Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Last Minute Tourist

Against all odds, I finished packing before the last minute. I know...shocking, right?

So today I got to be a tourist in the city that I've lived in for 6 years. Since the clock was ticking, I decided to finally get around to seeing some of the things that most people see within a week of arriving.

I went down to Kumartali. This is where artisans make statues, animals, and goddesses out of mud, straw, and incredible skill. it was really amazing to see the amazing things they could make out of straw and mud, and to see works in different stages of completion. I saw elephants, giraffes, lots of goddesses, and a Ghandi bust in progress! I'm so glad I went. I took some back alleys and had a lovely wander around what is essentially my back yard (oh, yeah, i didn't mention that, did I - Kumartali is literally about a 5 minute walk from my flat and i've never been!)





I ran a few small errands, and then i took a bus ride to a cafe. It was great to travel by bus and see the city one more time in that unique way. Fueled by my delicious lunch, I headed to a salon to get a pedicure, and to relax.

And then i headed to the South Park Street Cemetery. Rishi has been telling me for months (years?) that I would love it, but i never made it down there...today was the day. It is such a beautiful, peaceful, haunting place. I'm so thankful that I got to see it.




And then i took a walk to New Market and picked up a few odds and ends. someone asked me today if there was anything i wanted to stock up on before i left Kolkata and i said "no" but then i realized there was one thing...noserings. they're so cheap here...i paid less than $5 for 7 (i was stocking up, remember?) and they're so much better than the ones i've found in the states. so consider me stocked up on nosepins!

oh, and while i'm thinking of things that i'm about 6 years late on discovering...

1. Coconut water...when my sisters came to visit Angela really liked it, and now i'm totally hooked. how did i live here for 6 years and not realize what i was missing?!?!? i've been doing my best to make up for lost time.



2. Buying local potato chips. i know...sounds weird - but they're so good! and you just walk up to the guy and say how much you want, and he pours them into a little bag, and salts them...and they're cheaper (and more delicious) than store chips (okay, maybe its a good thing that i didn't know this before last week) sorry, the chips are in this picture...had to leave them out in order to get the scale.


I ended the day with an egg roll...I just needed on more!


as i walked and rode, and roamed around this City of Joy, i listened to the 3 albums that Kyle Scott wrote while he was in Kolkata. it was the perfect soundtrack for my day of being a tourist, visiting familiar places, and being present in the reality of today.  i'm so thankful for this day to be a tourist in a city i've called home for so long.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

that moment

when you try to honor the life that you have shared for the past six years.

when you look up, and realize that you are surrounded by around 50 of the most brave, amazing, strong and beautiful women you could ever imagine.

when you realize that you cannot possible take in all of the beauty and love that is surrounding you.

when you wonder how you ever got to live the past 6 years, all its highs and lows and twists and turns, and how you got to share life with these women.

when you cannot believe that anyone would say that you have served them...because it is so glaringly obvious that you are the one who has learned, and been loved, and been served by them.

and you cry.

and it easily would have turned into an ugly cry...except you know how much it bothers them when you cry.

so you dwell in the moment as best as you can, and soak up as much of that ocean of love as your little heart and soul can

you kiss her on the forehead - because she is your sister, and you have been though hard days with her, and you will miss her more than you can acknowledge

and then, because you can, just this one more time, you turn and yell over your shoulder, "see you tomorrow"


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Transition from Kolkata

For the past 5 ½ years I have had the deep privilege of living in Kolkata, and being woven into the Sari Bari community. There are not words to describe what an honor this has been, or how much this place, and these people have changed me for the better. It is not possible to explain how deeply the women of Sari Bari have impacted me, how they have stirred my heart, what a treasure it is to know their hearts, to witness their courage, to journey with them as they understand Hope, Joy, and Restoration.  At so many points along the way, they have reached back their hands, to grasp mine, and invited me along to journey with them, to know love and loss, joy and sorrow, celebration and grief in powerful, soul crushing, life-giving and deeply transformative ways. This community, this place, these men and women have given me an indescribable gift, and I will never be the same because of their faith, hospitality, hope, and strength. My life will never be the same for having walked a few miles alongside my heroes.

And now, it seems that it is time for me to leave this place, and these people.  And I know that it is right and good and true for me to leave Sari Bari. And I cannot imagine leaving. How can this possibly be right?! Except that it is. You see, on what seemed to be an ordinary day in Sept 2013, I was standing on the verandah of Sari Bari, the most amazing man waltzed into my life (his name is Rishi). And I had no idea. I thought I would never see him again, but as it turns out, he is a kindred spirit. Eventually he asked me to fly kites with him, and I said “yes.” And I slowly began to know and be known, and we both discovered a partner. We began to share our hearts, our perspectives, our passions, joys, and sorrows, and slowly we realized that we are better together than we are apart, and even more slowly we realized that we wanted to be together, and we could be together. And then one day, (July 30th, to be exact) he asked me if I would take the greatest adventure and share the rest of my life with him. And I said, “yes!”

Rishi is an officer in the US Foreign Service, and at the end of May he finished his tour in Kolkata, and was assigned to Port Au Prince, Haiti. He is currently in Washington, DC, preparing for his time in Port Au Prince. In January I will join him there, we’ll get married, and in April we will move to Haiti together. A life of partnership, and adventure waits.

When I first learned of Sari Bari, I remember thinking that I had found “my people.” Folks who saw the world, and the story of Redemption in the same way I did. And that remains true. I am deeply thankful to Sari Bari, and similar communities around the world, and to the community of Freedom Businesses in Kolkata , for being “my people.” I have been encouraged by their honesty, struggle, and faithfulness, and by ways they are living, and loving those around them. Their authenticity in how they live, and how they see the world, created a safe space for me to be who I was, and to become who I am becoming.

A deep thanks is nowhere near enough to offer to those of you who have prayed for me, who have financially supported me, to those of you who have asked me “how are you?” and then waited around for my sometimes incoherent, rambling answer. But “Thank you” is what I have to offer right now, so “Thank you” to those of you who have been with me in the midst of questions that I could not answer, struggle that I could not have imagined, and joy, hope and community that I could not have conceived of.

To my city of Joy, I love you. I love you in the truest sense. You have shown me your weaknesses, and your ugliest parts, your injustice, fear and hate. You have shown me your beauty, your color, your hospitality, courage, life, love, joy and redemption. Thank you for welcoming this global vagabond, for letting me know you, for transforming me, and helping me become a better version of myself.


May you go out in Joy and be led forth in Peace.

With deep love,
Melissa

A few “business” items…
·      My last day in Kolkata will be Jan 5, 2016. (I LOVE Christmas in Kolkata, and just had to squeeze out one more!)

·      As a part of my departure from WMF, if I have sufficient funds in my support account, I can continue to receive my salary and maintain my health insurance for 3 months after I leave my country of service. If you give on a monthly basis, and would consider giving through March, 2015, I would be very grateful.

·      I will be pursing some debriefing and counseling as I leave Kolkata. In addition to the transition of leaving Sari Bari, and getting married, there is a lot of emotional work for me to do in this transition. Over the course of the past 6 years there have been many losses and endless suffering that I have not fully acknowledged. I look forward to this next season of intentionally holding those losses, and grieving properly.  WMF allows these expenses to be reimbursed if I have sufficient funds in my support account.




Monday, June 1, 2015

don't forget to hope

I’ve spent the past few days running around this hot and humid city like a crazy person. (I’m not exaggerating here).

For the past year and half I’ve been working on getting a government registration for Sari Bari Trust. I’ve been playing the long, slow game on this one. Learning what I could learn…from anyone who would teach me. Taking small, seemingly insignificant steps. Slowly slowly this thing has been moving forward.

And then on Wednesday I met with someone who was willing to help us. And he wanted to file all the paperwork by Monday. Which was awesome (cause I really wanted to get this thing moving/done before I left for the US next week)…and was crazy cause of the amount of work it would take to get everything in order by then.

Papers.
So many papers. To draft and print and sign and stamp.
Letterhead
Signatures
Pictures
identity documents
Xerox
Files
You think you’re done…and then you find out you need one more thing.
One more trip to another office.
Certified copies
Missing documents needing to be tracked down
Trips to other parts of town to get what I need.

I’m telling you, I was like a chicken with my head cut off.

Monday. That’s crazy fast (which is a funny thing to say about something that I’ve been working on for a year and a half). How can something be simultaneously so fast, and so slow? Or so slow and long…and then a sprint at the end?

I spent Thursday running around frantic. 

And as I woke up on Friday, I was prepared to do it all again.
Lists of things to do
Detail lists so nothing is forgotten.
Phone calls
Emails
The need for one more clarification
The exasperated, “what?! I need to do that?!”

And then, in the quite of Friday morning – I remembered.
I remembered why I was doing this.
I remembered all the hope and possibility that is on the other side of this mad paper work dash.
I remembered the dreams, and stability, and growth that I’m doing this for.
I remembered why this is so important.
I remembered to hope.
To dream.
Oh…this will be so amazing when it’s done.

I remembered what is my job (getting all the details together)
And what is not (all that will be done once I’ve done my best)

So the documents have been gathered.
Monday they will be (were?) submitted.

And now, I wait.
And hope.
And pray.


(…and let’s be  honest…I’ll also be making lists of things to do and contingency plans, and explanations to co-workers for necessary follow up depending on how this goes on Monday…I know…I know…I’m a bit pathological…but I guess to me, that’s just where hard work, pure stubbornness, hope and dreams get all mixed together…and how new awesome seasons get started…)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Shandhya

On Tuesday Sari Bari said goodbye to another one of our heroes.

Shandhya passed away at 4:30 in the afternoon. She had a stroke in February, and has her recovery was complicated, and slow. Then she had a second stroke in May. We have been saying a slow goodbye to Shandhya for the past 4 months. So I was not surprised on Tuesday to get the news that she had passed away.

I've often said that in some ways Sari Bari is at its best in crisis. And I have seen that, once again, in this long slow goodbye. I observed as women from Sari Bari would go visit Shandhya. As they would say their goodbyes. I would hear their observations, and their deep love for Shandhya. I was given the gift of glimpsing this situation through their eyes. I heard their words of comfort, and their reflections on their friend, co-worker, and sister. I heard their love for her. In the midst of a situation that was far from ideal, we were given the gift of time to visit, the gift of saying goodbye, and the gift of getting to express our love to Shandhay one more time.

I have felt deeply conflicted during these 4 months. I have, at times felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for Shandhya (even though my responsibility was limited. Her son and daughter in law were caring for her). I have felt angry, that the systems didn't work well enough to care for her the way i wished they would have. I have felt angry that she was suffering these past 4 months.  Simultaneously, i was given the gift of sitting next to her and stroking her hair, and being present with her. I was given the gift of walking into the the hospital room and saying, "oh sister, your moshumi is here." I got to sing over her, and pray peace over her.

And then Tuesday. Funerals are always hectic. They are times where we "hurry up and wait." We wait for the body to be released from the hospital. And then we go to the ghats (where cremation happens). And we wait some more. And then there are rituals, and the cremation begins. And we wait. Sitting on the steps outside the crematorium while my friend's body is returned to dust. Nothing reminds you of mortality like waiting on the steps while someone you love is cremated. And then we bathe in the river (or are sprinkled with the water).

It was a long night (it always is). and we always stay until it's finished. On Tuesday i felt a little crazy though. Sitting there on the steps at 12:30am. i thought, am i just being unnecessarily stubborn waiting until its finished? Couldn't we go home? haven't we stayed long enough? But i just couldn't leave. I couldn't do it. At my core i didn't want to. And then, the peace of the river at night, watching her family together. There is just something so powerful about the rituals and process. The direct transition and contradiction between the chaos of the crematorium and the peace and possibility of the river at night. We always stay until it is finished.

I know this post is scattered. probably because there's too much to write in one post. But i will finish here. By remembering. by honoring my dear sister. My hero, Shandhya.

Tuesday afternoon, when we got the news, We gathered together. And remembered Shandhya. We sat together in the office, as we always do. and remembered. We remembered how faithful she was. She came to work every day. Every day. That is what i remember of Shandhya. Her slow and steady hands. Her faithful presence. She was like a hidden flower. If you've been to Sari Bari, you most likely won't remember her. There are other women that will make you laugh and will catch your attention, women who are bold and the "characters" at Sari Bari. But Shandhya, you wouldn't notice her. you would miss her quiet strength and steadiness - until you had the eyes, patience, and time to see her. And then you would see the most amazing woman. She would give us a hug everyday on her way out of the office, always the last to walk down the stairs. our quiet, faithful, beautiful, strong Shandhya.

Peace.
Peace be with you.
As all things are made new,
as what was begun has now been carried onto completion
May the peace, that largely escaped you in this life, enfold you in deep rest now
May deep love wash over you.
We remember you.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Mercy

Today my heart cries "Mercy"
The almost inaudible plea for mercy

Some days my heard and mind cry "Justice!"
The impassioned fight for justice rings through my being and into my hands, feet and actions.

Some days my heart yells, "Anger!"
The fire in my belly that declares, demands that "This should no, cannot, be"
(whatever the "this" of that moment happens to be")

Some days my heard cries, "Help!"
with the keen knowledge that we are in way over our heads
desperate for help.

Some days my heart surrenders in a declaration of "Powerless"
This is usually a lie, but it feels very true at the time.

Some days my heard defiantly questions, "How Long?!"
How long until peace and love, joy and justice take their proper place in our hurting, broken world?

But today,
Today, my heart cries "Mercy!"

So I remember,
"You are the same God whose nature it is to always show mercy"
and that becomes my prayer.

Mercy.
Please.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kyle Scott in Spring Arbor

My dear friend Kyle Scott is an amazing singer/songwriter. Kyle worked at Sari Bari for 4 years, and has stayed connected to the community since he moved back to the US.  He has written an album inspired by the women of Sari Bari, and his time in Kolkata.

AND...he is going to be in Spring Arbor, MI (of all places!) performing his songs on Thursday March 19, 2015 at 8pm at the Kresge Student Center on Spring Arbor University's campus.

The first time i listened to this album was sacred. I sat on my couch and cried as i listed to the words Kyle sang. As humans have done for ages, he uses music and poetry to explain the inexplicable, to attempt to voice that which is far beyond our ability to name, or fully comprehend. It's true, perhaps these stories resonate with my heart in different ways, because i've walked these lanes, I've laughed and cried, hoped, been disappointed, and journeyed alongside the women of Sari Bari - but i'm quite confident in saying you won't regret an hour spent listening to Kyle share his heart and perspective.

I wish I could sit next to you, listen to the music, and breathe in the mystery and beauty together!

Here's a link to his bandcamp page, where you can listen to or buy the album, and there are lyrics on the site as well.

http://kyledscott.bandcamp.com/


Friday, February 20, 2015

blocked drain

Last week I came home from work and realized that the drain on my kitchen sink was blocked.

This is the sort of thing that isn’t a big deal – except that it is.

Its one more problem to solve.
One more thing to figure out.
Its something that is supposed to work that does.

And in my world, there are lots of things that don’t work – and I’m used to that.
I expect it.

And at times, when there are lots of other things going on, it’s really hard (and frustrating and annoying) when something that is supposed to be easy isn’t.

Like when I have to call my internet company 3 times in a week.
Or when the ATM is closed for no apparent reason.
Or when my ATM card gets blocked “for security purposes” cause there are “suspicious” transactions in Kolkata…nevermind that 99% of all of my transactions are in Kolkata.
…I digress.

So my sink was blocked.

And this was at the end of a week that was really hard for me (for lots of reasons).

And I just don’t have it in me to figure out how to unblock my drain.

I mean, theoretically, its an easy problem to solve.
I know how I’d take care of it in America.
I’d go to the most convenient store, and buy some draino.
Done.

But I don’t live in America.
And I’ve never seen Draino here (not that I’ve looked)
And I’m not sure what store to look at
I think a hardware store might be a good place to start.
And I’m afraid they’ll give me something that will eat away at the plastic drain pipe and then I’ll have a bigger mess on my hands.
Its just not as easy as it would be if I was in America.
And I don’t want to solve another problem.
And, I need to get it taken care of – cause the pile of dishes in my (blocked) sink is getting absurd.

So I go to the hardware store – and explain that my sink in blocked and ask if they have anything to fix it.
And they refer me to the paint store – so I head down to the paint store wondering what they’re going to give me.

And wonder of wonders – they hand me this:


A clearly labeled packet.
A powder that will open my drain.
With instructions in English.

And I am amazed at how easy that was.
I am relieved that it was that easy.
Cause that day – I really needed it to be easy.

I mean, it was a little freaky when  I actually put it down my drain. I wish I would have know what it was going to do – I would have taken a video for you. But there was yellow foam coming out of my drain. And smoke.

And then…my drain was clear.

These are the things that aren’t in any manual.

No one tells you about how it will be the most absurd things that will send you over the edge.

No one tells you that one day you will find yourself crying in your kitchen cause you’re out of oatmeal and brown sugar and cinnamon (only that’s not really what’s wrong – it’s just the little thing that pushed you over the edge)

No one tells you about how a blocked drain will suddenly make it feel like the whole universe is against you.

No one tells you about how one day you’ll be mad at a taxi driver, or your tailor for something that seems insignificant – except it’s just one more thing that makes you feel powerless, or out of control, or that it’s one more problem to solve.

And then, every once in awhile – there will be a packet of drain cleaner, with instructions in English.


And you will breathe a sigh of relief, and be giddy at how amazing it is that water, once again, goes down your drain the way it is supposed to.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Villian

I’m sitting in a “waiting room.”
It’s a hallway.
On the fifth floor of the government hospital.
There is a system – although, if you’re from the west you’d be hard pressed to identify it right away. There are closed doors, and stools outside the doors.
You put your prescription on the stool, and wait to be called.

Patients show up hours before the employees – to get a good spot in line.

It’s warm in here (it’s cold outside). I was prepared for a day of waiting in the cold. I even put no closed toed shoes and socks instead of my normal flip flops.  I’m wearing a sweater, but I wish I’d brought another layer. It was 57 when I left my house this morning. And I know that doesn’t sound cold – but it is when you’re used to 110+. It’s cold when you don’t have windows with weather sealing, or heat or insulation.

So I sit here.

I don’t want to be here.

I’ve accompanied the husband of one of the Sari Bari women to get an HIV test. 
I have made him a villain in my mind.

And I don’t want to be here for a thousand reasons.
I don’t want to be here cause it feels overwhelming to me.
And I don’t understand the system.
I don’t want to be here – cause I don’t know what this day will hold – but I assume it will hold a lot of waiting.
I don’t want to be here – cause I would rather be somewhere else.
I don’t want to be here – with him – cause I don’t like him.
(never mind that I’ve never had a conversation with him).
I don’t like him cause I hear the stories my friend tells me about their relationship.
I don’t like him cause I see the marks left behind after they fight.
I don’t like him cause I hear about how explosive and manipulative their relationship can be.
I don’t want to spend the day with him.
I don’t want to be here – cause what if he’s positive too? Then what?! How in the world will we provide care and support for him too?

But this whole day is actually way better than I thought it was going to be.

I got to the hospital and we had a cup of tea
We began to talk
How he was
About his trip to the hospital
About the weather and how cold it was.
We talk about how coming to get this test is stressful for him. (a stress that i cannot even begin to imagine)

We sit and wait and chat (cause of course they aren’t there to start the testing when they’re supposed to be).

And as we chat – moments come up.

He tells me something about Sheila’s wedding – Sheila has been gone for years – but he knows this detail.
And my impression of their relationship – and his love for her slowly becomes slightly more well rounded and true.
He tells me about another incident – which he would only know from her.
And the relationship is slowly reframed in my mind.
He tells me moments  from their 22 years together.
My heart and mind shift just a little more.

And slowly – I am able to see this time as a gift.
I realize that he is not the monster I made him in my head.
I am able to acknowledge his humanity.
I am able to see him for who is – rather than the caricature that I made him into.
He is not a villain. He is not the villain I made him.
He loves his wife. Perhaps imperfectly (but in the end, don’t we all love imperfectly?!)


I shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me.
It isn’t the second time, or third time either.
Every time I do something within this medical system that is new, and I don’t understand it – I dread it – and it turns out to be okay.
Every time I’m going to be sitting somewhere waiting for hours with someone – I dread it – and it always turns out to be sweet sweet time of conversation.
Every time I have painted someone as the bad guy – and then I actually get to talk to them and understand them a bit – I am surprised by how imperfect my perceptions were.

You’d think I would have learned by now.
But I haven’t.
So today was a gentle reminder of the humanity all around – even in people that I want to vilify.