Disposable People

He was just a stump of a person. Swept along by a surging wave of people, I nearly stepped on him as I descended an overhead foot bridge at one of the busiest hubs in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He had no arms or legs to propel himself to safety. Left alone, lying under the merciless sun with only a begging bowl. Alone, in a city of more than 10 million, with no one beside him to give him a drink of water or relief from the sun. I wish I could say that I did something heroic that day, something that would have altered the course of his life for the better, but I kept walking, pulled by the throng around me, my stomach churning from the sight. It’s been years ago, but I’ve not been able to forget him. The lines of his face are but a vague memory, but the clarity of his dented aluminum begging bowl still haunts me. It screams at me, informing me that there is someone in his life, someone watching from the shadows, listening for the plink of coins dropping into the bowl; someone who would pick him up at the end of the day, empty the begging bowl of its takas. Hopefully this same person would feed him and give him some rest before dropping him off again in the light of another cruel sub-tropical sun. A person who is content to use the unbearable suffering of another soul to fill his own pockets.

They say that slavery ended with the Civil War. They couldn’t be more wrong. Today more that 30 million people are held in slavery, in one form or another. 30 million disposable people. That is more than all the slaves trafficked during the years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Human Trafficking is second only to drug dealing, and is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, netting a profit of over 32 billion dollars every year. Nearly everything we own and love is tainted by this industry. From the cotton in our clothes to the sweat shops they are sewn in. From  diamond mines to florist shops. From cocoa plantations to sugar refineries. From covert transactions of forced prostitution to blatant pornography. Even components of the electronics that seem to define us in the 21st century, that mark our “progress” as humans, are tainted by the industry.

President Barack Obama said it well,

It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.

The CNN Freedom Project defines it like this:

Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence, to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they cannot walk away.

It reminds me of the garment workers killed in the recent collapse of the factory in Bangladesh. Though they sensed danger that morning, they could not walk away. Financially they had no other options. Twenty two cents an hour does not let you save up, should you need to take a day off if your building is condemned.

While the scale of modern day slavery is staggering, I firmly believe that each of us has a voice and an important role bringing an end to slavery. If the world has modern day slaves, it requires modern day heroes. In the coming pages of this blog, I want to introduce you to some of those slaves and some of those heroes, but for today, I want to challenge you to make one change. One change that will impact one of those 30 million people. One change matters. You could decide to find ethically sourced sugar or coffee. You could buy a fair trade product. You could write a letter to Hershey’s. You could search for agencies in your area working against trafficking – because human trafficking is not limited to other countries, it’s right here among us. If you need more inspiration, you could watch movies like Human Trafficking, WaterSlumdog Millionaire, or The Dark Side of Chocolate. Do a search and find countless sites working tirelessly to stem the tide. Take a survey to discover how some of how unwittingly you may benefit from slavery. Pick some spring flowers and put them on your windowsill as a reminder of those who lost their lives in the industry. Say a prayer for those still trapped. The options are endless. There are at least 30 people enslaved. Pick one thing. A place to start. A place where you dig your feet in and tell the world that there are no more disposable people.


Handmade is Healthy

Carrot Knitting Pattern

Download the knitting instructions here.

If you run into any issues, please let me know. I am hosting this instructional PDF on Google Drive and the last time I posted something for our retailers to download I inadvertently had the permissions all locked up so that no one could download it. It was a great learning experience!

I have not knitted much so if you have any feedback concerning the instructions I would be pleased to hear it. They were originally written for an English audience so if you have any American equivalents (yarn etc.) I would be glad for your feedback.

The Princess

Riley and the Princess at the well

Riley and the Princess at the well

I don’t know how old she is but she carries herself with a wisdom and grace that reminds me of my 91 year old grandmother—she certainly has endured enough pain to be that old. In reality, she is considerably younger than I. The first time I saw her, her sweet face drew me in. It was as if I was looking at a rainbow with the sunshine of her smile framed by unspeakable pain reflected in her eyes. Yet she carried an air of grace and I knew that, in spite of the horrors that she had seen, she was more than a survivor.

To this day, I cannot tell her story without crying. Abandoned by her father at a young age, he would return to beat her for learning to read or for number of irrational reasons. Eventually he forced her into marriage to an unfaithful husband who continued the cycle of violence and eventual abandonment. Desperate and homeless, in a world of ruthless men who prey on the weak, she sold her blood to try to get by. When she had nothing left, she began to sell herself to men who viewed her scornfully as an object of pleasure. Eventually she married, and again it ended in abandonment and the added weighty responsibility of a baby girl to provide for. She found shelter and a bit of hope only to be followed by more abandonment and false promises accompanied by more abuse. Pregnant once again, she eventually gave birth to a son but never once was able to hold him or look into his eyes. The doctors told her that he had died but she suspected that he had been given to another family. In desperation and shame, she began to cut herself and continued on with her life, hopeless and disoriented. She eventually gave birth to another baby girl and just when life could not become more bleak, she discovered a place that was offering alternative employment for women like her. And that is where I met her.

Sacred Mark. A story of hope, a place of peace and dignity. Our family loved to visit whenever possible, during our time in Bangladesh. Since Austin worked closely with them to establish their branding and package design, we had many opportunities to spend time there. On one particular sunny day, my three energetic boys were running around the courtyard in their bare feet, thrilled to be out of the city. They were playing soccer with a beach ball that kept sailing over the wall or ending up in a tree. The women of Sacred Mark were quite entertained! When it was time to leave, I told our sons to go wash their feet at the outdoor water pump. My youngest did not want to have his feet washed and needed a little more coaxing. My friend hurried over, squatted down and helped him wash his feet.

In a culture where feet are a “dirty” part of the body, there is actually a traditional ritual that many perform when they accidentally touch someone’s feet. To show someone the bottom of your foot or shoe is an insult that is used not only personally but in political demonstrations as well. In Bangladeshi culture, to show respect to elders or invoke a blessing  from another, you squat down and touch their feet and yet, here was my friend, washing my wiggly five-year-old’s dirty feet. She had that beautiful smile on her face and a sparkle in her eyes. Anyone looking over the courtyard wall would have thought she was our servant. To me, she was a princess. She doesn’t have a castle; just a shack. She doesn’t have a beautiful gown; just some worn saris. She doesn’t have a car; just two strong feet and yet she is one of the most beautiful souls in the world. And that, in my estimation, makes her a princess.

(Sacred Mark soap can be purchased in the US from Global Girlfriend.)