Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Briefing on Sex Trafficking

At work the other day a man came to provide a training on the status of sex trafficking in India and specifically the state of AP (where I live).  This is an issue I've been eager to learn more about as I'm particularly interested in issues facing girls and women worldwide. What an eye opener this meeting was... It was packed with new information, much of which I found to be overwhelming, so I did my best to organize and write a brief review right after the meeting so that I could retain as much as possible. Below is a copy of this review and my thoughts on sharing them:

History

            Over the course of time in India, groups of nomadic communities that would travel from village to village where they were housed and fed for several days in exchange for dance performances, acrobatic performances, or sex. There was no shame involved in hiring prostitutes or dancers. Often times the women, most of whom were 18 or older, (sometimes as young as 16 though) would perform dance shows until about 10 or 11 PM and then the women viewers would leave and slowly the dancers would start to remove their clothing creating what we might refer to as strip clubs or strip dancing in the States.
            Early to mid-90’s the awareness around HIV started to increase and older women were seen as less valuable than younger women because they were more experienced and thus more likely to carry HIV. As a result, children started being prostituted and trafficked resulting in the typical age of 11 and 12 year old child sex slaves that exist today.

Government Involvement
           
            While the Central Government (referred to as the Federal Gov’t in the States) has legislation in place making prostitution and sex trafficking illegal, the problem (not at all uncommon in India) is implementation of the legislation. On one hand the government declares prostitution to be an illegal act, on the other hand government official are sent to travel to villages and hand out condoms to prostitutes and the men who hire them. In the end, the message that gets sent is that the gov’t isn’t serious about addressing this issue rather they promote practice of this crime.
            Additionally, the government has created laws entitling victims to ‘rehabilitation’ but there’s no follow-thru or resources made available by the government to provide the rehab. NGOs are relied heavily upon but they’re most often poorly funded and incapable of providing the necessary services or resources. In many cases they’re able to oversee the return of the child victim to her home village but after reintegration in her home there is no one outside the community to follow-up.

Reintegration of the Child Victim

Within the community there is a real stigma against girls and families who have been trafficked so often times the families feel a sense of shame or embarrassment and don’t provide, or know how to provide, safety and security needed for the girl when she returns. Furthermore, when the child returns to the village she often has a new look, new habits (i.e. smoking), it’s known that she spent some time away, and so the community puts it all together, figures out she was away working as a prostitute, community members gossip around, and it leads to either the girl getting raped or psychologically coerced to return to prostitution.
            Additionally, sex is often a painful and uncomfortable experience for these girls. Physically, their bodies are not capable of preparing for sex at all, let alone being made to have sex multiple times throughout the day so sex is highly painful and damaging to their bodies. To numb the pain, many women rely upon drugs and alcohol, which often leads to dependencies and addictions. Upon returning to their villages, it’s one of few coping mechanisms they know, they haven’t learned other tools for managing their physical or psychological pain, they have no resources available to them, and so the addictions go untreated and often times other villagers are introduced to these substances and abuse them and/or develop dependencies on them as well.

Challenges Facing Legal Cases

            The good news is that the numbers of reported cases and punishments for crimes related to sex trafficking are on the rise. However, there are several difficulties in managing the cases that get reported. 1) There is a high turnover rate of police officials. By the time paperwork goes through and the police affiliated with the particular case are needed they can be difficult to track down or get involved in the prosecution. 2) There is so little funding behind anti-trafficking NGOs. As mentioned earlier, these NGOs are relied upon by the government but without the funding or resources they’re not able to aggressively pursue the cases that get reported. And 3) It can be a real challenge to identify perpetrators, actually so much so that this has become a bigger issue in India than smuggling drugs or arms. There’s a grooming process that takes place with perpetrators who pay villagers or community members close to the child identified that’s wanted for prostitution to help them access the child. Over time, the child develops a relationship with their future perpetrator and is psychologically brainwashed and coerced to remove herself from her support systems and thus develop a dependency upon him. Of course this is all done subtly and through master manipulation so she loses control and cannot see what’s coming. Once this psychological abuse and alienation is secured enough, the perpetrator is able to abuse her without the threat of her leaving or contacting supportive resources because she solely identifies with him and no longer sees those resources as available to her.

           
            So, the issue is undoubtedly complex and convoluted. It’s an issue with which I’ve been eager to learn more about over time and yet the more I learn the more overwhelmed I feel about this tangled web. While there’s obviously no quick-fix or easily specifiable societal resolution, I know and can say with confidence that awareness and education is always the first step. Perhaps I find comfort in this notion because it’s tangible and something that provides me with hope. Perhaps, it’s actual truth that without this awareness there can be no forward motion. And, likely, it’s a combination of both.
            Needless to say, I was really moved and profoundly impacted by this presentation. As always, comments and emails are welcome as further conversation and increased awareness of the issue is the only thing that can help remedy such a societal illness.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Hampi


So I just returned this morning from vacation to what I think may be the most beautiful place on Earth – Hampi. I went with a friend for the weekend and am having serious considerations about going back there for an extended period of time. I’d say I’ve been fortunate enough to travel many places internationally yet not a single place I’ve visited comes close to the beauty of Hampi.

It’s got the perfect mix of everything: foreign tourists and natives, warm and cool weather, bargaining and set prices, adventurous and relaxing activities, historical sites and modern day living. Any preconceived notions I had about what India must be like were pretty much brought to life in this town very much unlike the cosmopolitan, over polluted city I live in. What a literal and figurative breath of fresh air it was to be there...

We arrived around 11 AM, got settled into our amazing little guest house, and grabbed a deeeeeeeeeeelicious lunch on one of Hampi’s many rooftop restaurants. The food all costs between $1-2 per person and is some of the freshest and tastiest food. Menus at all the restaurants are pretty much identical in that they all have several selections of Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Israeli, and American foods – could it get any better? Maybe the most exotic thing I tried was a pineapple rose lassi – wow!

So after lunch on Day 1 we crossed the river and rented a motorcycle. We had no itinerary or set destination we just went with the method of ‘pick a road and go.’ We stopped a few times to take some pics, we ventured out of Hampi into nearby villages, and we passed rice paddies, ruins, and fields of all sorts of crops. Then, on our way back we opted to scoot on over to the monkey temple. While the hike up was caraaaziness and my calves still hurt now two days later, the view was soooooooo worth it! It’s a temple on top of a mountain and on the way up there were probably about twice as many monkeys boppin around as there were people. Despite my efforts to cling tight to my bag and exude no fear, a sweet little baby monkey wanted to play with me and hopped onto my back anyway! Startled, I ran up the stairs as quickly as possible so I got it to jump right off – pheeeeeeew!!!

After Monkey Temple we headed back across the river, meandered around the little area close to our guest house, and wrapped up the evening with a bit of shopping (yep… I’m officially going hungry now for the next week) and some good food.

Day 2 started at 7 AM with a quick breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of our guest house and then 8-10 AM Ashtanga Yoga – yaaaaaay!!! It was not only one of the most educational and unique yoga classes I’ve ever taken, but it was such a cleansing and healthy way to start out the day – it certainly complements my weekend with Detox Day well :)  Naturally, we followed it up with a light breakfast (apple porridge & honey, lemon, ginger tea – yum!) and moved on to rent another motorcycle for the day. Our first stop on the bike was out to the ruins just outside the Hampi Bazar (what they call the little central area where we stayed) – absolutely breathtaking! Even better perhaps was after the ruins we went somewhat off-roading on the bike into a giant banana plantation. We got off the bike and ran around the field with all the trees… ahhhhhh :) After we attempted to head back we decided to take a different turn which led us out into fields of more crops, mountains in the distance, and pure silence. It was truly an experience of oneness with nature. Wow! 

Pretty confident it couldn’t get any better, we crossed back over the river, rented another bike, and went for a quick visit to the lake. We were there right around sunset so the lighting and the weather were about as perfect as it gets.

Post-lake visit we headed back for some final shopping (I ended the trip with 2 pairs of pants, a dress, 2 scarves, and a pair of earrings!), snacking, a game of chess, and then unfortunately packing to head back home…

These pictures do absolutely no justice to the beauty of Hampi although I hope by now I’ve convinced you all to go visit so you can see for yourself :)


With love from a super relaxed and thankful lady,
Abby 














Saturday, December 11, 2010

Detox Day

So it's 7:52 PM and I'm wrapping up the best day I've had in India yet...

I woke up at 9:30 to an empty house and whole unplanned day to myself. I spent the first half of the day at home picking up loose odds & ends and then I treated myself to an afternoon back at the spa... ahhhhh... I got the most amazing facial I've ever had in my life and then a half hour of reflexology. This morning I also spent time watching some dance videos from this summer - wow, I miss it so so so much. So much! Ugghhh... Then after the spa I went for a leisurely grocery store run and came home to make some fresh veggies for dinner - yum!

It was after the facial that I realized this is the most in my skin I've felt in a long time (no pun intended). Being able to spend isolated time in the quiet has made me aware of how intoxicating my environment can be here and what a challenge it's been for me to live a healthy, conscious, and mindful lifestyle. I am always surrounded by people, there is a tremendous amount of noise pollution everywhere, there is really gross amounts of air pollution throughout the whole city, and truth be told I've been spending more time lately intoxicating my body with alcohol and 2nd hand smoke than I'd like.

Though not with much frequency but certainly on occasion I can say I've surrounded myself with some people here who can be physically and emotionally toxic for me, I've been paying little attention to what my body tells me it needs in terms of exercise and hunger, and I've even been feeling apathetic about a few things (which I often find can be a dangerous place). Sometimes I think that living in such a weird circumstance and environment as this brings out some parts of me that don't typically get called upon - my party girl side, my spontaneous side, my silly and sometimes childlike side, and my side that cares about fitting in and others' opinions. The stimulus overload here is hard to escape so it's been really amazing to see what a quiet, restful, and peaceful day can raise for me. I just have so much appreciation for having had this day to myself and for the perception to recognize some things about my lifestyle here that I think can benefit from a little more attention.

I don't want to be misunderstood so I'll be clear and say that I'm having a phenomenal time on this trip, learning a lot, having tons of fun, finding out more about myself, and so on, so I hope my sharing this doesn't raise any concern (especially you parentals...). I'm really doing great, especially now that I've had this day of peace and so much space, these are just some new awarenesses I've come to.  For the week between Christmas and New Years I'll actually be going to an ashram in Mysore for a week of classical ashtanga yoga intensives and now after having had this day to myself I couldn't possibly be any more excited about that trip! If I can come to these kinds of awarenesses and engage in this much self-care after just one day of space I can only imagine how fabulous I'll feel after a week of it :)

Perhaps my favorite new realization is that I think my favorite company happens to be myself. I guess that's pretty cool since I'm always with me everywhere I go...  ;)  Anywho, I'm off to pack and take a quick nap before my drive through the night to Hampi where I get to vaca for a few days!  Wahoo!!!  Updates to come following the trip...

Love love love,
A happy and detoxed Abby

P.S. Here's a video I was watching this morning of my final Nashville performance from back in August... I miss dance sooooooooooooo much!!!!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLKhzjhPoz0&NR=1

Friday, December 10, 2010

Beauty is Ticklish

So I did the weirdest thing I have eeeeeeeeever done in my life yesterday - I went for a FISH PEDICURE!!!!  Rach, Nu, and I went to the spa to get this famous fish pedicure that we'd heard about where you stick your feet in a tank full of little fish that eat the dead skin off your feet. I saw Jessica Simpson do it on TV and a friend of mine had also done it on vacation with her family before so I figured why not give it a shot... when in India!

A) The fish (known as doctor fish - clever huh?) were waaaaay bigger than I thought they would be
B) I actually thought I was going to throw up before I did it - hands down the biggest adrenaline rush I've had in years
C) It took 4 attempts before I was okay with it... but I did it!!!  The video below is from attempt 3 - enjoy :)

They liked Rach's feet better than mine - I was okay with that...

Success!

video

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pictures!

This was on a boat in Mumbai. The guys around us were placing some gross, red, fish-smelling oil under each others noses to wake them up. Naturally, Rach and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to prank Phil and take what resulted in each of our favorite pictures ever taken.

Thanksgiving dinner! That's the Pumpkin Curried-Vegetable Soup Rach and I made :)

The LIFE clan (minus me) with Venkat, his wife, and their two children.

Post 17-hour busride to Vizag... the pic was taken on the balcony of our  "luxury suite."

This is what happens when you're white. Masses of Indians gather for the viewing of the Whitey and then push the boldest one over to ask for your photo and shake your hand. The best part was watching them celebrate with leaps and songs after getting our pictures.

YAY!  We made Latkes for the first time... soooooo delish!!

My bedroom. My bed is on the right and Rach's is on the left.

Dining room table again pre-Thanksgiving. We also don't have that table anymore. It shattered at our Hanukah party - whoops. RIP Dining Room Table. You are truly missed.

Our living room. It is NEVER this clean.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Epic Weekend #2: Hanukkah and Tollywood

Hanukkah Party

Happy Hanukkah!!  So we hadn’t been lighting candles much or really doing anything to celebrate the holiday… at least until Friday night when we threw what one might call a rather epic celebration. The night started with the world’s most amazing homemade latkes (courtesy of me and Rach :) ) and it ended around 4 AM after our dining room glass table shattered and a near fight broke out… Ha, uhhh… whomp whomp. Even though it ended on a weird note it was totally ridiculous Jewish/Indian fun full of laughs, good food, and far too many things inappropriate to post on my blog. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.


Tollywood

After about an hour of sleep Friday night/Saturday morning I awoke to grab a quick breakfast and head out for the day for my Tollywood debut! Most of you have probably heard of Bollywood (the Indian film industry), and Tollywood is the Telugu film industry unique to the state of Andhra Pradesh (where I live). My ‘agent,’ if you will, named Ramesh picked 5 of us up from home at 7:30 and brought us out to work as paid extras for the comedic film Ayyare featuring Andrha’s King of Comedy, Rajendra Prasad.

Shortly after arriving on set I was escorted to a changing room where I was put in an orange sari and a bindi was painted on my forehead. Minus the fact that an estimate of at least 15 women wore the sari before me and it smelled like it was  never washed, it was a rather fun and unique experience to finally put one on!

Rach and I were placed in the same scene in which I played the role of a devotee to the lead role, Swamy Ji (Rajendra Prasad’s character), and I was instructed to walk behind him in Namaste position looking in awe. There were about 100 people standing in crowds on both sides of us and when “action!” was called they parted ways making an aisle for us to walk through. I’d been hearing a buzz amongst the other actors there about how apparently this guy is super famous… so naturally I did my best to mess around with him a bit and make sure he knew he was shooting that scene with his new BFF. After the first take, the director approached me and showed me where to stand so that the camera could see me better. Instead of moving I gave Rajendra a little punch in the arm and told him to get out of my way because he was blocking me from the camera. I got a lil smirk from the guy and it seemed as though he appreciated my sass J

Ayyare is set to be released in February and we’ve received an informal invitation to the premiere… fingers crossed it works out… stay tuned!

We wrapped up the weekend on Sunday with a full day of board games, amaaaaaazing food all day, and dinner at Venkat’s house (our Indian program director).  This weekend for sure goes down in history I’d say as Epic weekend #2 of LIFE3.  I’m bored at work now so I don’t have any pix to attach but I”ll post a blog soon with all the photos I owe from T-giving, my apt, and the weekend.

Much love to everyone at home!
XOXO,
Abby