[Photo by Porter Hovey]
Go Here for more photos from this event by Porter Hovey
Last night, a gorgeous woman celebrated her birthday in the Tribeca Rooftop Ballroom. There was sparkling champagne, dresses fulfilling their life purposes (wrapped around the famous models that donned them), and a dinner complete with four dessert choices. There were photographers all vying for her attention, a 3-tiered cake especially for her, and a captive audience of "important people." This was her night, and, even the efficacy of Glamour's editor-in-chief, Cynthia Leive, nor the breathtaking beauty whom is Petra Nemcova could steal the spotlight from her: Somaly Mam.
Somaly's name is a name so mighty that its affect on those who fully understand its miraculous survival, should be nothing less than paramount. Its echo should leave one with a grotesque unsettling feeling in their stomach, as well as a profound appreciation of the vitality of our species. It is a name so commanding that it should be exalted over and over again just to remind us of.....our humanity?
Somaly. Somaly. Somaly. Somaly.
Except Somaly Mam isn't her real name, and last night may or may not have been her real birthday....
Somaly Mam was sold into sexual slavery as a child by her family in Cambodia- for undoubtedly much, much less than the price of the beautiful gown she was wearing. She was beaten, raped, starved, and mutilated by men who, as one young victim so simply describes, "take away my entire life for just five minutes, five minutes of their own pleasure." Her story is their story. It is a story of suffering so unimaginable to us that it makes us extremely uncomfortable. It is a story so touching that movies are made after it and journalists like Marianne Pearl risk their lives to cover it.
It is a story that is spun in the red dress that was made especially for Petra that night, (see picture below), one in which she wore as she so eloquently spoke on the behalf of the owners of the small hands- the victims of sexual crimes- who made it for her so that the beauty of the ensemble on stage would captivate our attention and their stories would be heard. We were all, sure enough, captivated as the beautiful Petra told us their story. A story she explained could be seen in the very stitching of her dress. On the bad days, the stitching may be a little bit off-centered, she said as she proudly displayed it for us all to ogle at. And yet, still there is beauty.
I sat and wondered if they knew how much attention their work was garnering....how many designers would leap at the chance to dress Petra Nemcova....how much money we could sell it for...and I, like Petra, wished we weren't all there because of them. I wished sexual slavery didn't exist, I wished no child had to know firsthand of the brutality of mankind, the loss of the sacredness of life. I wished that I could make them all chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast tomorrow morning instead of the maggots they are so brutally forced to eat. I wished I could hold every single one of them and let them know love, even if just for one moment.
Who am I anyway? Who am I that I got to sit there and have THREE choices of sorbet with a delectable white wine to wash them down with while some four year old was being thrown in a cement cage and her rapist was getting charged NOT guilty in a COURT of LAW! Who the hell was I to be sitting comfortably for that matter?! My mind was reeling with the unfairness of the entire situation, this life, and I wished for so much right then that my heart became weak.
Then Somaly swept in like a soft breeze after a fire. Who am I? I am someone that was capable of love, and that is, over everything else, what they needed, what we all need. Love.
"Child and pimp should never be used in the same sentence," exclaimed Petra.
Except that they are. And they have been put together since even before there were words to name it, back in the caves of our ancestors. And furthermore, as my dinner table companion Peter Tunney reasoned, they always will be. We can't end slavery, we can't end all suffering, and we can't save the entire world. But we have two choices: we can either lament in this knowledge, or we can do something. And we CAN do SOMETHING. Even if it's just saving one, we can. And that one is someone's one. It's someone's sister, someone's friend. We as individuals can help Somaly's daughters by putting the sacredness back into our own lives; by embracing the gift that they are, and striving to help others do so as well by aiding in the formation of democracies and just laws. By supporting organizations like Priority Films and Lexis Nexis that are helping people like Somaly. And guess what? Our "something" will most likely not even make a dent in an issue as mammoth as this one. But tell that to the mother of one girl you helped save.
Somaly's story, by sheer probability, should have ended right where it started, just like her friend's; in a cement cell in a Cambodia brothel. Except then she wouldn't have a name, and she wouldn't be lighting up a room with her smile at a party in downtown Manhattan. Cynthia Leive was completely right, just her SURVIVING, let alone, ESCAPING a life of such complete despair is remarkable. BUILDING a new life is PHENOMENAL, and what she has done since then, is nothing short of MIRACULOUS. Somaly's organization has rescued over 4,000 girls from Cambodia and surrounding regions. Somaly Mam has received numerous awards for her work in Cambodia. For more information,visit the Somaly Mam organization or AFEIS.org.