On location: filming in a brothel in Bangladesh
It was a long drive from the capital city of Dhaka, but then again every drive in and around Dhaka is long no matter if its two or twenty miles. Once out of the city, lush green jungle reflected off the rice paddies. The speed of our driver made it difficult to capture no matter what lens I had on my camera and therefore stayed in my mind rather than my memory card. Who would know amongst all of this beauty and fauna off to one side over some train tracks there existed a brothel? Although in reality it seems quite fitting, that behind beauty is sometimes the hard reality that beauty comes at a price.
I spent a week filming inside and around one of the largest brothels in Bangladesh. Within a brothel there exist sex workers, and therefore as a result of their work there exists children. The children are the pearls swirling around inside this gritty, salty, stinging oyster. Their laughter seemed so contagious they could cure whatever was ailing me that day- jet lag, migraine, dehydration, it all seemed to melt away at the pitch of their voices when they would say ‘A salam alaikum’. If you closed your eyes, you would think you were in any other daycare anywhere in the world, with eager kids ready to negotiate building blocks with each other for whatever castle they created that night. This was the focus of my filming for the week, not the grit, salt or sting of the reality of the rest of the world-and for that I am grateful.
I was asked by Saving Moses to go and film a series of short stories on some of the children in this area as their newly launched NightCare program was finding its feet in Bangladesh. Last year I went to Cambodia, where their program had been up and running for a few years. Being in a newly launched program gave me the opportunity to understand the full value and worth of NightCare in Bangladesh- in my opinion you cannot put a price on it.
The grit of the brothel is an experience that still has not fully left me. Most of my time in the brothel was during the day. Women would usually get on with life as if we were in any other low resource setting around the world- hanging laundry, cooking, taking a bucket shower (if you’re unsure what one is, it is exactly what it sounds like). Most of the women I interviewed had a room no larger than that of a single college dorm room to put it in perspective, and one bed they would share with their baby when they weren’t working. Men were around and present but ‘customers’ weren’t obvious to identify through my lens, as they looked mostly like shop keepers.
Lens or no lens it was obvious to me these women were strong, but their futures were most likely decided for them. Some were sex workers, some were shop owners. All had some form of work that tied them to the brothel, where no child was immune to its dangers. Instead of using their strength to change their own situations, I admired how they were using all their energy and love they had and passing it onto their children. In every interview I asked what wish they would want for their children, and every one of them wanted something more than the lives they were leading for themselves.
The last night I was there, I was given permission by the local authorities to do a walk through of the brothel at night. My intention wasn’t to make a spectacle of this lifestyle, but to try and take away a shot that captured the grit and reality that these children would face without NightCare. Overlooking the women exaggerated with makeup and exotic dresses waiting along the narrow alleyways, I found children being made to dance and move as if they were the ones wearing the exotic dresses and makeup.
That was the last shot of the night and trip for me, and when I got back to the safety of the NightCare center I let myself cry after what I had seen. It’s the only time I’ve done that after filming something as heart wrenching as that. It made me think of the over 30 children I had surrounded myself with at the new NightCare center, and just how easily those dancing children could have been them with their laughter lost, along with their hope for a different future.
In NightCare, babies and toddlers of sex workers get a meal, a bath, have their clothes cleaned, and get to play before sleeping safely through the night. To watch some of Lauren Anders Brown’s short films and learn more about them, click here or follow them and her on twitter @LABCollaborate.