The Sands of the Hourglass

I can’t believe it’s been a over a month since I returned from China. It doesn’t feel that long. At the same time, my summer is almost up–25% of my time in college has disappeared, running like sand from an hourglass. It can’t have gone by that fast, can it? My time as a teenager is almost up. My time in college will quickly follow. Life passes so fast that it’s really a wonder anyone can ever manage to be bored. And yet, I’m guilty of it too. I’ve wasted time being bored before. It’s folly. Every second, every grain of sand, is precious. I’m starting to understand that.

Despite my worries that I’ve wasted my time, this past year has really been incredibly productive. If you’ve been following my journeys, you know about China and the Enactus National Expo. You’ve traveled through memory palaces of Cordoba and seen the flying silks of Bangladesh Night 2015. Whether you can tell or not, I’m not the same person who began this blog almost a year ago. That girl was, at once, both supremely overconfident and extraordinarily insecure. She worried so much about what people thought of her. She didn’t know what she wanted to be or how hard she could work for something she loved. I’m not saying I’ve finished the journey to become the best me, but I have taken a few steps forward. I’ve traveled far enough, at least, that I can see a difference in who I am versus who I was.

The last thing I should mention in this moment of quiet reflection is my friends. I have significantly more amazing friends than I usually recognize. I just found out one of my good friends from high school is going to Yale. How awesome is that? It’s not all about getting into fancy schools though. One of my friends is studying Chinese in Shanghai, the beautiful city I left just a month and a half ago. I also have friends from college who graduated at the end of the school year. They’re moving on. Some are going to grad school (one is even going to William and Mary!) while others are finding jobs. Such is life. When this stage in my life ends and my hourglass if flipped, I don’t know where I’ll go. I suppose the mystery is half the fun. I also don’t know who will be beside me. Even if my next stage in life is one I must walk alone, I know that the friendships I’ve built are real. Even if we lose contact, those people helped make me into who I am today. For that, I am grateful. I wish the very best for all of my friends who are beginning a new stage in their journeys. I wish the same for you, whoever you are, and wherever you’re going. You’ve followed me thus far, and so I count you a friend. I hope you’ll join me as I begin my Sophomore year. I wonder where I’ll go and who I’ll meet. In a month it will begin. I’ll be back on the road. I’m not worried though; I’ve always felt most at home on the road and at the little inn that awaits me in Norman.

Bearing Hope

I have returned to my inn, my temporary home, after another flight. Last week I traveled with a few of my friends to St. Louis, Missouri, for a national expo with Enactus. I’ve spoken about Enactus before—it’s the group I’m working with to bring down sex trafficking. It was, in fact, in furtherance of this goal that I was at the expo. My team was going to present a short explanation of what we’d been doing this semester to a panel of business executives. Why is this important? Well, first, the winners of various rounds earned prize money for their projects. All of the teams are working on limited budgets to solve problems in their communities so this money is quite valuable. Second and, for me, more importantly, these business executives are in a position to do far more than I can for my cause. As I told the tale of the voiceless victims of human trafficking, I watched the faces of the judges, hoping to see reflected in them the concern I felt. In some faces, I did.

My team actually made a wonderful showing considering it was our first year at competition. We placed in the top 64 teams, bringing in a few hundred dollars for our projects. As for me, I was inspired by the number of teams working toward the same goal as me. There were numerous projects regarding sex trafficking, and some received significantly more funding than we did. These were much older projects that have had amazing impacts and will continue to do so. I didn’t realize so many people knew or cared about those faceless women sold into prostitution. It was a blessing to see.

The winning team from the US will be competing in South Africa in a few weeks against the top teams from across the globe. I can’t imagine how many other projects there are worldwide to bring down the sex trade. If just 1% of projects are dedicated to this end, then there are hundreds of projects around the world working alongside mine. Together, we really do have the ability to make this change, both in our individual communities and around the world. Together we can bear hope into the darkest corners of the world to those who need it most. This is my dream. Perhaps it is also the true reason for my journey.

The Burden of Hope

Not every journey takes you far from home. One of the most frightening and impactful journeys I’ve ever taken started in my own backyard. Sugar Land, my hometown, is just a half hour from Houston, TX. Houston has the unsavory reputation of being one of the world’s hotspots for sex trafficking. My senior year of high school, my principal took the senior class on a field trip intended to open our eyes to the world we had inherited. The first and, for me, most haunting portion of the day was spent on a bus tour of the city’s red light district. A woman who has devoted her life to trying to bring down the sex trade pointed out building after building, brothel after brothel, prison after tortuous prison. If it’s so easy to find them, why haven’t these harbors of sin been destroyed? That’s what I wondered that day. I left that experience wanting desperately to do something, anything. But what could I do? In the drone of my daily life, unable to take any action, the weight of that day was slowly pushed aside and forgotten. Of course, that’s the terrible thing—we forget. We forget about those women and their pains. We forget, but the nightmares don’t end, not for them.

That day could have been an untimely end of this journey for me, but, thank goodness, it wasn’t. This past summer, the burden was brought back into the light for me, this time in a way that allowed me to shoulder it. I had the pleasure of being in a community production of Les Miserables at a local theater. Despite my best efforts, I managed to find myself cast as a “Lovely Lady,” quite a pretty euphemism for such a tragically misrepresented group. However, my director was intent on showcasing the true nature of the sex trade—powdered and painted slavery. As I stood on the stage during the first run, dressed in a ragged corset and skirt, waiting to see which girls the various “customers” would lead offstage, I had a tiny glimpse of the world I was trying to reveal to the audience. As our choreographer coached us in how to stand and pose, I could only imagine the horror of actually being trapped in such a life. Not only did we use the production to give the audience a window into this shadow world, but we also donated a portion of the ticket sales to stop sex trafficking. Less than a year after my first true encounter with that life, I’d managed to become a part, albeit a small part, of ending it.

Less than two weeks after the closing of the play, I left for the University of Oklahoma, my burden weighing heavily on my mind, and my recent victory driving me towards further fights. That first weekend, the new freshman had the opportunity to learn about the various groups on campus that we could join. When one of the groups told me that they had a project working to raise awareness regarding the sex trade, they immediately had my attention. I ended up joining the group, the OU chapter of Enactus, an international organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people in need through the power of entrepreneurial action. My Enactus team has three different projects, and I am working on Project Hope, the one that had caught my attention that first weekend. Because of this organization, I really am able to help make a difference. From organizing food and coin drives, to creating a documentary-style video, to hosting a speaking event for No Boundaries International, an organization working to end the sex trade in Oklahoma City, we are working to let the world know about modern slavery. I may not be able to do much, but I can do more than I had ever dreamed now that I’ve found others who also want to make a change. And if everyone does the little they can do, then perhaps we really can change the system. Maybe together we can make the world a little better and a little safer for us all. After all, my journey never was supposed to be just about me. If I don’t leave this world a little better than I found it, what was the point of journeying to begin with?