Next week I have a final meeting with the team of ladies that I went to Israel with. We never got the chance to debrief after our trip and the holidays were upon us when we got back. Life has been so busy lately that my mind only finds moments here and there to process through all of the things we saw and did in Israel. I keep remembering three women who lived on the streets of Tel Aviv and I think their stories must be told (there aren’t any photos because it just wasn’t safe or appropriate to take pictures of that part of town):
I met Lili on my first day serving food and water to the homeless in Tel Aviv. She was sitting in a folding camp chair just around the corner from where we had set up a table with snacks. I wandered over to say hi and see if she would like anything to eat, hoping that she spoke English. She was anxious to talk, and once she found out I was American began to tell me how she was from the Detroit area and was hoping to return soon. We chatted about why my group was here and what we were doing. And she told me of how she first came to Israel as a student attending university years ago. She told me that over the years she had just stayed there instead of returning to her family in the U.S. It was clear that she wanted to go home and she nursed a hope of returning but I couldn’t see how she would manage. We chatted until she became tired. As I turned to go back to my work of serving food she grasped my hand and thanked me for coming to see her. I couldn’t help but think that healthy physical contact with another person was something she probably hadn’t experienced in a long time. The women who owned the shop that Lili was sitting outside of motioned to me after that I shouldn’t have touched Lili because she was sick. I don’t speak Hebrew but it was clear that she was saying Lili has AIDs. My heart ached for her, knowing that she is shunned because so many people misunderstand her illness. I don’t know how she can manage it, but I truly hope she is able to return to Detroit and her family.
Karen came to our table looking pale and shaken. The first thing I noticed about her were the thin lines on the undersides of her forearms. Karen was a cutter – I’d never seen so many scars. She didn’t accept the offered food and water but merely wanted to stand nearby, though she wrung her hands and paced nervously the whole time. We learned that she was from Calgary in Canada. She talked of wanting to leave the streets. We did what we could to encourage her to enter a drug rehab program and a safe house but at the last, she shut down and walked away in fear. Our contacts in Israel continue bringing food and water to the homeless in Tel Aviv and see Karen often, so I hope that one day soon she will be ready to choose a new and better life.
Another women I met was Jenny from the Darjeeling region of India. Jenny wouldn’t talk to any of us until she had her hit for the day. As soon as she did, she was relaxed and wanted some company so my friend K and I sat down with her. Jenny told of how years ago an Israeli guy had been visiting her village in Darjeeling. They began dating and she agreed to return to Israel with him. He was deep into drug addiction and Jenny follow suit while they lived on the streets together. Jenny didn’t want to talk about him after that though, I get the impression that he passed away. The whole time that we chatted with Jenny she would fade in and out of talking because of the hit she’d taken. We would sit there silently with her for minutes at a time before the conversation would continue. K started asking her about why she was living here and if she wanted to return home. Jenny told us how she hated her life on the street and longed to see her family again. But she didn’t know how to leave this life behind. Drugs were now her escape from the darkness she lived in. She said that before she had taken her hit she felt as if she were on the edge of a cliff, she could see her life slipping away from her and it frightened her. But the drugs made her numb to that reality. She told us how she needed the hit yesterday but didn’t have the money and had “worked” (it was clear she had prostituted herself multiple times to get enough money) the night before so she could pay her drug dealer. At the end of our talk she thanked us for sitting with her, saying that it was the first time she had felt safe and peaceful in years. I hope and pray that Jenny will choose to see her reality once again and step away from it into life. There are drug rehab homes for women that will accept her when she is ready to leave the streets.
These women have touched my life. My heart broke for each of them. I think, remember, pray, and hope for them. The point today wasn’t to be a downer for you all – but to speak for the forgotten ones. These women are in the darkest of places without a voice to speak out for themselves. And if I can be their voice, to speak of their pain and need, I am honored. Their story of darkness in drugs and prostitution is a reality for thousands upon thousands around the world.
If you’d like to help, right now we have a safe house and education center for prostitutes that is being built right here in my community. You can donate to support a woman living at the shelter by going here. There’s hope!