Remembering Pornima: April 7, 2010

Our Friend and sister Pornima passed away two years ago this month.  Tonight She came to my mind.  Below are some of my reflections from those days.

What violence has beset us this day

What violence has beset us this day
Of all days, this day was most unexpected
Most vile, violent and cruel
Because it is the day after hope still lingered in one woman heart
Yet is lingers no longer with her end
Today is everyday and the today no one wanted
Today is for weeping over violence
Weeping for freedom lost
Where no freedom can found
Powerless, fearful silent
Offenders protected
Shame for such injustice is heavy on us all.
Three months of freedom tossed like her body
What violence has beset us this day.
We all are her. She was us.
Part of us left with her.
The violence committed, indignity
Against her, against us all. 
She flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone
This sister gone.
Her fight for freedom was violently wrenched from her grasp, 
We will fight on remembering.

For Pornima. Completed three months of training at Sari Bari.
Died: Today  

To read more about Pornima:


God is dead. Saturday space is where I have spent more than a little time in the last years.  A potentially liminal space, of not knowing, doubting, feeling lost, like I have lost my way, has been a majority space.  Mostly full of darkness, lament and feeling like I do not understand where God has gone.  This is hard space.

Today is hard space.  The day after God died.  The one who we thought would save us from our oppressor’s and rule with the certainty of presence and power seems to have abandoned himself and us to death.  We are, uncertain of the future and doubt the reality of what we have seen and heard.  The words, those promises, fall empty on hopeless ground.

The restoration of hope remains unknown, unseen, and unthought-of of in the midst of this dark space.  The focus is on what has been lost.  We do not even comprehend the loss to larger humanity, only to ourselves.  This is a deep chasm of space where we can only feel sorry that we have personally lost something, someone.  A few around us have held to hope, we think they are foolish and naïve.  The darkness and the losses so profound, why don’t they see it?  Faith in such circumstance seems childish, something like the denial of reality.  Maybe sometimes, on some days, it feels easier to live here on Saturday.  We are not even waiting, because we expect nothing and feel at angry with those who do.

From that night to this, there is only darkness.  Saturday.  A day for losses being felt and doubt being born within us.  Where is God?  Can God not see our brokenness, our fear, and our pain?  Can God not hear the cries of those around us?  Rescue was promised.  Where has our rescuer gone? To death.

This space can transform us.  It has transformed me.  The liminal space between here and there. Between the darkest of night and the deepest of losses, there waits the unknown future.   On many days, I have lain in the rut of Saturday.  This grave with the sides kicked out.  Hopeless, devastated, unbelieving.  Who would not doubt on a day like this?  Everything is lost.  We are lost.  A yet a tug comes.  A remembrance, like a whisper tickles my brain and then my heart and I want to hold on.

And then dawn.  Still full of doubt, anger and tears.  A glimmer of something forces me to open my swollen eyes.  Still unable to see clearly or comprehend I reach out.  And I am surrounded by a host of witnesses.  Women in Sari’s, revealing Jesus in Flesh, revealing resurrection to my Saturday stuck heart.  This is not what I expected, it is better than I could have hoped, more than I could have imagined.  The impossible has become possible.

And Saturday will come again.   Maybe next time I will be one of the crazy foolish ones who can hold tight to hope.  May it be so.

Business: Tailor Made

Have you ever thought that the parable of the workers should be your business paradigm?    I am mean a paradigm of work where each person is considered in the production process and their emotional, physical and spiritual well being is taken into account and where everyone gets paid the same, even though some products are easier and some are harder.  It’s not “fair” and yet is creates an opportunity for something more than being just “fair.”

In the early years of sari bari, we realized that same product would not work for everyone, especially if we wanted a diverse range of women of all ages to find freedom and new life within the doors of sari Bari.  We in those days had more than enough work with Sari Bari Blankets alone, demand was high, and we did not need to make anything else.  Except we did, not for our customer but for our women, the reason for doing the business in the first place.  We introduced bags at Sari Bari because it was our women who need the product diversification for them to be successful.  Some of the women were just not succeeding at making the blankets, their age, their emotional difficulties, their own fear of hand quilting such a large surface area were holding them back from successful production and wages.  So bags were born.  About 30% of the women at Sari Bari are engaged in hand making our beautiful bags and putting them together on the sewing machines. The needs of the women guided and directed how we would move forward and grow as business.

Their needs continue to shape not only what we make but also how we do business.  It is not so with all businesses where sometimes profit comes before people.

The generally practiced fair trade paradigm of business has always irked me a little.  Mainly because it is possible to run a profitable efficient fair trade business when you do what most businesses do: hire the best workers, at the highest price, to get the most efficient production in order to make the highest profit.  It is a reasonable way to do business and can be profitable.

And it may not be the best way to do Justice. Social Businesses seeking to implement fair trade practices often hit some walls.  In many cases, the target employee may not be the most efficient, most productive or most cost effective way to make the a product.  And of course, these businesses still want to pay fair or better than fair wages and at least break even in the process.  Yet, it may in fact take years to empower and encourage an individual employee to reach the place of doing their best.  They may have years and years of trauma, negative internal and external messages, and culture barriers to overcome.  And their personal growth process may never translate into efficiency but always seems to translate into life change.

We can confirm that it happens…I have seen it with own eyes over and over again.  A woman transformed, almost miraculous in front of our eyes.  The “I can’t” is replaced with “I can” and “I not only can and will but I want to be excellent.”  This belief in self, the ability to change the broken paradigm of one’s identity is what we hope for through the work at Sari Bari.  If you were to ask the women at Sari Bari what work they do, they would not tell you about you about the beautiful bags and blankets that we make, they would tell you that work of both their hands and hearts is FREEDOM.  And you if you asked them what mark’s their life and their identity, they will say VALUE.  A profound value that is affirmed daily in the presence of other women who journey with them.

These women, my friends and hero’s,  are not what they do.  This is a true statement both now and before they came to find freedom.  The women you will find when you walk through the doors of this socially oriented, fair trade practicing business, are a beautiful tapestry of uniquely made human beings.  They are unique, broken and healed, transformed, efficient and inefficient, mother and daughter, friends and family.  They are the fabric of our reason for doing business.   We partner with the women for freedom, empowerment, wholeness, generational and community transformation, personal transformation and new life and we find it together.

The women, human beings, shape the whole paradigm of how we do business at Sari Bari.  We may not be efficient, we may only break even but we have earned something more important along the way:  A journey toward new life that we do not have to travel alone.

Why I don’t know any prostitutes…

I am not a big fan of labels. Of easy words that make it easy to classify and categorize people into the good ones, the bad ones, and the one’s that we like and the one’s that are harder to like because we find them different. Labels to me to seem like an easy way out of understanding how complicated and complex we are as human beings.

There are few among us who are all dark and no light, all good and no evil. We are complex, layered, intricately woven and not completely understandable, even to ourselves much of the time.

My time in India, in Kolkata particularly among people who are poor and among women who prostitute or are prostituted has helped my reframe my paradigm of labels. I was once asked, by some visitors to Sari Bari, “How many prostitutes work here?” My response was “none, no prostitutes work here and in fact I do not know any prostitutes.” Prostitute is a label that I find abhorrent. Because I only know women, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends who have been involved in sex work for one reason or another. They have in fact been prostituted by poverty, exploitation, and the greed of other human beings. The women I know are intricately woven works of God art. Within them are darkness and light, pain and joy, beauty and ugliness.

We would like to draw a line between women who are prostituted, say men, women and children who have been trafficked and the others who we see as making a choice. Much of the western paradigm of prostitution carries with it a stigma of a person who has made poor choices and therefore does not deserve the dignity of personhood. Some lightly dismiss the women whose weary faces may appear in the newspaper on arrests for prostitution…somehow this feels like justice to us for their crimes to be listed for all to see in a newspaper. I have read through these pages of newspapers many times and what I see are women destroyed by addiction and often controlled by a pimp. Women arrested for prostitution 60 times did not make that choice. She has been victimized. She is likely to have been abused (95% of all those engaged in the act of prostitution internationally have been sexually abused) and whether it is an addiction or pimp that is keeping her enslaved, this is and was not the life that she chose for herself. And to choose to find freedom requires a tremendous amount of resources that may or not be available to her. She may be 35, if she is under the control of a pimp, she may not even able to decide when she is able to use the bathroom. So she may not actually be able to make the smallest choices for herself. There is a requirement of safety and the basic needs of life being met before she can even begin to take a step in the right direction. If we call her a prostitute, we can easily dismiss responsibility for walking with her. If we see her as a woman, a mother, someone like us, it becomes much harder to dismiss and hopefully much easier to want to help.

It is not only the word prostitute that bothers me. It is any label that prevents us from seeing others as whole human beings. The word victim is not among my favorites. Many have been victimized by human trafficking and calling women and children who have been trafficked a victim limits them. Words like victim help causes raise money and may fail to consider the human being who has a complex story and who though victimized will move beyond a label as their story moves forward. I heard Luis CdeBaca ( the Anti Human trafficking ambassador speak a couple years ago and his words have continued to ring in my mind when I hear the word victim. This is my paraphrase of what he said: “People who have been trafficked are vulnerable because of poverty and other circumstances, but often those who are trafficked for labor or sex, are the ones who believed that opportunity and taking a risk for that opportunity is worth it. Unfortunately taking the risk did not pay off and when rescued, we should not count them as victims for long because they will again make a new way to a new life.” Many have been victimized we should not dismiss the complexity of who they are by calling them victims.

Can we change they way we use our language to something more humanizing. Instead of saying victims of human trafficking, can we say women and children who have been victimized by human trafficking? Instead of calling women engaged in prostitution, “prostitutes”, can we say women who are prostituting or women who have been prostituted? The words victim and prostitute are nouns, indicating a person, place or thing. Prostituted and victimized are adverbs or adjectives that describe what has happened to living, breathing, complex and complicated human beings.

When I describe the women that I know at Sari Bari, it will never be with the words victim or prostitute because I do not know who that is. I know women who have been victimized and trafficked and prostituted. I know their names, their stories of trauma and their stories of new life. I see their darkness and their light, their good and their bad and they see mine.

What are some more labels that can be reframed with dignifying language?

What to do with all that mint in the garden…

This is what is for dinner tonight…created a much simpler version here but this is the original version

Zesty Mint Marinade

3 6oz Chicken breasts
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
2 handfuls of fresh mint
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
5 cloves of garlic
Olive oil to taste

Put all of the remaining ingredients except for the olive oil into a food processor and blend. Once the ingredients have been processed into a paste, add the olive oil to achieve your desired consistency. Put chicken and marinade plastic bag or in a bowl, mix well and cover if using a bowl, leave for a few hours. We did it on the grill but I am sure you can bake or saute!

Suggestions for the future: Double the Marinade Recipe and use the extra portion (lightly sauteed before using) for a tangy dressing to top the chicken!