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Ashchee, dear survivors, ashchee!

15 Jul 2010, by elance programmer in Uncategorized

It’s 5am as I write this blog, sitting in Smarita’s living room. The crows are already starting their morning rounds and the sun is shining through the windows. Any other day I’d actually enjoy this moment. But I’m leaving in an hour, and don’t have the emotional strength to appreciate the natural beauty.

For the last week I’ve been going to the various shelter homes to say goodbye to the staff members and the survivors. Each one was heartbreaking, as they asked me "When are you coming back?" Their faces dropped when I reminded them "2 years later." Some wouldn’t even look at me. But most were genuinely supportive of my plan to study further; some made me promise to try and marry an American while I’m gone, others made me promise to wait and marry an Indian when I get back.

Then I realized there were so many other people I needed to say goodbye to – the lady on my street corner who makes rotis, the couple at the Indian Post Office that wrap up my packages (actually stitch them up and then wax seal them), the fabric store workers who have always been so helpful getting me the right fabric, the bead store owner who deals with my crazy requests, and my tailor who’s never once tried any funny business when he’s taking my measurements. I promised them all I would come back after 2 years, but I doubt they believed me. In Bengali, when people leave they say "I’m coming" not "I’m leaving" so it’s an open-ended farewell. Ashchee.

The hardest goodbye was, obviously, at the Destiny unit. Since July 21, 2008 I have been working everyday with this group of women. We’ve shared everything together – learning how to stitch handbags, boyfriend issues, illnesses, domestic abuse, new outfits, volunteer madness, raising a puppy, fights, laughs, farts, and everything in between.  One of the young women working at Destiny doesn’t know her birthday, so we had made if July 15th so I could be there to celebrate. So we had a birthday party for her, which was so much fun to sit her in our birthday chair and sing her the birthday song. I don’t know if she’s ever experienced that before, and her face was priceless as she blew out the candles of her cake.

But then after the party I had to look each woman in the eye and bid farewell. I did my favorite impersonation of each one of them – the way our Captain screams when she gets angry, the way our newest member asks "Do I have to open it?" when she makes a mistake. Then as I went to hug one woman I looked over and saw Puja, who had been living in a brothel when we found her, wiping her eyes with the end of her scarf. That did it – I started gushing and Nissa kept telling me to stop because I look ugly when I cry. Fair enough! 

Embracing each one for the last time made me realize that even if I had a little impact on their lives, they will never know how much they’ve impacted my life. It’s me who’s been rescued here in Kolkata, not them. They’re strong, independent women now and I only had to give them a chance for that to happen. Without me they would have realized their own success, maybe in a different way and at a different time. So I thank God that they opened their hearts to me, that they let me into their lives, and that they invited me along on their journey to freedom.

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