My trip is over.
During the nearly 15 hours of travel time from Hungary to London’s Heathrow Airport to my final destination in Dallas, I could not help but reflect on the whirlwind month I’ve had.
As some of you know (but I’m sure many do not) I have been in Romania for the last month studying the patterns of human trafficking in Eastern Europe, specifically in Romania. Aside from studying, I (and 14 other students) worked with anti-human trafficking organizations in Bucharest, Turda and Oradea.
As evidenced by the sheer heft of this post, I think it is obvious that this course, this study abroad, this experience…. was such a big deal to me.
It was incredibly stimulating, both intellectually and emotionally.
It forced me, (sometimes unwillingly), out of my comfort zone.
In the classrooms at my own school, I’ll admit, that sometimes, even with topics of abundant interest and relevance to me, I am guilty of phoning it in. Guilty of sliding by without fully pouring myself in, keeping things at arms-length.
But with this trip, I was thrust heart and head first into the real world application of all the theories and statistics and research on human trafficking from my studies.
I was confronted by the faces and eyes and voices of all of those stories and all of those numbers.
I stared, in complete awe, at the resiliency in the eyes of children who had recently been rescued from child pornography.
I watched the pained look from a member of one organization in Gara de Nord as she passed two young mothers prostituting from a park bench in the blazing heat. And I witnessed the energy and hope she offered, inviting them and their small children to the BBQ the organization had planned to give the local kids a place to escape the heat.
Though they didn’t accept, she let me know that she was at least comforted by the fact that they took the flyer so they’d know where to go if they change their minds.
Post-trip, I am struggling with a lot of new questions.
When I left, I was haunted by ‘What can I do?’ or ‘How can I– with my incredibly limited skill set– make any type of difference?”
And now, 25 days and counting after the fact, I’m left with ‘What do I do now?’ and ‘How do I keep up the momentum from this trip to serve all those women and children I left behind, in addition to the women and children I may encounter every day here?’
I haven’t come up with an answer yet. But I am still searching.
Despite what I am sure my family and friends were expecting, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip.
I enjoyed the fact that I was never fully comfortable. And although that may sound odd, it is true.
Now, I am not talking about physical comfort, even at our least ideal accommodations we still lived far more comfortably than many Romanians are able to due, mainly, to the cycles of poverty, lack of access, and oppression working in their lives.
I’m talking about emotional discomfort. In Romania, I was constantly being confronted by my privilege, which was difficult to come to terms with because in a number of ways privilege—at least in this context—is situational.
At home, I fall into a largely marginalized category and am confronted with racism, sexism and homophobia in overt and subtle ways. But in Romania, aside from the pretty systemic sexism, I was able to move along almost seamlessly. As someone born and raised in the U.S., I am seated—at least from the lens of a state in transition like Romania, in a powerful position. I have access to more opportunities and exist within a system that although is incredibly flawed, has ways for me to (at least try) to carve out a future for myself.
I can sometimes take that for granted.
I think we all do sometimes.
In working with the organizations in Romania, I was a mixed bag of emotions. I was hopeful and devastated and bothered and concerned…
I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and then I would be fearful that I was doing too much…..
I felt helpless and powerful…. like I was doing everything and nothing.
It was dizzying and maddening… but it was–it IS purpose, just starting to take form.
It stretched my understanding of human trafficking and put flesh to all the stories.
This trip lit a wildfire inside me that I’m not quite sure how to address yet.
This post is much longer than I intended it to be, but I think that what we did, even though it small, could be something much larger.
It’s our spark. It’s a ripple into the ocean. It’s a whisper into the void.
But if we all do it—if we all take this moment and run with it, there’s no telling the magnitude of change we can effect.
I feel so blessed to have had this experience and I’m excited and I’m terrified…
I just can’t wait to move forward.
Special thanks to Emiliana Lopez for the amazing portraits of the children we worked with in Bucharest and Oradea and letting me drag her around Brasov taking photos for my portfolio! Check out the rest of her photos over on her insta: @foreverenvoyage and over at her blog:
Until next time,