October 07, 2011

The first prostitute I saw on display in Amsterdam's red light district kinda scared me.  I didn't expect it.  It reminded me of those scenes in horror movies where there's a vampire or something standing deep in the corner of the room.  The scariest part is that they're standing completely still and staring at you and all the while you don't even realize.  When you finally discover them the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up.  Or maybe it's just the fact that a human being is on display for sale.  Something about it just shocked me.

I think the first girl I saw scared me because I remember she was standing straight up like a statue and peering out from behind the window.  I don't think she even blinked once when I passed her by.

The girls are on display behind doors with full length windows illuminated by red light.  Different sex workers have different approaches to getting their clients.  Some girls have their asses in the air while others stick their tongue out and point at you.  Some knock on the glass in front of them and others are on the phone with what I would like to imagine as their boyfriends or parents.  Some of them are in a room together just talking to each other.

I would say all of this is weird but I've learned that "weird" is subjective.  "Weird" is something taught and cultivated, in some ways "weird" doesn't even exist.  Ain't that kinda weird?

I wanted to talk to one of these girls.  I wanted to hear her story and learn about what it's like from her end.  Jonathan and I decided to pool our money together and get a prostitute to interview.  I asked one of the sex workers if she would allow us to pay her for a ten minute interview.  She seemed confused by the request but ultimately agreed.  We followed her up a long flight of stairs and into a bedroom lit by red light.  She sat on the bed, told us to take a seat and we started to talk.

Rob: Are you originally from Amsterdam?

XXX: No, my mother is from Slovenia and my Father is from Romania.  I am mixed.  I lived 7 years in Kranj (fourth largest city in Slovenia) and after I went to Romania.  There I went to school and I had my life there.

Rob: I’m assuming the main reason for you coming here is to make money and this obviously pays more money then working at one of the local restaurants or bars in the red-light district.

XXX: Yes.  Of course.

Rob: Do you have a boyfriend?

XXX:  Yes

Rob: How does he feel about you working here?  Does he mind it?

XXX: A little but it’s money and we are trying to manage our money.  And when I go outside I don’t remember what happened here.  I am normal when I go out.  I see nobody who came here.  Here, I go out and I don’t remember anything.  I go out and I don’t remember the client, I don’t remember the name.  Really, I forget what happened.

Rob: Do you live close to the Red Light District?

XXX: No, it's in amsterdam but it is like 20 minutes with the car.

Rob: Do you plan on staying here for a while?

XXX: No.  I stay here for maybe one or two months and then I go home and I come back.  It’s like this all the time, back and fourth.  I always will go back home, I have my life there, my family and my friends.  Here it's just work.

Rob: How long have you been working here?

XXX: About one year.

Rob:  How do you feel about the job?

XXX: No, I don’t like it.  Yes, I am a prostitute, I know but it means just money.  A lot of money and that’s it.

Rob:  Obviously here in Amsterdam prostitution is legal and also regulated.  How often are you tested while working?

XXX:  Normally every three months.  But I am so careful.  Always with a condom and no kissing.

Rob:  On average how many clients do you have in one night?

XXX: Tonight I had 11 so far.  It depends on the night.  Sometimes, 30, 20 or 50 clients.  It’s never the same.

Rob:  Walking around here I see some girls that are in the window and on the phone.  I just can’t help but imagine they are on the phone with their boyfriend or a parent.  I guess it makes me realize how it’s just a job like any other and it’s really where I come from that attaches a stigma to it.

XXX:  For some it is very strange and for others it is very normal.  It’s normal for Amsterdam.  When I go into a shop here and somebody sees me, and they know I am a prostitute, they don’t look at me differently.  Yea, I am a prostitute but it’s just a job.  It is not my life, you understand?  Here in Holland, everything is normal.  Nobody looks at me bad and when I go out I am not prostitute.  I am normal.

Rob:  It’s just a job.

XXX:  Yes.  Here I smile, I am a prostitute but outside I am another.  But not all the girls are the same.  Many girls have a pimp and have problems with him and outside is not the same.  For me, it’s different.

Our time was up, I thanked her for talking with me and we walked back downstairs to the street.  I continued to walk the red light district with my friends.  We passed by sex workers, people smoking pot and others on shrooms, and it's all legal.  I was thinking about how different the culture is compared to the U.S. but then I realized our cultures aren't so different after all.  Our people do the same things back home but it's different because it's not legal and we've got to hide it.

If there's one thing I felt in Amsterdam it was freedom.  How ironic to be 3,600 miles from America, "The Land of the Free", and feel a sense of freedom I've never felt before.  I heard "California Dreaming" playing loud from inside one of the bars as I passed by.  Considering all the thoughts going through my head, I found that kind of funny.

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