I’m sitting across from a girl I am just getting to know. She is knitting a baby hood for the third time, after having to take out her progress because she couldn’t quite get a handle on the stitch. But she’s trying it again. She is also trying to get custody of her 7-month-old daughter. Suzie’s mother processed all the paperwork for guardianship of her tiny granddaughter because Suzie was working in a brothel when the baby was born. Not a visit to the drop-in center goes by that Suzie does not share with tears in her eyes about the constant legal struggles she has to go through to reclaim her baby.
Suzie has recently begun participating in our activities. She told us that she’s been away from the brothels for four months, largely due to her daughter’s birth and the legal battle.
Her new daughter has inspired many changes in Suzie’s life. Today she tells me about her high school diploma that she needs to get back from her mom. She needs it because she wants to go to the university. She tells me that what she would most like to study is psychology and that this year she will begin preparing for the entrance exams.
It has taken several years for Suzie to even be able to think about continuing her studies. Although she did finish high school, which is not very common for our friends, she comes from a broken home. Her mother often charged her with responsibilities that were beyond her age, and if Suzie failed to complete them, she would suffer harsh verbal and physical abuse.
Suzie ran away from home and from her mother’s abusive words and hands after she graduated from high school. She spent nights sitting/sleeping in the largest market area of La Paz, wondering what to do. It was here that one of her friends found her and invited her to work at a bar. At the time Suzie didn’t know she would be required to do much more than serve drinks.
She laughs a little bit as she tells me about her first run-ins with other girls that worked at the bar. “You just have to be tough,” she says. She got in an all-out fight one time, and she tells me that the next day the girl she fought became her best friend. Survival brings unlikely friends together.
She serviced clients who bought sex, telling me with reticent nonchalance about the power to turn down the “ones you don’t want to have anything to do with.” Her current boyfriend found her in the bar/brothel, and he was the one that took her home and insisted she come to the drop-in center.
Suzie has been coming to the drop-in center regularly now, and last week she pulled me aside and told me about a fight with her live-in partner. She showed me her bruises, and I could tell from her closed demeanor that she was still thinking about him climbing onto the bed to hit her. This is hard to hear, but also expected. Sometimes I think, “How long until one of my friends realizes that a partner found in the brothels is no partner at all?”
I am thankful though, that Suzie is more determined than ever to continue. She recently signed up for a series of more intensive workshops at the drop-in center, and she has been punctual and active in participating in the classes. The episode of abuse with her boyfriend has also given her more strength to pursue independence from him as soon as she can. We will continue to encourage her in her studies, as she returns to the dreams she has treasured in her heart, even through the long dark nights of rows of clients. And we continue to look forward with her, as God continues to shine hope on her; He strengthens us as well to walk alongside her in this new friendship.
By Ariel Arnsdorff