The Freedom Store, magnified by its surroundings – in a mall that looks like an empty movie set, encircled by a random selection of shops – is always an interesting experience. On Friday it was my shift. The front line. Where you see a fascinating mix of people through the doors. For many the store is their first interaction with Not For Sale and the issue of modern-day slavery. Thus “the front line”. It is still kind of funny to see how people react when you finish your little spiel about what they just walked into. “Welcome to the Freedom Store!” *with varying levels of enthusiasm*. I usually give them a few seconds to look around, and then… “Have you been to the Freedom Store before?” If/when they answer “no” is when you introduce them to the concept of the store and that slavery still exists. During my Friday shift, a father and daughter walked in. “Welcome to the Freedom Store”, said the nice young man with a funny accent. I told them about the realities of human trafficking in the United States and around the world. *They stared back at him with blank mute expression* I told them about what we at NFS do and the concept around the Freedom Store. *More blank stares was what he received* I told them that slavery still exists in San Francisco. They told me they were from Texas. I told them Houston is a hub for the trafficking of young girls and boys for sexual exploitation. I don’t know they believed me. Eventually I got a, “that’s horrible”, as they Usher U-Turned themselves away from the uncomfortable news they had just heard and back towards the bliss of apathy. I’m not trying to sound overly cynical; I guess you just had to be there. *But wait, there’s more* As they walked out I noticed the daughter had a huge shiny gold PEACE sign made out of diamantes (I bet they were conflict diamantes) on her back beaming in the sun almost mockingly. I instantly thought back to the moment I wrote about last week, the first class of my Masters program when my prof asked the class what peace meant to us. I wondered what it meant to her? I wondered if she and her father, who I am sure are lovely people, ever thought about the rest of the world. What the First World affords us, more than anything, is the ability to take things for granted, to be apathetic. The rest of the world doesn’t have such luxuries. We haven’t allowed that, or at least the system hasn’t, the powers that be[little] will not.
A friend of mine emailed me the other day, talking about the terrible turmoil and violence in Northern Africa and the Middle East. He said he saw a news report, with a father being interviewed who had just lost his son to the violence, saying through his tears that he would loose four sons and his own life for a chance for freedom. *marinate on that for a second* I wonder what peace means for him? We throw these words around so easily. Peace, freedom, justice. We think we know what they mean, we do by definition, but I don’t think you can really know what peace means unless we’ve been without it, what freedom means until we’ve lost it, and what justice is all about until we’ve met it’s antithesis. We are all lucky because most of us will never truly know what peace means, because most of us will never be without it. Yes it does sound counterintuitive to say we will be lucky to never truly know what peace means, but I think you get my meaning.
I have been on this little journey for two months. I came here to confirm what I want to do with my life. I most certainly do not have everything figured out. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t even know all of the questions, but I am taking steps in the right direction. I went back to university to try and answer some of those questions – it left me with more and I think it also gave me enough words to navigate around some of the harder ones. One thing I did learn is that you can’t have peace without justice and both of those together equal freedom. What have I learnt in the last two months? I’ve learnt that working for peace and justice, for freedom, is hard work! Peace!