To put it mildly, my last day in Cambodia was a roller coaster of emotions. Sadness that I’m leaving. Joy that one day soon I will return. Pride in seeing my girls work so hard. Fear for what is to come next. Anxiety for all the girls left in brothels fighting to survive. Hope for their future. I’m left so filled and so empty at the same time.
Three of my amazing friends from my church, Alex, Lisa, and Pam, came out to see all the work AIM is doing to free women and girls from sex slavery, from rescuing to housing to job placement.
Since I’ve started my work with THE TRADE, I’ve bragged about all the talented women I’ve had the privilege to teach, so I was so thrilled to take them to Rahab’s Salon, a salon where some of my students are working as certified hair stylists. Lisa, Pam, and Alex all came to have their hair done.
Alex went first. His stylist was so nervous! She had never cut someone hair who wasn’t Cambodian. Alex is very tall. Like most Cambodian women, she is very petite. As he sat down in her chair he was still much taller than her, so she hid behind him and whispered to me in her Khmer accent, “D, you do for me!” I giggled and shook my head at her. She nervously and quickly set up her station and began cutting with clippers searching for my approval with each cut. Thirty minutes later she looked to me to check to make sure she passed. Now, Alex is Lebanese and his hair is very curly and course. American stylists would called his hair unruly. In Cambodia, they would call his hair “cha-cood” (translation: crazy!). Just a few adjustments needed to be made and his hair cut was perfect!
Next up was Lisa for a shampoo and style. The salon was shorty staffed that day so I shampooed Lisa’s hair. When I was finished, she sat in her chair and she began blow drying taking such care of each section as she round brushed. Forty-five minutes later Lisa’s hair was perfectly and beautifully coiffed!
Now, it was Pam’s turn and she got the works! A Khmer style shampoo with scalp massage with a trim and style. Pam was so happy to have her cut her hair. Before she started to blow dry I told her that Pam likes her hair messy, tousled. and textured. Those are 3 things that all Cambodian girls are trying to escape. They want their hair sleekly and straight despite the humidity. Half way through I saw how smooth she was styling it and went over to her and messed it up and said, “No. Like this!” The second I turned around, she combed it smoothed and Pam just laughed out loud! Oh, well. Pam still looked great!
After everyone’s hair was done they paid her. In this part of town, a man’s hair cut is $2. A woman’s hair cut is $1. A shampoo with massage and style is $2. Even with these inexpensive prices, gratuity isn’t customary or even expected. One by one they paid her quadruple and then some of she would normally make. Each one of them left her dumb founded. She couldn’t believe anyone would pay her what they did. As they left I stayed with her. Her eyes began to fill with tears. Overwhelmed and grateful at the trust that foreigners would have in her, she hug me tight and said, “Thank you, D!” She put her money away and skipped all the way home.
Later that evening, we went to dinner in the Beer Gardens. That’s the nickname people prefer to use to brothels. It just doesn’t sound as wrong if you say your going to “The Beer Gardens” right?
Rahab’s Salon sits in the heart of the red light district and caters to women and girls still working in hundreds of brothels on dodgy red dirty roads. They come daily to the salon to have their hair and makeup done for the night. Foreigners only visit this part of town if they have an intent purpose in seeking prostitution. Korean and Chinese business men frequent this area of Siem Reap by the bus load. Even middle aged American men will show up to the Beer Gardens every now and then.
The group of us walked up to the front and the madam met us outside to greet us and ensured us that we’d be very satisfied with her selection of girls. As soon as she turn around, all the girls sitting in a row stood up so militantly so we could examine them one by one and made our choice as to who would be our hostess for the evening. Employees of AIM go to these places regularly to have dinner with girls and establish a trusting relationship and to let them know they can have freedom and protection from this dangerous life. The two girls we chose are two that they have met with a few times. Although serious and straight faced first, as soon as the conversation began they were giggling and happy. Half way through dinner, a very large air-conditioned tour bus drove up to the brothel. One by one each of men who entered examined the girls who stood before them and stopped to give blessings to a statue of Buddha just inside the door. No more than 5 minutes later, our girls where summoned to entertain the high paying business men.
They politely said goodbye and where on their way to the table adjacent to ours. As we were finishing our dinner, we invited our waitress to sit with us. She was a sweet innocent young girl, no more than 15. It was her first week serving food in this brothel and her sister was a prostitute there. Having young girls start out serving is a very common way to glamorize what the girls are doing and lure in desperate poverty stricken young girls to what their pimps call “a life of luxury”. After a short conversation with her, Bella (our translator) got her number and will begin English classes next week and AIM is already starting to find another job for her. WIN! A girl who was destined to prostitute herself to dozens of strangers weekly now will guard her innocence and be free from the bonds that hold her sister so tightly.
We left that night feeling so wonderful that a young girl was saved from ever having to endure a life of prostitution. However, her sister is still left there. The two girls we had dinner with are still there. Over 50,000 girls are left within the bonds of sex slavery in the small town of Siem Reap. Over 30 Million people are enslaved all over the world.
Therefore, we fight. Until justice is served.