I try not to contemplate over how I got here and who Iâ€™ve become. I am who I am, and thereâ€™s nothing I can do. Sometimes, when I have courage to reflect, I feel utter shame and revulsion for my existence and for the things I doâ€¦and regretfully did. Iâ€™m alone, I have no one, no family, no community to seek acceptance. Occasionally, I do find comfort in knowing that my circumstances leave me no choice. But please, Allah, I ask you to not remind me of the past, my foolish youth, my simple, more pleasant life. I knowâ€¦I know my wrongdoings. Yet all I did was love- too much love I suppose. So much that was blind to the deception that came forth and stripped me of my dignityâ€¦disowned from my identity. Oh Allah, I ask you to give me the strength to abandon these harsh memories, for they are unbearableâ€¦
Iâ€™m sitting in the showroom right now, 10 pm, and business is just about to boom. The room is enclosed with mirrors and pearly white tiles. Girls are teeming in, some young, some old, some fair, some tall, a whole variety. The fluorescent lights are beaming, brightening all our faces in an eerie glow. The room is almost too white to bear, but critical for our appearance. I chose to wear my black skirt and shirt ornamented with crystals.Â My hair is pulled back to reveal my silver hoop earrings. I made sure to wear my bright red lipstick glazed with a bit of gloss-itâ€™s my secret charm to so many clients. I hear the jingling of a nupur (anklet)-oh, itâ€™s Shahida walking in! She looks flushed, ah, mustâ€™ve been with a persistent client. She gives me a grin, and gently flips out a hefty 500 taka bill and says,â€œItâ€™s from Bilal. Heâ€™s been coming for me every week. The black garment market pays him wellâ€¦â€ I playfully kick her in the shin, but itâ€™s true, Bilal has been keen on spendingÂ his nights with herâ€¦
I notice a man walking by. Young man, no older than 25 wearing a red shirt and black pants, cigarette in his right hand. Judging from his looks, must be a local cab driver. Heâ€™s speaking with the hotel managerâ€¦obviously negotiating prices. He doesnâ€™t seem pleasedâ€¦but now heâ€™s nodding in agreement. I see him drawing bills from his pocketâ€¦ 100 takaâ€¦200 takaâ€¦300 takaâ€¦400 takaâ€¦oh my! The hotel manager gestures him to the glass window of our room. He peers inside, examining each and every one of usâ€¦I suppose imagining the possibilities. One by oneâ€¦one by one. His gaze pauses at the girl next to me-a skinny, flat-chested 13 year-old. He couldnâ€™t possibly want that unattractive rat! But wait-his eyes are now on me! I adjust my posture so he can perceive a clearer view. He stares. Keeps staringâ€¦is he alright? His eyes havenâ€™t faltered! Seconds pass, and I notice an ever so slight nod towards to hotel manager, but his eyes remain fixed. The manager wastes no time in his response. He opens the door, looks at me, and points his thumb out the door. â€œRoom 23!â€, he shouts. I hastily snatch a few condoms and a packet of lubricant I picked up from the local health center earlier this morning. Iâ€™m out the door.
Heâ€™s following me down the hall, I can hear his breath and virtually feel his eyes following my spine. Our room is down the hall to the left, just a few meters to go. I quietly slip a condom in his hand. He has 10 minutes with me, and I know he wonâ€™t want to waste a moment. A couple more feet to goâ€¦I see a cleaner picking up loose condom and lubricant packets from room 20…
Weâ€™ve arrived at room 23. A standard room: one bed, one bathroom, and one light bulb illuminating the stained brown walls. Our shadows slip in, silently shifting in the flickering pale yellow gloom. He shuts the door and I feel his hand slip up my neck.
And for the next 10 minutes, I am all his.
I started with this monologue because I felt it was critical background in understanding the female hotel sex worker in Bangladesh. Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit an Integrated Health Center (IHC) sponsored by Bangladesh Womenâ€™s Health Coalition (BWHC) and Family Health International (FHI). This establishment provides sexually transmitted infection treatment, general healthcare, and HIV testing for women in this profession. Iâ€™ll be going back tomorrow and next week to observe more of the healthcare aspect of the institution. My first day was primarily catered to listening to these womenâ€™s stories and visiting an actual hotel involved with this business. I sort of culminated this story based upon the stories and attitudes I heard-and also after seeing actual hotel rooms, clients, and sex workers at a nearby hotel. It was nauseating, but an incredibly valuable experience as a young Bangaldeshi woman. The first response the general Bangladeshi population has for this marginalized community is, â€œI never knew.â€ I know this for a fact because that is exactly how my greater family responded. Regardless, I hope to gain more information about this phenomenal community and how HIV/AIDS is being combated within its context. I intend to post this blog as a prelude of what more is to come.
Iâ€™m looking forward to revisiting these sites in the next few days. Due to tensions with the government (afterall, sex trade is illegal in Bangladesh), I may have difficulty in taking pictures of the actual hotels. But Iâ€™ll do my best to negotiate and bring more stories.