Thursday, December 22, 2011


today was hard. i said goodbye to the ladies i have grown the closest to in these four months. it was hard to see tears. it was hard to not have an answer when they asked if i was coming back. it was hard knowing that i may never see these ladies again this side of eternity. it was awesome getting to celebrate Christmas with them as we laughed, danced and cried together. i will always remember these moments. tomorrow will be another hard day. i will be sleeping in my own bed a week from today. i cant wrap my mind around that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

ashbe na

today we started the saying goodbye process in the form of a Christmas parties. today we got to get dressed up in our saris which took a whole clan of sari bari ladies. once everything was properly tucked into place and our petty coats were so tight we could barely breathe then the party was able to start. it was really cool to be able to sit with these ladies one last time as we prayed, sang songs and heard a devotion. it was also in this time that our mergi ma told the ladies that it would be our last visit to this sari bari unit. she said "ashbe na" which means they will not come again. for some reason this phrase always brings the reality that i am in my final week in this place that has been my home for the last four months. ashbe na. i still cant believe that the end has come. we have Christmas parties tomorrow and friday then our time at sari bari will be done. i have learned so much from these women that it will be really hard to say goodbye and thank them for the smiles, laughs, tears that i have shared with them. today was just a preview of the celebration that the Christmas parties are and the sadness that is leaving my sisters. it was so much fun to see all the ladies dressed up in their finest saris and try to imitate their dancing. my face hurts from laughing so much. i laughed a lot more today than i have here. it was awesome to see the ladies let loose. it will be good to leave on such a high note.

in other news.....winter has come to kolkata which means ive seen some pretty interesting fashions statements in the last week. i started seeing goats wearing sweatshirts about 3 weeks ago and thought that would take the cake. not true. i have seen grown men wearing pink fuzzy sweater vests. women wear blankets (calling them shawls) everywhere they go. little kids are put into these snow suit looking things which restrict movement and make them look like walking blobs (think a christmas story). everyone (yes, everyone) wears socks with sandals and they sell socks designed to be worn with flip flops. this city never ceases to amaze me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

my training blanket

the first week we arrived in kolkata, melissa let us know that we would have the opportunity to sew a training blanket at sari bari as a glimpse into the day to day work of the ladies. ill be the first to admit that i wasnt super excited about sewing a blanket and really considered passing up on the offer because im just not a girl who enjoys sewing. the first day of work at sari bari (back in august when all i could do was sweat and avoid stepping in puddles and poop) i decided that i would do it and take it on as a challenge. today, my last day at sari bari, i finished it alongside ladies i have grown to love in the crisp, cold december air. as i was putting the finishing touches on my blanket, i realized that my blanket is a reflection of my journey here in kolkata. my blanket started out as a couple of old saris with rips and wholes waiting to become a work of art. i came to kolkata with little idea of what this time would hold for me and i had my own brokenness and issues to work through. there is a steep learning curve with sewing blankets and living in kolkata. the first lines on my blanket look like my needle got drunk and took a leisurely stroll across my blanket and my back and fingertips were really sore. i realized just how hard it is to sit on the concrete for hours hunched over sewing. likewise, my first month in kolkata was filled with frustration, anger, confusion and learning. i faithfully carried my blanket with me each day to sari bari so its been abused on the metro and thrown around at sari bari. sometimes i feel like that is how my body has been treated by this city. the constant fight sometimes leaves me a little worse for the ware. as i got used to the rhythm of sewing, my lines became more straight and there was less pain except for the occasional needle poking my finger. over the past four months this city has become home. i have gotten used to fighting to get on/off the metro and buses. i have learned to dodge the yellow cars (they dont stop) and avoid getting sideswiped by rickshaws. i have learned to dance along with the rhythm of the city with only the occasional step out of tune. as i patched my blanket today, i thought about all the love, grace, mercy, protection that God has given me along my journey. without the patches my blanket would look unfinished and kind of shabby, but with the patches it looks like a masterpiece created by an artist. i see the patches that God has given me in this time and it makes me realize even more that i am His masterpiece. it has been a journey filled with joy, anger, frustration, learning, love, hope, and emptiness. God has used the lows to show me His presence in this city in spite of the darkness and the good times to celebrate the light that He is to these ladies. it has been a long, hard journey but i am coming back as a slightly patched up creation.

this week we will be celebrating Christmas with our sari bari family as well as saying goodbye to ladies we have come to love as they invited us to share life with them. please pray as for my team as we mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepare to leave this city.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


i have two weeks until i am back in america. it seems like all i have are moments left with the people i have come to love in this city. a couple days ago my indian mom had me sit on the bed while she got out all of her jewelry in search of bangles that would match my sari for the the Borodin (Christmas) party. it turned into her putting earings, multuiple necklaces, rings, bangles, and to top it off a bindi (the red dot married indian women wear). in that moment there was such joy as she played dress up with her american daughter. a moment i will always remember. yesterday one of the ladies met me and erin on the way to sari bari so we walked into work with her. (as a note, it is really common for girls to hold girl's hands or boys to hold boy's hands as they stroll (slowly) down the streets.) she guided across the sidewalk as any protective mama hen would do for her baby chickens. (at sari bari we are referred to as mergi batchas which means baby chickens.) we turned a corner and she grabbed my hand and we started talking about the sari i would wear to the Borodin party and the wedding that she went to over the weekend. all the while, she was throwing dirty looks like it was her job because the streets were filled with men. it was probably such a weird sight for anyone who saw it but in that moment we walked down the street hand in hand as sisters. that is moment i will always remember.

the experience of walking hand in hand with my india sister helped me to put into perspective my journey in kolkata. when God first asked me to come to india i was confused and hesitant because india was never a place that was even on my radar. when i made the decision to come and submitted my application, i grabbed onto God with both hands knowing that He would guide me in the path He laid out for me. in the time leading up to my departure date, there were several things like support raising and saying goodbye that i put in God's hands. as we arrived, with one hand i clung to my Heavenly Father and with the other i clung to the mergi ma as she ushered us around the city. she taught us what we needed to know about this city like getting around and what to expect from men in a crowded metro. i was like a child being held up by two parents as i learned to walk in this city. as time has flown by i have learned to walk without the constant help of the mergi ma. God still has not let go of me in this time. this week i walked hand in hand with my sari bari sister. this place is home now.

My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:8

Monday, December 12, 2011

simple treats and pure laughter

one of the major things i have learned living in kolkata is that most things that i have access to/do on a daily basis back home are treats in this city. for the last 3 1/2 months i have been sleeping on a couch (part of this is by choice) instead of a bed where i can stretch out. back home i have a whole queen size bed to myself which seems like such a blessing after spending 4 months on a couch. another thing that i find is such a treat and helpful to me in this city is american food. there is one mcdonalds, a coulple KFCs, a pizza hut and some subways to choose from but our budget for lunch and location of work does not allow us to eat there everyday. i rarely eat mcdonalds back home but it is such a treat here it is a reminder of home. i have eaten there only a a few times (like 5 maybe) and each time it is such a treat. one thing that we are blessed with every monday morning is some fresh brewed coffee and it is such a treat each week. there are coffee shops here but there are out of the way of our daily travel and they are kind of expensive on a 800 rupee weekly food budget. our sunday routine has been to sit at cafe coffee day after church to work on our projects or read while we wait for the metro to start running at 2. i have seen this time on sundays as a retreat in order to recharge for the coming week. simple things like sitting at a coffee shop reading is something i have taken for granted back home. one of the reasons these things are seen as treats is because i choose to deny myself the comforts of going to mcdonalds everyday. i choose to buy locally produced things instead of imported goodies like ritz crackers and goldfish because my budget doesnt allow me to splurge on things i think i need. if i deny myself then when i allow myself to eat at mcdonalds or get a latte it is truly a treat. i am looking forward to coming home with this new perspective on simple treats.

one other thing that i have learned is the importance of laughter. today at sari bari there was a song that came on the radio that immediately led to a spontaneous dance party. it was so much fun to see the ladies' walls come down as they circled around to watch a few of the ladies battle each other in a dance off. the laughter was contagious. it was in that moment that i realized how privileged i am to be a part of sari bari. these ladies i have taught me so much about laughter and the joy found in living without taking myself too seriously. i wonder what it would be like if spontaneous dance parties broke out in workplaces in america. how much joy would that bring? i mighty have to try it when i get back. look for a spontaneous dance party starting december 29. JOI JESU!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
psalm 150:4

Thursday, December 8, 2011

name tag

one of the things i love about sari bari is that all of the products have a name tag on it that says "made in india by". it gives credit to the women and allows the people who buy products to see who makes the product. today i was ironing a stack of scarves to be packaged and shipped. one of the ladies walked up next to me and pointed to the scarf and said "i did that one." her face showed her joy in knowing that someone would be buying a scarf that she made and she had so much pride in her work. it made me realize that i was created by God. i have God's name tag. He looks down on me and sees His perfect creation. sometimes i forget that i am wonderfully made and see all the things i dont like about myself like my weight or height or my skin. God created me the way i am for a reason and He sees it as perfection. it was that thought that made today such a joy.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a] Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Psalm 139:13-15

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

adventures in kolkata

i think part of the reason i love this city is because everyday is really an adventure. today it started with a super crowded metro with people pushing and internal organs getting smashed in the process. about halfway through our commute to the north of the city the metro stopped and half the people got out. about half a second later a voice came over the loud speaker, said something in bangla (it was one of those moments where i wish i could understand bangla), and everyone got out of the metro. as i was waiting to exit the train the doors closed on my bag so my immediate reaction was to pry the doors open which then turned into holding the doors open for the rest of the people behind me. quite the kolkata metro experience. it was a mass of people because it was rush hour in kolkata so the mob moved towards the gates and exited in a fairly orderly manner which really impressed me. we then tried to get a bus which was an adventure because we were told that there were no buses that were going to where we needed to be. one guy told us to catch a bus to the next metro stop then there would be buses heading north to where we needed to get to....well we did that but there were no buses so we started walking. we ended up at the next metro station where we just started asking for any bus that was going north. we found one and got to work only half an hour late. i was pretty impressed that our adventure only delayed us a half hour. it is moments like these that just make me laugh because ultimately God is in control. i could have gotten mad or frustrated but instead i see it as God providing an adventure and new way to see more of the city. i am continually a student learning that i always need to be prepared for an adventure.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

choosing to be blind

from the very beginning of my work at mama t's, there has been one girl that everyone wants to work with and her name is mita. mita is blind because her eyes never fully developed (or at least that's what i have been told) but is usually one of the easier kids to work with. she knows when it is time to change her diaper and will cooperate in that process as much as she is able to and is generally easy to feed. it has become my job to take mita to class for the blind kids on fridays which is not her favorite thing to do but it is part of the routine for her. today she was in a very energetic mood and decided to stand up and start jumping with excitement. in this process, she began to fall forward at which point i needed to catch her. (she cannot stand on her own.) taylor was sitting right next to me and pointed out that she was trusting that my hands would be there to catch her. she is not able to see that there are hands there to catch her but she is trusting that someone or something will be there to catch her when she is falling. it made me realize that in many ways my ability to see things keeps me from trusting. i see my own insecurities and weaknesses and am hesitant to trust others with those things. i am hesitant to trust that God will provide the things i need for fear of Him letting me down. unlike mita i see all the ugly things in the world that make me hesitant to trust. what would it be like if i choose to be blind to the things of the world so that i could trust that God would catch me when i fall? in my last three weeks all i can do is trust that God will give me the words to say as the ladies ask me when i will come back. i will trust that God will guide my path as i start news things when i get home. i will trust that God will provide comfort and peace as i say goodbye to the community that He has given me in kolkata. i am trusting as i fall into the loving arms of God who will not let me fall.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 corinthians 5:6-8

Saturday, December 3, 2011


yesterday was the first of many Christmas parties. i received my first sari (yay!) so that i can wear it to the sari bari Christmas parties. i was so honored to be sitting around the table with some amazing people who have become my family here. i was so humbled that i God gave me the privilege to serve alongside some awesome americans that have made kolkata home and the amazing indian staff that have welcomed us, the mergi bachas (baby chickens), into their life. the festive feeling started as we walked along the streets of kolkata hand in hand. bideshi and deshi. there was no division which was probably really confusing for anyone who saw our group. after dinner we were all on the same packed metro so the party continued. we were responsible for taking our indian little brother home because our indian parents were going somewhere else before heading home. he was sitting on my lap speaking english with us so one lady leaned over and asked if he was my son. it made us all laugh but apparently i can pass for an indian mom. good to know. this morning during our conversational bengali class, our teacher (who is awesome and amazing all at the same time) asked us how we were feeling about leaving. this brought tears all around. our teacher told us that she doesnt want us to leave and prays every day that we will come back and join the staff here. it is so hard to be torn between our family back home and our family here.
tonight on the way home, we stopped and talked to our usual peeps. the cigarette lady talked about something (couldnt really understand what she talking about) for five minutes then told us we need to come sit and have sweets with her before we leave. she also wants a picture of us to keep when we leave so she can remember us when we go back to america. she also gave us some better cookies that she refused to accept any money for and said that if we gave her money she would throw it in the street. so humbling to know that these people count us as friends now and not just strangers that pass by. as we walked away, she said we have to come back before we leave. we see her every day but she is still afraid that we will leave without saying goodbye. we then stopped and talked to the cha (tea) lady who made us sit and eat at least a mishti. we shared the cookies from the cigarette lady with her. as we walked to the internet cafe, we ran into one of our neighborhood friends who said we looked so cute last night (we were dressed up from the Christmas party) and that we now have a indian attitude. he said we are no longer foreigners but we are indian. it is really humbling to hear that as our time to leave is rapidly approaching.
i look back and see how God has provided in amazing and humbling ways throughout my time in kolkata. at the beginning i thought december 29th would never come but He has provided motivation, strength, health, perseverance, and joy to thrive in this city. my God is bigger than this city and that is a truly humbling thought.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. james 1:27

Thursday, December 1, 2011

mosquito hunting and other games kids play

one of my joys since i have been here is playing with the kids. i am surrounded by kids at least two days a week at mama t's. on tuesday, i was helping andeep walk, his daily exercise to strengthen his legs, and he discovered a stuffed soccer ball by the window i always walk him by to see the street below. i was in awe as he was able to kick the ball and had the strength to direct the path he wanted to continue kicking the ball. his grunts of joy made me realize that he was completely happy in that moment. when the ball went out of his sight, he would look all around his feet and refused to move until he found it. a smile would spread across his face when he saw it in front of his feet so he was once again able to continue practicing dribbling his soccer ball. after he was changed and ready for name time, i took so time to play with him and it is in those moments where his laughter is loud enough for all to hear that i see the joy that God has given in this dark city. i have also had some really awesome moments at sari bari with the kids who occasionally accompany their mom/grandma to work. i remember the times i had to go to work with my dad and it was fun for a couple hours but after awhile it was boring so i want to make it a little more fun for those kids. one day it involved following a little boy around the office as he pointed out what he saw as important and then we play memory. his idea of playing memory was turning over all the cards then putting the matches together. it was so cool to work together in those few moments. another day at a different office, it involved getting slayed like a dragon multiple times by the valiant knight. laughter floated throughout the whole office and im sure most of the ladies thought i was crazy. it was worth it to see the smile on that kid's face. today at another office, i played mosquito hunter with a little boy for at least three hours. it started out as a way of getting rid of all the mosquitoes but turned into creating a pile of dead mosquitoes. when the mosquitoes were too elusive we switched to hide and seek which then turned into me being the tickle monster. at one point he was like a baby monkey attached to my back as i was sewing. i walked away with my neck covered in snot and spit but it was worth it for the few moments of laughter. sometimes this city can seem like such a dark and joyless place but it is in those moments of laughter that i reminded of God's goodness and provision. He uses children to remind me that i am His child. He wants me to smile and laugh and be ridiculous because He loves me. He has filled my joy today so it overflowed. Joi Jesu!

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad. Psalm 126:2-3

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the friends we've made

tonight on our walk home from the metro, as we have done for the last couple months, we stopped and talked to the lady that sells cigarettes out of a small wooden shack. she always asked us, as she always does, what we ate today and what we will eat for dinner. if we are carrying a bag of groceries, she will take it from our hands and inspect the contents. she is usually confused by some of the things we have like peanut butter or taco seasoning. she asks us when we are leaving and wants us to bring her some cake on Borodin (Christmas). today she said that she wants to go back to america with us. she is always a smiling face that welcomes us home to our neighborhood. our second stop is at the local cha (tea) stand. tonight the cha lady treated us to tea and snacks. we sit on empty buckets and talk as she continues cooking sweets. we met her daughter and she said that she has 3 other children. she allowed us a look into her life. next we usually meet with some friends that erin has made from the neighborhood. they knew my name before i ever talked to them. i like to think of them as the neighborhood watch/walking club. they spend their time just walking around so we usually stop and talk with them in the middle of the street. we do our best to understand their questions and respond in our broken bangla. they always greet us with a smile. our last stop is the internet cafe we come to almost every night. we are usually welcomed with big smiles and some questions about our day. they have come to know us and can tell if we are tired or sad or mad or happy. since the internet is what connects us to home, they have also seen us grieve as we receive bad news. each of these people have become part of our story in this city. last week we came home later than usual and each of these people asked where we had been. it was so humbling to know that we have become part of this community. it is more people that we will have to say goodbye to in less than a month. i am grateful for their willingness to show kindness to a few bideshis (foreigners) for these few months. it is always nice to receive kindness after having to fight through another day.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed 2 corinthians 4:7-9

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

loss for words

with a month to go i am at a loss for words. i was sitting in the kitchen with my indian mom and we were talking then she said that the kids are already sad because we are leaving. she said "my kids love you too much." what do i say in that moment? yesterday i walking into sari bari and one of the ladies ran up to me and gave me a huge hug because i showed up when she wasnt expecting me to. part of it was because she always has a ton of work for me to do and part of it was that i have spent so much time in the sewing room that she is like a sister now. after i left she asked my indian dad if they could hire me. what do i say in that moment? today at mama t's they asked why we werent there last friday (we were recovering from our thanksgiving food coma). it is so affirming to know that we have become a part of the mama t community. the mashis have come to appreciate our attempts at speaking bangla with them. they always ask when we are leaving. what do i say in that moment? in those moments all i can do i enjoy the time i have left with the people i have grown to love.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

the golf course and the slum

first off, thanksgiving kolkata style was awesome! we had a full spread of food which included a cheese and veggie tray for appetizers, mashed potatoes (my favorite), green beans, stuffing, homemade bread and 3 kinds of pies. brooke also treated us to some peanut butter m&ms and hot chocolate. thanks brooke! we were so full that the whole metro ride all we could do was compare our bellies to see whose was the biggest. it was so much fun to share this holiday with our community here.

as i was riding the metro to sari bari on thursday morning, i noticed along the way that there is a golf course (super nice and kept up) right across the street from a slum. i have noticed this before but thursday was the first time i saw people actually playing a round of golf. it was a scene out of any american golf course. people carrying around hundreds of dollars worth of clubs and wearing equally expensive clothes standing around and taking turns hitting a ball into a hole. i live next to a golf course back home so this is something i see all the time. this time is hit me so differently because seeing the slum community across the street brought to mind the story of lazarus and the rich man. (luke 16:19-31) this is a scene i see almost every day as the wealthy people of this city walk past the poor and broken people that make the streets their home. there is a very high wall that separates the golf course from the street. i see it as the rich trying to keep themselves sheltered from the harsh reality the majority of the population face on a daily basis. i know that this city has helped me to build some walls as a way to protect myself, but in other ways, this city has destroyed the wall that in the past has allowed me to walk past the poor without a second thought. i look into their eyes and give them a smile but my heart breaks because i cant do more. tonight as we were walking home, the local cha (tea) lady gave us (and would not accept any money) some misti (sweets) and cha. it is in moments like that i realize that these people who live on very little are willing to bless us by giving so much. i have noticed over the past couple years that those who have much money are often (not always) times the people who hold on the tightest to it. God is still teaching me what it looks like to be His hands, feet and mouth in this broken city but for now i am learning about how to be open handed. as i head into the final month of my time here, i see the ways God is providing through the people around me and the support and encouragement from friends and family. i can already see that a part of my heart will always be in kolkata. taylor explained it perfectly on the train today. she said that just like the women sew the blankets that they are now sown into our hearts. i see it as i am trading pieces of my heart with these ladies like a friendship necklace. either way, this experience will continue to shape the journey God has called me to. God is good. All the time.

But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. Luke 16:25

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

a helping hand

i am a person who tries to do everything on my own without help but at the same time i love to help others. working at sari bari i have learned that while it is good to attempt to help others, i also have to be willing to receive help as well. last week, there wasn't much work to be done so taylor and i were given the job of washing about 50 red plastic coffee cups that are used twice a day to serve tea to the ladies. there was a layer of grime on the bottom half of the cup from a couple years of neglect. taylor washed them once but our boss (our home stay dad) was a tough critic and wanted it clean. this meant five long hours of scrubbing and a couple layers of skin and nails. it was completely worth it because we were washing them in the bathroom area (don't ask why....i have no idea) so most of the ladies would walk by and see the task we were given. at tea time (thankfully we finished in time) one of the ladies looked at my hands and immediately reached into her bag and grabbed some lotion and applied it to my wrinkled hands. there was such love and care in that moment. i wanted to resist but i realized that in that moment i needed her helping hands.

today i realized how much these ladies have come to accept and allow us into the sari bari family. after the ladies eat lunch everyday, they will usually take naps until lunch hour is over. today was a lazy day so when the bell rang most of the women were slow to get up so i did the only thing i knew how to do.....i offered a helping hand. it was so cool in that moment to see their willingness to let me help them. it reminded me that sometimes we dont want to get up or move from something that is comfortable but God is offering us His hand to help us move. ill be the first to admit that kolkata was never on my top 5 list of destinations but i chose reach out and let God help me up and lead me where He wanted me to go. this experience hasnt been easy but i can see God's provision all around me. i know He wont let me go. this city has shown me God's love and joy.

"Joy is an anchor: it is heavy. It falls into the coldest, deepest darkest places, where the current and pressure are enough to crush bone, and it holds there. On the surface waves crash and roll, and we are not steady but we are held, and somehow that is beautifully enough." ~ Lisa Velthouse

Monday, November 21, 2011

sari bari Christmas

Give the gift of Freedom

“We know that Jesus is always coming into the world anew. Christmas is more than just an anniversary. It is a mystery. Each year, something happens, it is not just celebrated” ~Ranerio Cantalmessa

As you begin making shopping lists, and looking for that perfect gift for someone you love, we’d like to invite you to join in the Sari Bari Christmas celebration! India is a land with seemingly endless religious festivals, and Christmas is an opportunity for us to clearly communicate the amazing truth that God indeed became flesh and made his dwelling among us. At Sari Bari we have a culture of celebration – and we go all out for Christmas! Each of the women will receive a Sari (the perfect gift for every occasion here!), and we’ll share a celebration meal together, laughter, dancing and the truth of God with us. Already the anticipation for this year’s Christmas party is running high! A gift of $25 will sponsor Christmas for one member of the Sari Bari family.If you would like to celebrate with us, you can make a donation by check to WMF, PO Box 70, Omaha, NE 68101 (on a separate paper, please indicate that the gift is for Sari Bari Christmas) or at is a link to “donate” on the lower left side of the Word Made Flesh home page ( Please indicate the gift is for Sari Bari Christmas.

Friday, November 18, 2011


first off, just a little update on me. i have had a rash now for about a month and finally went to the doctor and he thinks it is scabies. i have started treatment so i am getting some relief. i am hoping that i will be able to enjoy these last 6 weeks without any more health issues.

this week we went on a mini-retreat to rest before the calendar gets crazy with Christmas parties and saying goodbye. it was in the hotel room that i looked at my foot and noticed a scar that i got in spain when i dropped a knife in my foot while washing dishes. it reminded me that our scars are like tattoos of our life experiences. they can remind us of our past but most of the time we try to ignore or cover up our scars especially if we see them as ugly. i must confess that i am a scab picker so i am full of ugly scars but they all have a story and remind me of things in my past. the scars are evidence that our wound has healed. i was thinking about this in terms of things that happen in our past that we allow to define us. for so long we like to try to cover up certain life experiences as if it were an ugly scar or blemish on our heart. the longer we pick at it and reopen that wound the longer it will take to heal. these scars can no longer define us if we allow God to heal them. i do not mean to say that everything will be perfect again because we will always have the scar as a reminder but the scar is evidence that our hearts are healed. in kolkata i feel like my heart is torn apart daily by things i have no control over but i have to believe that God is in those circumstances and will begin the healing process as soon as i ask for His healing hand. these experiences will always be a part of me. i see God in the ways He has surrounded me with people that care about me and help walk along side me in those moments.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Monday, November 14, 2011

indian women

i think the hardest phrase to hear in this city is "life is hard for women" especially when it comes from an indian woman. they constantly the possessions of a man. when they are young, they belong to their father. girls are unwanted and are usually married off in their teenage years to become part of the husband's family. at that point, they become a possession of the husband. they are usually limited to do house work and take care of the children. if her husband decides to leaver her at any point, she is left with nothing. only a couple decades ago, if her husband died she was expected to throw herself on to the pyre to die with her husband because that was who her whole identity was wrapped up in. these women move through this city with so much strength in order to put up with the men in this city. women get up around 4 am to start their morning work. they make breakfast, wash clothes (by hand), make lunch and clean the house all before they head out to work by 9am. they go to work all day then come home around 7pm to make dinner and take care of kids and husband. they are lucky to go to bed before midnight. as i look around this city and observe the women, i see years of struggle on their faces. at sari bari, smiles may hide the pain and struggle for a moment but the reality is shown in their eyes. i have a deep respect for these women that have to fight just to exist in kolkata. i wish i had half as much strength as these women. it makes me evermore thankful that american women have the freedom to do whatever they want and are respected and acknowledged in society. every day life in kolkata is a fight but that just makes me stronger.

Friday, November 11, 2011

the still, small voice

this week we had a book discussion on bitter chocolate by pinki virani that discusses the issue of child sexual abuse in india. it gives some pretty startling statistics and graphic details of child sexual abuse occurrences. the last question we were asked was "where is God when this is going on?" in this city there are lots of moments where God's obvious presence is absent. today there was a 5 month old baby brought to mama t's that has water on the brain which made his head swell to double the size. where is God then? daily women are bought and sold in the red light areas and children are forced to live on the streets. where is God then? women are regularly physically, mentally, and sexually abused and treated as possessions of the men in their lives. where is God then? i am learning that kolkata is a city where God is found in the still small voice that continually whispers "I am here." my grandma asked me how things were going and if i was picking up more of the language. that made me realize that i can see God's presence in the lack of words that i speak. so much of the time we try to fill silences with words or try to use our words to be part of a conversation but at sari bari, i love sitting back and seeing God in the absence of my words. i see it on the faces of the women as they do devotions and pray together every morning. i see it in the sharing of food during lunch. the freedom and joy and hope that God has given them are so obvious on their faces. i see God in the smiles of a child at mama t's when they recognize that i am back for another day with them. i see it in the gentleness of the mashis that work with the kids at mama t's everyday. kolkata is a city where i have to choose to stay silent so that i can hear God. kolkata is a city where i have to look beyond the obvious to see God. i have learned the importance of hope (asha in bangla, esperanza in spanish). God shows me hope in this city.

"Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” " 1 kings 19:11-13

Monday, November 7, 2011

tea time sari bari style

tea time is quickly becoming one of my favorite times of the day. all the women spot there work and come together to sit and drink tea with one another. i am usually in the same room every day so it feels like family during tea time as i try to understand bangla. some days, one of them will bring a treat to share with everyone else. sometimes it is as simple as a small loaf of break and sometimes it is sweet rice which i politely decline. it is so cool to see their generosity with each other and with me. i think that people in poverty are way more willing to share with others than people who have more than enough to share. what would it look like if we took the time to stop working for 20 minutes in our day to share life with one another? tea time will be one of the things i will miss when i leave. maybe we could use a tea break every once in awhile in america.

Friday, November 4, 2011

standing on a train platform

yesterday i was heading out to the village which meant that i had to take a train instead of the metro. if you have ever been to an indian train station or watched a movie that showed an indian train station, it will give you a pretty good idea of what i was surrounded by. in the midst of the chaos that seems to always be present at the station i saw i plane fly overhead. in the last couple weeks i have noticed planes more often flying over our part of town. it always reminds me of the flight i will be on in a couple months back to america. in that moment on the platform, i realized that i have the option to get on a plane at any point in time and leave the chaos of this city. the people i was surrounded by do not. one expression we have discussed with our team is the idea that choice is a luxury of the rich. i have never thought it was more true than in that moment. i have a choice to come live in kolkata for a few months. i have the choice to go back to america where i am faced with hundreds or thousands of choices of the food i eat, the car i drive, the job i want, and the place i live. for millions of people in kolkata, choice does not exist. most do not choose what they eat. they eat rice and dal. most do not have the option to visit their village because they can not afford it. they do not choose to beg or sell themselves in the red light areas but those things have chosen them because of their poverty. it breaks my heart that the friends i have made here may never have the choices i have had. now the reality i have to face is what will i do with the choices i have to make. at the moment i choose to make kolkata my home.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

things ive learned along the way

there are so many things i have learned in the last two months. i have learned that i can do without a lot of things like a hot shower and a washing machine. i have also learned the value of treats like coffee and american candy/snacks. i have learned the joy of sharing with other even if its trading a peanut butter sandwich for some rice and dal. my stomach is learning how to process massive amounts of rice on a daily basis. i see mcdonalds as a treat because here i can not afford it on a daily basis. i know that i am blessed to be living with a family that loves God and loves us. they have shown me the meaning of hard work and sacrifice for others.

there are also somethings that i will never get used to. men staring at me like a piece of meat and the threat of them reaching out to touch me. the constant sounds of pujas which seem like happen every day. people pooping or peeing on the street. women and children being sold and abused. these are the things that make this place hard to live in. something i always have to remember is that God is here and God loves these people. my prayer this week is that God's love will flow through me to these people. at the end of the day, God wins.

Monday, October 31, 2011


this week marks the halfway point in this awesome adventure in kolkata. there have been high points and low points all along the way. i have learned to love this city and now it feels like home. today at our team's weekly meeting we were talking about the next two months and all the celebrations (such as thanksgiving and Christmas) as well as all the goodbyes that we are going to have to say. it is hard to know that december 29th is quickly approaching while still soaking in every moment we spend with our famliy and the ladies. one thing that multiple people have said to me in the last month is that there is freedom in commitment. i always saw commitment as something scary because it meant that i had to be in one place for an extended period of time. i have decided to commit to going back to school to get my certificate to teach english abroad and probably follow that with a masters in special education. im not sure how i will use those in the future but God has given me a passion for traveling and a desire to work with kids. the next few months will be filled with working on my application as trying to find a way to pay for this new chapter in my life. i am looking forward to where God will lead me next. i never thought that november would come so fast but i am loving every minute of the time God gives me in kolkata.

Friday, October 28, 2011

diwali means family time

this week was diwali/kali puja. it is celebrated with fireworks (so my brother would have LOVED being here) and lights all over the city. we were originally told it was only one day but so far we have had fireworks going off all night for the last 3 nights. i think that it is interesting that kali, the goddess of destruction, is celebrated by light. this is something that i am still trying to figure out.

on wednesday, sari bari was closed for diwali/kali puja which meant that we got to spend the entire day with our host family. we had planned to make dinner that night because we would have all day to prepare. it was fun because the family made us puri for breakfast and pakora for lunch because they wanted it to be a full day of special meals. it was so much fun to sit and listen to our mom's nuggets of wisdom and pieces of her story. she also let us watch over her shoulder to learn her recipes. i will hopefully be making rice and dal when i get home. one of my roommates had an amazing recipe for no-back cookies which the family LOVED so we ended up making 2 batches. when it came our turn to cook, it was a 3 hour cooking marathon filled with lots of garlic, onions, cheese (which bengalis dont really like) and roti. we made quesadillas, rice, beans, and chips all from scratch. the kitchen looked like a disaster area after we were done but it was all worth it to see the joy on our family's faces. it was so cool to see what a blessing our cooking was to give them a night off. they were so happy even if dinner was an hour and a half later than usual. this is what the Kingdom of God is all about on earth. caring and sharing with one another. as we all sat on the floor enjoying our mexican (with an indian twist) meal, i could feel the joy that filled the room. we are meant to share with one another not hoard things. i also see this at sari bari. on monday i gave away my last 4 red vines and yesterday i was able to share gummy bears. all that i have is not mine so why hold on to it when it is so much fun to share a piece of my home with the ladies. this is one of the ways i am able to be a part of God's Kingdom here in Kolkata.

Monday, October 24, 2011

this is not my fight

so many times it seems like everyday in this city is a fight. in the past i have tried to take on this city on my own. on sunday the pastor spoke from 2 chronicles and verse 15 says: "Thus saith Jehovah unto you, Fear not ye, neither be dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's." it is such a comfort knowing that i am not in this alone. as long as i continue to praise God with my life that He will continue to fight my battles with me. this makes life easier here.

today at lunch time i got to share my lunch with the ladies at sari bari. they always try to share their rice with me but they never take anything i offer. today that changed. i was able to give my four last red vines to the ladies to try and two of the women shared my peanut butter sandwich with me. it was so cool to see their willingness to share life with me. God continues to give me glimpses of His kingdom here in kolkata.

Friday, October 21, 2011

familiar faces

kolkata feels like home. the streets are becoming so familiar that i dont really have to remember landmarks to get places anymore. the walks to and from the metro seem shorter and less tedious. the people along our street are beginning to realize that we are going to be here for awhile and dont stare as much. the little old lady that runs the dokan on our walk home every night always asks us what we ate and are going to eat today. she is always trying to ask us if we ate rice today. the man we had a conversation with at the "grocery store" dokan was such a refreshing experience. the faces are starting to be more familiar. i have started smiling at the women on the streets and it is fun to see their face change and smile back. it is the little things that make this easier to call this place home. i am seeing God at work in this city and it so cool. God has opened my eyes to see people as He sees them. next week marks the half way point.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

allergic reactions

for the last couple of weeks there has been a rash that has slowly spread to my entire body. im hoping that it is because i am allergic to the detergent we started using just before we went to thailand. that being said, i spent close to four hours rewashing everything i own in tide detergent hoping that will make this rash go away. i am beginning to think that it is just my body's external reaction to this city. it could also be bed bugs. who knows. i will say this again: i am going to be so much more grateful for my washer and dryer when i get home.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

my birthday....indian style

let me start by saying that it is the little things in life that make me smile. one way that we release is by sometimes being ridiculous on the metro. last monday that looked like 3 white girls lip syncing and dancing on the metro all to different songs. in the last few days it has looked like smiling at women and kids on the street. yesterday the little old lady that works the dokon (store) on the corner has a conversation with me (in my broken bangla) about what food i was bringing home. it is these little interactions that redeem this city. i spent the first part of my time here trying to fight my way through each day but now i see that instead of fighting, i need to go with the flow and find joy in the little things.

that being said, yesterday and today i found joy in the malls of kolkata. in my travels, i have found that i feel at home in malls because i see it as a place i can simple exist without having to fight or be asked for smaller bills when paying for something. yesterday me and the roomies went to get lunch at the food court (i had a kfc veggie burger, fries and a large pepsi) then went to see the three musketeers (the only movies playing in english). i bought myself some awesome blue puffy pants from fabindia. for dinner, my awesome family here made me puri (think sopapillas but not sweet) and my awesome roomies made me the indian version of strawberry shortcake (butter cake, vanilla ice cream and imported strawberry jelly). it was a memorable day to start off my 26th year. today we got to celebrate with melissa and beth at coffee bean which was such a treat to find. they have an awesome veggie lasagne. it is so cool to feel loved when im so far away from everything familiar. im looking forward to my 26th year and how God will use me this year.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

returning to kolkata

i will be the first to admit that coming back to kolkata from thailand was a terrifying thought because i was leaving behind all the comforts of the western world like starbucks and 7-11 to head back to the streets of kolkata where everything is a fight. at the beginning of this week i was just out of fight so the thought of staying another three months in this city was almost unbearable. i will confess that tuesday i spent a good majority of the day at the mall reading and getting groceries in a non stressful environment in preparation of the week ahead. wednesday morning we got back to our routine and the week has gone a lot smoother than i could have anticipated with the exception of the heat. we were told that it would cool down after durga puja (which was last week) so my roommate erin was holding on with differed hope that after thailand we might not sweat as much. that is not the case. it seems so much hotter because it is not raining now. today at sari bari the electricity was out most of the day so it was a lesson in humility as i studied bangla drenched in sweat. for the last week or so the ladies were on a break much like christmas break in america so it was so much fun to watch them reunite and talk about what they did over the break. it was so cool to see their faces light up and run to hug one another. this is just the proof that sari bari is a family. they welcome each other back with hugs and huge smiles. it gave me motivation to keep going on this adventure known as my life in kolkata.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

the adventure known as thailand

reflecting on the last week in thailand and the adventure that we were on a week ago today, it seems crazy and also unreal. last saturday we headed to the kolkata airport bright and early for our 930am flight and when we arrived at the airport we found long lines and no answers as to why it was taking so long and if we were going to make our flight or not. we get through security at 930 at which time we look at our tickets to see that the ticket counter guy bumped us to the noon flight but didnt feel the need to tell us. we wait till 1230 when we finally get to board. a little insight into my personal health at this point.....i had stomach cramping and was running to the bathroom about every half hour with diarrhea. as we landed in dhaka for our layover we find out that our plan, originally scheduled to leave at 4pm, will not be leaving till 11pm that night. at this point i feel like im dying with stomach cramping and a fever. our fellow passengers that were on the 930am flight had been fighting with the airline since they landed to get the airline to put them up in a hotel and give them food for the inconvenience. after about 30 mins we all head to immigration to get transit visas and head to the hotel. this actually was amazing because i was able to get meds for my stomach and we all got to take naps. we head back to the airport and land in bangkok at 3am. in the dhaka airport we end up meeting this guy that owns a hostel which was a huge blessing because at this point we werent certain that our original reservation would have still been available. we went to bed at 5am after 24 hours of travel. the next morning we head out to hua hin for some rest at the beach. our mini bus breaks down so we had to switch buses. once we arrive at juniper tree and settle in we were able to relax after our crazy adventure.

it has been such an awesome time getting to know the wmf thailand staff and seeing the cool stuff God is doing here. coming from kolkata, bangkok seems like disneyland because there is starbucks, burger king and jif peanut butter. there is also a 7-11 on ever corner with ice for fountain drinks. we all felt a little bit of culture shock walking around and not being constantly stared at by the men. it has been a very restful time to recharge as i head into the next three months in kolkata. i was also able to meet up with my friend who is teaching english here and she made me funfetti cupcakes for my birthday. it was such a treat and i am so grateful for her generosity and thoughtfulness. i think i am ready to go back to kolkata with a fresh perspective on that city and the people in it. i want to start diving into learning bengali so i can invest in the women. time has gone by so fast and i know that i dont have a lot of time to waste. im a looking forward to getting back to my normal life and our family in kolkata. i am taking jif peanut butter, sour punch straws, gummy bears, and pretz back to kolkata with me. thanks for having all that stuff 7-11.

Friday, September 30, 2011

durga puja

today i let this city steal my joy. traffic in this city is usually pretty bad but today it was awful. i really think it is because durga puja is next week and so everyone is out shopping for gifts. my hour commute (at the most) was turned into two hours sitting on a hot, crowded bus. i cant wait for thailand.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

my kolkata self

kolkata has a way of leaving its mark on people. i have been in this city for five weeks now and i can already tell the effect it is having on me. melissa told us that kolkata tends to bring out the introvert in people and i can see this as true in myself. as a women in this city, i cant smile or look at the men which is difficult when they are all around. the commute in the morning each day is an hour of walking, riding and then walking some more. it involves a lot of weaving in and out of pople, cars, rickshaws and animals which at the end of the day adds up to exhaustion. i get home and crash on the couch for about 5 minutes then i sit in the kitchen to watch my indian mom cook and listen to her nuggets of wisdom. i have found that it is hard for me to process things in this city because there is rarely a free moment or time spent alone. i encounter beggers everyday and i still dont know how to react to them. i see men staring and touching women as if they were a piece of meat everyday. i got hit by a bike rickshaw yesterday and the driver didnt give me a second glance. i am quick to judge all the men of this city because the stories i hear. i am always ready to fight over a few rupees when a driver tries to rip me off. i have learned to see the beauty in people. last night a girl who was probably not much older than me gave up her seat so that i could sit down on the metro because my bag was so big. listening to the women sing songs while they work is beautiful. sharing lunch as part of the sari bari family today was awesome. it was the first time they shared their food with me. i wish i knew more bangla so that i could understand their questions but it is fun to sit and laugh with them. the smile of a child represents the hope for a future generation in this city. the hope that things will change.

i am looking forward to a break. this week we go to thailand.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

dont forget to look up

i have been in this city for four weeks now and most of that time has been spent looking down. one of these reasons is to avoid things like trash, water and poop that line the streets. another reason is to avoid eye contact with the men that just seem to stare at us. today we went to a roof top restaurant for erin's birthday. i got to see kolkata from above the noise and chaos of the street. it really changed the way i saw the city just to change my perspective. there are beautiful buildings and an amazing park which are things i pass by everyday but never see. yesterday we were walking home with melissa who pointed out all the beauty of the buildings that we pass everyday which we usually dont notice. i will try to start looking up more often so i dont miss the beauty in kolkata.

we have officially been in kolkata for 4 weeks. i cant believe time has gone by so fast. i was talking to my host mom and she said in a little while the time will be all gone. my goal is not to dwell on that sad thought but to make the most of the time i have left here. i am feeling more comfortable with the language but still need to work on basic conversation. the best way to describe time in kolkata is that the days go slow but the weeks fly by. i can see how that has been true of my time here. i am looking forward to the next 3 months and enjoying every moment.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

joyful noise

i started sewing a blanket at sari bari this week and to be honest it looks like my needle got drunk and went for a stroll around my blanket. this process has taught me patience because the faster i want to go, the more crooked my lines become. setting up my blanket also takes some time because it needs to be laid out straight and has to have bricks in certain places to apply pressure so it wont move as i sew. all of this takes time. we are usually at sari bari for 4-5 hours 3 times a week. i have averaged 3 lines a day which is nothing compared to how many the women can do in a day. this process has also taught me about humility of learning how to do something new. for the first week i would watch the ladies work and they made it look so easy and their lines were perfect. when time came to start mine, i was thinking "how hard can it be to make straight lines?" well, let me tell you it is a lot harder than they make it appear. i average 3 lines a day in part because my back starts hurting from being hunched over and my fingers turn red after poking it with the needle for the hundredth time. it is not easy and that makes me respect these women so much more. it is so cool to set up my blanket next to theirs and work alongside them. sometimes they are catching up on all the latest gossip but more often than not they are singing. i dont know what they are singing but it sounds so beautiful that i cant help but imagine what God thinks of their singing. in the mornings during devotions, there is such a joy that fills the room as the women sing praise to God. i dont know the words but seeing the faces light up speaks of a big God that provides joy among the sorrow and strength for the weak. i am thankful that God has given me eyes to see the beauty in kolkata and the hope that He is bringing to this city. at the end of week 4 i could not be anymore thankful for all that God has given me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

family time

first and foremost let me say that i am alive and no i did not feel the earthquake on sunday night but some people here did. it was north of kolkata and there was quite a lot of damage done there.

now on to more entertaining things. i absolutely love family time here. the family i am living with has been a huge blessing to us. it is so comforting to come home to smiling faces and people that serve God in such an amazing way. i know i have said this before but seriously we are one big happy indian-american family. we eat dinner together every night and then just talk and laugh together after. on sunday night, the family asked us to sing a song that we all knew. i figured i would start with j. biebs "baby" which they got a kick out of. we then transitioned to the national anthem. it was hilarious having 3 white girls singing america's national anthem in the living room of our kolkata host family. that is a small world my friends. we then proceeded to have a dance party to glee's version of "dont stop believing" at which point our indian dad just left the room laughing. these are the times i forget im not back in america with my family. God has given me a wonderful indian family that truly treats me as their own. i am so blessed. one thing we do in our weekly meetings with our team is 4-1+2. we have to say 4 things we are grateful for, one thing that was tough in our week, and two things we are looking forward to. i am always so grateful for the people God has giving me in this city. im off to another awesome family dinner (which will probably be rice & dal which i love) filled with love and laughter.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

indian sweets

one motto to live by here is "expect less" especially when it comes to food. restaurants in the tourist area have continental sections of the menu that have pasta, pizza and burgers but they are never exactly the same as things back home. this rule certainly applies to sweets. we have eaten a wide variety of colors and textures all in the shape of a ball. one is a little white ball that is apparently the favorite sweet of bengalis. it tastes like cottage cheese soaked in sugar water. ive learned that eating it in one bite makes it go down a little smoother. last friday at mama t's we got a bight orange ball made of little balls. we had had it before and tired to refuse it but they made us take one so we choked it down. we have also tried a variety of cakes which just aren't as good as the fun-fetti cakes aunt barbara makes. im super grateful for the cakes and cookies we have back home. im sad i wont have a fun-fetti cake for my birthday this year but it is a small price to pay for investing this time in kolkata. i also have a great appreciation for peanut butter. i eat it with crackers for lunch at least 3 times a week and the ladies are always confused because i am not eating rice. oh well.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

living in the land of mah-maw, biggies, and bow-bow

so i have decided that if i dont come home knowing bangla, i will for sure come home with a southern accent. i am living with a girl from texas and a girl from georgia so ive learned that sweet tea (and i mean super sweet tea) is a way of life, you always say yes sir or no ma'am. they think its crazy that you dont say thank you to everyone you come in contact with and cant believe you dont say excuse me when we have to push our way through a crowd. yesterday night we were sitting around the dinner table and one of them says "i have a bow-bow". i was trying my hardest to figure out what the heck she meant. apparently "bow-bow" is another way to say "boo-boo" as in "i got a boo-boo when i fell down". these are the things we cant help but laugh at as we all learn to live with each other. i miss laughing with old friends but i am truly enjoying making memories and laughing with new friends. sometimes all we can do at the end of the day is laugh at the chaos of this city and the crazy adventures we find ourselves in daily.

in other news, today we had a man stare into our room as we were sitting around talking this morning. its one of those things that makes me remember we are in india. im perfecting my death glare and it might be permanently on my face when i come back home. it comes in handy when the groups of men just stare at us when we walk down the street each day and in the metro when guys walk past in hopes of grazing a butt check or the chest region. this is life here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

my indian famliy and the delicate dance of the metro

we have been with our home stay family for about 2 weeks now and all i can say is they are truly amazing. we have become one big happy family where we all work together and learn from each other. they welcomed us in with open arms and i can feel the love they have for us. last night i was helping one of the kids with homework and my indian mom started playing with my hair just like my real mom does. it was one of those moments where kolkata just felt like home. she watches out for us and makes sure we have plenty to eat. our indian dad is hilarious! we love teaching him slang like "fo sho" and "what up?". it is so much fun to sit around over dinner and see our two cultures collide in a beautiful display of laughter. it is times like this that this city feels like home.

now on to one of the more challenging things about this city. kolkata is very proud of their metro because, as i understand it, they were the first city in india to have one. its one line and it gets me to all the places i need to be in a rather efficient manner. when the train pulls into the station, i can always tell if this will be an uneventful ride or bring chaos to my little world based on how many people are smashed into a car. during rush hour (9-11 am & 6-8 pm) it takes skill, agility and determination to get on the train. there are also bodies pushed and pulled in all different directions. there is a women's section in each car that most women claw and fight to get as to avoid getting harassed, touched and bothered by men. one important thing to take into consideration is where you are getting off. this plays a HUGE role in your location in the car. for example, this morning we got on the train at 930 and wanted to go 4 stops. we got in one door and when straight to the door on the opposite side of the train so we would be able to get off on that side once our stop came. this, in theory, is an excellent move but the stop before i had to get down, there was a swarm of people that pushed us into the middle of the train again. when i say pushed, i mean like a tsunami wave of people pushing into the train. so then the dancing part comes in. there is a series of nods, elbows, legs and shouts just to let everyone around you know you are getting off at the next station. most of the time it results in some real uncomfortable positions. today my face was smashed against the window. once the doors opened for our stop, i pretty much fell out. its all in a days work here in kolkata. its starting to be my reality.

along with that, i also get to play frogger with my life on a daily basis. im getting real good and timing it just right between autos, buses, cabs and bikes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


as i was riding the bus today to shishu bhavan (mama t's), i was praying and God gave me the word "shundor", which in Bangla means beautiful. I made it a goal today to notice all the beautiful things in this city which at times seems to only have ugliness and darkness. When we started working with the kids this morning, I was working with sandra, a girl that is all smiles all the time. today when she smiled, I could see her face as a beautiful gift from God. He loves her. i also walked around the room with Andeep and he looked up at me with a trusting gaze that he knew i would not let him go. this is the beauty of trust. on the way home, i rode an auto which i was expecting to pay 7 rupees. i handed the driver exactly 7 rupees and he handed me back 2 rupees. This is the beauty of honesty in a city that continually tries to rip me off. it is the small things in this city that i choose to see as beautiful. what if we each looked for the beautiful in normal everyday things?

yesterday was someone's birthday at sari bari and there was an amazing sense of joy and happiness that permeated everyone's attitude. it was so much fun watching them give the gift of a beautiful sari with such pride. their faces lit up with such joy as the birthday girl walked in the room. it was followed by cake and an awesome dance party. when it is someone's birthday here, people put frosting on the birthday person's cheeks. yesterday i felt like part of the sari bari family when one of the women put frosting on my face. it is so much fun being able to practice bangla with them, even though its usually an epic failure on my part. i am looking forward to being able to have meaningful conversations with these women and speaking truth and love to them. God sustains me by showing me joy and beauty in the little things each day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


laundry day makes me so much more thankful for washing and drying machines back home. it involves filling a bucket with water and guessing how much detergent it will take to get kolkata street smells off my clothes. the first attempt was an epic fail. taylor smelled me from a few feet away. i was forced to wash my clothes a second time. the second attempt was also an epic fail because i used way too much detergent so it took like 5 rinses to get all the soap out. the key to success is soaking clothes for at least 30 mins. then you have to ring everything out by hand which if you think about ringing out 10 items multiple times between rinses, it gets real old real quick. at the end of laundry sessions, i am drenched in sweat and soaked with soapy water. we then have to hang up our clothes to dry. this seems simple enough but during the rainy season its super humid so it takes 3 days for clothes to dry. i go back and forth every day between wishing i would have packed more so i didnt have to wash as often and wishing i would have packed a washing machine. washing clothes by had it a character builder for sure. no i will not be continuing this practice when i get home.

this is life in kolkata.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

an escape from reality

yesterday was full of fun surprises and exhausting events. we worked at mama t's which was really cool because i busted out some of my bangla with the women there and they were so surprised that they gave me all the fun jobs. after we went to jojo's with our new friends kate and claire which was totally refreshing to sit around the table and do girl talk. in this city you are able to quickly bond over the fact that being white in this city can get exhausting. then we did some laundry, by hand of course, so i went to language class completely soaking wet from sweat. when we get home, one of the girls was doing laundry and the exposed shower pipe broke. at about 1230 am i hear "hey natalie. can you come here a minute." i wake up and go to the bathroom to see water spraying everywhere. there is no way to turn off the water so in my half zombie state i just kinda stand there. we fill up the buckets and just have to let the water run till the tank empties. i went back to bed. so this morning we had to take bucket showers which actually arent that bad.

today was a day committed to exploring this crazy city. our target destination: south city mall. we looked up directions last night on google so we set out with our directions around noon today. our house is pretty much at the south end of the city so originally i thought we would be pretty close to the south city mall. based on the directions i got this thought was completely false. the google directions take us pretty far north so we get off and start following the directions. we ask someone on the street where it was and they kinda laughed at us then told us to get in a cab because we were so far off. we asked someone else and they gave us directions from the metro so we head back to get on the metro again. we asked another person just in case and it turns out the new directions we had were also wrong. at this point it had taken us 2 hours and a bunch of rupees to get lost but we were determined to find this mall that was like an american mall. we get the correct directions from a super helpful girl. then we squeeze onto the metro like sardines. what you have to understand is that on the metro there is a ladies only section so women do have to be touched and harassed by men while riding the metro but during rush hour you pack in and cant really move. this guy was totally looking out for me and made a way so i could get into the ladies section. we got off and made it to the mall. it was such a strange feeling walking from the chaos and poverty of the streets of kolkata into a nice, newly built, air conditioned mall. we just walked around for an hour because we needed a taste of home. we found a coffee shop and read then ate pizza hut and went to the equivalent of a super walmart. it made me forget if only for brief moments that i was in kolkata. i am now refreshed and ready to start another week.

when my current reality consists of so much brokeness, poverty and chaos, is it bad that we find comfort in the familiarity of the mall?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

glimpses of God in kolkata

so this post will kinda be all over the place because like kolkata, my head is constantly in a state of chaos. one thing that we experience on a daily basis is something the locals refer to as skin tax. its when people rip me off because i am white. it gets annoying but we know the prices to get places now so we are able to fight to get our correct change back. most of the time its the difference of a couple rupees which doesn't seem like a lot in the scheme of things but a couple rupees every time for the next four months will get real expensive real quick. the other thing that isn't super annoying yet for me is all the stares i get walking down the street. one of the other girls compared it to the movie inception. i think its funny because in america we would rarely stare at someone just because they look different. that's just my thoughts.

now on to the positive things in my daily life here. it was really cool yesterday working at mama T's (that's what we call mother teresa's here) because i worked with a kid that is physically and mentally handicapped. part of his physical therapy is to help him walk around the room. i had to hold him up but he would take steps to move forward. it was a really awesome image of the way God holds us up when we are too weak to support our own weight but we can still move forward. the other bright spot was today during morning devotions with the women. they start their day with a devotion and worship every day. today i was sitting there surrounded by women i dont know and they were speaking a language i can only hope one day i will understand. once they started signing it was so cool to see their faces light up with the joy and hope they have in Jesus. it was such an awesome image of God's power to transform people.

one of my friends made me notes for each day i am in kolkata. some are words of encouragement. some are bible verses. some are challenges for the day. today's note said "say 10 things you are grateful for" which may not seem like a big deal but in a chaotic city the things that are frustrating or annoying or difficult often come to the surface. i wanted to share my list with you and in turn challenge you to say 10 things you are grateful for. here is mine:
1. God gives me the strength to get through each day
2. the peace of the metro ride to work
3. melissa, our team lead, who has graciously taken us under her wings
4. the glimpses of joy and hope within the chaos of the city
6. my home stay family
7. running water and electricity
8. words of encouragement in the form of notes from home
9. all the people praying for me as i journey through kolkata
10. clouds which provide a beautiful backdrop for this chaotic city

this is real life now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

bangla jani na.....

so i just finished my second day of work here in kolkata. yesterday was an amazing day that included sitting next to a eunuch on an auto who tapped me on top of the head, the AC (air conditioned) train on the metro and buying toilet paper at spencer's. i also got to start my training blanket so i can start to relate to the women who spend most of their days sewing blankets. i can already tell im going tell my back may hate me in a month or two. the women spend all day on the concrete floor sewing with breaks for devotions and tea in the morning, lunch, and tea in the afternoons. it is such a joyful place to be and i am looking forward to actually being able to start conversations with them as my bangla improves. it was so cool to sit with the women during lunch as i ate my bhat and dal and saw the love that each of the women has for each other. it was a great image of all of God's people sitting around sharing and laughing and investing in life. i am looking forward to being able to participate in life here.

on the train today one of the crazy/funny/frustrating things that happened was that i said "bangla jani na" (i dont speak bengali) they started asking more questions and told so many things i just dont understand. cant wait till i can actually have a semi-normal conversation.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

our first experience with la cucaracha...

as we continue to explore this awesome yet confusing city of winding streets and directions based on landmarks, we find joy in the little things like finding a restaurant with sweet tea and beautiful skies painted with amazing clouds. this was our day yesterday which also included our first encounter with our friend la cucaracha or for you english speakers, mr. cockroach. after an amazing day with included coffee and the famed india tea house, where kolkata's brightest minds have gathered for many years, and an amazing food find at food station, taylor discovered a little friend (mr. roach) had made her suitcase it's dwelling place. there was screaming and jumping on the bed and some vomiting on her part. it provided much needed laughs especially when she said "i would rather lick indian money than have a roach in my bag!" (just as a frame of reference for this statement, they do not use toilet paper over here so the money is not exactly the safest thing on the planet to lick.)this was the bright spot of our weekend so far.

i have been in kolkata for a week now and i am starting to feel like a real person in this city of what seems to be constant chaos. we moved to our home stay today and it is beginning to feel real. this is what my life will be for the next four months. tomorrow we start working at sari bari and exploring the city on our own. there are sights and smells that will take time to get used to but God is good and God is faithful and i trust that He will provide for my every need. i see the beauty in the little things around the city like an amazing sky full of billowy, white clouds. children laughing as they play in the water fountains. the laughing of women as they talk about life. so far the city has welcomed me with open arms and piercing stares. tomorrow starts real life.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Kolkata, the city with constant honking

Greetings from the beautiful, wonderful city of Kolkata. as i am typing this, my feet are covered in street junk because it has been raining pretty much all day. i have had 4 days to think through and digest this city. four days into my adventure i have already rode an auto, bus, boat, metro, and walked a LOT. i have also tasted my way through some paneer, nan, dal and of course rice. i have bought some kurtas and pierced my nose in the hopes of fitting in. i have seen dogs with open sores and plenty of people begging. the beauty is in the smiles of the women i will be working with when they gave me the indian name sujata. today we worked with mentally and physically handicapped children at shishu bahavan (Mother teresa's home). I have almost been run over almost on a daily basis but at least they use their horns as a warning before they actually run people over. :) i am looking forward to settling in to my new life. bengali lessons start tonight so hopefully the next time i post something i can at lease throw in some bengali. so far i love this city.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

5 days till Kolkata

this time next week i will be experiencing the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of kolkata. my brain is constantly running through all the things i need to remember to pack, all the people i want to see, and all the things i want to eat before i go. it all seems like it is coming too quickly but in reality this process has spanned the entire last year from the time God called me to wash feet in india to now. there have been ups and downs throughout this process but as my departure date draws closer i am excited to see how a big God is working in the very dark and oppressive city of kolkata. i am excited to pour into the people and be a light and give them hope. i have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and encouragement for my trip. i look forward to sharing my adventures with you.

Friday, August 19, 2011

9 days

i am currently on hold with my bank to set travel notifications so i wont be stranded in kolkata with no money. its crazy that this journey which seems like such a long time in the making is finally upon me and the departure date is rapidly approaching. there are so many little last minute things to do like calling banks and buying little last minute things. the part i am dreading the most is saying goodbye. as often as i travel, saying goodbye never gets any easier. it is hard to leave my small group girls as they start their senior year of high school. it is crazy to think that when i get back one of my friends will be a mother. life changes so much in four months. i look forward to investing in the people of kolkata over these next four months.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

God's timing vs. my timing....

i have learned a very humbling lesson in the last week. God's timing is always perfect and i need to let go of things i can't control. the last 7 days has left me emotionally, spiritually and physically drained. a week ago, the high school pastor i have worked alongside for the last 3 years decided to leave 2 weeks before my departure to india so my high schoolers were dealt a double dose of leader "abandonment". i was also doing vbs for 1-5th grades as the snack time entertainer which was physically demanding because i had to be all smiles and laughs for 4 hours in the blazing heat. to add to the mix, i found out one of my friends had a serious medical condition that is potentially super dangerous. to me, all these things felt like it was showing me i needed to wait to go to india. to most other people, it was clear that God was going to do amazing things through me in india and satan was just throwing in some speed bumps. this is where letting go comes in. i know the four months will fly by and my small group girls will be in very capable hands. God has called me to india at this time so i will be faithful to follow Him and His timing. people keep asking if i have started packing or if i'm ready to go yet. to be honest, i am taking it one day at a time. my mind is currently here with my high schoolers and friends. i know packing and preparing will get done. that is something i have had to let go of. God is good. God is faithful.

here are things to pray for:
-i need to keep perspective that God is in control
-mental preparation for living in india
-the remainder of my financial support will come in before i leave
-peace and comfort for my high schoolers

Sunday, July 31, 2011


summer camp is something that i look forward to every year with my high school students. this year was somewhat of an exception because it snuck up on me. i was so caught up in wedding festivities that there was a list of things i forgot such as a camera, refrigerator, fan, and other little things. i was exhausted going into a week which would be emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding, but from the moment we arrived up the mountain, God just gave me a sense of peace and joy. i saw God working through students to start healing wounds that they never before wanted to acknowledge and brokenness from situations they felt they couldn't forgive themselves. it was such an awesome time to spend with students and leaders to help build a community that truly loves like Christ loved us. God is good and continues to show His faithfulness in my life.

in other news, i leave in less than a month for india. please pray as i apply for my visa and begin to pack and mentally prepare for life in kolkata. i am still short of my financial support goal so pray that God will provide the rest of the support.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


weddings are an interesting thing in american society. there is so much planning, preparation, and money that go into a few hours on one day. the hope is that it only happens once in a person's lifetime. as most of my friends know, my life is a lot like the movie 27 dresses and i have a closet full of dresses to prove it. last weekend not only was i in the wedding party but the wedding reception was also held in my backyard. all week we worked to set it up by clearing out patio furniture, planting flowers, stringing lights and hanging lanterns. there was so much work for only a few hours of festivities and dancing. in the days leading up to the wedding there was so much stress but in those hours during the reception, the bride was able to enjoy the moments with family and freinds and dance the night away....until the cops came to shut it down. all that preparation for a few hours is totally worth it to see a friend start of her married life right in my own backyard....literally.

Friday, July 15, 2011


insecurities are funny. everyone has them but no one wants to admit it. when you first meet someone you want to appear put together attempting to hide those quirky things that in a way define you. as you feel more and more comfortable with people walls begin to come down but deep down those pesky insecurities are still hidden in a deep, dark dungeon while you are hoping to keep them hidden forever. insecurities can come in the form of physical features, emotional issues, or just ways of thinking. what i have found is that once someone owns up to an insecurity you realize that you too deal with that issue. once it's out in the open i laugh and then realize that insecurities are normal and i'm not quite as weird as i thought i was. embrace the differences that make you who you are because we aren't robots out of some sci-fi civilization.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jon Foreman - Your Love Is Strong

i love this song. it is one that i can listen to multiple times and still stand in awe of my Heavenly Father. in the daily grind of life i often feel like things are out of control and i lose focus of a God who loves me. God will provide for my every need according to His will not my own. that is a really humbling thought. i hope today i can let go of all my hopes and dreams and let God work through me and provide for today. why do i worry about things such as money and time and how i never seems to have enough of either when in reality it belongs to an Almighty God that will provide.

those are my random thoughts for today. enjoy this beautiful tuesday and give someone a hug.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


so i spent the 4th of july with my family at our beach house in dana point. came home for a day. then left for lake havasu for the family's annual river trip. i was sitting on our pontoon boat just marveling at the beauty God created along the colorado river. my immediate reaction was to worship and praise the Creator. in my normal routine everyday life i rarely pause long enough to notice my surroundings let alone acknowledge the Creator behind the beauty. i just feel so drained with summer school, family vacations, and wedding season but i learned the peace that comes when you pause, take a breath and notice the beauty. it is those little glimpses of Heaven on earth that give me the energy and motivation to take on another day. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

aren't you scared?

this is a question that has actually been asked of me more often in light of my upcoming trip to india. i always think its funny how that question is usually followed by some story they heard of how dangerous things are over there or the extreme poverty they've heard of over there. by nature i am not one to be deterred by danger/fear but that question just increases the excitement i feel about the trip. last sunday the pastor was talking about freedom and a light went on in my head as i put the pieces together. i really have nothing to fear because God has granted me the freedom from fear and if i am doing His will then i really have nothing to worry about. i love these lyrics from "our God" by chris tomlin:

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.
And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.
What could stand against.

it reminds me that i really have nothing to fear. what would you do if you truly had nothing to fear?

Friday, July 1, 2011


"a new command i give you: love one another. as i have loved you, so you must love one another. by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." john 13:34-35

this verse has always intrigued me because more often than not, christians are not thought of as loving people by the general population. i am no better than the next person. working with kids had opened my mind to what it would look like if we all came together to help one another. kids (between ages 4-6) generally have compassion for their fellow students. they help those who dont understand things and they try to make everyone feel a part of the group. at what age does this change? when do we start thinking we are better than those around us? what would the world be like if we all loved each other?

what if we were know for joy instead of judgement, hope instead of hypocrisy and more than anything, what if we were known by our love.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

5 year olds

so im trying to be a productive part of society this summer and im teaching summer school. i have 8 precious heads for 2 hours a day which does not seem like a lot, but at the end of the day, it feels like i had 100 kids for 30 hours. it is my first adventure as a real teacher and i have learned that 5 year olds don't get my jokes and sarcasm usually flies way over there heads. today a class of 3rd graders adopted me as one of their own and i was their source of entertainment for an hour or 2. at the end of each day, im so drained but God gives me the strength and energy to do it day after day. two more days then im free!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

muzungu mulalu

in my travels i have tried my best to really invest in the lives of the locals. sometimes that means chasing a bunch of ugandans around an open field and other times it means having strawberry hot chocolate over scrabble with indonesians and others it means playing soccer with ecuadorians. i have found once you really set aside preconceptions of my new surrounds and its people, that is when i learn the most. it was so cool to see the eyes of children light up when they see the muzungu mulalu (crazy white person) came back to play with them another day. in situations like that is where i find my joy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

my life as a professional volunteer

my title as a professional volunteer first started out as a joke among the people i worked with at church. at the time i was working with both the high school and young adult ministries so i was in the office pretty much on a daily basis. i was never one to turn down an opportunity to help wherever there was a that time, i was also helping in my mom's first grade classroom on days i wasn't substitute teaching. it was in those times of volunteering that i really cultivated my passion for people and having extra time to travel didn't hurt either. 

the past 3 years as a professional volunteer has set me up to take on my next great adventure. i will be going to india to do what i love: love people and learn language and culture from them. yes as a volunteer. along with volunteering to live along the poorest of the poor, i am also volunteering to get all kinds of fun vaccines including yellow fever, typhoid fever and rabies along with taking malaria pills. it seems like such a small price to pay in order to do what i love. 

stay tuned for more fun tales from the professional volunteer.