Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Things That Remain

Today marks six weeks since my return to the US. I was given a lot of warning from others about what returning to the states might look like for me. Reverse culture shock, trying to process my experience, etc. It's true that it was a tough readjustment, but I slowly eased back into life here. I went to the beach for a week with my family a few days after I returned. I attended one of my best friend's weddings in Charleston, SC. I went to the beach for another week with my dad's side of the family. Now I'm back in Philly and preparing to start classes in a week.

Everyday there are tiny reminders of India. Things that have remained unchanged since my trip.

My watch remains on Calcutta time. It's about 12:30am here, but my watch lets me know that it's 10am in Calcutta. I haven't worn my watch since I've returned, so here it stays in my toiletry case. Here on the East Coast, I'm winding down and getting ready for sleep and people in Calcutta have already started their day. I wonder what Nirmal is doing right now. I suspect that Juma has already dropped the girls off at school. Durbar is bustling with sex workers showing up for their appointments, researchers, students and interns from around the globe are there to learn, and Pintuda is probably multitasking, organizing multiple events that will go off without a hitch.

This is all that remains of the taxi-door-slamming incident. Check out how quickly my nail has grown. I've become a bit accustomed to seeing the evidence of the smash, and believe it or not, I'll be a bit sad when it's totally grown out! It's not pictured, but the knuckle on my middle finger has returned to its normal size and I have full use and sensation of my finger back.

For some reason I haven't removed the carry-on tags from my backpack. I kept forgetting for the first few weeks, and now they just feel like they're a part of my backpack and I can't imagine them not being there. I can't help but smile whenever I zip it up.

Finally, the red threads on my wrist remain. After I was discharged from the hospital, Akash tied them onto my wrist and told me that they would protect me from any danger or injury (and anymore rats, apparently!) I never cut the threads off of my wrist. They're beginning to fray and separate. They've been sweated on, used to wipe away tears, been battered by waves in the ocean, been faded by the sun and made it through two wedding ceremony despite not matching my dress whatsoever.

A few days after my release from the hospital, after everyone else except for Laura had returned to the US, I was coloring with the girls and Juma on the floor in their home. We'd originally been playing on the roof, but the monsoon downpour forced us to take cover. After about half an hour of the girls showing me how to draw the perfect temple, Juma pulled out her bindis and stuck one to my forehead. The girl shrieked with laughter and jumped on top of me as we lay on the concrete, sweating profusely in the humidity. Even Juma flashed her shy, beautiful smile.

At one point, Juma became more serious and she pulled something out of a plastic bag. It was a braid of red strings with dried grass tied into it. She motioned for me to sit up, and I did.  She tied the set of red strings onto my arm near my bicep. I had to wait until the next day to ask Nirmal what the strings mean, and he told me that they'd picked up an extra one at their temple for me, to protect me from sickness. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness and our growing connection. Those red threads now reside safely in my jewelry box here at home.

The other day I became more curious about the red strings and what they represent.

These red strings are called "kavala" and exist within the Jewish religion as well. Kavala are a symbol of unity among Hindus, but they're also thought to be a protective force. Hindu priests tie them onto people at the beginning of religious ceremonies. Sometimes they're removed right after the ceremony but many people leave them on until the next time they're at temple. (Source) This blog post remarks on the interesting significance of red threads throughout various religious histories.

Although I do not identify as Hindu, I continue to wear the thread because to me, the strings represent the kindness of so many people who cared for me while I was sick and the friends who took the time to add to my body a measure of protection that they strongly believe in.

Other updates:

I wrote a letter to Nirmal recently! I do hope he receives it, and that I addressed it properly. I'm not sure if he'll write back, but if I can figure out a way to find out if he received it, I'll print out some more photos of the family and of me with the family and send them as well. 

The research paper that I'm working on with a partner, the culmination of the course that took me to Cal, is due on Sunday. I'll post it here if anyone is reading, and/or is interested. The title is: Sex Workers Living with HIV/AIDS and Stigma: How the Mamata Network of Positive Women is Making a Positive Impact in Sonagachi, Kolkata, and West Bengal, India.

The blog has had hits from Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Poland since I've returned. This marks 30 countries that have visited! I can also view what search terms bring people here, and I find it fascinating. One person found this blog by searching "flying sex worker at rashbehari avenue". I'm not sure what they were looking for, but apparently they were interested because they stayed on the blog for over nine minutes! 

Finally, I updated The Doors page to include some more doors that I hadn't found the time to upload at the end of my trip. Anyone have any good ideas for how to display these photos in my apartment?


Anonymous said...

Every time I was pregnant joes grandmother made me wear a piece of red cloth pinned to my bra or a red string around my wrist. She called them a "bendel" although I don't know if that was Hebrew or Yiddish (she could read and speak both).

Anyway- she told me
It was to ward off the evil eye or anyone wishing me harm. In situations when you are doing well, people wish to take from you and so- in my case of being pregnant, it was to keep anyone from wishing badly upon the baby and it's health. I always found it a little creepy but also comforting in a way


JustJude said...

Welcome home, daughter. <3

JustJude said...

I would like to read the paper.