I arrived home super early this morning, peeked in on the girls, took a hot shower, and fell into bed. Woke up this morning with the same dull chest pain that has stayed with me for the past week.
SE Asia was hard and incredible and devastating and amazing. We packed a hundred experiences and a hundred emotions into the span of a week. I could write for days about it. I could write a book about it.
I cried with a sex worker. I rode on the back of motorcycle taxis. I reviewed pedophile cases, and now I can’t get the images out of my head. I watched an undercover investigation happen from the back seat of an SUV and ducked every time I saw headlights. I questioned God. I watched horrible things unfold but I sat on my hands and smiled – as instructed – so as not to cause suspicion. I met people who have devoted their lives to rescuing victims and prosecuting evil people. I laughed with my friends in the back of a pickup truck and rubbed at the pain under my sternum by myself in the shower. I danced on a rooftop. I visited a Buddhist temple. I sat and talked with girls identified by the number pinned to their bikini bottoms. I connected with them. I felt a deep love for them. I wanted to rescue them. I left them behind.
The Exodus Road invited us out to see what they were doing, no strings attached. We weren’t paid to go out there, and we’re not required to write about it, either. “Meet us, learn about us, and if you like what you see, maybe you can tell people about us” was the invitation from Matt Parker, CEO. Over the years, I have become cynical? suspicious? wary? of NGOs, non-profits, and charities. What are they really doing? Where is the money really going? Who are they actually helping? I get three pitches from charities per week, inviting me to partner with them. I took the Exodus Road’s invitation. I went. I saw. I asked a ton of questions. They were patient and open and forthcoming.
I don’t know how to tell these stories. Is this too much to tell? Are these words too vulgar to say? This is truth, but is this sensationalism? The f-word, for example, in its verb form, was probably one of the words I heard the most this week, as it’s common vernacular in these cities. It’s not an impolite word. It’s a business word. It’s a service offered and a service bought. Children say it. Adults say it. It is said in polite company; it is said in brothels; it is said by the sweetest interpreters and the loudest partiers. And here I am sweating how do I talk about this incredibly important injustice and not upset my readers by using intense language? Can I tell these stories while blurring over the harshest parts? Can I tell these stories and remove the parts that made me ill? The parts that feel unreal? Can I tell these stories but keep them PG-13 rated instead of whatever is above XXXXXXXXX? How do I find the right balance?
“It’s hard to get people to go into brothels to do the undercover investigative work,” Matt said while we all shared a meal. “They don’t want to go into brothels and see nudity and be propositioned because that’s not what good people do. But good people need to go where bad people go to make a difference.”
And so that’s where I am. I’m asking you good people to go with me into stories about what bad people do so we can make a difference.