Journey: final day

Visitors queue reading the JOURNEY newspaper

It’s a glorious Sunday morning and we unfurl in the warmth like metamorphosing moths. The press coverage is triggering an ever-replenishing queue of visitors who read the story of Elena’s trafficking in their free JOURNEY newspapers. Den Haag is informed, concerned and engaged. We are learning so much.

I have to return to London, but JOURNEY will continue to disorientate and challenge people for another week. I’ll miss the camaraderie, the spontaneous wit, the brutal observations and meteorological mood swings, but not the chips & mayo, frozen bones, damp toes and runny nose.

The final shipping container is beginning to resemble a giant fruit machine. Our reception team eagerly waits for the next combination of visitors to stumble out: a high court judge, two barristers, four pensioners, a family counselor, three probation officers, one man and his dog, two immigration lawyers and a gaggle of teenage girls. A man in his middle twenties emerges, fills in his questionnaire, and talks about the trafficking situation in Den Haag. David tells us he is not an activist but lives in the red light district and has a surgical insight into the nuances of exploitation here. Prostitution is legal in The Netherlands and he is crystal clear on the distinction between sex workers offering consensual sex, and trafficked women forced into prostitution. Everyone involved in JOURNEY comes to trafficking with a weight of tactical, operational and clinical intelligence. David rolls in off the street with a feral savvy. Dr Michael is setting up a group in Den Haag to address trafficking issues and invites him to join. David is such a star, when I am crowned King Tom of Holland I will appoint him Minister for Eradicating Trafficking.

Before heading out to Schiphol Airport, Mike Dempsey and I take a last lunch in our favourite brasserie. We bump into TJ who is grabbing a bite between shifts at JOURNEY. She is a bright young lawyer who works for the Foundation. As we eat, she talks about her experience helping the devastated community of Bhopal throttle compensation out of Union Carbide. As a result of endemic industrial negligence, leaking chemicals in their pesticide plant triggered a fog of toxic gases that killed an estimated 18,000 citizens. 25 years later, over 200,000 survivors still suffer from debilitating injuries and the chromosomal dysfunction and environmental pollution will effect generations to come. No one was ever prosecuted and the final settlement agreed with the spineless Indian government amounted to a pitiful 470 million dollars. Imagine the damages had it happened in America. Over the past week we’ve heard hundreds of heartbreaking stories of people doing unspeakable things to people. I’m struck by the human being’s infinite capacity for cruelty; the compulsion to enslave others and the cynical exploitation of vulnerable people for money and power.

We lug our suitcases across the tree-lined boulevard and marvel at the purring efficiency of this succinct little city. We clamber onto the clattering tram but cannot find the on-board ticket machine. I lurch my way to the front and ask if we can pay our fare to the station. The driver grins at me with a twinkle in his eye and says: “It’s on me.”

Sunday morning JOURNEY


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