By Josh Stoneman
While in Malaysia in November, I had a weekend to rest and explore the city. I headed out without a plan, other than the goal to take pictures around the city and river.
After winding through huge markets and different areas of the city, I had finally made it to the river. Spotting a nearby bench, I sat down for a little while to scope out the surroundings.
Shortly after sitting on a small bench, a young woman came and sat next to me. I could see from her poorly done makeup and the way she dressed that I was probably a customer to her.
I suspected her business was prostitution.
She introduced herself as Anette*. I told her my name, and as we sat in silence, my heart began to break.
My question of, “how are you today?” broke the silence. Although she didn’t speak fluent English, she spoke it well enough for small talk. We spent a few minutes talking about the river and the city, small things like that.
Finally, I asked what she did for work. She explained in broken English that her job was to have sex. When she said this I could tell she was partly ashamed to admit this and also partly wondering if I was interested.
I told her, “I am not a customer; I am a friend.”
By looking at her somewhat anorexic figure, I assumed she didn’t eat often. So I asked her what restaurants she recommended in the area. After she said the name of a place within sight, I offered to buy her lunch. She agreed and I wondered what I had just done! This woman’s appearance made it obvious about her trade… what would people think?
As we walked I looked to see the faces turn to watch her. Other women looked at her in a disapproving way, men looked at her and then me as if knowing what was going on.
Out of insecurity of the situation, I explained to her again that I was not a customer and did not want anything in return. She said she understood so I let the situation play out.
When we sat down at this riverside restaurant, I could tell from her body language she felt out-of-place. “Have people taken you out to eat before?” I asked. She said, “No, never!”
While waiting for our food, I got to know Anette a little better. She is 25 and travels back and forth from the rice fields for work. It’s the off-season, however, so she doesn’t have any work back at her home.
Meaning she has to find an alternative to afford things like food, water, and a place to live.
I asked her a little bit more about her work. She explained, “I don’t like my work but what can I do?” The way she said this made it obvious that she didn’t want to do this work at all.
But she couldn’t figure out another way.