Stories of Dressember || Sophia (and Sasha)
**The following words are written by a guest author- not my own. I'm honored to use my platform as a place for other women and men to share their stories of what freedom means and why they're participating in Dressember. The following is a personal, authentic account.
If you'd like to share your own story, please fill out the form here. There is plenty of space so don't be shy!*
This October, I left my dream job at a top 5 publisher working on the literature list, having been romanced by big New York money and glitzy European travel. It took me about 4 hours at my new job to realize I had made a mistake, about 3 days to realize there was no going back and about a week to know that God, should he exist, was simply pushing me in a very different direction. One that I was meant to pursue since childhood: becoming an author and philanthropist.
As I set out on this journey, applying to graduate programs, I thought about all the young girls and women who can't even dain to get a glimmer of their dream job because they're trapped in modern-day slavery. This post is for them.
With the short story below, I am privileged to begin that quest with Dressember, which champions the mission that every girl has a voice, a gift, a purpose. And she deserves equal opportunity and a chance to be free. It’s that simple.
Sasha, A Story for Dressember 2017
Fresh and bright was the Dhaka skyline as my flight tripped over the city. I thought I was there on a typical New York Times story to unmask the garment industry for the fifteenth time, but I would leave with a very different story, that of a young girl who lived and worked at the factory I was meant to be observing. It’s out now, so if you still believe in newspapers, stop in your local WholeFoods and you’ll find her name--it’s a hell of a lot more important than the first name (mine) on the byline.
They called her Sasha because it was the closest they could get to her native Thai name. This nine-year-old, who didn’t speak much English, would teach me more than my Princeton education or years following around Mr. Wallace, who also happened to be my grandfather, on the set of 60 minutes. The other twenty-somethings on the news desk at the Times used to call me ‘inbred’ and they weren’t completely wrong. I was accustomed to success. Sure, I’d seen suffering, or thought I did, during a gap year in India, but I had never seen it up close until I knew Sasha.
I recall the first time I met her. Well, that’s not really true. It was more like Sasha met me. I had started out doing things the honest way: talking to the factory supervisor. He knew who I was, where I was from and he agreed to give me a tour of the premises. The women in the rooms we toured didn’t look up from their sewing or washing or dyeing fabric. If it hadn’t been for the crowding, the shrillness that filled the space could easily have come from automated machines.
But there was one pair of eyes, over by the drying rack. Unmissable they were, not because they were angry or sad, just curious. Curious about an over-grown, overly-ambitious, over-privileged western reporter, dressed in jeans and a white Oxford with the collar turned up at the front.
When I left, I saw her return to her task, but I swear each new room I entered I saw those eyes again. Was she following me? Perhaps she, not I, had the natural instinct as an investigative journalist; she certainly had the dexterity. Still, I had the upper-hand when it came to endurance. After thanking my supervisor for my tour, I saw those eyes again by the racks. I looked and she ran, but I caught her. The other women looked around, but out of curiosity not concern. Mistreatment, or alleged mistreatment, was nothing out of the ordinary around here.
Friendship came fast to this little girl as though she had been robbed of it. While I could never tell if she knew my real purpose in being there or if her openness was simply an expression of self, I eagerly joined her on the journey. To begin with, knowing Sasha was like having the keys to the castle--she knew the factory better than anyone and her size made her able to get into places I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. This included a backroom where passports and documentation for the workers were kept. More than once I felt the urge to ransack the space for Sasha’s papers, but without her full name, I knew I would never be able to find it.
She had managed to keep some photographs. Although faded and wrinkled, you could make them out: a small house with a damaged roof, a mother with the weight of the world on her shoulders, children with enough differentiation to be by different fathers, an aunt perhaps. My Columbia-educated psychologist friends would have been quick to describe this as several steps beyond a broken home, using instead those big, academic, Latinesque words. But to me, it was something much simpler: a life. It wasn’t glamorous or even comfortable, but it was a life.
I thought about that often, the life she had left behind without her own consent. We were both vagabonds, but I had, for better or for worse, chosen this existence, chasing the next story, the next adventure.
Soon, I would be there again. Chasing that next byline. I was needed in Chicago, a frantic phone call from my editor revealed. And he was just so damned tired of waiting for the piece that should have only taken a fortnight and half the budget I’d already spent. Chicago wasn’t just a story then, but detention. As much as I would regret it, I was going home. Sasha seemed to know because she found me that night, back slumped against the wall, clutching the cell phone that doubled as my office.
I couldn’t say no those wide eyes, beckoning. With the curl of her index finger, she invited me to follow her. Swiping on the phone, I checked the time: 4 am. Grabbing my olive jacket off the wall, I moved quickly through the streets. Sasha led me out to the water. We stood on against a rickety railing and looked out at the sky. A raised arm, she pointed eastward, looking out towards the sunrise and back at me. I pulled out my compass, the one my father had given me when I told him I was, against his wishes, joining the family profession as a journalist. Opening it, from the needle I saw Sasha was right; she pointed eastward. Her arm had not fallen nor her gaze faltered. In her squinted eyes, I could see she wasn’t pointing towards home at all, but towards possibility.
Words by Sophia Latorre-Zengierski, Princeton, NJ