- Mary E. Byrne
(June 28th, 2011 10:07PM)
Dear Mom, Dad and Sean,
You'll probably get this in about 2 weeks, by which time I'll probably have sent an email during our mid-project retreat in Digha. I've arrived safely and have been at our apartment for about a week now. It's a spacious and comfortable place with more than enough treated water for cooking and drinking. We just started cooking and marketing (grocery shopping) for everyone each day; a girl named Mary and I cooked tonight. We made Indian-style fried rice, potato curry and tomato stew. There are 15 of us in total, with 2 staff workers and 12 students. There are 4 guys and 8 girls, and we all get along really well. We live on the 6th floor of an apartment next to the traintrack of the main railway running through Kolkata, so trains blow by every 15 minutes all day/night except for the hours between 12:30am and 3:00am, when there are no trains.
I love my placement, which takes me back and forth between 3 main slums across the city. At the one my partner Thomas and I visit the most is called Baghmari. We teach at Rainbow School, which doubles as the slum's church meeting place as well. The people we work with here are amazing in their faith and dedication to bring a piece of God's kingdom into the darkest of palces.
We were told yesterday that Baghmari was notified that their land was going to be taken from them and their homes demolished to make room for some high-rise development program. These families, 4 or more in each house, live together in a space smaller than my bedroom. They have one bed, a shelf or two, and maybe a closet for their clothes. And yet, when we visit they never hesitate to offer us sweets and drinks, and give us the best (and only) seat in their house- on their bed. The hospitality of these people is incredibly humbling, and their faith despite everything they've been through is just so awe-inspiring.
It's been incredibly challenging adjusting to the weather, culture and people of Kolkata, learning how to use public transportation, and learning Bengali. Watching my every gesture as to not offend, and watching local women to see how they carry themselves, sit down, and communicate with others. The culture here is very different from North American culture: women suffer so many more injustices and inconveniences than man, and in general are ignored for the most part in such a patriarchal society. On one train with roughly 20 cars, only 2 are reserved for the women.
Living communally and in such a drastically different environment has both encouraged and forced me to be more self-aware: as a result, here I am so much more aware of my own weaknesses and shortcomings. It's amazing that, when I'm stretched and challenged, though it's uncomfortable, I know it's bringing me closer, one step at a time, to where God wants me to be.
I know you're worried for me but I've been praying that though there's little communication that God will give you peace in your hearts, because He's constantly providing for all my needs, whether physical or spiritual.
I love you all and miss you so much!
I hope this letter reaches you safely.