“For the night is dark and full of terror…”

The title of this post is taken straight from the popular TV series Game of Thrones.

It seems contradictory to quote a line from this TV series, but it is a line that keeps popping into my head when I think of our first night shift in the Red Light District.

The night really is dark and full of terror. Terror doesn’t need to force itself on you to make you aware of it. Danger doesn’t have to be physical to be present. Danger can be psychic, it can be there, under your skin, at the edge of your field of view. Danger and terror are tangible.

Fortunately danger was not the only thing we felt when we stepped into the glass streets halfway through the night. We also felt security, courage, and quite some hope. Hope which fortunately did not pass unanswered.

After a few months of only having seen the streets in the shadows of the day, we finally also wanted to see the nocturnal version. The changing of the day and night shift happens around 8 p.m., and this means that every night there’s a team of women working who we had never seen before. We went out, armed with good council, mobile phones, and prayer. Immediately after we entered the first street we noticed it. It was different. It wasn’t just darker and colder, it actually felt like that too. The atmosphere at night is totally different from the day. While we could walk from window to window unnoticed and without any trouble during the day, at night we were a sight to behold. The gifts we took with us for the women contributed to this as well. Between all those unnoticed, wandering men there were two young persons with a bag full of presents.

The girls were as surprised as the men. Especially the fact that the presents were free took them aback. “For me? Free? Wow. Thank you!” It was nice to, at times, see a real smile on their faces. So rare in this world. The reactions were varied. Some girls were too afraid of too tense to talk with us. They looked around them nervously and quickly closed their windows. Some girls however were curious. They were amazed there were people who just wanted to talk with them.

Every time we tried to make it apparent that we were here for them, and that we really could offer help. It was special to see their reactions, and the difference between their reactions. Scepticism, hope, repellence. From “What can young people like you do here effectively? You don’t know anything about this, right?” to “So you could help me? You want that?” Yes, we can do something, and yes, we want to as well!

Of course we want to help those girls. However we cannot always do so. Our work that night was hindered by the men in the streets. We were approached by guys who wanted to know our price. Up to two times we were followed. Praying we went from street to street. Despite the silent threat around us, we knew ourselves protected.

In advance we were told to keep looking around us, to keep track of everyone, and not to stay in one street or at one window for too long. Consequently we couldn’t reach a section of one street, because of our safety.

Fortunately we did manage to approach a lot of girls and to even give out some cards and exchange contact details. After our walk along the windows we took, according to protocol, quite the detour to go home. Glad about the conversations, alarmed by the streets. And determined to do this more often!

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