Sunday morning after the block party we were feeling tired but excited. Eating lunch right outside our house, we were approached by a woman in her fifties who we know well. She has been part our neighborhood probably for years – at least as long as we have been here, and though she commutes here for “work” every day on an hour long bus-ride she is as much a local as anyone who lives here. As we have known her we have had the question in our minds, “Is she really ‘working’ – its hard to believe…” We know there are many older woman who wait on our streets for customers but this particular woman seems so together and out of place – she has a grown son, seems very responsible and eloquent and dresses and looks like someone you would see at a Saturday morning respectable church ladies tea time. I have actually taken to referring to her as “the lady that reminds me of my grandmother”, though I don’t exactly know why – perhaps it is her shade of lipstick. She just doesn’t seem like someone who needs to prostitute herself as a means of supporting herself, but we haven’t been able to come up with any other explanation for her coming to “work” each day and simply standing outside our doorway all day. She approached our table, greeted Izayla cheerfully, and proceeded to apologize for not making it to our event the day before. When I had given her an invitation she received it graciously but didn’t seem the least interested so I was surprised that she felt she needed to offer an explanation for her absence. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t come yesterday,” she leans in closer and drops her tone, “I had a customer that wanted me for the whole day and the hotel was very far away so it took about six hours and by the time I was done it was too late to go to your party.” We smiled and told her not to worry about it, we had a very nice time and completely understood her not being able to make it. The conversation itself was not very different from many others we have had with our neighbors but as the day went on I found myself revisiting it and it seemed to be eating at me. This precious woman, who in my mind has taken on an identity similar to my beloved cookie-baking, stay-at-home grandmother waits outside our house for men to come and pay her for sex. This shouldn’t be a surprise to me – after all, we have been 98% sure this is the case since we met her but for some reason the harshness and pain and sorrow of this situation hit me much harder than I felt it “should”. That afternoon I was writing in my journal and listening to a worship song by Jon Foreman called “Your long is Strong”. “Really, God? Is your love really strong enough for this woman, for our neighbors who have been selling their bodies or sleeping on the streets or slaves to alcoholism for so many years that they can remember no other life? Is your love really strong enough in this place? In this darkness? Do I believe that it is?” One of the things that left me feeling so unsettled was the word she used to refer to her customer – literally “guest” – somehow the idea of this dear older woman inviting a “guest” to pay her for her services at a hotel seemed all the more broken and upside down. I know that her confiding in us about her activities the day before was an honor – she is, in essense, declaring us to be insiders here in this neighborhood and in her life, and making it clear that she knows that we know what her and so many other woman here are involved in and that we honor and respect them all the same. We don’t ever hesitate to let her hold and play with our little girl and we sit and listen to her stories and parenting advice. I know it is a special acknowledgement of our place here, but it hurts. I hurt on behalf of this woman who is someone’s grandmother, and on behalf of all the other women and men on our streets who may or may not be able to hurt for themselves.
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