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.