It was very hot that day. I sat on a bench at the roadside to drink a cool Pepsi. Girls walked back and forth along the roadside hoping to attract the attention of a wealthy foreigner. Some Indian business men sat down beside me and opened a conversation. ‘Are you here with work or for a holiday?’, and ‘Aren’t these Thai girls beautiful?’ They went on to explain that this was one of their main reasons for coming to Thailand, a recreational dimension – as they saw it – to their otherwise busy work life.
Curious, I asked, ‘What do you know about these girls – their lives, I mean?’ The man beside me looked puzzled: ‘What do you mean?’ I explained I was working in Thailand with a Christian NGO and that, from what I had heard, many of these girls were desperately poor and trying to eek out a living by street walking. ‘Yes, they are very beautiful’, I said, ‘Yet to pay them for sex would feel, to me, like taking advantage of their vulnerability.’ He looked stunned, thoughtful, and went very quiet.
‘I’d never thought about that before,’ he confessed. ‘I’d never really thought about the girls as real people with real lives.’ And then, with a half-grin, ‘…and now you have ruined my holiday!’ At that moment, one of the girls sat down beside me, linked her arm through mine and gazed up at me with deep, dark eyes. ‘Is this your first time in Thailand?’, she asked. ‘Are you here for work or on holiday?’, ‘Which hotel are you staying at?’, ‘Would you like to take me to your hotel room?’
I thanked her for her offer and explained that, although I would be happy to sit and chat with her, I would not take her to my hotel room. ‘Why not?’, she asked with the cheekiest smile, ‘I could make you very happy!’ She persisted with a now pretending-to-be-hurt look on her face, ‘Aren’t I attractive enough for you?’ I responded that I’m a follower of Jesus, I was married and I was there with an NGO. ‘I want to honour God, my wife, the organisation I represent…and you’, I replied.
She looked genuinely surprised. ‘Most men come here and sleep with us with no care for their wives. They don’t appreciate what they have got.’ She went on to tell me that she was a single parent. Her 2 sons lived with her mother in a shack in the countryside while she worked in the city to support them. Her husband had been an alcoholic and had left them destitute. ‘Would you like to see a picture of my sons?’, she asked proudly. ‘Yes indeed’, I said as she revealed them on her phone.
She went on to tell me about her life and work in unabashedly graphic detail. Curious, I asked, ‘Aren’t you afraid to go to a hotel with a stranger? After all, he could be a violent man.’ She replied that if she felt scared, she would take a friend with her to wait outside of the room in case she needed help. ‘And do you ever worry about contracting serious diseases?’ Yes, she replied, ‘so I only have sex with men who look respectable.’ I winced inside at her naivety and risks she was taking.
I didn’t want to ask too many questions in case that too felt like an abuse, so now she asked me a question: ‘What are you thinking?’ I replied I was wondering what it might feel to sleep with so many strangers, and how I might handle that within myself. She explained starkly that it’s not love, it’s only physical, and that the girls never reveal their real names. They always use a pseudonym to protect their real identity and, psychologically, to separate their true selves off from what they are doing.
I was astonished and humbled by her willingness to share so openly like this with me, just another stranger. I asked if it would be OK to ask her one more question, without her feeling any pressure to answer. ‘Yes, of course’, she replied. Taking a deep breath, ‘What’s your deepest hope for your life?’, I asked. She responded thoughtfully: ‘Simply to meet a man who would love me and my children so that we could be a family together. I don’t care how poor we are, just that we love one-another.’
I stood up, took her hands gently and said, ‘Thank you so much for spending this time with me and for sharing so honestly. I need to leave now because it’s getting late, but I will pray for you that God will give you what you dream of.’ She looked tearful. ‘Thank you for listening to me’, she said, and then quietly, ‘My real name is…X’ I almost cried. I felt so privileged to have spent this time with her. Please - never call a girl a prostitute, as if that’s all she is. Every girl is a person, and she has a name.
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