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.