Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There's gotta be something redemptive about sweating

I'm back in Kolkata! We left Darjeeling Monday morning, all seven of us packed into a Tata Sumo (an Indian SUV) along with our driver and a luggage boy. Once down the mountain, we took an overnight train from Sunigiri to Kolkata. The sleeper car is quite the experience. People walk through the compartment at all hours of the night. I remember rolling over at 4 this morning to the sound of this voice: "CHA! KOFI! CHA! KOFI!" It was the tea and coffee man, coming through the train for all those early risers eager to start the morning. Like there is anyplace to go. :)

It's good to be back in Kolkata. The only thing that isn't quite so good is the sweating. Folks, it's still super hot here in K-town. Back to the tried and true ponytail. When I wore my hair down this weekend, I realized how long it is getting. I'm excited! I like long hair. I forgot that. I had the happy realization yesterday that if someone handed me a ticket to fly home today, I would say "Thank you, but no thank you." Kolkata is still right and good. It is still the chapter for me right now. I can say after a month of much hardness and even more goodness that I would rather be here than any other place in the world. Thanks to those of you who faithfully pray for my peace and joy. Those gifts are coming. And even better, they are staying.

A small story from the train station yesterday.

I do not know what her name really means, but I think that I have read or heard somewhere that the English translation of the Bangla is joy. Her face shines with a smile that I rarely see in the children who beg. Most wear a weathered, hardened, empty gaze as they move their hands from stomach to mouth, the universal sign that crosses language barriers to ask, "Please, won't you give me some money or food?" Jyoti uses the sign too, yet her mouth explodes in an upward curve of happiness, and when I ask her simple questions in Bangla, she laughs.
One moment outside the train station.
In the next, I will walk inside and never see Jyoti again. How much of this meeting is mere chance or the inevitable result of a Westerner's presence in a crowded Indian venue? How much is Divine, a sweet and beautiful exchange orchestrated by the Magnificent Hands that hold us all?
I believe it is the second.

Oh! To have eyes that see life with the expectation of encountering the sacred around each corner and through every door! For God is with us, but He is also above us, guiding our steps and lining our paths with stepping-stones of purpose.
Jyoti, thank you for laughing with me today.
Thank you for reminding me that hope has not taken ill and died.
Thank you for teaching me that giving is a privilege, whether that gift is of myself or my possessions. So often I build a barbed-wire fence around my heart, but Jyoti squeezed under the sharp prongs today, and in her arrival I hear this truth:
How much life is found in giving.

And now, the momentous event you've all been waiting for! A little pictorial tour of the last month of my life.

Hmm. So I don't have time to figure out how to rotate this picture. So maybe all you viewers at home could just rotate your heads. :) This is Sheila, my dear and wonderful roommate, and me. We are in our room at home.

Dinner-time at home. The lady in the middle is our great Aunty, the all-time best Indian cook. Bengalis don't eat dinner until late (8:30 or 9:00 pm), so Sheila and I are already sporting our Indian nighties. Nice, huh? Oh, also please note that we are becoming true Indians and eating with our hands.

This is outside of our home. I think we're on our way to church.

Hannah and me at my birthday dinner! Somehow, someway, Beth managed to procure REAL LETTUCE for an AUTHENTIC SALAD. That lady knows me well, and she is amazing. Note my excitement. This is the first time I've had a real salad in nearly a month. We also had mac-and-cheese. Oh, the wonders of familiar American food when one is far from home. :)

Here is the rest of my team, minus leader Beth. This is on our way to Darj. Hannah, me, Josh, Jodi, and Sonny. What a crew. I love 'em.

Sheila and I found a cafe in Darj that served REAL COFFEE! Oh boy! Here I am, blissfully happy over such a fortunate discovery. Thanks, Darjeeling. You were good to us. Even if you are world-renowned for your tea, I will always remember you for the incredible French-press coffee you gave us.

That's all for now. Posting pictures takes a while. Sorry I don't have any of the women or children I'm working with. WMF and Mother Teresa's have pretty strict picture policies, for the privacy and dignity of the people they work with. But hopefully at the end I will get to snap a few pics of my new friends.

Thanks so much for your prayers! I was going to post some specific prayer requests today, but I have run out of time, so maybe tomorrow. Thanks also for emails, comments, and real mail! I got some real letters today, and while I didn't think anything could top getting mail as a college student, getting mail in Kolkata exceeds even that joy. :)



  1. I love your pictures. Thank you for taking time to post them. I have loved reading and keeping up on your time there. Thank you for sharing your real thoughts with us.
    Love you lots friend

  2. great to see pics, Lara. i liked the "tea and coffee" on the train part:) good thoughts about Jyoti as well. I have often wondered that--why do these random, seemingly meaningless experiences with strangers happen? well, God knows and works in mysterious ways.

    keep it up, sis. stay abiding in our strong, vital Vine.