Kolkata Diary. Three Days In Bolpur

February 19th, 2017


Most of the  brick and mud houses, called Matir Bari  (soil house) in Bolpur  have traditional scenes and/or decorative patterns carved and painted on the house.  Manure dries in a circle under the clothes line to be used for fuel.

We piled into the bus with our overnight bags.   We’d be spending three days and two nights in Bolpur.   While waiting for Nadine to join us,  Dahn mentioned that we wouldn’t have any internet or phone service where we were going.

I got out of the bus and dialed Jon’s number.  We’ve been calling each other every morning and evening.  If I  suddenly stopped getting in touch with him, he’d worry about me.

And I wanted to say goodbye, we’d be out of touch for three days.

“Mon Cher,” Jon quoted  Piorot, “Mon’Amie”. (we’ve been watching the Agatha Christie series on Netflix every night before I left for India)   I love you I said to him, as Nadine walked by pulling her suitcase.

In the city every green thing, every tree and plant is brown with dirt.  As the people, buildings, vehicles, garbage, and noise thinned out, the vegetation started to turn green.  Cows and goats grazed in big fields of dying grass.  We passed small thatched roof villages and four-story cement hotels.  We passed farms surrounded by tall brick and mud walls.

It was mostly big trucks and buses on the road with us now.  And some motor bikes often carrying three men, or a couple, the woman sitting side-saddle in her sari.

During the four-hour drive and I slipped into my silent mode.  Going within myself, making it harder and harder to join in the conversations going on around me.  By this time I was certain that I had nothing of interest to contribute.  But I was more than  content  to look out the window.  Watching India pass by me.  Seeing everything for the first time.

A couple of hours into the trip, we stopped at what looked like a new, freshly painted  gas station.  They served coffee and had clean bathrooms with western toilet bowls.  Somehow the conversation turned to my potholders.

Kelly explained that they didn’t have a market for potholders in India.    But if I could teach the women of  a village we’d be visiting in a couple of days to make potholders from sari scraps and provide a market for them, that could work.  Immediately  Dahn offered to put out the money to buy the potholders from the women so I could sell bring them home and sell them on my website.

My discouragement and disappointment from the day before lifted.  My plans of helping the girls, would not be in helping victims of sex trafficking, but in helping to  prevent the trafficking from ever happening.

A few hours later we turned onto a one lane dirt road.  Kelly pointed out where the Fair Trade Market would be tomorrow.    A field of dry, orange, hard packed earth.    We’d be able to walk to it in the morning.

The driver slowed down as we passed the brick and mud cottages and then stopped in front of a new two-story,   building with a large gate leading to the courtyard.

We were greeted with drumming.   I bowed my body to the small woman who daubed a bindi on me and put flowers behind me ears.

A row of four women danced for us and a few of us joined them.  A simple step that I got all wrong but I didn’t care, I was dancing and it felt good.

We were handed coconuts with a hole carved into them and a straw sticking out.  Always thirsty, I sucked down the fresh coconut milk,  which tasted so much better than the stuff you get in a can.

Kelly, Nadine and I would share one of the three rooms. Nadine hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of days.  She  and Giselle from Puresa Humanitarian  had been visiting the families of girls in danger of being trafficked the week before we all arrived. She said she probably picked up something in one of the villages.

There were three cot sized beds in each of the three rooms of the hotel.  Each room had it’s own bathroom with western toilet,  a sink and shower with hot water on demand.   Fans cooled the room  and the doors and   window were shuttered at dusk to keep the mosquitos out.

The Women’s Interlink Foundation is doing preventive work in the village.  Because of it’s proximity to Kolkata Bolpur is the kind of village that girls could be easily trafficked from.

Girls are often sent into cities with the promise of a job and wind up being sold into slavery.  Just as often they  are knowingly sold into slavery  by their parents, who need the money and don’t value the lives of their daughters in the same way they do their sons.

Because of it’s location and the fact that the  village has a rich tradition of artisans, The Women’s Interlink Foundation was able to get a grant from  Canadian Tourism to help make the village a tourist destination.

They taught the people of the village how to repair their homes, and built on the skills they already had to make their art marketable.  Girls take classes in jewelry making.  Men make hand carved furniture.  Other people in the village have been taught to cook for the guests at the hotel.  The hotel also employs local people.

The crafts are sold in the village, the nearby market and markets around the country.  Recently a television show was filmed in the village.  Now tour groups come from all over India to see the setting of that TV show.

The village in Bolpur is a success story.  Because it’s prospering, and the girls have a way of earning money, they are of more value at home than being sent away to work or sold.

The girls in Bolpur won’t  need anyone to rescue them.

The hotel in Bolpur.  That’s Hannah, Mitali, from the  Women’s Interlink Foundation, Kiera, and Kelly from The Village Experience.






Kolkata Diary. Back From Bolpur And On-Line Again

February 19th, 2017

The courtyard of one of the homes in Bolpur

I just got back to Kolata and the internet.

I didn’t find out till we were on the bus to Bolpur that we wouldn’t have internet or phone there.  I was able to call Jon and let him know just  before we left.

And just as he wrote on his blog, when I couldn’t talk to him because of the time change (I don’t want to wake him up) I went to his blog, which is the closest I could get to him.

And there he was, reciting a love poem to me.

I cried and touched my cheek and lifted my hand to my lips, and kissed him back.

I wrote a little while I was in Bolpur. I couldn’t access my blog, so I wrote on my word program.   I’m going to try to copy it onto my blog.  But I won’t I have time to write about the whole experience today.

In an  hour, we’re taking a drive through the Red Light District.  I imagine that will take up a lot of space in my heart and head and will want to write about that and whatever happens in the coming days.

But I will get back to writing about Bolpur eventually.  It’s a wonderful success story of bringing a village back to life which will help ensure that the girls who live there will  not become targets for the sex trade. It’s a preventative program, one of many that The Women’s Interlink Foundation has created.

I want to thanks for all your encouraging words about my last post.  It turns out, India style, that there may be hope yet.

Tomorrow we’ll visit Sunlapp. The women there have six sewing machines and it looks as though they’re going to be ready to sew, with me teaching them to make potholder,  using scraps from sari’s, when I get there.

I’m not making any promises, but I’m crossing my fingers.

I did have some insights as to what actually happened, the confusion about me teaching and the  potholders.  I’ll write about that at another time too.

I’m going to try and post my writing from Bolpur now and put up some pictures.



Kolkata Journal. Disappointment and Practicing Acceptance

February 16th, 2017


One of the girls at the Women’s Interlink Foundation making her tote bag.

From the time I left the house trying to avoid the snow storm that was raging throughout Upstate NY, or maybe it was even before that, I been working on acceptance.  Mostly because I’ve found its the best way for me to stay grounded and balanced and in a good state of mind.

The best way for me to be able show my soul.

One of the first things Dahn told me about India was that you couldn’t really expect your plans to work out as you imagined.  That things work out the way they were meant to.

I got it when she said that to me.  And I’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice it since deciding to go to India. (and I do mean  practice, as in repeating an action to trying and improve it).

And of course this is a life lesson, not just applicable to this trip.

Now that I’m here,  I can see that there are plenty of opportunities to practice acceptance in India.  Even in the simple things, like getting someplace on time.  When you ask someone how long it take to get to specific place, it’s not unusual for them to answer, a half hour or two hours.

So when I found out yesterday, that I wouldn’t be teaching the girls at the Women’s Interlink Foundation how to sew potholders, I was disappointed, but not surprised.

I believed this was the reason for my coming to India.  It was my expectation to fulfill it.  The reason that people donated money so that I could make the trip.

There were plans in place, vague though they were.

I sent a list of materials so we’d have what we’d need to make the potholders when I got there.  Dahn sent me fabric from Africa to bring with me for the girls to use.

Like sand falling between my fingers the plans (oh plans)  sifted slowly away as the day progressed.  I can’t even grasp exactly what happened.  Just that it didn’t happen.

I was told that the girls who sew usually work from a pattern.  And that they sometimes do patchwork, so I guess they don’t  need me to show them my way of making patchwork potholders.  Which may or may not be the same way  they make patchwork.

So I let myself be disappointed.   Let myself feel it and process it.

And at the same time I  began thinking of the good that will come from my trip, the purpose of it even if I don’t get to teach any potholder making.

Maybe the idea of making potholders was enough.  The women at the Women’s Interlink Foundation  may use it in their own way and if it benefits them, then I’ve already been helpful.

Because that’s what this trip was born from.  The idea of wanting to help in my own way.  In the way that I can.

But  maybe, I just don’t know exactly what that way is yet. Maybe the potholders got  me on the path and now I have to be open enough to accept where that path leads me.

I can see that bringing the tote bags and fabric markers turned out better than I thought.

It was the tote bags that I had little expectations for.   Yet they were able to bring to the girls the same thing the potholders would bring.  The freedom that can come with creating.

I’m also aware of keeping my ego in check.   Reminding myself that, as good as it makes me feel,  ultimately this isn’t about me.  It’s about helping the girls.  And they have to come first.

So at the end of the day, I gave the fabric that Dahn sent me from Africa to girls of the Women’s Interlink Foundation.  I also gave them the thread and straight pins that Kenna sent for them.  And they oohed and aahed over the beaded sewing stillettos that Shirley made for them.

There’s still the possibility that I’ll be teaching potholder making at one of the other places we visit.  We’re here for another week.

But I’m looking forward, as much, to see what else comes about.  Opening myself up to the unknown possibilities.  The things I haven’t even  imagined yet.

And that’s  true creative freedom.



Kolkata Diary. Visiting The Girls at the Women’s Interlink Foundation

February 16th, 2017

Starting out

It’s 3 am and I’m sitting up in bed blogging and eating a piece of spinach pie that the girls at the Women’s Interlink Foundation sent us home with.   In case you’re wondering it’s delicious.

Yesterday, after going to the Flower Market, we drove to the Women’s Interlink Foundation.  This is one of the organizations that Dahn has helped raise money for year after year.   It’s a continually growing place.  Last year they added another floor to the building and a play ground in the courtyard.

This year they renovated a space that will be a kitchen.  As she gave us a tour, Aloka, who runs the foundation, opened the door to a run down stairway leading to rooms  that need to be renovated.  She was showing  us their next project.

We were greeted in the courtyard by two girls with flower garlands.  Another girl daubed a bindi on our third eye.  There are so many girls living and working at the foundation and they crowded around us, holding our hands and giving hugs.

The girls love to have their pictures taken and to take pictures of each other.  They would gather around pointing to each other or posing with a friend.  I’d take the picture and show it to them. Then they would point to me and them or another girl  and I’d hand my iphone to one of them who would take our picture.

We would exchange names, me trying to pronounce theirs, them correcting me till I got it right, then forgetting it in the next moment.  They had less trouble with my name than I had with theirs.

We toured the many rooms and workspaces.  The girls here, make block print and silkscreen fabric for scarves and sari’s.  They cook and sell spices that they package.   They make jewelry and sew for Top Shop , a retail store in London.

The girls who live here are victims of sex trafficking, other kinds of abuse and orphans.  When they’re old enough they learn a trade which they can take out into the world.  This way  they can always make their own money and have a way of taking care of themselves.  Even after the leave the Women’s Interlink Foundation, they are always, at any time, for any reason, welcome to come back.

It is their home.

After another delicious lunch, some of the girls, with the help of their teachers, stretched fabric on long tables getting ready to do a block printing and silk screen demonstration.  While they did that, I took the ten canvas tote bags and the fabric markers that I brought with me, and laid them  out on another long table.

I told the teachers the idea was to just let the girls draw whatever they wanted on the bags.  To decorate them any way they wanted.

I was looking to give them what I treasure so much, creative freedom.

The girls got to work.  While some hesitated, others drew confidently.  Two girls decided to do a blockprint on the tote  instead of using markers.

Block printing on the totes.

One girl, who made the only drawing of a house with a tree and birds, asked for help from the girl next to her.  She worked on her bag with a couple of different girls.

Working together.

I walked around watching each girl draw  and saying the single word, “beautiful”,  in English.   They all understood.

Most of the work the girls do is very structured.  Quality is important to the markets they’re selling the scarves, hand bags and jewelry to.

What I wanted to bring to them was the freedom to create.  And I saw that happen with the tote bags.  Each girl was serious about her work and proudly signed her name on her tote bag.   Some in hot pink and some in black.

I wasn’t sure what would happen with the tote bags, but I’m so glad I brought them and allowed them to find the right time and place to be used.

I took a picture of the all girls standing proudly next to their finished work.  I knew I wouldn’t be posting it.  As you may have noticed, I don’t have  close up pictures of the girls faces.  It’s for their own safety.

But I do wish I could post some pictures of the girls. Then you could see their confidence and shyness.  Their eagerness and warmth.  Their beautiful smiles and the love between them.

The finished tote bags with signatures.

I piled up the finished tote bags and brought them out to the van.  I’m taking them home with me to sell on my website.     All the money will go directly to the Women’s Interlink Foundation to help fund their next project.

Who knows, maybe it will help renovate the rooms above the new kitchen.



Kolkata Diary. Hannah And Lakshmi

February 16th, 2017

Hannah in her Lakshmi Head dress

Every day millions of people come across the bridge over the Ganges.  Many of them are driving trucks loaded with flowers.  They bring them to the  Market where they are made into different garlands, and head dresses, even used to decorate custom made forms for different occasions.

The flowers are used for  everything from weddings to funerals.  One reader wrote me and said how she remembered her grandmother getting a garland of marigold and jasmine everyday for her prayer room.Where ever we arrive, at the airport, at Puresa Humanitarian, and the Women’s Interlink Foundation, we are greeted with garlands of flowers.

At the Flower Market yesterday,  our guide (whose name I have no idea how to spell but will find out) bought Hannah a Lakshmi headdress.

She wore it as we walked through the market.  Heads  were already turning to see her beautiful red hair (Hannah is Dahn’s daughter.  Their smiles, hair and kindness make their relationship obvious) but with her headdress she got even more attention.

Outside the market on the banks of the Ganges, we came across a small shrine in the roots of a tree for the goddess Lakshmi.  Hannah sat down next to it,  easily assuming the expression of the goddess.

Lakshmi, the goddess of  “…prosperity and wealth, both material and spiritual.   Purity, generosity, and the embodiment of beauty, grace, and charm…”

Lakshmi and Hannah, that feels right.


Kolkata Diary. Playing By The Ganges River

February 16th, 2017

Boy playing by the Ganges River

The flower market is right next to the Ganges River.  So we went to see it while we were there.  I thought these boys were making pigment or doing some kind of work , but our guide told us they were just playing.


Kolkata Diary. Washing In the Street

February 16th, 2017


Kolkata Diary. The Flower Market

February 16th, 2017

Marigolds are a staple at the Kolkata Flower Market.  There are giant bundles of them everywhere, these have already been made into garland.  People come to the market to buy flowers for all occasions.  Here’s some of what I saw at the  Flower Market today…





The woman in this stall, barely visible, seems to be one with her greens.


Kolkata Diary. The Flower Market

February 16th, 2017

We went to the Kolkata Flower Market this morning.  This video is a little bit of what that was like.

Kolkata Diary. The Dogs Of Kolkata

February 15th, 2017

Last night I heard the dogs barking and howling outside my hotel room.  I’m used to the coyotes at home, but I didn’t expect it from the dogs I saw all day, laying and walking around the streets of Kolkata.  Living comfortably among the people, the streets that seem to belong to them as much as anyone else.