The Red Light District of Mumbai

So, deciding to be brave, I went to the red-light district of a Mumbai slum. Husband was working, so I contacted Tearfund, and they arranged for me to visit one of their projects. Beforehand, I was very nervous about going on my own, but I am so glad I did it.

I was met by Max, who is the director of Sahaara. We’ve never met, so it was a little like a spy story -“I will be under the arch with a pink carnation in my buttonhole” (Well, actually, he just told reception who he was and we met in the hotel lobby, but you get the idea.) We then got a taxi to Turbhe, the area of the slum he works in. We chatted in the car, and I could check on a few things I’ve included in my latest novel (which is set partly in the slums of Delhi).

As we walked through the slums, it was all very similar to places I saw in Delhi: homes made from scavenged materials, uneven walls, unglazed windows, corrugated iron roofs. The hard mud paths were litter strewn – in a couple of weeks they’ll be quagmires of wet mud.

 

 

Roads were pot holed, narrow, stalls and heaps of rubbish making obstacles for vehicles to inch around. At one point the road was blocked as a lorry driver was asleep, curled up over the steering wheel, oblivious to the honking from other drivers who were unable to pass.

 

 

We first went to a building (actually, it was really just a narrow room) which is a feeding centre/education room. In May, everything closes (due to the heat) but they were still providing a mid-day meal. They had two gas burners, one with a pressure cooker of dhal, one with a vat of rice.

 

 

 

 

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There was a bowl of hard boiled eggs, which they must’ve cooked earlier. No work-surface (no idea how they chop vegetables – they must do it in their hand, on a plate balanced somewhere). No sink, no running water. There were cupboards, some of them very high. At one point a woman climbed, a foot on a shelf, other foot on the top of a cupboard door, to reach plates from a top cupboard. Metal plates were stacked on a drainer.

 

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They were washed in a bucket on the floor, the water carried in from an outside water butt.
Water is piped into the slum once in the morning, once in the evening, and people fill containers to use throughout the day.

The children arrived. Black-eyed, smiling, interested to see a big white woman sitting in their room (I feel huge in India. Everyone is smaller than me. Husband is a giant here.) I took lots of photos, but I’m uncomfortable about publishing them here, as most of the children had mothers who were sex workers. I will include fuzzy ones of backs, but not include faces, and hope that preserves their anonymity (we were on the edge of the red light district, I could photograph houses on the left, not on the right.)

These children were growing up in an environment where prostitution is the norm. Sahaara is educating them, so they don’t follow their mothers into the same profession, so they will have choices in life.
Previously, they found that some children arrived only for the food. Sahaara therefore made a rule: if the kids don’t attend lessons, they can’t eat. People complained, but now they all come to lessons. Seems a wise decision to me – if we just feed the poor, they will always be poor. (This is why I like Tearfund/Sahaara – they sometimes make unpopular decisions if it is for a greater good.)

IMG_2095They showed me the toilet – a room with a drain, a bucket, and a ladle. Absolutely no idea how it should be used (thankfully, was just a morning visit, I didn’t need to use a loo). Max told me that families are more likely to have a mobile phone than a toilet. There was also a fridge (not in the toilet, just in the room).

While we were there, the power went out. This happens every Friday. There isn’t enough electricity, so different areas of the slums have no power for certain times during the week. They never know how long the power-cut will last, sometimes a few hours, but when I was there it came back on after about 30 minutes. The fridge whirred back into life and the ceiling fan stirred the warm air. It would make the fridge pretty useless for anything other than drinks though.

We walked through the red light district. The houses here were slightly better, I guess it pays well. Each little house had 3 or 4 women outside, just sitting on chairs or on the floor. I thought they were sitting in the shade, chatting to each other. (Later, realised they were soliciting customers – am a bit naive about such things). Sahaara has a second centre in the heart of the red light district.

Here, they chat to the women, teach them skills like sewing, hairdressing, making things from junk – enabling them to have life choices if they want to choose a different career.
Max said it’s about caring for the women, showing them that God loves them, that they have worth, that they matter. Sahaara has a 9 point plan, starting with recognising the women, then greeting them, then befriending them, then inviting them to the centre, then the women coming on their own…. until, hopefully, they will decide they want to leave. If they do, then there are safe houses they can go to, to adjust to life outside the red light district, somewhere they can start to rebuild their lives.

Usually the centre is shut during May, but they opened it to show me inside. When they saw it was open, a couple of women came in, to see what was happening.

Back at the other centre, about 35 children sat on the floor. One child said grace (I think it was in English, which seems bizarre, as they all spoke Hindi. But I was tired, brain was fuzzy by then, so maybe was imagining it).
They ate from the tin plates, no cutlery, scooping the food with their right hands. The women were busy, one dishing up the food on plates, the others taking it round to the kids. I nearly offered to help, but then I realised, it was like Lunch Club at home. Everyone had a role and knew what they were doing, the last thing they wanted was some big foreign woman getting in the way!

We got a taxi back to the hotel, and Max delivered me safely to the lobby. I was so glad I had been, met the women, seen the children. It makes it easier to support the work and talk about it to others. Everyone has a different story. Some of the women would have been trafficked as children, some had gone into prostitution by choice, because their options were very limited. Max said they work with everyone, the prostitutes, their children, the pimps. They all need to be cared for.

It would be easy to judge, but their lives are tougher than ours, we are not so very different inside. If Sally finds she cannot make enough money from rent, she may well decide to go back to her village, to buy a young girl, to act as her pimp, so she can feed her own child. Not because she is more wicked than you or me, but because she has grown up in a harsher place, where survival means hard choices.

Sahaara is trying to show that God loves them, wants a better life for them and their children, and is teaching them the skills so they can make that choice. But the decision has to be theirs. All Sahaara can do is give them the choice. All we can do is help to provide the resources, and pray.

Thank you for reading. If you would like to help support Sahaara or learn more about their work, go to tearfund.org for more details.

anneethompson.com

 

I have included some of the women’s stories in my latest novel:
CLARA – A Good Psychopath?
Available from bookshops and Amazon, as both a paperback and Kindle book.
Why not buy a copy today?
UK link below

Letter to a Sister: Brazil

Monday 22nd June
Yesterday was a day off, which was good. Had hotel breakfast: melon, cake and something like a set egg custard. Not unpleasant.
Saw a capuchin monkey in a tree in hotel garden. Very cute. Then had lazy day. Drove around town, did very little. Didn’t go to a church as they were all a distance away and started at 7pm and Tearfund has a policy that you shouldn’t drive at night in developing countries for safety reasons. It gets dark really fast here. Dawn is 5am, dusk is about 5pm and it’s pitch black by 5:30. Same all year round. No seasons, except that June and July have more rain.
Today we drove to see three rural projects. The charity tends to work with women and teenagers. This is partly because there is a lot of domestic abuse and it helps to empower the women and girls if they have a trade, are not at home all day completely dependent. It helps them have a sense of self worth, have rights ( at the very least the right to not be abused.)
They have also found that when a woman earns money, she tends to use it to improve the whole family. If men earn money, they tend to get distracted and spend it on alcohol, gambling, etc.
The first project was a small farm. Originally it had provided food for just the family, sustenance farming. This left no safety net if crops failed, more money needed for improvements, etc. The charity provided knowledge and tools. The women now produce enough to provide for their families and also sell some. We saw a warehouse where they were preparing the food – fruits, bread, honey – for sale. Some goes to market, some is sold to the government for schools and hospitals and the proceeds then ploughed back into more charity work in the community.
We went to see Rosa ( so wish I could show you a photo of her house but cannot figure out this machine!) We sat on brightly coloured furniture in her little sitting room. The walls were bright red, strewn with pictures of Jesus and photos of her grandchildren. There was a large tele with a statue of Father Christmas on top ( wondered if her grandsons have the same sense of humour as my boys and they were ‘gifts’ or if she had chosen it.) The internal doorways had no doors, just curtains. There was no ceiling and you could see up to the roof tiles ( which had big gaps in them.) It wasn’t a bad house – as long as it didn’t rain. Not quite sure what happened to the tele when it did.
We went off round her garden. Saw lots of the normal crops ( onions, marrows) and also bananas, cashew nuts, medicinal herbs. Her kitchen had huge freezer where the produce could be crushed, bagged and frozen ( the charity had given her the crushing and bagging machines and helped sort out the irrigation system. It was a really dry area.)
Drove to next project. Saw big expanses of arid land with a few shrubs and tall spindly palm trees. Also saw lots of donkeys pulling carts of stuff and even two oxen pulling a cart of logs. Would be SUCH a cool photo. I have lots of blurry ones. Mainly of trees. Lots of animals as we drove: goats, hens, cats and dogs everywhere we go.
Went to San Jose do Egypt, which translates as ” Saint Joseph from Egypt”. They had never heard of the Technicolour Dream-coat musical and were somewhat bemused when Barbie started singing it to them (so were we.) Went to cafe for lunch. Everywhere much cleaner than I was expecting it to be. We were advised to not eat the salads, which was a shame as they looked fabulous.
Went to a bakery. Charity had again provided equipment and education. It was MILES. From anywhere. Was so glad they had a toilet ( very bumpy track to get there.)
We got out the van and the heat from the sun was boiling, so hurried into the bakery. Then we nearly melted. Was like entering a furnace. They keep the door shut so the flies stay out but opened them when we arrived ( so it immediately filled up with flies. Glad they don’t make currant bread.) Two girls and a teenaged boy worked there. They showed us how all the machines work, made some bread and cooked some rolls in the wood fuelled oven. We then ate warm loaves and coffee. The best coffee ever, even in a disposable plastic cup that burnt your fingers. Hot, black and sweet.
Luiz translated for us. We asked him to ask them what they had for lunch. Not bread. Bread is for dinner, pasta is for lunch ( was not the silly question we had all assumed.)
Drove to a bee farm. Luiz now censoring our questions. When David asked him to ask the Bruce Springsteen look alike farmer what instrument he played, he checked with me first if that was a serious question ( it wasn’t.)
Looked around the farm. Tearfund had provided funding for wells to be dug so production could increase ( it’s a semi arid area, lots of cacti) Saw the bees. Saw turkeys ( which really do ‘gobble’!)
Then had one of those horribly awkward moments when the granny on the farm called us all into her house and sat us down for drinks and snacks. She had prepared vats of juice for us, all prepared with local water which would have made us ill. Luiz had disappeared, she had gone to a lot of effort, we didn’t want to offend her nor be ill all night. I used my best Portuguese and apologised that we couldn’t drink it because….. had to mime last bit, my Duolingo app never taught me how to say that! Thankfully Luiz came back and explained a bit better. Felt bad. Difficult situation. Escaped to car.
We drove for miles on unmade tracks. Passed lots of small farms. They have no address, no street names. Also the area is about to be flooded as they are building a huge dam. All the farmers will have to be rehoused. (Our bee farmer and fruit juice granny will be okay, are out of range.)
Drove back to Ant Hotel.

Take care

Anne xx

Letter to a Sister : Brazil

20th June

Showered, breakfast then left Cult Hotel in Recife. Was glad to survive shower, which has electrical wires coming out the top, was hard to relax when using it. Also left the room with some added duct tape, which David had used to seal the massive gap around the aircon unit. It worked – we got no mosquitoes ( which was important as they carry dengue fever here) but I’m not sure the bright red tape blended very well with the dingy brown decor.
Apparently all the electricity is slightly weird in Brazil. Was certainly a challenge to bring the correct power adaptors, as the plugs seem to change from region to region. ( If you plan to visit, bring a range!)
We also left the rather sexual art displays at the hotel. On the first evening the team leader led us in a time of prayer. It is the first time I have ever prayed next to a large statue of an erect phallus, while sitting below a painting of a naked woman ( who definitely had not had ‘a Brazilian’!) Tearfund trips are always unexpected.
Drove for a couple of hours to Coqueral. Interesting drive, passed lots of small communities, people driving horse and carts, big lorries. Rained hard a few times.
Coqueral is a small farming town (1,500 people.) The area did not really support that many farmers, the town was off a track beyond a track, most people were unemployed and on benefits. The pastor told us they were ” less poor in money” than the people we saw yesterday but ” more poor in the mind”. I don’t think he meant they all had ‘special educational needs’, more that a sense of hopelessness pervaded the town.

They had a lot of knife crime and alcohol addiction. We didn’t see any teenaged drug addicts though, which is good as I found it very difficult to just walk past them yesterday and leave them in their mess ( and I just know my family would be cross if I arrive home with a selection of drug addicted boys – never mind that I wouldn’t have the first idea how to help them.)
It is StJohn’s festival time ( seemed like our harvest festival but is cultural, not religious.) The children at the mission hall had decorated the hall with plaited banana leaves and dressed in costumes and make up. They danced for us, a bit like a barn dance. I certainly didn’t feel the display was too short. We then joined in, which they thought was hilarious, especially as most of us were wearing the ‘aid worker’ sensible outfit of long sleeved shirts, long trousers and massive walking boots ( look really ugly and no good for dancing in but when you’re wading through raw sewage in the slums, fashion doesn’t seem so important.)
We had lunch there, which was a bit unusual. They seem to eat a lot of carbs here ( I had spaggetti and rice for my lunch, as salad might be washed in local water and I didn’t feel like eating meat.) They also have a fizzy drink, which is everywhere and has a picture of something like cherries on it but isn’t cherry. Was comfortingly synthetic. Barbie stuck with coke.
Drove for about 5 more hours. Someone put a religious CD on. David ranted at length about the quality of the music ( for the length of the song in fact.)
Arrived in Afogados. Staying at Hotel Brotas, which is quite like a motel. Room full of mosquitoes and ants ( will use lots of deet while here.) D busy rigging up a mosquito net to sleep under. Am hoping it doesn’t involve anything too structural.
Take care,
Anne xxx

Letter to a Sister :Brazil

wednesday 17th June, continued

Swam, briefly, was cold. Then went in hot tub. I cannot see the point of hot tubs, its too much like having a bath with lots of other people. Then a man got in who I would definitely NOT want to have a    bath with. Left. Changed in a toilet. Not ideal.

Met Ken and Barbie for cocktails. Mine was perfect. Ken said he had checked tomorrow’s flight and it left at 7am, which was odd as he’d thought it left at midday. D checked on laptop. Turned out that TAM airlines had changed our flight times (5 hours earlier) but decided not to mention it. Interesting decision.

Waitress brought unusual looking snacks to eat with our cocktails. Barbie tucked in enthusiastically. D then told her they were dried donkey foreskins. Didn’t deter her.

Nice dinner in hotel restaurant. Then packed small bag to take to poorer area of Brazil and stored luggage with hote

Thursday 18th June

Got airport very early. This was lucky as check in on airport computer took a while. It printed out boarding cards which resembled the crunchy variety of toilet paper – lots ofs perforations. Ken’s machine had run out of paper, so he had to fetch someone to refill it. It then spat out all the last few boarding cards and half of his.

Flight okay. Landed in Recife. Raining hard. Lots of aggressive people in airport offering taxis, which you just knew would turn out to be an expensive ‘limo’ service. Found official taxi rank. By the time the taxi arrived at hotel it had stopped raining but was so humid my glasses steamed up!

Area is very mixed. We saw some expensive cars and very nice housing. Also saw a family sharing a bike, small roadside stalls selling fruit, lots of concrete. When we stopped at red lights, people walked amongst the cars selling stuff ( like steering wheel covers)  and there was a man juggling in the road.

Staying at Cult Hotel. Has some interesting art – mainly phalic in style. It’s clean but basic. No mirror in room but a massive tele.

Met the other people on our trip and had dinner in nice restaurant next to sea.

Better go now, have to meet everyone in lobby. We’re going to Instituto Solidare. Main info we’ve been given isa the high murder rate. Super.

Sorry for any mistakes, writing in a rush on D’s ipad in a dark humid corner of room.

Take care

Anne xx

Sold

Sold
By Anne E Thompson
I held you,
Your weight light on my hip
As I touched your button nose
With mine,
Peered deep into
Shining eyes,
Because you are my world.

We held hands
As we walked to the station.
And you skipped beside me
Trusting
While my heart
Became still,
Because you were my world.

I sold you
To the man whose words
Promised me,
That you would be schooled
And be fed
And have chances in life,
Beyond my reach.
And I walked away,
With breaking heart
And one hundred pounds
And the prayer you would be safe.
Because you were my world.

Help to stop child trafficking. See http://www.tearfund.org for more details.

See also: https://anneethompson.com/poems/poems-about-life-and-death/fear/

The Safe Place

The Safe Place.
An Animal Garden Story

The Safe Place

by Anne E Thompson

It was very cold. All night, soft snowflakes had fallen and now the garden was white and silent. The dogs were very happy. They had leaped around in the snow, eating great mouthfuls of it and had left big muddy footprints across the lawn. The cats were cross. They looked at the beautiful white snow and decided it was much too cold to go outside. They had found somewhere warm and curled up to sleep. The chickens stayed in the coop, they were safe in there.

Annie was worried about the ducks. The pond had frozen and the water was hard, so Mr Fox could walk across it. He could walk to the island and catch ducks there. He could walk across the frozen water and into the nesting box and could catch ducks there. He could even catch ducks on the actual water, where they stood in an unhappy huddle, wanting to be able to swim.

Annie went to the pond. She took the dogs and her family. They moved the ducks into the big cage. The ducks would be safe in the cage.

Every day, Annie went up to the big cage. The ducks needed clean water. They couldn’t swim in the pond or drink the water. Every day Annie carried big bowls of water into the cage. Some of the little call ducks jumped into it and splashed and swam. The big ducks dipped their heads into it and had a wash and a drink.

The ducks couldn’t sleep in the nesting box. They couldn’t poop in the pond. Every day Annie took away the dirty hay and cleaned up the duck poop. Then she gave them clean hay to sleep on.

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The ducks needed food. They couldn’t catch insects in the pond or eat the plants on the bank. Every day Annie took them duck food and corn to eat.

When Annie went to the pond, she saw fox footprints. They went round and round the cage. They went round and round the pond. They went round and round the island. But the ducks were safe. The ducks lived in the cage for a long time. They were sad. They wanted to play on the pond. They wanted to eat grass. They wanted to swim. But they were safe.

After lots and lots of days, the sun started to shine. The weather grew warmer. The ice began to melt. Mr Fox couldn’t walk onto the pond when the ice had gone and he didn’t like to swim. When all the ice had melted and the pond had turned back into water, Annie opened the cage door. Out flew the call ducks. They landed ‘splash!’ onto the pond. Out waddled the fat white aylesbury ducks. They stepped carefully into the pond. Out ran little wood duck, she jumped straight into the pond. The ducks were all very happy. Now they could play and swim and find food, and they were all safe.

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In some countries in the world, people are not safe in the places where they live. If there is lots of fighting in their country, sometimes they have to leave their homes and go to a safe place. This is called a refugee camp. The people need food. They need somewhere to sleep. They need clean water. They need toilets. Sometimes they need other people to help them. People in our country can give money to a charity to help people who have had to leave their homes. Tearfund is a charity that helps people. Ask someone to help you find tearfund.org on the computer and you can see pictures of some of the people they help.

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