictures and reading quotes which give a glimpse into her life was truly incredible.  She started the organization the Missionaries of Charity. By bringing a focus to the poor and destitute in Kolkata she did something that no one in his or her time had braved to do.

Afterward we went to visit a temple in Kolkata, home to the goddess Kali, who symbolizes war, death, and destruction.  She is also the god associated with Kolkata.  From the moment we started walking to the temple, I didn’t have a good feeling.  There were people everywhere screaming at us, trying to get us to go this way or that way.  It was mass chaos, and there was a frantic and frightening energy.  We walked through the gate past a few guards with huge guns.  As we walked in one man warned us, quite bizarrely “Just do this one thing for me, go in and don’t involve anyone else in your experience.  And do not take off your shoes.”  Well we noticed that everyone waiting in line had no shoes on.  We circled the temple to get an understanding of our surroundings and where we should line up, and passed people who looked half-dead, lying on the floors everywhere. It was overwhelming.

We finally decided to take off our shoes, but knew to carry them in because if we left them outside they would be gone by the time we came back.  But as soon as we touched our shoes a woman came over screaming and frantic telling us “No! no! no!”  She truly looked insane, and would not let us pass.  After much confusion and anxiety, us three girls finally decided to leave.  We walked away – I was in the worst mood and just didn’t know what to make of the whole experience.  Depressing? Sad? Frightening? Unnerving? Disturbing? There was something.  That night when talking to our host, she explained that the temple is known for its heavy and dark atmosphere, and that they usually warn people about going there.  As recently as November, a child sacrifice of an eleven year old, was reported at that temple.  That was definitely my low.

I have two highs.  The first was our visit on Day 4 to an organization called Freeset. Freeset works by building relationships with women in the red light district Sonagachi (home to 10,000 women who work in prostitution).  Just as a comparison, 20% of users in Thai red light districts are foreign and only .01% in Kolkata, so 80% of users are local in Thailand and 99.9% in Kolkata.

while in Thailand 80% of customers in red light districts are natives, in Kolkata 99.9% are natives.  This leads to a huge stigma of women working the line.  As a result, women who would want to leave sex work, find it difficult to find work elsewhere.  So freeset provides employment for women who are coming out of prostitution or trafficking.  Freeset makes bags out of jute (typical of India).  The company actually gets 90% of its profit by filling custom orders; for example, to many grocery stores, including Whole Foods.  So next time you are at a Whole Foods check the bags there, and see whether they have a small Freeset label.

Our visit started with Freeset’s devotion time.  The organization is Christian based, and at the beginning of each morning all the women and staff come together and have worship time. It was in Bengali so of course I didn’t understand anything; but it was a beautiful and touching moment.  All of these women, dressed in their incredibly beautiful saris, surrounded by the employees who care so much about them and their children, joining together before the start of the day.  Throughout our tour we saw over and over again just how happy the women are there, but also how dedicated and down to earth the staff are.  It is incredible to see an organization that really is just as amazing as it sounds on paper.  Even more impressive is that Freeset is a business and fully sustainable.

The second high of the week was talking with, and spending time with our hosts.  They are a young couple both working with human trafficking organizations.  They are well-educated, intellectual, fun, relaxed, down-to-earth, and have created a life in Kolkata doing this incredible work.  As someone who is completely unsure of what to do in the future, it was incredible to see such an example of a couple who are individually pursing their passions.  They took the time to talk to us about their work, and to give us advice for the future, and helped us to see a different side of Kolkata.  The week also included a bit of sight seeing, and observing the many sights to see in Kolkata – when you look beyond the intense pollution, you notice incredible european style buildings, and beautiful colors all around the city. The whole week was really an incredible way to end my semester in Asia!


Barbados, Week 13: Farewell Dinner Reflection

May 14, 2012

Toward the end of the year every spring semester, members of the Frank Worrell Hall council organize and put together a farewell dinner for those students living on campus.  Everyone gets all dressed up, and the dinner features song, dance, a speech and hall “spoof awards.”

As an exchange student this year, I was asked to give a reflection on my time spent at the University of the West Indies and I readily accepted.  I love blogging of course, but I enjoy delivering my thoughts to a guaranteed audience even more.  I presented the third and final reflection of the night, and unlike the other speakers, this was not completely off the cuff for me – I had written down a two page speech in the 20 minutes before my final class.  Not having time to print it out, I arrived at the dinner with my entire laptop under my arm.

Below is the video that my friend from California, Camille, took of the reflection speech.  And yes, toward the end that is the sound of audience members crying.


What is the first thing you think of when you hear “Thailand?”

May 7, 2012

Some of you may have thought Bangkok, Buddhism, amazing food, “The Land of Smiles,” or beautiful beaches.  But for a lot of people, the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Thailand is prostitution and sex tourism.  Thailand is known as the sex tourism capital of the world, home to some of the largest red light districts in the world, and an immense industry that thrives off of tourists who come to Thailand specifically for sex.  Bangkok is the epicenter of this tourism.  So living here and having a roommate who is passionate about working against human trafficking and sexual exploitation, I have had the opportunity to learn a lot – and also see a lot – regarding this topic.

To begin, I have seen signs of sex tourism everywhere; in fact it’s difficult to avoid, and something that all of us exchange students have become accustomed to seeing, though it may not have been obvious at first.  Whether it’s walking on the street, walking past a bar, or in a hotel, signs of sex tourism are everywhere.  It is so common here, that any foreign male with a Thai woman immediately sends off signals in my mind.  I know it’s not a fair judgment to make, but nonetheless it has become second nature.  Without even thinking, I look for signs of the relationship between the foreigner and Thai:  in a transaction situation the man and woman will not be talking at all; they are not affectionate toward each other, and clearly have difficulty communicating.  Sometimes you see the women being treated poorly – being ordered around by the male she is with.  In the US we often think of sex work as a one-time transaction, and while those situations do exist here, the tourism surrounding sex is much more developed here.  There are particular streets in Bangkok, which contain concentrations of bars where women dance, strip or are simply there to try and get a man to buy her a drink with the hopes of something more later in the evening.  These women are sometimes there by their own free will, or sometimes have been trafficked there from other countries.

You know you are in one of those areas when you walk past a bar that is filled with Thai women, and foreign men, each paired up together drinking and talking.  But sometimes these transactions aren’t just one time.  Some men who are in Thailand for a longer period of time will hire a Thai woman to stay with him for the duration of his stay, whether that be one week or one month.  Therefore, you don’t see these signs only in the red light districts of Bangkok, but you also see them at hotels on vacation, on the BTS, in restaurants and while traveling.  Many of the Thai women working in Bangkok come from the Northeastern province of Thailand called Issan, which is the poorest province in the country.  Girls are sent to Bangkok with the hopes of finding a job and making a lot of money to send back to her parents.  Some families know what awaits their daughter, though most do not.  Sadly, part of the reason that girls are sent to work actually reflects the Buddhist religion in Thailand.  Children are expected, through their good deeds, to gain karma for their parents’ afterlife.  Most boys do this by doing small stint as a monk, and girls are expected to do this by earning money.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a fantastic organization in Bangkok that works in one of the red light districts.  They essentially employ women who have chosen to leave sex work to make various handy crafts, though their main focus is jewelry.  The organization’s primary mode of operation is to build relationships with women.  The organization does not force anything on the women, but simply creates relationships based on trust by talking with the women in the bars, and letting the women know that they are a constant resource if they ever do want help leaving the business.  The problem is that women working in the sex industry make approximately twice as much as they would working for this non-profit organization (of course this varies depending on what type of work the women are doing in sex work).  The fact is that this type of work will always pay more than work outside the industry.

I have to say though one of the most interesting and awful things I learned through my visit with the organization is that most of the bars located on the particular street that they work on, are owned by foreigners, particularly Americans.  In fact, for 60% of male foreigners entering Thailand through the airport, sex tourism will be a part of their visit to Thailand, according to one statistic.  This is absolutely not just a “Thai” problem, but an international problem.


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