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.