This experience, going to see modern day slavery for myself, has turned into a processing experience like none I have ever known until this point. As I explained in my last post, even coming up with analogies is hard because it is so unlike anything I have ever seen. And we want, so desperately, to believe that it doesn't happen or it isn't "that bad". But the fact is that it IS that bad.
So today I am going to attempt to show you a bit of our experience of exploring slavery on Lake Volta. This is the part that gets hard for me. It was such a personal and deeply felt experience that a lot of me doesn't want to let out the vulnerabilities I have surrounding it. But I know what is required of me and that is to be an advocate for child slaves.
We approached several boats and spoke with masters about the children they had. George Jr. was flawlessly making arguments and asking questions about the children. He was trying to have the real picture painted for him by interviewing and befriending these slave masters. An approach I had never really understood but that I was starting to come to cherish (but it took me and is still taking me a long time and a hard road to get there).
One boy was sold to his master several years ago. He is now a teenager (maybe 15) and impregnated the masters daughter. So, the master went to his parents and told them to give him his brother since he committed such a horrible act. Now two children with no education and no way to escape are working the lake. And it is like that. I met orphans and I met siblings of the children who have already been rescued.
Eventually boats started running from us not wanting to have us confront them. Again, I felt angry. How could people do this to children? One boat in particular had several (SEVERAL) children in the canoe and he hightailed it to the island. We watched him unload a boat full of kids and tell all the other children to run and hide (the apparent message was that we were the police). And they all fled.
JD also made a trade with a little boy. She gave him 2 pairs of shorts for his pair of old, worn out, holy shorts. A reminder of where we have been and testimony to people that these children exist and have real, tangible needs. A way to say, this is our story and here is what we have to show for it. I still tear up when I look at those shorts.
|Photo credit: JD Richardson|
I had grown up in an abusive home. I had been beaten and molested. I had felt like I could never speak out. I had felt angry and lost in myself. But I had never seen a face like this before. I had never seen despair so blatantly written on anyone's face. As I walked away from him, I felt grief. I felt struggle. I felt overwhelmed. I cried quietly as we walked to the next place. Prince was talking to me and I was half listening but not able to focus. How can I ever forget this child? I can't. I can never go on acting like I don't know about him and the thousands of other children on the lake in Ghana.
The last stop of the day was to meet Innocence* and Patrick*. Innocence was sitting in the boat busily working on the net when we approached. I was positively shocked to learn that she was a girl. She had some shorts on but that was it. Her lean, muscular body fooled me quickly into believing she was yet another young boy. Her half brother, Patrick, was hauling heavy nets across the shore. Hanging them up and various things. These were the children we were negotiating for on this day. They had been promised before to the team. The master said we could pick them up on monday and that he would have them ready for us. My heart sank again... Monday? Dear God, I just want to take them with us now. I don't understand why this is working out how it's working out.
I discuss with the slave master what he is doing with these children. He knows that it is not okay to purchase children and force them to work. He told me he would never do it with his own children. When I proceeded and asked him why he does it, I got nervous laughter. My face was red with anger. My emotions were supercharged from the day and the previous experiences. I stood there red-faced and angry, in silence.
We got into our boat without our children. Without ANY children. I sat solemnly and reflected on the boat ride home. I accepted in my heart the truth I had seen. I had long ago accepted it with my brain but now, it was a heart level truth. The anger slowly faded into grief and sadness as I thought about Kolt and his friends and how so many of the kids we met were his age or not much older. Sadness creeped in when I thought of the sheer desperation and manipulation it must take to sell your child to someone. Grief overwhelmed me as I thought about how many bodies were lost forever under the water we were cruising across. And I let myself cry.
*Child's real name not used