“Bringing Rainbows to India: Week One” by Rajdeep Paulus
Nomi’s very own Supei had three words to describe her first week in India as Nomi partners with Apne Aap to empower at-risk and rescued women from the enslaving sex trafficking industry.
Those three words were chaotic, crowded, and colorful.
When she stepped off the plane in Delhi at 4:00AM on that February morning, the streets of India were just rubbing the sleep from their eyes. And as soon as her Apne Aap greeters shuttled her off to the first village, Supei’s eyes and ears could barely take in the speed at which life was coming at her. The traffic moved dangerously close to her at every turn, with a crazy mixture of rickshaws, cabs, cars, bikers, and motorcyclists, all fighting to get ahead of the other at a speed and proximity that give even the calmest of systems heartburn.
“Everything is just so intense in India! Makes me nervous to cross the street most days. I just wait for a crowd to go ahead of me and jump in behind them.” Sounds like Queens Blvd with a few extra million vehicles and people!
“Once the morning arrives, the noise takes over. It’s everywhere. Honking. Washing. Showering. [At communal water pumps with their clothes on.] And just moving. When you have such enormous numbers of people moving here, going there, you can hear them. I’ve never been so aware of the constant noise.”
Having traveled to several other countries outside the U.S., another detail that struck her as unique in India is the level of poverty and its proximity to the affluence. Right next to a glamorous hotel lies a slum. And then around the corner from that slum, a residential area with beautiful houses.
“It’s like in other countries, the rich move the poor out when they want to build [gentrification], but here, they build on top of, around, and over them. Everyone here just seems to move along. With the chaos. Through the chaos. Everyone just keeps moving. But there’s no hiding the poverty. It’s so in your face here.”
So why did she come? What was the purpose of this first trip? Why does Nomi want to be in India? Did you know that Kamathipura, Mumbai hosts the oldest and largest Red Light District in Asia? And many of the girls are trafficked from Kolkutta, the city where Nomi is working to give these victims training, options, and hope.
One of the immediate successes of her trip came with the face to face communication with the Apne Aap staff. “Just being able to share in person Nomi’s goals and ideas and approaches to helping the women and hearing from Apne Aap what is working already and how the two organizations can partner to make the efforts even stronger has been huge for this trip.”
One Apne Aap village in Delhi was once a host of thriving male-run snake charming businesses. With the government ban of this practice to protect the species, many households have turned to the women in the family to provide an income, making them desperately susceptible to marketing the one thing they can offer—their bodies. My gut churns at the irony of who and what is really significant in the eyes of today’s culture. A snake can be protected, while a woman or young girl can be trafficked? The depth of misconception heaps hot coals on top of a tragedy already ablaze.
In another small village in Delhi, Supei met women being taught by Apne Ap how to manage their finances in a grass roots monthly Savings and Loan program. Each woman participating is taught the basics of how to save up for expenses and how to borrow responsibly, as they take turns borrowing against the group for their needs. The economic venture really teaches the woman how to plan for tomorrow and budget their daily and weekly spending. Amazing how such a simple concept, when taught and applied, can contribute to the freedom of person’s livelihood, giving them choices they never knew they had.
Supei’s trip did not go without what she comically referred to as “foreigner moments.” During meals, when the staff offered her a teeny-tiny spoon to eat her rice, she learned to use her fingers like those around her, and from the scooping manner she demonstrated, sounds like she’s got the skill down pretty well. Another “foreigner moment” happens each time the topic of toilet paper comes up. She just bursts out laughing each time someone tells her there’s no toilet paper in the restrooms. Just a bucket of water and a cup. Hmmm? Yeah, too bad I didn’t get a chance to go over a few “survival” skills with her before she left. But she’s managing fine and she still cracks up whenever she’s in a restaurant and she hears a slew of words coming at her in Hindi or Bengali and every so often, she’ll hear the word, “foreigner.” “Yup, that’s me.” She knows they’re talking about her. At one point, she was told to follow, go this way, go that way, and the next thing she knew, she was at a new hotel. That’s just how they roll over there. I’ve been there. I know.
Finally, Supei gushed over the vivid hues of the women’s outfits, her eyes lighting up over how colorful India is. “The bright colors of the women’s saris are so beautiful. The women are so lively with their chatter and warmth, always offering me Chai and wanting to dress me up in their traditional clothes.”
I can’t say enough about my short time Face-timing with Supei—seeing and hearing her enthusiasm of her involvement and her interactions with the women she met in various villages. Supei, I have to tell you, even in your white t-shirt and jeans, you’ve brought a burst of color to India with your smile and your heart to work and help these women. Their lives will be painted afresh because of you and all those working for Nomi Network! Rainbows are on the horizon...and it’s a beautiful thing to see in a world full of so many storms.