Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by Christopher Heuertz. It is an excerpt from his latest book Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community. I have just finished reading this book and loved it. Chris describes himself as a curator of unlikely friendships, an instigator for good, a champion of collaboration and a witness of hope. He fights for a renewal of contemplative activism.
Friday March 8th is International Women’s Day. The theme for this year is The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum and I felt that this was a very important story to share in relation to that.
My favourite part of every Sari Bari blanket is the patches.
Sari Bari is a small business initiative that seeks to secure freedom and restoration in the red-light areas of Kolkata, India. It offers dignity-ascribing employment opportunities to women exploited by the commercial sex industry.
The name Sari Bari comes from two symbols. A sari, the traditional garment worn by Indian women, seen by some as oppressive, is an image of what can be reclaimed in a new way. In Bengali, the word bari means “house” or “home”. Sari Bari is a safe home where women who have been exploited in the sex trade can find their humanity restored and experience a new life in the making.
Women are trained to make beautiful quilted scarves, and purses and offered jobs in the Sari Bari community centers as a way out of prostitution. The products they sell are made from old, recycled saris, a symbol or restoration. Tossed-aside or thrown-away saris are recovered and cleaned. Something that appears used up, discarded, valueless is artfully transformed into something beautiful-even more, something valuable.
These products symbolize restoration. The process is a prophetic image of what the Sari Bari community is doing within the sex trade – allowing women who have been victimized and abused to recover their true identity….
Stitched onto every blanket, if you look hard enough, you’ll discover tiny patches cut our of the same material the sari quilt is made from. Some of the little patches are intricately sewn so that the pattern of the quilt lines up perfectly with the pattern on the patch. Other times, the patches stand out, a bold statement of colour that enhances the quilt’s design.
Generously added to some, sparingly to others, these little patches add a gorgeous layer of texture.
One day while with the women, sitting on the floor of one of the Sari Bari community centers, I was admiring their work and pointing out the patches, trying to communicate how beautiful I found them. Upendra, one of the English-speaking staff, overheard my fumbling attempt to get my ideas across and helped translate. He laughed our loud when he understood what I was trying to say.
He explained that each finished blanket is washed before being packaged. After they’ve been washed and dried, there’s a quality control check before they’re shipped. It turns out that the patches aren’t added to make the blankets more beautiful but to cover the flaws and tears on every quilt; they’re an inevitable part of recycling and restoring each sari blanket.
Even more ironic, the women hate having to go back and repair their work. The patches are time-consuming and tedious. Yet it’s the patches that make the quilts so beautiful and unique.
As is the case with us. In our own freedom , we still go about making mistakes, disappointing ourselves and others, living with guilt, shame, regret, or fear that the consequences of our worst moments will catch up to us. any of us have a hard time accepting the flawed parts of ourselves when we’re alone – a struggle that’s even more difficult when we’re in community.