guest post by Holly D
That night began just like every other night in Kinshasa for me. The lamps bathed the compound in an orange glow, a calm settled in as the hotel guests retreated into their rooms and the staff headed home. I placed a small glass of wine accompanied by a tiny square of chocolate next to my jumbo sized bottle of mosquito repellent. Wrapping myself in a light jacket, I curled up on the plastic chair to take in the night. The sounds of the city- horns honking, music blaring, thunder clouds rolling. Those nights were a kind of magic, a luxury. The time of the day I knew my phone wouldn't ring, the hours reminding me that tomorrow was a new day, full of hope and possibility.
A horn honked twice and I heard the night guard roll the gate open. The gravel crunched as heavy tires pulled up the drive. I recognized the white SUV, the man was a frequent guest at the hotel- he worked for an NGO. He was gruff, seldom friendly. Once, when I was walking with my son around the hotel grounds, he mumbled to me that the garden outside his room wasn't a kindergarten. We went on our way, but I still smiled when I saw him. That's what you do when you live in a hotel for three months.
He swung into a parking spot and opened the door. I expected to see him quietly trudge off to his room in the back corner of the compound like he did every other night. Instead, I heard the voices and laughter of three young women. Very, very young women. They clung to his arms as he stumbled across the courtyard to the suite across from my room. The magic of my evening was shattered as I attempted to take in what my eyes had just witnessed.
The next morning the white SUV was gone. The man's stint in Kinshasa had come to an end and he was being transferred to a new location. The housekeepers went in to clean his room and found the three girls enjoying the luxury of tile floors and soft beds. After a heated exchange, the girls tumbled outside and the staff dragged several Louis Vuitton knock off suitcases out to the curb. Apparently the bags had been part of the consolation prize for his last night in town. They didn't want to leave. It was quiet inside the gate, peaceful. It was green and beautiful. After several hours, the staff finally dragged their bags out to the gate and demanded they get into a waiting taxi.
I'm not sure I've ever felt so helpless- part of me wanted to call the officials and report a human abuse. But that was laughable- this was just part of life here. When your home is on the street and you have no source of income, you body too easily becomes the commodity. The valuation of currency takes on a whole new meaning when one party knows luxury and the other knows hunger. When one party drives his own car and the other has tiny mouths to feed. When one party eats three meals a day and the other wonders where she'll lay her head at night.
I wanted to run over and tell each girl that she was beautiful and valuable, that she was loved by a God who sees her and cares for her. But I didn't. Instead, I stood outside my door taking the scene in as silent tears slipped down my cheeks. It wasn't just that I didn't know how to say those words in French or Lingala, it was that the meaning of the words I wanted to share was so much deeper than mere language.
And so it was that life returned to normal inside my safe little compound. Well, kind of normal. The sweet smelling ylang-ylang trees still swayed in the breeze. The hibiscus still brightened the day with its beautiful blooms. The housekeepers still cleaned my already-clean bathroom and re-made my already-made bed. But every time I looked across the courtyard, their faces haunted me. I knew that lots of kids in the orphanage were the product of an exchange like the one I witnessed the night before. But I had never had to see her face or watch her walk of shame. I had never felt the bile rise in my throat like it did the night he exploited their humanity for his pleasure. My normal was shadowed by a profound sadness. It was something I couldn't un-see, I couldn't not remember.
Three years later, I still feel sick with that memory. But a tiny piece of it has also been redeemed. When we started our partnership with the One Thread Program, we hoped and prayed that a few young women would be able to escape and avoid that kind of lifestyle for one of dignity and respect. That they would be able to learn the skill of tailoring to start their own small business, earn decent wages, feed their children, and even send them to school. We are beginning to see those prayers answered, and we are beginning to see that this sort of program is something that young women want. That they crave. That they need desperately. Girls are knocking on the door of the school begging for scholarships. They are coming to work as apprentices for a month to prove their commitment and desire to learn before being accepted into the program.
This is the thing that tempers the devastation of what I witnessed on that dark night. It gives me hope that I don't just have to live with that memory, but that maybe there was a purpose to me sitting out in my plastic chair bearing witness to what was done in secret. If it wrecked me, maybe my story would touch the hearts of people who have $10 to throw into a scholarship fund to potentially change the entire trajectory of a young girl’s life. That maybe our prayers will bridge that gap language can’t cross. That maybe God can use us to show young women the peace and beauty that can be found in the light.
This week, the One Thread Team is hosting a very special event in Lincoln, Nebraska. If you are local, please join us! If you are unable to attend, please visit our website to see how you can still help make a difference for these young women!