Honduras: The Lost Girls
After a week of hanging out in Mexican brothels, I was no nearer to the story I was investigating on the disappearance of thousands of Honduran women. All the leads pointed to them being trafficked and sold for sex in brothels in Chiapas, Mexico's southern most and poorest state, populated by a disparate mix of smugglers, criminal gangs, drug cartels, rebels, indigenous Indians and illegal migrants. But the working girls were all too scared to talk.
It was the same drill every time we entered a 'cantina'. My translator, producer and I - all females - would walk into the bordello with our male escort and activist, Juan, following us at a discrete distance. Sometimes Juan would introduce us to the girls, pimps and Madams; other times we had to fend for ourselves. The initial reception was always frosty. We weren't good for business and we clearly unsettled the clientele. So we would try to blend in, swigging beers and cracking jokes, hoping the women and punters would accept we were just three wild girls who happened to enjoy getting tanked up at the local brothel.
Mexican brothels aren't the prettiest of places, especially not on payday when bottles of beer and tequila are being chugged down. Men in cowboy hats and jeans stagger to plastic tables and beckon girls over. In buttock-skimming skirts and Perspex heels the girls exchange pleasantries then get to the business of prices and boundaries. The couple disappears for ten minutes, and then it happens all over again.
Undercover Syria - Trapped in a Syrian Safehouse
The frantic call from the lookout comes at 6am: a few hundred members of the security forces and the dreaded shabiha militia, dressed in black, wielding guns and clubs, are marching towards the safe house in which we are hiding. They are raiding homes, looking for defected soldiers, opposition activists and anyone who's been at a protest. That means nearly half the town of Madaya. And we happen to be with three of the most wanted men in Syria.
We are in Madaya to see how the activists are operating and organising protests. We had waited two days in Damascus before we could travel the forty minute drive north-west of the city, as the roads are littered with military check points and road blocks. The activists say cars are being searched, and soldiers have been confiscating laptops, cameras and even mobile phones.
But only a few hours after our arrival, the army storms into Madaya. A convoy of trucks carrying thousands of soldiers, and jeeps packed with plain-clothed security officers with AK47s are paying the townsfolk a visit. We are bundled into a car that screeches its way to a safe house where we are told we will hide until government forces withdraw, and it is safe to get out.
For the next three days, Madaya is besieged, and the director Wael Dabbous and I are trapped with Malik, Mohammad and Abu Jafar - their noms de guerres - in two darkened rooms with the windows clamped shut. Over 72 hours, under a thick cloud of cigarette smoke and never raising their voices above a whisper, the men - all in their twenties - share their lives with us. They are members of one of the biggest underground opposition groups, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, or SRGC, and they have been living as fugitives for five months. During the day, they hide in different safe houses, emerging in the darkness of night, and when they travel, it is only ever with a network of lookouts checking the roads ahead, changing cars as they move.
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