It has taken 3 days of being stuck in my room, having all my roommates gone, vomiting, a fever, watching 4 movies, finishing my book, and now I AM BLOGGING.What to say what to say?
I had this realization that blogging became this space where I proclaim to all my family and friends the important details of my current life, with exciting language and innovative thoughts.Well, pretty much what I have to say is:THIS WEEK SUCKED.Being sick is one thing, but feeling utterly useless and like a complete failure really tops things off.I have this thing about wanting to control things that I can’t.I have been anxiety ridden with work back home, not feeling adequate here, not feeling like I am connecting with the women as well as others, and wanting to be more involved and give more than I am.Comparisons can be BRUTALLY destructive….On top of that there has been some heartbreaking news about life back in America.I could go into further detail, but I think you get the point.Interesting that I come to INDIA to give of self, but so easily become consumed with self…
The beauty of this situation is that it actually forced me to realize I can’t control many things in life, and maybe I should try PRAYING.Not that things are all smooth and great again… but as I was reading in my past thesis paper I came across this quote by Schmemann,
No one has been ‘worthy’ to receive communion, no one has been prepared for
it… Life again comes to us as a Gift, a free and divine gift… And therefore, the
greatest humility and obedience is to accept the gift, to say yes – in joy and gratitude.There is nothing we can do, yet we become all that God wanted us to
be from eternity, when we are Eucharistic.
Funny that I almost always feel like I need to MEASURE UP, no matter how much I am told that I don’t.I HAVE to choose again and again to let my future and life be a gift, and that is in itself a GIFT to be able to do that.As I mentioned above, comparisons are brutal and as I allow my future to become a gift I also have remind myself that achieving things or advancing anything has NOTHING to do with my self-worth.
So what does this have to do with India and my experiences? Well… not sure.If you would have asked me last week I probably would have gone off about how I am “falling in love” with my time spent in the homes and streets of these beautiful resilient women.And I think at the end of the day that is real.But, how about I just post some pictures and let that do the talking?
Our Christmas season in Bangladesh consisted of reading, sleeping, fantastic Bengali food, a bungalow, walks, 7 layer tea, quality New Zealanders, spiders as big as my hand, hikes, and all while being surrounded by lovely tea gardens.
We left Bangladesh bright and early last Tuesday as we had packed our bags for the long 12-hour train ride to the “City of Joy” and had arranged a taxi to take us to the train station. Previously we had some issues being on time for trains so we were satisfied with our planning ability to actually be on time for this particular train. We confidently sat down on our bags waiting for our train to arrive and just to make sure we asked around if others were going to Kolkata as well. Our once calm and relieved position at the train station quickly turned into us jumping on an already moving train [which I must add that I believe this train and its riders expected anything but a Bedeshi (foreigner) to join them as we were greeted with wide eyes, young nomadic children sleeping in the corners of the cabin, and rats searching for left over crumbs in the stacked bags of food] which would then take us to our train that was supposed to leave 10 minutes prior. It was with no exaggeration like we were jumping into a movie scene. The scene in short goes like this: Three foreign girls frantically jump on a moving train throwing their bags and themselves into an unexpected cabin. Minutes later they dramatically dart across lines and lines of train tracks and through groups of people eventually catching a train that only leaves once a week and was supposed to leave 30 minutes ago all while blindly being lead by a young slum boy who so graciously would not accept their baksheesh at the end of the adventure.
Just as we sat in our assigned seats to India the train began to move. If we had been 2 minutes later we would have had a full week of planning to do for our extended stay in Bangladesh, yet this young boy with the purest of intentions lead us to where we needed to be. Once again Muslim hospitality and generosity helps us along our journey.
Kolkata has presented itself in a completely different way then I last remember. Melissa, our “local” for the last 4 days, has been taking us around the city and our particular district getting us acquainted with life here. Cool weather makes for enjoyable cha (tea) stops, in which the milk tea is so artistically made and poured into little disposable clay cups. The portions of tea are too small for me, I feel like I could gulp 5 of those babies down in one sitting, yet I am learning to control myself. Finally, Sara and I have settled into our little apartment with a couple other volunteers and are happy to have unpacked for longer than a few days.
Once again the daunting task of “getting deep” with you all and sharing my FEELINGS and WHAT I AM SEEING. With many details held and stored in a place for another time I will tell you this: it is crazy and not all at the same time. I don’t really know what that means but it is probably just apart of me that does not understand and does not want to look too deep as a protection for myself. I think it is just a current coping mechanism that will soon be broken down. Walking through the red light district of Kolkata stirs up anger, confusion, sadness and hope all at once. With over 10,000 customers a day coming to the tiny streets of Sonagachi, brothels upon brothels are filled with women and girls. It sucks. Walking the streets where the women openly wait in lines for the men, sucks.
Entering into the Freeset building for the first time, where I will be spending the majority of the next five months, swiped an automatic smile across my face as I saw over 150 women and volunteers all working together towards freedom. The beautiful struggle of women today, in particular these women here who have been treated like objects, something less than human, have the capacity to come together in a powerful way. God’s done a beautiful work as this building of freedom and hope stands in the heart of Kolkata’s largest sex district surrounded by streets upon streets of brothels. While Freeset is by no means perfect or the answer to all of Kolkata’s sex trafficking problems, it is a place that offers hope and the expectance of something different.
The most beautiful parts of our days consist of different women opening their tiny rooms (homes) and all of us girls educated, not educated, ex/current prostitutes, Hindu, Christian cram in on the one bed that fills her entire house as we dig our bare hands into steaming rice topped with curry and veggies. Let me tell YOU, I am eating PLENTY. Although my language is not where I hoped, these meals are a great place to practice listening and speaking as we come together over our common love: FOOD.
Well I think I have exhausted all of my writing for some time now. I will have you know that I am missing some good AMURICAN food and some quality friends and family back in the states. With LOVE.
Well first, Trekking in Nepal was like a dream, only it was not long enough. The morning after our 35+ hour journey across the world, we packed our small backpacks and headed towards the mountains. Cool sunny days and cold nights made for perfect trekking weather. We found ourselves hiking through little villages, over mountains, and stopping at local house lodges to rest and eat. At night we sipped tea, played cards and caught each other up on life. My favorite day began by waking up at sunrise and peeking out our little window to find 22 Himalayan snowcapped mountains surrounding us. After some vigorous hiking we stopped for lunch at the top of a mountain peak with a cool breeze and everywhere you looked the layering of mountains was inescapable. It was a beautiful to see the gift of land these people have been given and their connection and appreciation of it.
Now here in Dhaka, a short plane ride away yet culturally worlds apart… we are going to language school. We attend language school for two hours a day in the morning. It is exciting as progress is slowly being made, but also overwhelming because the Bengali language and pronunciations are so different and difficult. At times all you can do is just laugh. Following school, Sara and I usually make a regular stop at the lively market of live chickens, fruits, vegetables and Bengali treats. In the evenings we cook dinner, study, and every now and then go out to dinner or make a stop in the slums to practice our Bengali. Just shy of 2 weeks here in Dhaka, I have already begun to settle into a routine of life and slowly learning the correct language to get around town.
I have been battling with my responsibility to keep my family and friends updated while at the same time struggling and wanting to avoid an explanation of what I am seeing, feeling, and experiencing. It is a daunting and hard task, especially with my lack of understanding and the youthful nature of my journey.
The other night, bouncing down the streets of Dhaka in a rickshaw my feelings of hesitation were pinpointed as I verbally processed my thoughts aloud to Melissa and Sara.
“I feel that explaining my experience in the slum and elsewhere could potentially act as a further exploitation of the poor.” This might sound a bit strange, but it has literally kept my fingers from moving on the keypad. I don’t feel qualified or eligible to paint pictures of the poor and their conditions as it might bring incorrect attention to myself and/or a diagnosis that also is not qualified. For the rich (me) to write about the poor seems to often build up the status of the rich with their “valued experience,” while the poor remain. Possibly as that gap closes, and I slowly learn to join in solidarity may I speak more freely. I will tell you that within the snapshots I’ve collected around me, they have all been beautiful and filled with hospitality and an overwhelming generosity.
Overall we’ve had to make some adjustments living in a Muslim nation and are learning as we go along. This last weekend we took a small boat around the river, visited a beautiful old mosque, and surprised all the men (not many women eat out, especially during the day) by the 3 of us females eating out at a small local restaurant. We stop often at little cha (tea) shops multiple times a day as well sit and take in our surroundings.
I will do my best to keep blogging, but if I don’t for awhile then you have an understanding of why. Already my imagination of life and how it can be lived has grown with excitement and gratitude towards love and freedom. Thanks for following and hopefully I will be back to report sooner than later. Thanks for being in my life. Emails are appreciated !
As my days of Napa life dwindle, these two worlds that seem so distant are rapidly becoming closer. Less than a month away from stepping off the plane into Kathmandu, followed by a month of language school in Dhaka, and into my 6 months in Kolkata I am... well... not sure how to prepare.
Applying for Visas, taking Winston Brown on walks, and coaching volleyball seems to crowd my days. I enjoy coming home to such great parents everyday as well as coaching and working with a fantastic group of girls... but the time has come.
While India by no means needs my presence, and while often i feel more inclined to life here, simply because i understand more of the culture, speak a common language, and could probably learn spanish... I have still chosen to go for one reason. The renewal of my imagination. The poor, enslaved, and oppressed are not far from the front steps of my home in California, yet my ability to see and act is tainted as I am often distracted by my own selfishness and complacency. My hope is that by going to India and living amongst the poor, I might learn what it means to love and live freely from those women who will host me. I hope to be introduced to an imagination of life outside money, materialism, successful careers, and isolated/fragmented ways of living. Right now i struggle to step outside of what America tells me to do.
In a world with so much darkness I chose hope. My prayer is that I can offer myself in any way towards that hope as I work alongside, eat alongside, and live alongside women coming out of prostitution. Hopefully we can give to each other as we work towards freedom and love.