Tuesday, 2 April 2013

How time drags by.

I find it increasingly difficult to comprehend where I spent the majority of 2012, just a day after this photo was taken.

Here in New Zealand, the sensory overload of Kolkata seems almost impossible to exist, when I am surrounded by luxuries such as being able to drink water directly from the faucet, walking outside without the high possibility of having my posterior handled by a passer-by, or even warm showers.

Since my arrival home, I have received an abundance of, "How was India?"s, "What are you going to do next year?"s, "Were you safe?"s, and "What was is like?"s. Only one of those I can respond to with some surety. The others, you are likely to receive a, "Good," Don't know," or "I can't describe it."

I have seen most of the people who I held dearest to my heart whilst away, so I am past the stage of excitement when I bump into someone I haven't seen in over a year. Forgive me if you are one of the people who will get the blunt, "It was good," response; honestly even I don't know myself how I feel about my time away.

There is a lot of confusion going on in this mind of mine. What do I believe in? What do I want to do with my life now? Who are my true friends? When will I be able to see the beautiful faces of Freeset? Where will I be in 5 years time? Why can I not shake this restless feeling deep within me?
A feeling of lack-of-purpose. Of selfish living. Of homesickness for a time and place that were once foreign to me, and again seem to be so.

Maybe I am being too hard on myself. I realise that there are still small adjustments that I need to accustom myself to, and that I should be more forgiving of the reluctance I hold onto.

I have been in New Zealand for just under 2 months, yet it feels like 6 months have dragged on by.
This, I do not mean in a negative sense, but one that is both encouraging, yet exhausting at the same time. We may be in the fourth month of the year, but in my mind my 'new' year began the moment my foot touched the dry earth of Aotearoa. The year is still fresh for me, whilst others wonder in amazement at how quickly the year is passing them by.

In two months, it is painfully surprising how quickly others seem to forget where I have been, or the topic of 'Alanna's year in India' becomes just a dry tale to be told. And here I am, still processing, still grieving, and still adjusting.

Time passes slowly and quickly at the same time. I'm having a good time getting to settle into the comfort of seeing my friends and family without the aide of the internet, yet I feel like I am in a limbo; half of my heart is wandering with the close friendships I formed, that have now dispersed to Ukraine, South Korea, Brazil, India, Washington DC, Iowa, Minnesota, and even here, in New Zealand.
Out there, the people I lived alongside daily, ate, talked, walked, mourned, laughed, and prayed with, are all beginning the new chapters of their lives in various cities and countries, and it is a grieving process to know I am not part of them, and vice versa.

The other half of my heart is here in New Zealand, the one place I will always call home.

I'm learning how to live in the place I physically grew up in, with the mindset I developed in a city pot-holed with an abundance of trials and challenges.
It is exciting and tiring all at the same time.

Thank you to those who have supported me through this transition period, for your patience, and for the genuine questions and interest you have in the past year I lived away!

Friday, 1 February 2013

We'll see.

It was my final morning, looking out the window at this view; I had the whole day ahead of me, filled with farewells and "All the best"'s.
Mornings were always my favourite time of the day in Kolkata, as it was usually cooler, 'quieter', and there was the feeling of knowing that if a good cuppa whilst looking over these buildings was the way I started my day, I knew that it would be a decent day.
The morning after I had first arrived in India, this was the scene I awoke to at 5am. It was humid and warm, with a breeze flowing through all of the open windows and doors, and the crows which had pulled me from sleep now squawked and made a fuss. A strange smell hung about, one that I could use a hundred words to describe, yet even those wouldn't equate to the air that curled into my nose.
With a whiff of a certain hand-soap we used when I originally arrived, all of these emotions, smells, sounds, and sights come back in a flood of memories, to a time where I thought it extremely difficult to see myself living there beyond a week, let alone 50 of them... yet here I am, sitting in a beautiful villa in Dubai city, on the other side of those 50.

It feels like yesterday when my stomach first lurched in anxiety at what was to come in my time in that foreign land, and now a 'day' later, it is the lingering taste of rich food from a rich city that churns my stomach.

To be completely honest, even though I have spent a few days away from the country I grew to accept as 'home', only now am I truly sitting down to reflect, and even still I find it extremely difficult to quite grasp the concept that I have left.
Yesterday I walked the many floors of Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, and multiple times I felt overcome with grief when it hit me I won't get to see all of my friends I made in India, for potentially a long time. I do not believe I am yet ready to really sit and think of all the things I have done, what and who I miss, when the simple act of purchasing a nice dress for myself set in emotions of guilt and the desire to cry. It's silly really - I bought clothes for myself while in Kolkata, but walking and travelling through a city that seems straight out of a sci-fi book set in the future, it is completely different.

Despite those few moments, I am ok. I'm enjoying a chance to relax and reflect here in the UAE, and to explore another culturally different city. This afternoon I am booked in for a desert safari, with 'dune-bashing', camel riding, henna-painting, belly dancing, and dinner under the Arabian night-skies... I am half-expecting a giant stone lion to emerge from the sand dunes, and speak to me before allowing me to step into it's agape mouth to find a genie's lamp. Thank's Disney! But I am 100% content with the concept of being atop a camel's back, making our way over mounds of sand, under the Arabian sun. Arabian. That is just a beautiful word right there, and it conjures many magical, dream-like scenes in my mind.

It is easy to forget that the past year was spent in India while I am pre-occupied by the goings-on here, which is both a blessing and a confusion. It's like, "Where am I, who am I, and what am I doing?"

Saying goodbye to the women who work at Freeset, the women I have grown to love as my friends, was one of the hardest things I have had to do. Trying to tell one of them how much they mean to me, or that I want to come back but don't know when, or that I'll miss them, was too difficult at times, as emotions strangled my speech and stung my eyes.

Where do I even begin to process what just happened? How do I do it?
I am sure these are things I am going to just learn along the way, and it really has been an incredible time in Dubai, spending time around like-minded and -hearted people. Hearing their stories of where they've been, what they're doing, and so on is truly motivating. I really do feel like I am being called back to this part of the world again some time in the future. To India, I do not know, but somewhere around the Middle East/Asia, yes.

We'll see.
A thing you'll see soon, is my face in New Zealand, after my time here in the Emirates.
Just be mindful of the question, "So, how was India?" I'm having difficulty as it is deciding that for myself, let alone summing it up in a few sentences... haha.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

I don't envy you.

(Spot the whitey).

Something that has been spoken to me a few times over the past week in the lead up to my departure, are the words, "I don't envy you."
I don't envy that you have to say farewell to an incredible country.
I don't envy that you have all of those wonderful friends to hug one last time.
I don't envy that you have to figure out how to live life again back home.
I don't envy the emotions you're about to be faced with in a matter of days.
I don't envy that you'll be lacking a few adorable kids to cuddle on a bad day.
I don't envy you.

And I haven't envied myself either, I mean, I'm about to experience a drastic scenery change! I'm sure it will feel not too dissimilar to the reverse of when I first arrived here in this foreign place, as a foreign person trying to figure out how to adapt to this new environment.

I've been told all the kinds of events that could cause a bit of the ol' reverse culture-shock, how it's going to be scary to hear the words, "So, how was India?" (how do you even begin with that one?!), and that it can be difficult to think back on my time here because I'll be missing it.

Sure, it is going to be hard. It will be emotional, and potentially overwhelming.

The most powerful message a friend of mine wrote to me was, "It hurts, because you did it right."

Does that mean that I'm upset that it's going to be hard? Not one bit. There is an explanation that this place, this time in my life, these people are going to be difficult to farewell - because I have reason to feel distressed and anxious about getting through a week without sitting with the women in morning devotionals, hearing their voices lifted up. It's because I didn't just come here and sit behind the computer at work, I lived, laughed, and cried alongside these women who have become such incredible inspirations to me.

It will hurt, because I'm leaving the people I love here, for an undefined length of time. I will return some time in the (hopefully) near future, yet when and for how long are still to be known - but I will return.

I'm trying to figure out how I will deal with the emotions to come. So in advance, to all of my friends and supporters at home, please forgive me if I suddenly feel overwhelmed, find it difficult to be in a certain situation, or I find it difficult to put into words just what I have seen, been through, and experienced here. Please be patient with me.

I guess, to sum up, I'm glad that I will find it daunting and upsetting to leave here; it's a piece of me that I hold dear to my heart that I am about to only be able to see in memories and photographs until the day I return.

Maybe I did it right.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Children's christmas party.

A close friend of mine here in Kolkata asked me to take photographs for an event she was soon to host within the red-light district near to us. She runs programmes with some of the children who live in that area, and they were going to have a Christmas party, with games, prizes, and excitement!

Here is glimpse into that event.

Cricket Camp

This was a wee while ago now, but a few local groups similar to Freeset (i.e. with a heart for the women + children who live in and around Kolkata's red-light districts) organised a weekend of cricket for the children! A few coaches from the UK came over to show the kids a few skills, and basically just give them a weekend of fun that will keep them smiling for a good amount of time.

We handed each of them a brand-new tee + cap to make it official, and the whole lot of us marched with all of the equipment down to a local park.

Usually I don't get a chance to really spend an extended amount of time with the children at Freeset, mostly just a few cuddles in the morning, so a whole three days of being in the sun with these beautiful kids truly meant the world to me! Also, these ones were older (late primary to early teens) than others I get to interact with, so it was interesting to try and communicate with them! Now I understand why my parents always asked me to slow down when I spoke - these youngsters loved to speedily relay a few sentences my way, leaving me only with a confused look, and only one word I picked up.

These few days were the closest I have come to the Indian love for cricket, and it was very heart warming especially to see that the girls were quite keen to participate in what would normally be considered a men-dominated sport in this country.

It was also a great chance for me to get snap-happy (in fact, I was asked to come along for this reason especially), and they all absolutely loved to wrestle over the spotlight - although once there, it was sometimes difficult to ruffle up a smile out of them... I don't know what it is, but most people I have encountered here that are Indian nationals tend to hold a neutral expression. Secretly, I love this; it's a change from all the fake smiles, poses, and expressions that are all too easy to come across whilst browsing Facebook or the web.

Apart from being nearly attacked by a snarling dog, and having one too many young men spectators watching my every move, the cricket camp was such a valuable experience. The teen girls I became close to have definitely taken pieces of my heart with them.

I feel like half of my heart will be left here. At least.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

These cuties.

These beautiful faces are part of the reason I've managed to get through some of the harder times in Kolkata... a stolen smile, a warm cuddle, a dance in the rain, a muffled giggle; the little things that help me stay strong.

The most tear-inducing thought though, is the fact that the faces of the girls here are the ones that now have a future of education, and freedom from ever having to enter the sex-trade, losing that innocent glint in their eyes, and the care-free laughter, because Freeset has helped their mothers chose their freedom. Chose their own path. Making their own decisions in itself is new concept to some even.

And then there are the boys; they are the ones that will grow up heavily influenced by their environment, and the people who have input into their lives, and ultimately they will be husbands to their wives. Any influence that their mother's freedom and the wonderful women in the creche have in their perspective on the world, it's women, and its people, I pray will help shape them into wonderful young men.

Kushi, Charlie, Bindi, Luke... just some of the names of these faces I will forever hold ever-so-dear to my heart.