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.