23 September 2008

praying for the women in the windows (3)

if you live here, it becomes possible after awhile to ignore the women in the windows. they can become just a part of the scenery - the scantily clothed women being ignored as much as the pornography or the hash museum or people inviting me in to watch a live show [all things i walk by several times a week]. but if you walk through the Red Light District bring coffee and tea to the women, you see things again.

there is my street, with the pornography from the theatres and shops and museums. and mixed in are tourists and houses and churches and bars and regular people who live here or are just passing through. and here, there are significant number of windows where fashion designers have leased windows that used to be used by prostitutes. the prostitutes on this street tend to be European and are more likely to be considered beautiful by model standards (although most are not excessively model-skinny). although some of them have regular customers, especially those who work days during the week, most of their customers are people they will never see again (e.g. tourists).

then there are the side streets which are still full of a mixture of things, but one bumps into more windows all put together and things are more crowded. one is confronted more closely with the women behind the windows - and those walking past looking and evaluating. the women are all kinds of nationalities (although often in clusters). and in these side-streets, one becomes more aware that "women" might not exactly be the best description - the technical gender of the person behind in the window can be a bit more questionable.

there are the windows around the Oude Kerk, which are mostly Spanish speaking women. they are mostly from central or South America. compared to the previous streets, they are often older and more well-rounded. these women here are the ones who most often accept the offers of tea/coffee and invite us in to chat. in this area, there is also a little entrance leading to several windows - and the only reason to enter is to see a prostitute. one woman showed us her mirror - so that she could see all those coming in - and be able to close her curtain quickly if she saw anyone she knew.

on the other side of the church are several short streets that are only windows. here we are rarely invited in to chat and our offers of coffee & tea are usually rejected. and it is here that i am confronted most with questions about how much choice/control the women behind the windows have - i wonder about trafficking or of a relationship with a guy (pimp or "loverboy"). one street is so skinny that you can touch the walls on both sides of the street at the same time. there is nowhere to look or anything to see besides the women or the ones coming to see them. last fall, i bumped into a group of teenage guys in the close, enclosed spaces harassing one of the women - and who else was there to notice or care? there is a heaviness and uncertainty in the air - it is in this area that one becomes even more aware of the spiritual forces connected to prostitution.

and for these women, who have faces and stories and a small room where safety is not guaranteed, i pray.

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