Saturday, December 12, 2015

My Next Big Adventure: Nepal & India

In two weeks I will be embarking on another adventure halfway around the world. I will be traveling to Nepal & India which are currently at odds with each other. I have the opportunity to play Santa Clause for my cousin and her family who moved to Nepal a few months ago. I will be bringing Christmas presents for her kids as well as American goodies and a taste of home as they endure through the gas shortage which currently plagues this tiny country. Nepal sustained major damage from the earthquake that hit last April which they are still trying to rebuild. A few months later, Nepal ratified a new constitution which India was not excited about so they closed the boarders in order to stop gas from crossing the boarder into the small country. The result is months without cooking gas or gasoline for transportation. As I head into the chaos, I am excited to spend time with my cousin and provide a much needed hug from home.

From Nepal, I will be traveling back to Kolkata to help host a team from Biola University. I am excited to introduce the girls from Biola to the beautiful women of Sari Bari. I am looking forward to seeing Kolkata through their eyes as they give me a fresh perspective on the brokenness amidst the beauty. This team will get a small glimpse into the freedom journey Sari Bari is helping to write in the back lanes of the red light areas. I know there will be challenges and obstacles along the way, and I am doing my best to mentally, emotionally, spiritually prepare for mean streets of Kolkata. I am expectantly waiting for God to do something awesome as I journey halfway around the world. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Camp has been a huge part of my life over the last 4 years. It has been a place where I learned the value of community and had the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to thousands of campers each summer. I accepted a year around position at camp while still in India not knowing how my transition back to the States would be, but also knowing there was no other place I would rather process my time in India.

I arrived home from Kolkata 4 months ago with huge holes in my heart as I longed to be back at Sari Bari with the women and expat community which had become like family. As I began to share about my experience with friends and family, I found myself growing bitter and angry because no one really understood. I appreciate those who walked through those hard conversations with me as I slowly started to process all the small things God did in and through me. I gave myself two short weeks to readjust before jumping full force into my new position at camp. 

I stepped into the Program Ministries Assistant role not knowing what it would look like or involve. I knew it was an office job but there was freedom to roam around each camp center in order to invest in other staff members. I was nervous to have 6 different supervisors who were all so different, and I was unsure of their expectations. Camp preparation was in full swing as I walked into the office and was put to work making schedules and submitting check requests. It was not the camp life I was used to but grateful for the opportunity to experience camp through a different role. 

Camp was in full swing starting the second week of June. Campers arrived by the hundreds each week. I was excited to see familiar faces and have the opportunity to be a counselor for a few churches throughout the summer. I had the opportunity to share about my time in Kolkata with 5th & 6th graders each week, and they had the opportunity to support the work of Sari Bari. I was able to create space to process through my time in Kolkata with youth pastors and friends who had been praying for me while I was in India. It was often painful to share about the difficult times and the ways my heart hurt for the women in Kolkata. I loved being able to share about the good times and the ways God is working in the red light areas. I am so grateful for those brief conversations which helped me process my time in India. 

A few weeks into camp, I stepped into the counseling staff supervisor role which means I had a staff of my own. I was responsible for the well-being of 12 staff counselors. I felt inadequate in so many ways because I was unsure of my capacity to love others while I still felt so broken from my time in India. The staff counselors hesitantly welcomed me in unsure of the part I would play in their summer. Within the first few days, the girls were opening up and sharing their struggles as a staff counselor and the difficult campers they had that week. As part of my weekly routine, I would make time to check in with them as often as I could. I would hear stories of the ways God was working through them. I would hear the struggles of difficult campers or counselors. They would share bits and pieces of their life and the journey which brought them to camp. It was life-giving for me to walk through camp with this group of counselors as they loved campers well. I was able to spoil them with lots of coffee and treats throughout the summer. It was a tough learning curve for me to figure out the balance of being a boss verses being a friend. There were times I had to make hard, unpopular decisions, but it was for the greater good of the counsel. God was present each step of the way and it helped me better understand what it looks like to live openhandedly. I am so thankful for the moments I was able to spend with the counsel, and I look forward to building on the friendships that were formed. 

As a side note, there is a chance I will be heading back to Kolkata for a short trip early next year. I am excited to share more about this opportunity once details are worked out. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Reentry and Beyond

In so many ways, I thought I knew what it would look like returning back to life in America. I have done it before. I was ready for all the general questions about my time, and I had my automatic responses ready to go. I prepared to take a few weeks before jumping back into jobs and routines. I left Kolkata with hopes and dreams of rest and relaxation as I reentered life in America. 

I arrived a week ago. I was met with a lot of love from my friends and family. I was bombarded with text messages welcoming me back home. My calendar immediately started filling up with coffee dates with friends and meetings with supporters. I am coordinating the Sari Bari Quilt Auction starting next week so I had to jump into working on taking pictures and updating information on eBay. I drank multiple cups of coffee each morning as jet lag reared its ugly head with 3 am wake up calls. Around 2 pm, I would take a nap so I could make through the rest of my day and go to bed at an acceptable time. 

Reentry has been hard. Harder than I remember. There are good days and bad days. Kolkata creates introverts so it has been overwhelming to jump back into my extroverted routine. I made plans to spend time with friends who know and love me, and occasionally I would cancel because it seemed overwhelming to meet in a crowded coffee shop or didn't have the mental energy to share about my experience in India. I am so grateful for the grace I have been shown in reentry and the space I have been given to process my time in Kolkata. 

As I sip coffee, I am reminded of the beautiful laughter of the Sari Bari women and the ways they loved me during my time there. I laugh as I think about waking up to the landlord yelling on Saturday mornings and random people having parties in our alley at 3 am. I cringe as I remember the critters that shared our flat and how many times we had to buy rat poison. I think back to my ability to hoard things like small bills (10 rupee notes) as well as Red Vines and dark chocolate. I cherish the times spent walking hand in hand with the ladies as we left work each night. I miss sitting and talking with the Sari Bari senior staff about life and my weekly lunches with Sarah. My time in Kolkata was hard but it forced me to see the beauty among the broken and cherish the good memories. A piece of Sari Bari has been stitched into my heart and I will never forget my time there. 

Small things seem so foreign to me as I begin to resume my routines. I have heard multiple stories of people having reverse culture shock breakdowns in grocery stores, but I had never experienced it in the past so I assumed I was immune to the overwhelming variety on grocery store shelves. I was wrong. I had my list in hand and went to Vons. I stopped and stared at rice for about 10 mins not knowing which rice to buy. Then I realized I don't have to buy rice. It no longer has to be a staple in my diet. I wondered down the peanut butter aisle (which was not on the list) and just stared at the number of brands and sizes available. I was so overwhelmed by the number of choices and variety of food products. I quickly found the items on my list, keep my head down and went to the check out stand. It was overwhelming but it is part of normal life here. It is in those moments I realize I am adjusting to a new normal. Living in Kolkata has left a mark and it has created a new normal life. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I'm Coming Home

In 4 short days I will leave Kolkata not knowing when/if I will return. I have spent six months fighting this city. I chose to come back knowing the fight it takes just to leave the safety of my flat every morning. The fight was always worth walking through the doors of Sari Bari everyday. Sari Bari was created to provide a safe place for women leaving the trade, and it has become my safe place and a refuge from the chaos of the city. I look forward to walking up the stairs to be greeted by the ladies. I look forward to sitting among the women while I work. I look forward to hearing the laughter as the ladies work on cutting and patching. I will miss walking through those red doors everyday.

I was able to take time this weekend to begin processing my time here. Sarah asked some really hard questions to talk about the hard stuff of living in this culture. I did not realize the deep effect getting touched and grabbed by men had on my mind. It happens more often than not and for the most part I shove it down deeper so that I can continue on my way to work. I realized I never really dealt with the touching and grabbing after my first trip to India which looking back, I can see how the triggers have made me react in a way that is not me. We also talked about the good things. The ways my time in Kolkata has been life giving and transformative. I loved getting to work alongside some amazing women who have dedicated their lives to living in Kolkata and allowing women an opportunity to choose freedom. I enjoyed every moment at Sari Bari getting to know the women and trying to make them laugh. These women have been stitched into my heart and saying goodbye on Tuesday will be no small task. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It Takes a Village

I would use one word to describe the ladies at Sari Bari. Family. They are mothers and daughters and grandmothers and sisters to each other. When babies come to work, they are passed around from one lady to another. They treat the child as if it was their own as they feed him or play with him. They each take turns giving him love in the form of hugs and kisses. This little boy has 30 aunties to help him grow up. There are also times when an older child comes for the day because schools have a holiday. It is so much fun to watch the women shower them with love in the form of candy or ice cream. The women get to see these children grow and love them each step of the way. 

There are also times where the Sari Bari family grieves together. They come together to support a woman who lost her husband. Some of the woman can cry with her as they know the pain of losing a husband. They support the woman who lost her sister and sit with her in the heartache. If a woman is in the hospital, they will go visit her. If a woman is sick, they will go check on her. They have become family as they choose to love each other through the hard times. 

It has been a gift to be welcomed into the Sari Bari family if only for a brief time. The women have cared for me in ways that I sometimes don't understand. (For example: I hurt my back lifting a bag of product and they all told me to go ask one of the ladies for Vick's Vapor Rub because it would help the pain.) Recently, I have been bringing a sandwich for lunch so the ladies have been offering me rice to make sure I have enough to fill me up. They offer me puffed rice or sweets during tea time. They yell at me if I am working during the lunch hour. I feel truly loved by these women. They have sewn themselves into my heart and my story. They have taught me how to love well. 

I will be leaving this crazy, chaotic city in 2 short weeks. Plans have been made for a debrief retreat and my last day at Sari Bari. I am counting down how many more times I have to hand wash my laundry. (16 times in case you were wondering.) I am looking forward to AC and seeing my family. I am dreading saying goodbye to people who have helped me navigate and love this city. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

One of Those Days

Have you ever had one of those days? A day where everything just feels right. A day where you know you are in the right place at the right time with the right people. A day where you feel like you could live in Kolkata forever. Today was just one of those days.

A few months ago Sari Bari filled the biggest order in their 9 year history in which we all worked more than full time and came home exhausted. Today we celebrated. We went to brunch at a nice hotel and indulged in cheese, a chocolate fountain and champagne. After we were filled to the brim, we went for a swim and chatted as we hung out in the cool water on the rooftop overlooking the city. Today was just one of those days.

As we sat around, we talked about what animals we would want to communicate with if the apocalypse happened, and if we were a gnome, where we would want to be and what we would be holding. We sipped coffee and champagne as we chatted and opened up about insecurities as well as the things we love about our bodies. We talked about being the middle child or baby or oldest. We talked about being minorities even in America. There was a sense of security as we were vulnerable over desserts piled high and covered in chocolate.  Today was just one of those days.

Today was one of those days where life in Kolkata felt normal and I could see what my life here would look like long term. We sat on the edge of the infinity pool and talked about life. I see the ways this city can be life giving amidst the chaos. I see the ways I fit into the community. I see the ways it is a treat to share brunch with friends. It is days like today that makes leaving in 3 weeks so much harder because in so many ways Kolkata has become my home over the last six months. I am looking forward to familiarity of home but I know a huge part of my heart will be left in Kolkata. I know it will not be a goodbye but see you later because of days like today. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Month Five

Five months. I have grown to love this cray, chaotic city which I have called home for the last five months. Looking back, I thought there was no end in sight, but now it seems like my departure date is coming all too quickly. The last month has been full of busy days and restful weekends. I have sat beside the ladies as they sew. I have checked and packed bags for shipments. I have been checked for lice and had a stomach bug take me out of the game for a few days. I will leave all the craziness and chaos in one short month. I am looking forward to having a washing machine and hot running water but I will miss the simplicity of life in Kolkata. 

The ladies are starting to ask if I am coming back after I go home. I just shake my head and say "ashbo na". I do not know what the future holds but I know that it was a gift to come back to this place. I have cherished the time I was able to spend here. I look forward to partnering with Sari Bari in the future whether it is from the States or moving to Kolkata if that is where God leads me. As I look to the next month, I know there will be some really hard goodbyes and see you laters. My time in Kolkata has been a gift and I am grateful for everyone who has supported me along the way. 

Yesterday, we celebrated Sari Bari's 9th birthday by taking everyone to a wax museum and big park just outside the city. The ladies all wore their "fancies" and there was a general excitement in the air as we all piled into Sumos (a Jeep like vehicle for hauling people). It was amazing to watch the ladies faces light up as they took pictures with wax statues of famous Indians. They would come grab my hand and drag me over to take a picture of them standing next to a famous Bollywood star or Gandhi. It was like watching kids take in Disneyland for the first time. After the museum, we walked across the street to a park for lunch. We spent the afternoon laying in the grass and watching the women ride bikes and boats. They were smiling from ear to ear as they rode bikes for the first time and the laughter as they struggled to keep the bike upright. Once the sun went down, we sat and watched a fountain light show on the lake. The ladies were singing along with the music and clapped as new lazer shapes or colors appeared. These are the glimpses of joy and laughter I will never forget. It was a gift to be a part of a celebration which was 9 years in the making. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Love by Ones

I was listening to a sermon last weekend and at the end, the pastor mentioned the idea of loving by ones. Love by ones. I had never heard it put so plainly. One by one is how we are supposed to love people. We are supposed to love the people who are in front of us or the ones who need us in that moment. Loving people also looks very different across cultures and circumstances. In Kolkata, love looks like eating mountains of rice which I would normal avoid back home. Love is sitting an eating an unknown fruit without washing it because it was given to me by one of the ladies. Love is walking hand in hand with one of the ladies as we leave work. Love is a head nod and a smile. All of these things involve no words but love is so clearly communicated. Love is an action.

Love is also words. Love is allowing people space to vent when they are frustrated. Love is community creating safe space to be vulnerable. Love is offering Reese's Pieces, Red Vines or Swedish Fish during tea time. Love is sharing a meal and talking about growing up in Southern California. Love is the affirmation that my time here has been valuable. Love is sitting a listening to the good, bad and ugly parts of life in Kolkata. Love is being invited to share a meal in someone's home. It is in these moments where love is felt.

I was created to love.

One by one.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Looking Back

Holi was this week. We had two days off. I took this time to read my previous blogs and reflect on the journey so far. I read about my excitement as my return to Kolkata became a reality. I read about the nerves as I packed my bags and began the adventure that is getting to Kolkata. I read my initial reaction to the chaos of arriving in Kolkata after long, sleepless flights. I read about the valleys along the way when I didn't think I would have the strength to stay for the duration of my visa. I read about the joy of sitting with the ladies as they work diligently to get products completed and send out. 

As I read these words, it brought back very vivid memories of the mental space I was occupying during those times. I remember the excitement and anticipation as I arrived to a familiar yet new experience. I remember the times I was grabbed by men on the streets. I remember the tears as I battled depression and anxiety. I remember the joy in celebrating Christmas with the ladies, but also the deep sadness of being away from family for the holidays. I remember the stress of working through weekends and holidays to get the Dillard's order completed and out the door. I remember my time in Delhi and the huge blessing it was to sit on a grassy rooftop to watch the sunset with a friend. I remember the many times our community gathered in our flat to share a meal or a cup of coffee. I remember the many ways this place has become home. I remember the big belly laughs. I remember the glimpses of beauty among the brokenness of Kolkata. 

I have learned about my deep desire and need for a community as I walk through life. I have learned technology is a huge blessing to keep connected to people who know my heart and encourage me through emails and texts. I learned the importance of staying focused on a big God who loves instead of feeling discouraged by the daily things that break my heart. I realized the importance of honesty and vulnerability so I do not carry my burdens alone. I have found beauty in the unexpected places of broken buildings or the silence of sewing at Sari Bari. I notice the joy of laughter and the love in sharing rice. This city has changed me and the way I see things. 

My time is quickly coming to a close here. Less than 6 weeks and I will be eating Mexican food and gourmet ice cream with my sister and chatting for hours over coffee with friends. I am starting to have conversations about jobs when I get home. I am dreaming of ways to stay connected to Sari Bari when I return to Southern California. I am gearing up for hard goodbyes and hopeful see you laters. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

When Jesus turns things Upside Down

Today at church we discussed the passage in Luke about Jesus casting demons into pigs and then they all jumped off a cliff. At one point during the discussion, someone saw a connection to Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus stands in the synagogue reads a passage from Isaiah says he is fulfilling the prophesy starting all kinds of drama within the gathering. I love it because in many ways Jesus stood up dropped a bomb then dropped the mic and walked away. Just listen to this:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; 
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind, 
to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 
Luke 4:18-19

It is funny because the people in the room have been waiting for the Messiah. A Savior. Jesus comes on the scene and turns everything upside down. He is fully confident in who and what the Father has called him to say and do. He makes no apologies and doesn't force people to follow him. Instead, he presents the information and let's people decide for themselves. 

I saw this with fresh eyes this morning. I now see it through the lenses of hope for the women I work with, for the men who roam the streets, for the children who go without food. Jesus came to proclaim hope to those on the fringes. It is really cool to watch the work Jesus started 2000 years ago being continued today on the lanes of the red light areas. The upside down way to see the women we work with as valuable, loved, redeemed, restored as opposed to society telling them they are ruined, dirty, worthless. Most upstanding citizens in this city would never associate with women who are associated with the trade. They avoid the area I call home. They don't see these women has human beings but merely part of a business transaction. I choose to hang out and work with these women because they know how to love me. They have huge hearts for the family of Sari Bari and feed me more rice than my stomach can possibly handle. God is restoring the red light areas and bringing freedom to the captives and good news to the poor. It is a gift to see these things in action. I am blessed. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Wounds We Carry

Forgive and forget. This is something we are taught from a young age. Often times, we do not and can not forget the pain so we shove it down deeper. We keep it hidden so we appear to have forgotten except when a moment or a memory brings it to the surface and rips open the wound again. It is hard to voice our pain to others because it means we didn't forget. What if we just forgive and never forget? What if we allow Jesus to redeem the really deep wounds but allow our scars to be told through our stories? What if those wounds we signs of hope for others who are going through the same situations or struggles? 

I was forced to think about this in light of the women I work with on a daily basis. I am surrounded by women who deeply love, greatly care and abundantly feed everyone around them. I have only heard brief stories of the struggles they have faced along their journey to Sari Bari. I can only imagine the struggles they have faced or the abuse they have suffered. I can't imagine any one of these women has forgotten their past but have used their past struggles to fight for each step of freedom. They are welcomed into a family who share their wounds and the ways they have been restored. It was beautiful to hear the ways Sari Bari has transformed lives during the birthday celebration. Generations are being transformed and deep wounds are being redeemed. What would it look like if I let my wounds transform the way I love people? What would it look like to carry those wounds as a part of my story? How could my wounds change the way people see me? 

Kolkata is a city that creates huge wounds in my heart. It aches for the extreme poverty. It cringes as the injustice. It cries out for the women and children in bondage. It hurts for the brokenness of the lanes of the red light areas. There are also the wounds of being a white woman walking the streets of Kolkata. As I pass, I hear words I understand in English (and some I don't in Bengali) which shrinks me down to a pair of boobs. As I crowd into the metro or stop to buy a cold drink, I am grabbed as if I were a piece of meat for the taking or the subtle brushes which slowly eat away at my worth. Those are the wounds I carry with me as I leave this place. God is healing those wounds as I offer them up to Him. Through redemption those wounds are made beautiful. When Jesus appeared to his disciples after being crucified, it was his wounds which proved his identity. My wounds are proof of the journey God has laid before me. I can not and will not forget. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Month Four

The last month has been filled with the absolute insanity of fulfilling the biggest order in Sari Bari history and the much needed break with a friend in Delhi. Amidst the chaos, time flew by. I had not been to the Sari Bari unit in the south of the city for a few weeks and I was able to return this week. It was such a sweet time quietly sitting with the ladies as they sewed beautiful works of art. It was in the quiet space I realized what a gift time here is. I have been welcomed into the Sari Bari family and been giving more rice than I could possible eat, more hugs than I would expect and more love than I deserve.   There is laughter as I sit back and watch the women joke with one another. There is a sense of peace and safety within the walls of Sari Bari that words do not sufficiently describe. The ladies are my heroes for the way they choose freedom amidst a culture that tells them freedom is not an option. They create beauty out of old saris and they are so proud of their work. Dignity is restored. Hope becomes reality.

I stand at the threshold of each new day with a sense of urgency, sadness, longing, joy, hope and peace. Some days I feel as if time is moving too quickly and I wont be able to accomplish my tasks before I say goodbye. Other days I enjoy the sweet, slow moments of laughter with the ladies. In 2011, I looked forward to freedom birthdays and Christmas parties because there was such a sense of joy and celebration. Those were the big moments I remembered. Being here now, I look forward to the everyday tasks. Packing product to be shipped around the world. Carrying product from one building to the next. The ladies feeding me mountains of rice, India flavored candy and all kinds of sweets. Feeding the women all forms of peanut butter in return. It is watching the women create beautiful works of art with a needle and thread. I am blown away with the love and grace they extend to me as I struggle to communicate.

The question arrises about how long I will be here. Most assume 3 years since this is my second time at Sari Bari and that is the normal flow for foreign staff. I tell them I will be here two more months. They ask when I am coming back and I say I don't know. I get looks of confusion or disappointment. It is in these moments my heart breaks because this chapter is quickly coming to an end. I will soak up every moment I have here with a grateful heart.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Day in the Life

Have you ever come home from a vacation feeling like you needed another vacation to recuperate? Delhi was a such a good, healthy, restful break from the chaos of the city, but jumping right back into the insanity that is my daily life in Kolkata turned into an exhausting week. Part of the reason I love living and working in Kolkata is the constant change from day to day. One day will be a peaceful day at the office where I sit and chat with the ladies during tea time while having space to be creative with the marketing plan. Other days its rushing to get product out the door to meet a deadline so we can make payday or hosting a tour in the midst of chaos in the lanes surrounding Sari Bari. I am constantly being stretched above and beyond what I think I can handle. It is in the chaos I learn real peace. It is in the hard times I discover true joy. It is in the exhaustion I find rest.

By Friday night I was exhausted from late nights of community gatherings. It was a struggle to get out of bed knowing I would be giving a tour, packing product and rolling with whatever punches came my way. My margins were so thin. One thing I look forward to is Friday morning prayer with the North American Sari Bari community. We intentionally set aside time to pray for one another, this city and the women at Sari Bari. We are honest. We are vulnerable. We often pray for the impossible. Yesterday, my friend prayed that I would find joy in spite of being exhausted which felt impossible. After prayer, I walked in to Sari Bari and felt a surge of energy. There was laughter. There was peace. I found joy in hearing the women laugh. I found joy in sharing Sari Bari's story with visitors. I found joy in being force feed rice. It is in those moment I know Sari Bari is a safe place, a refuge from the storm. It is where my soul finds rest.

Community in Kolkata has become a huge part of thriving in this city and the work we do everyday. We share meals with people who have become so woven into our stories as we sit and talk about the hard stuff and laugh big belly laughter. It is in this space where we can be honest with the ways our hearts hurt for the people we work with or the reality of being separated from our families. These people understand the reality of working with broken women and the desire to restore dignity and hope in the red light areas. I found a quote which perfectly sums up life in Kolkata: "The world may be broken but hope is not crazy" (The Fault in our Stars). We cling to hope. Hope that the women will continue to find freedom. Hope that God is still good. Hope that one day the red light areas will be transformed. Hope is what makes me put one foot in front of the other on hard days. Hope of a better life for the women. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Coffee and Conversation in Delhi

My soul was tired. I needed a break from the hustle and bustle of Kolkata. I love when God makes things happen even before I know what I need. I spent the last few days in Delhi staying with a friend and his parents who live there. It was good to have time and space to process my time in Kolkata. It was good for my heart to have a friend ask hard questions. I loved sitting in the grass on the rooftop drinking coffee and watching the sunset. We talked about camp memories. We laughed at all the stupid things we did at camp. We FaceTimed with people from camp who encouraged us both. My friend created intentional empty space for me to relax and recharge. He wanted to hear my heart. He wanted to understand as much of my life in India as he could. There were times we would just sit in silence. My time in Delhi was a gift that I am so thankful for. I am rested and ready to head into my last 2 months in Kolkata. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

When Impossible Happens

Sari Bari just sent out it's largest order yet and it will be arriving at Dillard's this Spring. Along the way, there have been a variety of speed bumps from receiving canvas six weeks late to 4,000 dog hooks that don't open because it wouldn't be India if we didn't have a few minor hiccups. Through this order, I learned the value of buy in and teamwork. I learned how to braid handles and managed to braid until my fingers were blistered. I hammered hundreds of bags and occasionally managed to get my fingers in between the hammer and bag. I have a huge respect for zippers after putting thousands of pullers on zippers. (I never knew they didn't come with the pullers already attached.) Muscles I never knew I had in my right hand were sore from clamping beads on to hundreds of braided handles. I learned to carry bags on my shoulders like the local men selling their wares. My knees and back reminded me I am not a teenager and would revolt at the end of the day from sitting on the floor and carrying heavy things up and down stairs all day. But every single moment was worth it because I got to do it alongside the women at Sari Bari.

These women are my heroes. They wake up at 4 or 5 am every morning to do house work and take care of their family. Once they finish taking care of their family, they start the commute to Sari Bari which for some is more than an hour. They arrive at Sari Bari ready to work a full day. They take care of each other and the foreigners at the office. They share their food with us to make sure we have enough to eat. They know when we are having a bad day or have been crying so they ask questions. Sari Bari is a family so they take care of one another. When the Dillard's order seemed impossible, it was them who reminded us that nothing is impossible. After working through a holiday weekend, one women said "We are Sari Bari. If we don't do it, then who will?" Sari Bari would not exist without these women who work hard at home and at work. They choose freedom daily. There were people along the way saying it would be impossible but these ladies don't know what impossible means. It is an honor and a privilege to work alongside these ladies. They are my heroes. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hopes and Dreams

Things have been busy at Sari Bari as we finish the Dillard's order. Amidst the busyness, sometimes I forget the why behind it all. Sometimes I forget the brave steps these women have taken away from the trade. I will never know the hard path they have walked along their freedom journey, but I work hard everyday to help where I can to ensure Sari Bari will continue to be a place of freedom for generations to come.

Sari Bari is a place of hope. It is incredible in ten years more than 100 women have found freedom from the trade. It is heart breaking to know there are more than 10,000 women just outside the doors of Sari Bari who don't yet know freedom. The women I pass on the way from home to work or just from one building to the next remind me the path to freedom is not an easy one. The Sari Bari women choose freedom every day they show up to work. They represent the hope of another way for the women in their communities. They are the biggest advocates of freedom as they bring their friends to work at Sari Bari. They are fighters. They are strong. They are love and joy. I work hard so they can keep working hard.

Part of my job is hosting visitors and sharing Sari Bari's story over the last 9 years. I am a fan who wants other people to become fans. As I see the women work and hear bits and pieces of their stories, I am more motivated to share the story. Words can not wholly describe the victories and defeats along the way or the family feel at Sari Bari. Volunteers come for days or weeks to help and they get a glimpse of the story which they take with them and they become fans. Visitors are always welcomed with "Welcome to Sari Bari" and big smiles. The women feel proud as people walk out with beautiful products they have sewn. Words can only partly describe why I love working at Sari Bari.

One thing Sarah has taught me is to dream and hope for things that I will never see. I dream of a day when the red light district no longer exists in Kolkata. I dream of a way when women are no longer forced by poverty to work the line. I hold on to hope of transformation within the lanes of red light areas throughout Kolkata. I dream of ways I can continue to advocate for the women of Sari Bari whether that is choosing to commit to living in Kolkata long-term or working from the States.

As I sit with my pot of coffee, I dream and hope for the women of Sari Bari.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Month Three (a brief update)

Halfway. It seems bizarre to stand in the middle of my time here. A month ago, I thought the halfway point would never arrive. It has and I am feeling good. It is a busy time for Sari Bari as we fill the biggest order we have ever received. It involves every ounce of energy which leaves me tired but excited to watch as the women come together to finish the order. So many people from out community in Kolkata have given of their time to come help put tags on, cuts strings, clamp brackets on braided handles and package thousands of bags. Last week, we had representatives from four continents sitting and chatting as they formed an assembly line. I have spent days hammering, clamping, oiling, matching and running back and forth. My hands are sore and starting to form blisters. I am grateful for the time I get to sit and work with the ladies as they laugh. It speaks to the joy found within the Sari Bari walls. It is a gift to be a part of the work being done in Kolkata.

Once we get this order out the door, I will have more space to give a more detailed update. For now I am happy, joy-filled and healthy. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Constant Fog

Kolkata is a city of more than 14 million people. That is 14 million people that need to move about the city. There are lots of buses, cars, trucks, auto rickshaws creating pollution galore. Growing up in LA, I thought I would be somewhat used to thick air that coats the lungs and black boogers at all times. I have had a cold every month despite eating oranges and taking vitamin C. The constant haze creates some beautiful sunsets but also limits the suns ability to truly shine.

In many ways, I have been in a fog mentally as I moved through this city. I was feeling depressed and would often have anxiety attacks when I would leave the safety of my flat. Kolkata demands a fight even to venture to the local market. Over Christmas, we had a few days off and I did not leave the apartment because I did not have the fight to engage even a walk to the market. Sari Bari was a safe haven among the craziness and I love being there but sometimes the walk is more like a journey through seas of people staring and grabbing which means I'm already tired at the beginning of the work day. The walk home from the office is often a big game of frogger avoiding trucks, cars and the men going into the red light area. I am always on high alert making sure I know who/what is around me. My flat is a save haven amidst the chaos and I am grateful for the peacefulness of quiet nights to decompress from the stress of a day in Kolkata. Most nights, I am too tired to cook dinner so it is a spoon full of peanut butter or a Twix bar. It is in these moments I have to remember I am not in this alone.

For weeks I felt like I was alone and going through the valley of living in a foreign culture. I did not want to add stress to someone else's plate so I shoved my feelings down deeper so I could get through the days and weeks. When I finally shared my struggle with my community, they surrounded me with open arms and assured me I am not alone. I voiced my inner struggle to find rest and peace in this city. I voiced the pain of being grabbed by men. I voiced the feelings of falling into a never ending abyss. As soon as I allowed other people to help me shoulder the burden, I felt lighter and found more joy in the little things. I often forget that I was sent out and there is a group of people constantly praying for me as I navigate the road God has put before me. I know my time here is a journey and I appreciate all the gifts, prayers, words of encouragement, notes, Christmas cards, texts and messages that help me take on each day. I look forward to the next 3 months as the mental fog continues to clear.