A sweet cherub faced baby sat at her table dressed lovely. She looked to be three-years-old. Everything was so perfect on this sun-shining day by the sea in Cambodia. As she sat in her beautiful tiny dress at the café table for brunch, she had a string of little white pearls around her neck and she was smiling. Will I ever forget her face? Her sweet cherub Khmer face, with her hair done and new shoes; she was a treasure sitting in her high chair. She smiled because she did not know. This is not normal.
She was not alone at the table. She had a much older man with her. He was in his mid-sixties at least, white. He was western, I recall from greeting him. Why did I greet him? I’m not entirely sure. The scene was serene but my heart was ripping through my chest screaming something inaudible in the silence and sunshine.
We were in the small seaside town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia to visit a school that Carl worked with on World Race. We had been researching trafficking organizations daily for the past week or so, hearing story after story, meeting babies, children, girls, and boys, and we knew all of the signs. Sihanoukville is a place commonly used as a vacation spot where johns pay good money to families for their daughters and to pimps for their young girls to take them on a “trip”. As one man on the plane from Bangkok to Phnom Penh shared with me, he takes trips to visit his “girlfriend” every six months and take her north for a getaway. There’s no way to know what happens fully on these getaways because they are left completely to the devices of whoever has purchased them for this period of time. Therein lies a horrific danger, as one can clearly imagine, in the not knowing and in the ease at which this is shared among strangers.
We were right out in the open. We’d had our Americanos at our café of choice. Carl and I had both video chatted from the table inside, smiling, laughing, filled. It was as we left and walked out into the sunshine, at the table on the patio by the main road, for everyone to see it. Everyone could see it. This precious little girl, who had to be no more than three, wearing her pretty dress and pearls. I didn’t know what to do but I wanted him to know that I knew he was here with her, I knew what was happening. I walked up, smiled at him, and said, “Hello, how are you?” I guess I thought it would jar him, but it didn’t. It was normal for him. It was normal. I was jarred. He smiled as if he owned a prize, he was proud. It twisted me.
“Do you think that this is what I think…?” I started. “I don’t know.” Carl replied quickly and with a heavy sigh. There’s only so much access we had to do something here, there’s nothing to be done in that moment and the heavy sigh is filled with so many things unsaid but known. It’s the curse of knowing. Of having the knowledge of the thing, you then see what you wish you could unsee. The babies in their dresses, who are in hell with a western pedophile, who you desperately want to rescue but cannot. The normal on everyone’s faces when no less than three of the women on the bus ride to this town were being trafficked there for “vacation” and a “good time”. We know because we know, and we can no longer unknow it. And it’s good, somehow it’s good that we know. And everything in me wanted to run back to the table and scream at him and shake him, “Is this your granddaughter!? Are you her father!? WHO ARE YOU!? WHO ARE YOU!?” I stood stunned by normal. The answer is there in the dress and pearls. The garment of a virgin child. And I weep and I fight with God. And more often I fight with the claimed believers who know and do nothing, who know and then unknow. How do you unknow this!? How do turn a blind eye and spit in the face of a prostitute as she fights for her very life? How do you stop seeing what’s around you to point where you find normal? How is normal not killing you?
My spirit fights and screams and beats inside my spirit chest for her rescue and his healing as we leave. We have to leave, we cannot linger. It’s inexplicable, the feeling of helplessness when we want to fight and know it’s not safe for her if we do. A baby sold by her parents because of normal. To own a girl here is to own property that has high value. And we return to Phnom Penh in near silence, with no less than two women being trafficked back to the city. And how can we ever unknow what we know?
And to the women and men… who know and also cannot unknow, who fight daily against the horrors of trafficking in every form, we cry out in desperation with you. That we would all know, join in, and eradicate this injustice to bring wholeness to a world that aches to break off this hell of a normal. We cry out THIS IS NOT NORMAL, THIS IS NOT OKAY! We join together and we share and we know.