Letter From Kolkata

We’ve been in this fantastic/terrible city for four days, and so far no-one’s got lost or sick.  We’ve got busy, dirty, sweaty, tired, and emotional – but in a good way.  Steve P. has been taking great care of us; giving us careful orientation and insightful advice about how to handle everything.  On our first night he took us out to a cafe with western food and coffee – via auto-rick (the motorised rickshaws).  As some-one said after that first awesome ride, it makes the thrills of things like bungy-jumping fairly tame.

The next day we spent at Freeset; joining them for morning devotions, getting a quick tour of the premises (and introduced to everyone) and then put to work.  Connor D-B and Tina worked on fitting latches to plastic medicine cabinets for each room.  I repaired toys, fittings, and equipment in the nursery.  Others ran errands.  Some did quality control tasks; repeatedly timing specific steps in the production, or carefully measuring the bags’ dimensions.

I also got to design a T-shirt for our church.  They are having a slack time in their T-Shirt production at the moment, and have lots of surplus, so were glad to have a small extra task.  Working with their design team was real fun and opened my eyes to their professionalism, competence, and generosity.

The next day was at Innerlogics with Peter and Leonora, Graeme and Christine,  Moneesh and Rafique, and several young women workers.  Most of the women from our team did tasks like cutting old sari fabric or paper or card for book covers alongside these women.  Connor and Conor cleared out a corner of the balcony and constructed a set of shelves there for more storage, while Tina and I with Peter sorted and cleaned out a storeroom.  My next task was to go then with Peter two doors down the road (and up a dark, arrow, winding staircase) to an apartment that they had occupied until about a year ago, and which was the original premises for Freeset.  We had to shift their remaining equipment from here to the newly cleaned storeroom so that P. could shift her candle-making and laundry business into it.

P. is the women who started Freeset with the H.s.  Later that day I met her at Innerlogics as she sat reading her bible, and she talked with me for a while about how she has walked with Christ now for 12 years, and he constantly encourages her and helps her in her hard times.

Before lunch Steve took me and everyone younger than me out for some more orientation; the first task was to ride the buses to a particular destination and then return to our starting point.  Easy enough – once we realised that there was a woman’s side of the bus and a men’s.  The sniggering helped with that.  The reward was hot chai and an aloo dish served in leaves and eaten with thick pieces of bread.  Then it was learning about rickshaws.  The type that get pulled by skinny men in bare feet.  Only this time it was myself and the Con/nors pulling them while the girls and a rickshaw driver sat in state!  We got lots of laughs and stares all the way down the street, as we pounded the pavements and I nearly burst my lungs trying to get ahead and then stay ahead of Connor. He passed me in the end.

Peter and Leonora treated us to a beautiful lunch at their apartment – peanut butter and honey on homemade bread, salad (including lettuce!) and a beautiful spicy, meaty soup.

The afternoon for us young ones was taken up with rebuilding a slatted bed in the roof-top apartment, and cleaning up all the detritus that had gathered there over the months.  Including pulling Banyan trees out of the plaster where the seeds had blown across and taken root.  From the roof i could see a building across the street with a tree growing in the roof, already over 12 feet high and very wide – covering the entire building.

Several of the team had gone back to the hostel in the afternoon register at “the Motherhouse” – the headquarters of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity order so that they could work there today.  They rose at 5.30 this morning to be there by 6, and were then taken to the hospital for the destitute and dying to wash floors, make beds, clean linen, and comfort the patients.  They were all pleased they went, and took two others with them, also.

The remaining members of the party this morning went to the special service that Carey Baptist church do each Saturday for the Freeset women.  All the songs had the words in English script as well as Bengali, so we could ding along, and the sermon was by a visiting Canadian academic (translated into Bangla) so we could hear that perfectly well.  It was excellent preaching.

From there we all went to the Motherhouse, visiting the museum, and the tomb of Mother Teresa.  Many of her letters and written prayers were on display, and they gave a wonderful insight into her personality and devotion.

The city is immense, filthy, bustling, vibrant, blanketed in smog, and wonderful.  Every footpath near us is crowded with beggars.  Each night we step over whole families sleeping on the pavement. But the children are almost uniformly bright and delightful.  A group of Swedish students we’ve met are spending their time specifically with these children, playing with them and teaching them games and songs.  They often have great English.

Being here, and making our tiny contribution to the Tranzsend story in this city feels like an immense privilege.  Having the chance to build relationships with those who represent us here, and to meet those they serve, has been a deeply moving – and very sweaty – experience.  Worshipping with them this morning will always be a highlight of my life.  For that alone the ticket was worth it.


  1. #1 by Margaret and Keith Whitten on November 20, 2011 - 12:49 pm

    Puts our squabblings over elections into perspective. Sounds like you are really doing something, rather than being tourists. Might even make a carpenter or two out of your entourage. Keep up the great work – and great reporting!

    Regards to all,
    Keith and Margaret Whitten

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