March 13, 2012

I Called Him Carlos: A First Hand Account of Child Trafficking. ~ Jamie Squires

Travel is my bliss.

I travel a lot more than most people would dream, due to the fact that I have an intense love of learning about cultures and people. I make certain to give these trips to myself.

I travel with friends, family, and alone. I have been blessed with wonderful travel companions who add to my exploration, and bring light and laughter to each adventure.

Some trips bring sheer relaxation and others show a glimpse into the harsh realities people deal with.

On a trip to Egypt, after hailing a cab on Zamalek to take us to the trendy and high end shopping district, the first thing we noticed was the condition of the vehicle. The car, I was certain, would fall apart around our feet.

Door handles were haphazardly attached to one door, and no handle at all could be found on another. In case of an accident I saw no possible escape route. The smell of exhaust was potent in the interior as well, but off we went.

As my cousin climbed into the front seat, she noticed a very small child curled up in a tiny ball on the floorboard of the car, asleep like a kitten.

We hesitated but the driver assured us that all was well. He woke the boy and had him climb onto his lap.

After driving for a while with the boy on his lap—and after the child had removed the key to the ignition while we were moving numerous times—my cousin Jena convinced the driver that it was ok to have the boy sit on her lap.

The driver spoke to Jena in Arabic and she then told the rest of us the situation: the driver was a single father, and without being able to afford someone to care for his son he brought him to work.

As our drive continued through dreadful traffic we ended up spending about an hour and a half with this man and child. In that time Jena asked why he did not have family to help him. The man explained that he was from Jordan, and all of his family was there however, he was not permitted in the country.

With that said no one asked for more details.

The boys mother was never mentioned, this struck me as an odd oversight. Where was she? What happened to her? The boy was only three years old.

I called him Carlos, mainly because we did not know the little boys name, and I had just seen The Hangover. It stuck, and we still call him Carlos.

Carlos had the most soulful, sad eyes I have ever seen on a child. He didn’t speak. He watched us all closely though, and he cuddled up on Jena and fell asleep.

As if driving through congested streets, mainly stopped more than moving, in a rattling death trap, with a small boy of unknown origins in the car was not strange enough, we soon found out how surreal life could get.

The driver asked if one of us would take Carlos.

Take him; for a walk, to the movies, for an ice cream, to the zoo? No, take him and keep him, forever.

Our shock was immediate and overwhelming.

Were we on a hidden camera show? Was Chris Jansen going to pop up at any moment to inform us we were recorded for his new show about people trafficking children? What in the hell was going on? This could not possibly be real.

Did this man/father not realize that human trafficking is a very real and very serious issue in Egypt?

It just did not seem possible. Who gives a child away to strangers? There are seriously dangerous people in this world. What was wrong with him?

Human trafficking is Egypt’s third largest illegal business, just after weaponry and drugs. The U.S. State Department’s annual report states that the estimated number of people who are victims of traffickers is between 600,000 and 820,000 a year.

I told Jena to tell the man that I would take him, drive us to the U.S. Embassy, and if nothing else possibly find help for the boy.

The man decided I was not who he wanted Carlos to be with because I had tattoos. What? You are giving a child away and you find fault with my tattoos?

Take into account that Egypt is a “transit country” for trafficking women and children into sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Here was a man willing to cast off this child into the unknown, yet finding issues with my physical body.

I understand that culturally there are differences, and no I am not Muslim, but neither were my companions. We were tourists in a very foreign country, this is not Cancun folks. Add that to the fact that we are all female in a brutally dominating male society, and our options were limited. We knew this.

As a parent, I could never imagine offering my child to anyone, anyone. It is unfathomable. The dangers in the world are vast and great without inviting possible danger to your child.

The reasons behind this man’s need to rid himself of a child did not and do not matter to me, the only thing that mattered was that he was endangering a child’s life.

If Carlos found himself living on the streets in Egypt he would have possibly been used, along with over one million other children, to work in cotton fields.

Think about that the next time you lay on your 1200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.

These children, as young as age five, work fourteen hours a day, without many breaks, and are subject to numerous beatings at the hands of their “employers”.

The street children in Cairo are forced to beg from tourists and residents alike, and turn over the money earned to gangs. They are malnourished, abused physically and sexually, and live in groups with other children.

If you have seen Slum Dog Millionaire you have a basic idea what I am talking about. That is the relatively safer side of what could have become of Carlos.

I cling to the small hope that Carlos was not given or sold to a trafficker.

His life span would be cut drastically due to the horrific conditions he would be forced to endure. As a male, he did have slightly better odds than a female of the same age. These little girls, almost without fail, are trafficked into sex slavery and child pornography.

Unfortunately there are enough perverse pedophiles to keep this business going throughout the world, and boys as well as girls are forced into sex slavery as very young children.

I often wonder what happened to Carlos, what his life is like, if he is safe. Was there more I could have done for a child in the middle of Cairo whose future was so precarious?

I like to think Carlos is with a family and loved, maybe even his own family.

I am sure he does not remember us, but The Hangover now makes me melancholy and I always end up thinking of that little boy, Carlos.

I remember his eyes.


Editor: Jennifer Cusano

Jamie Squires—originally from Mobile, Alabama, now living in Boulder, Colorado—is a Mom, photographer, dreamer, aspiring yogi, cloud watcher, living with Lupus and dealing with chemo. She shoots stuff. She gets the giggles. She wins big at blackjack and will give you everything in Texas Hold ‘Em. She is generous with her spirit and her laughter. She cries when she is angry and tends to make excessively long lists. She eats meat and drinks beer. She hates wearing shoes. She’s passionate and pretty magical. She’s happy and loves anyone who makes her laugh. She is covered in ink. She likes cheese. It doesn’t interest her what you do for a living, she wants to know what your dreams are.

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