We have arrived in Kolkata, but just barely…
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.