Monday, February 15, 2010

Mumbai 2/14/10 (Last Day)

The original plan for today was to split in to various groups depending on what you wanted to do today. Everyone would go to one of the IJM folks’ churches, and then we could tour South Mumbai, shop, go to a Bollywood film, go to the Arts Festival, etc. However, due the bombing last night in Pune (about 4 hours from Mumbai), which killed 9 foreigners and injured many more, our plans became fluid. IJM staff was worried about have large groups of foreigners out and about, so we had our own little church service in the Drawing Room at the Hyatt, and then rotated out to a market in smaller groups.

Our church service was amazing. We worshipped some, and then Don Gerrod, the guy who’s stepping into Andrew’s position at Crossroads gave us a little thought for the day based out of Isaiah 9 (I’m currently running on very little sleep with a killer headache on a long flight back to the states and I’m having trouble recalling the details of his thought). After he was done, we circled around the IJM staff that were with us, and prayed over them. During that time, I felt a strong tug on my heart to pray over Andrew and Don and the transition that they are both going through. So, we got into that, and as I began to pray over them and over Crossroads, I broke down. I couldn’t even get the words out after “Bless this family.” I still cannot pinpoint what triggered it, but I just lost it. It could be that I feel a part of the Crossroads family now, and that separating myself from it is painful. It could also be just a build-up of emotion over the week. As I mentioned though, I am in no state of mind to go any deeper with my psychoanalysis of that moment. I need sleep.

I wish I could have another week in India. I wish I could have more time with the Advait family. If anything in what you’ve read of my trip has grabbed your heart, please make it a point to pray for these girls. They all have dreams, and they all deserve to have the opportunity to chase after them. Also, pray for the girls who are currently on the line, and whom IJM is looking to rescue. And lift IJM up as well. They are doing a great work all over the world, and specifically here in India. Also, this is the hard one, please pray for the perpetrators -- the pimps, and the people who force these girls into sex work. My initial emotion towards these people is anger, and that’s okay, but I really believe they need prayer as much as these girls. This city is such a dark place, but there is hope. I have seen it. And I suggest, that if you ever have the opportunity to see it for yourself, you do not hesitate to seize it.

Thanks for reading.


Mumbai 2/13/10

Our entire group went out to the TLC and blitzed that place. We had a construction team working there most of the week, but there’s so much work that needed to be done -- a lot of painting and landscaping.

I mainly worked with the mural painting team one of the rooms. It was a blast. I cannot say I’m a great painter, but I did enjoy it. My hand was so unsteady. I found it hilarious. The finished product was quite good, and that’s what matters. I took a lot of footage of the change that took place in the TLC over the week. It is pretty awesome to see.

The coolest thing we did was we wrote prayers on the accent walls in the girls’ rooms before we painted them. So, the prayers won’t be visible, but they’ll be there. I love the concept of doing that for the girls. Making that home a dwelling for the Holy Spirit is key. The girls need as much prayer covering as possible.

Tonight, we all went out to a great rooftop restaurant in Bandora, which is a cool place for shopping and hip restaurants and bars. The meal was great. We got to try a lot of different foods. My favorite thing was definitely my drink, a Mango Lassee (sp?). It was a mango yogurt-is drink. The view from the terrace was pretty nice too.

Mumbai 2/12/10

Every morning, the whole group gathers after breakfast, and Robbie leads us in worship. It’s such a blessing to be able to do that. I was always under the impression that we could not do something like that in India. Oh, naivety. I just had to make a comment about it.

Anyway, the days just get better and better. Andrew told me to take the day off as a videographer, and to hook up with the work team of my choice. It was a hard choice at first because I enjoyed being with my work team, but the Photography/Arts&Crafts team was going to Advait. My heart was with the girls at Advait so much that I had to go back. So, I joined Photography for the day, and had an amazing second day at my favorite place.

We kicked the day off with some more Bollywood dancing -- always a good way to start the day. From there, I just hung out with the photography group. We got to teach the girls how to use digital cameras, and then let them take as many as they wanted. On top of that, we brought photo printers, so the girls were able to pick their two favorite pictures and print them out. In Arts & Crafts, they made picture frames for their photos. It was great to see how excited these girls got over everything. The girls took a lot of photos with the group members and me. Some of them were making a fuss over not getting to have more than two photos, but all is well because Crossroads is donating the cameras and printers to them, and giving them all the pictures that they took. I love it.

After two days in a row at Advait, my heart was truly knitted in with the Sisters and all the girls. I have Sister Bonita’s email, so I will be able to correspond with them, which really excites me. As we left that place, I asked God to please allow me to return some day. I feel pretty confident that I’ll return to this country at some point, and will get to see some if not all of the girls. I cannot get the image of some of their smiles, and the sounds of some of their laughter out of my head.

Two little moments I will not forget about today:

1.) As I was saying goodbye, the girls were writing their names in my moleskin journal, and one of them shook my hand and said, “Please pray for me.” Ugh. That ripped into my heart.

2.) The last little moment was as we were walking away. I turned around and saw one of the girls whose smile has impacted more than just me this week, and I smiled at her and gave her that “Oh. You” point (not sure if that translates at all). She broke into her big, infectious smile and laughed. That’s an image I will always treasure -- joy on the face of one who has experienced some of the darkest things anyone could ever experience.

Mumbai 2/11/10

First off, let me just say that the breakfast spread at the Grand Hyatt is amazing. It’ll be hard to go back to my average breakfast in L.A. -- coffee and a banana.

Although I am the videographer for this trip, I was attached to the Song/Dance/Health&Hygeine work team -- Marcus, Robbie, Jennifer, Nikki, Tracy, Roberta, Linda, Erin, and our IJM group leaders, Melissa and Michelle. We went to Advait today, the semi-government home headed up by Sister Bonita, whom I mentioned in the previous post. There are close to twenty girls in the home, and they are all wonderful.

Most of the first half of the day involved me filming the murals that were painted last year by Crossroads folks, participating in Bollywood dances with the girls, and then trying to gain permission to film some of the girls. Robbie, who used to work for Vineyard Music and is a music leader at Crossroads, led the girls in some singing. He recorded them singing along to a couple loops he created on the spot with his guitar, and then, why we danced, he mixed the song together and played it back for the girls. It was awesome to see their faces light up as they listened.

After talking with Sister Bonita, Melissa, and Michelle, and then making a couple phone calls, I got the “Ok” to film the girls. So, I filmed most of the afternoon group of girls participating in the singing and dancing, and capturing the interactions between them and my team. I was also blessed to be able to film messages from the “major” girls (18 and older) to Crossroads. Their faces will be blurred in editing, and their names unrevealed, but it was just great to be able to capture the messages.

I was amazed to see so much joy and laughter in these girls who have been through so much darkness. There was one girl who was visibly unhappy. She participated in some of the singing, but none of the dancing. She hardly smiled. As I talked to Sister Bonita, I discovered that her friend had run away yesterday. They were from the same community, the Devandasi Communit. In this community, girls are thrust into prostitution as soon as they start menstruating. Their parents tell them that it is their job-- it is their purpose. Ridiculous! Anyway, The runaway had told the judge and her parents at her court hearing that she wanted to stay at Advait. She liked it there and wanted to study. Her parents told her that they would have nothing to do with her. So, obviously, guilt an shame were dropped on her, and now she’s lost in Mumbai, and her parents have already moved away, so she cannot go to them.

As far as how most of the girls ended up at Advait, some of them were promised jobs, and when they showed up for work, they were sold as sex slaves; and a good number of them were promised to be married, or were married, and then their fiancé, or husband sold them off. My heart broke when I heard the latter about one of my favorite girls at the home. It breaks even as I write about it now.

It was a great day. However, the men capped it off with a tour of the Red Light District. We hopped in a few different vehicles with an IJM Investigator in each one, and drove around for a good hour. The Investigators pointed out all the active brothels, as well as the ones that they had shut down already. It was very interesting to see, but it was very intense. The strongest emotion I felt during the tour was anger. Most of the brothels are just a hole in the wall amongst the various stores. I saw many taxis in which a man sat in the passenger’s seat up front, and two sex workers sat in the back seat. In one of those taxis, one of the two girls was holding a baby.

Our one scary moment was when we went up one of the side streets, and were supposed to turn left just before we hit the dead end, but our driver didn’t turn. We found ourselves unable to go forward anymore, and for a moment, we were unable to go backwards. We were surrounded by pimps, and one of them walked up to the open passenger’s seat window where Marcus was sitting, and asked us if we wanted to come in to the brothels. Phil and Marcus both immediately rolled their windows up. Thankfully we didn’t have to linger too long, and were able to get out of there. Our vehicle could be recognized by some pimps, and associated with IJM’s investigations, so we had to be careful about hanging out too long. In retrospect, it’s not that scary, but in the moment, I believe we were all at least a little nervous. I remember Phil saying, “This is a bad place to be stuck.”

Anyway, I’m glad I got to see it all, but it’s definitely not anything enjoyable. I’m just so thankful the Advait girls are safe, and are not working “the line.”

Mumbai 2/10/10

Today was a very productive, and very wonderful day. Andrew and I went over to the Transitions Global Transitional Living Center (TLC) home with Kathy Stout-Labauve, who heads up the after-care program from the IJM headquarters in D.C. I took a lot of shots inside and out of what the house looks like before our construction/cleaning team is done working on it at the end of the week. I also shot interviews with the heads of the TLC and Sister Bonita from Advait, one of the other semi-government girls’ homes.

After the TLC, we moved on to Deonar, which is a government-run girls’ home. When we got there, our landscaping and mural painting teams had already gotten much of their work done. There were girls everywhere, and they were great. We had to have the teachers heard them into one of the buildings so that I could film the work that had been done so far.

It’s for the girls’ safety that we cannot film them. We have to protect their identities. If we are fortunate enough to film at one of the homes, their faces have to be blurred, and names unrevealed.

After I finished filming, the girls came back out, and we all returned to our work. I helped out a bit with the landscaping. It felt good to get my hands dirty for a good cause. Once I was done, I just sat and observed. One of the girls came up to me with a baby (I wasn’t sure of the mother, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her), and she handed her off to me. Kim, one of the IJM staff who was there with permission to take photos, snapped a series of pictures of me holding the child. The girls loved it. I held her for 5-10 minutes, and then decided to hand to her back off to the girl who gave her to me. As I did, everyone was like, “Oh no!” I looked down, and the baby was urinating. Some of it landed on my leg, some on and in my bag, and the rest on the ground. It was hilarious. The girls were big fans at least. Sure, it sucked, but I couldn’t help but just laugh over the matter with the girls.

Today was much more enjoyable to me than yesterday. I enjoyed spending time with these girls, who are the reason we’re here in the first place. As I sat and observed at Deonar, I began to thank God that these girls were in a safe place, and my heart began to break. Fortunately, a baby was handed to me to distract me before I broke down in front of everyone.

For dinner, our IJM friend, Ashley, took a handful of us to Café Goa, which was a chill restaurant where they do poetry readings, and have karaoke. The food was great, and I really enjoyed just kicking back with new friends.

Good day.

Mumbai 2/9/10

I really don’t know how to start writing about this trip. I guess I’ll start with the basics:

First off, I am in Mumbai with my cousin, Andrew Peters (Yeah. Same name), and 30-some other people from a church in Cincinnati, OH called Crossroads. They are partnering with International Justice Mission (IJM) to assist in the after-care of girls who have been saved from sexual slavery. Andrew asked me to come as the videographer to document the trip because Crossroads’ video guys are all busy, and, of course, I jumped at the opportunity.

So, here I am. We are staying at the Grand Hyatt, and it’s definitely the nicest hotel in which I have had the privilege to stay. We got in late last night, and I did not sleep well. I woke up at 3:30am, and then I was in and out until I finally decided to get out of bed around 6am. The Hyatt’s restaurant where we eat breakfast is amazing.

We hit the ground running with a touring around with the Mumbai Magic tour group. We saw a good bit of the city on our way to our first stop, Elephanta Island. We took boat across the Arabian Sea to the island, and visited the caves in which a place of worship to Shiva was carved out sometime between the 5th and 8th centuries (if I remember correctly). It’s no longer a place of worship, so we were able to take photos, but I was still not able to film inside the caves. However, the outside was a different story. I captured some very entertaining shots of monkeys, goats, dogs, and even paid an old woman for a shot of her balancing a stack of bowls on her head (most people want payment in return for allowing you to film them). We took the boat back to the city, and went to lunch at a wonderful Muslim cuisine restaurant called Khyber. From there, we headed off to the Chor Bazaar where you could find just about anything you needed. It was more of a market for locals than a market for tourists. I did not do much filming, as it was very dangerous to be walking around with a nice camera. I was able to take some shots from the hip as we walked around.

We at dinner at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana with the IJM staff from the Mumbai field office. We had a great time eating, fellowshipping, and praying for an operation that’s taking place tonight in one of the brothels.

Overall, it was a pretty crazy day. Mumbai traffic is worse than anywhere I have ever been. It’s amazing how the people don’t wreck every five seconds. I’m worn out. I can’t wait to interact with the girls in the homes this week.