Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas in Kolkata

Merry Christmas from Kolkata! This was my second Christmas in Kolkata. Three years ago, Christmas represented the end of my time in Kolkata. This year, Christmas is not even the halfway point of my time here. The community here takes the time to celebrate well and includes us in the festivities. We decorated Christmas cookies, sang Christmas carols, watched Christmas movies, opened stockings, ate cinnamon rolls and danced with friends. We talked about the traditions we have back home. We incorporated some traditions into the holiday plans here. It was a time of laughter and gifts, but also sadness as we were all away from family and friends for the holidays. I thought the second time around it would be easier to be away from family but it was harder knowing my immediate family was spending Christmas together in Arkansas this year. It was hard being away from friends as they gathered to celebrate Christmas together. It is hard not having the modern convince of hot water or central heating when the temperature dips into the 50s at night and our cement apartment is freezing.

I am grateful to be outside the consumerism which surrounds the holidays in the States. I enjoy finding ways to celebrate with new friends here and learn about Christmas traditions from different cultures. It was a gift to be a part of the Sari Bari Christmas party and see the ladies dressed in their finest clothes. At each event, there was a sense of joy which permeated the whole space. It is the joy we having in knowing Christmas represents Jesus being born to bring hope to all mankind. It is this joy I cling to as I continue to do life amidst the chaos.

I am so thankful for the packages, texts, emails and messages wishing me a Merry Christmas. It reminds me that I am not alone in this. I have a community back home praying for me and encouraging me along the way. I am looking forward to ringing into 2015 with my Kolkata community.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Month Two

I have been in Kolkata for two months. Some days it seems like I arrived two days ago and other times it seems like I have been here for two years. In the past month, I have started teaching English to a few of the ladies in leadership, packed products for shipments, celebrated Thanksgiving, attended the Sari Bari Christmas party, bought Christmas gifts, received cards, letters, boxes from home, been grabbed by men, slipped on street sludge, watched mice run through our apartment, and drank lots of coffee, hot chocolate and apple cider. (If you are interested in replenishing our stash of hot drinks or American candy, feel free to send them here.)

Kolkata is a city that requires a fight. On the ten minute walk to the office, I see women working the line. I am started at by the men on the street and occasionally grabbed. I play frogger with the cars, bikes, trams, trucks and busses who refuse to share the road. I have to carefully place every step to avoid the feces and trash in the gutters. Most days I choose to be blissfully unaware of the chaos around me by putting in my headphones and walking with my head down. I am hyper aware of people around me. I can tell when someone is following me and hope they will turn another way or I can slip into a crowd to loose them. 

Kolkata is also a city full of beauty. The women I work with are beautiful and love each other so well. It was so much fun to see them dressed in their fancy clothes for the Christmas party. It is beautiful to see the women choose freedom. I have been welcomed into a beautiful community of freedom fighters. We lament the hard things in working with women leaving the trade. We celebrate victories big and small. The women work hard and we work hard alongside them. We get to see their stories and pass bits and pieces along to you. 

I am looking forward to the next four months. I am expectantly waiting for Jesus to transform the red light areas of this city. I am excited to celebrate another Christmas in this crazy, chaotic city. I will be excited to return to hot, running water, readily available toilet paper and washing machines. 

Also, if you want to know more about Sari Bari the 2014 Annual Report has just been released. It clearly paints the beautiful picture of freedom for these women. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lament Within the Advent Season

I have been reading A Sacred Sorrow as part of my internship at Sari Bari. It shines light on the way we can lament in a healthy way and turn the lament into worship. God is first and for most with us and when we lament He is listening. Everyday I see things on the streets of Kolkata that I want to lament and cry out to God about the injustice, brokenness, sorrow of the child eating food out of the trash pile or men beating each other up on the streets. All around me I want to lament the small things like one of the Sari Bari women being sick and the big things like women forced to sell their bodies. For me, it is hard to actually take in and process what I see so I have to compartmentalize and numb myself so I can continue through my day. I look into the eyes of children begging and tell them no. I pass the women working the line and all I have to offer them is a smile. I walk past people sleeping on the street or passed out in the gutter on the way to my comfortable flat. I am still figuring out how to process and lament these things. As I numb the bad, the good is also beginning to dull. 

On Sunday, a group of us came together to celebrate the second Sunday of Advent. A season of expectant waiting for the coming Savior who would bring justice and peace to a broken world. Someone pointed out they would not want to be Mary as she gave birth to this little baby who the world would crucify. Mary would have been full of lament as people saw her baby growing knowing she wasn't married. Lament was probably rolling off her tongue as she watched her son brutally murdered on a hill. In this season of Advent, I want to celebrate the ways the Kingdom of God has already come in Kolkata. The steps towards freedom the women at Sari Bari have taken on a daily basis. I want to lament the ways I am still waiting for Jesus to come. The women still trapped in the trade and are losing hope of a way out. I pray for eyes to more clearly see Jesus in the lanes of Kolkata. I pray for a heat that can lament the hard stuff and then the joy to turn it into worship. I sit with open hands during this season of expectant waiting. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Daily Roller Coaster of Life in Kolkata

This week has been a very full week. I started teaching English to a few of the ladies. Sari Bari has a huge order going out in January. I wrestled with the very real reality of the limited funds in my support account and that meant moving up my return date. My niece was born this week and I am excited to see her when I get back. Multiple men "accidentally" ran into my butt with their hand. I received a package of goodies from my parents and a sweet Christmas card from a good friend.

Each day in Kolkata is exhausting. The path I walk to and from work is along the edge of the biggest red light area in Kolkata. It hurts my heart to see women lining the streets and alleys waiting for their next customer. It takes a toll on my mind when men are constantly looking at me and trying to get my attention or "accidentally" running into me to get a quick feel. My body is filled with pollution (its three times worse than LA) which results in getting colds more often and generally feeling tired. Some nights are sleepless due to the street noise outside the window or the coughing when I have a cold. 

Each day in Kolkata is also beautiful. I get to sit amongst some amazing, beautiful women that have chosen freedom. They share their food with me when they think I did not bring enough food to be full. (Force feeding is a love language in Kolkata.) The laughter that rings out when I do something ridiculous like dance or the facial expression when they watch me try Indian candy or sweets. The pride they have in the products they are working on. Their beautiful voices that ring out as they sing worship songs each morning and the beauty of a child singing that same song when she visit her mom in the afternoon. 

Each days has it's highs and lows. Some days the highs out number the lows. Some days the lows out number the highs. Every day I know that I am held tightly by a God who is bigger than all of the highs and lows. He has lead me to this city for a period of time and I know He is my constant companion as I walk through the hard parts of each day. I praise Him in the good things. I am thankful for a community of believes that prays for each other as we all walk along the path God sets before us. I am grateful for the encouraging letters people have written. It makes the hard days better. I look forward to the ways God will show up throughout the rest of my time here. 

"This I know, that God is for me. 
In God, whose word I praise, 
in the Lord, whose name I praise, 
in God I trust, I shall not be afraid. 
What can man do to me?

I must perform my my vows to you, O God; 
I will render than offerings to you. 
For you have delivered my soul from death, 
yes, my feet from falling, 
that I may walk before God 
in the light of life"

Psalm 56:10-13