Give my regards to the monsters

“Love does not conquer all if it sits on the sideline sipping its cup of tea.”

I write to you while sitting on a concrete floor surrounded by twenty women hand-stitching our sari products. It is 39° and despite being on their highest setting and groaning with effort, the fans are struggling to make a discernible impact. The room is a clash of colour and chatter. I am at ease in this environment, enjoying being able to understand and participate in the conversations. Today the discussion doesn’t make it much further than the heat, it doesn’t matter if this is your first or fiftieth Indian summer, we all want to vocalise our perspiring discomfort.

Well friends, as I say in almost every newsletter, this month has been difficult. But recently has been more so. I have contended with several of my own health issues, and with the ever-increasing issues of the women. Time taken off work to take care of myself puts significant extra pressure on my time with the women. Emotionally, I am still struggling with the turbulent rage that is a consequence of being confronted by unrelenting injustice every day; it is hard to believe in the good of humanity when you watch how it treats its most vulnerable members. 

I want to tell you that this is the victory march. That we are striding towards freedom and justice with our heads held high, crushing inequality and corruption under our boots. That we are kicking ass and taking names. I want to offer you all the clichés – love is enough, love conquers all and everything works out in the end. I’d like to say we have walked in offering the epidural of our presence and taken the agony away. But I’m going to get controversial here, and you are more than welcome to disagree with me – particularly as you are all so far away that I’m really not going to notice. Here it is; sometimes love is not enough. Not by itself. Love does not conquer all if it sits on the sideline sipping its cup of tea. This is not the victory march, this is the broken hallelujah. This is where everything hurts but people keep stumbling forward. I am not saying good things are not happening, or that progress isn’t being made, because I believe passionately that it is. But this is a street fight, we are not going to come out of it clean and shiny.

To live in this city, or any other environment of trauma, you must be willing to engage with pain on a deep and personal level. This city sends a cavalcade of adversity at you, she kicks you when you’re down. Part of me wants to hold up my hands and reverse out slowly; there are easier ways to live. But easier does not equate to better. You may not believe this, seeing as you are all now privy to my inner monologue and have been on this journey of introspective processing with me for some time; but I am not actually a particularly reflective person. Researched and opinionated yes, reflective no. I am never still, I am not contemplative or self-evaluating; I carefully avoid any activity that promotes itself with the phrase ‘soul-searching’ or ‘self-meditation’. I sustain myself with distraction. I don’t want to delve into the murky waters of my innermost self, I am happy not meeting the taniwha that lives down there. Some people are excellent at facing and defeating their monsters, I however, am excellent at denial. But this city has a way of stepping into the landscape of your life and knocking over anything that isn’t 100% solid. She dredges up all the baggage you’d tossed overboard and hoped never to see again. She puts her foot on spots of weakness and digs her heel in, twisting until you capitulate and face the things that need to be dealt with. This type of work demands self-reflection, choosing to avoid it will set me on a downward trajectory to disintegration and burnout. I’m far enough through to know this forced reflection is a gift. Most of the time it’s a gift I don’t want and didn’t ask for, but there seems to be no reasonable exchange policy so I am begrudgingly accepting it. 

Fortunately for me, I am doing none of this on my own. I have an ordnance of strong women here, who have been doing this so much longer than me with astonishing grace, who are walking me through the jungles. I have overwhelming support from friends and family at home, whose strength I can call on when I’ve misplaced my own. This month, while I felt my bones shake under the pressure, the masses were called in; their encouragement was tangible, and as a result I kept the breaking parts of me together. The work continues, and grace abounds. 

My favourite part of being here is my relationship with the women I work with. Love and care are expressed differently in this context, in ways that I am learning to appreciate. Regularly I am asked, “Why aren’t you fat, do you eat enough rice?”, “Where have you been, is something wrong with you?”, “Did you eat lunch, what did you eat, was it enough?”. Every day I am brought cha and biscuits by the ladies, they explain to me that I am a good girl since I like Indian tea and sit with them to drink it. If I haven’t taken a break in a while someone will grab my hips as I walk past and pull me to sit on the floor, “take rest Didi” (Didi meaning sister). If I’m unassumingly working on my laptop while someone is handing out snacks I am abruptly hand-fed unidentifiable food, the attitude is why make me stop work when their hands are free? It was alarming at first as I’ve been feeding myself for quite some time, but now it just seems efficient. These are the spaces I find joy in, where I can see clearly the worth of being here.

Hannah* worked as a nurse in one of the most densely populated cities in South Asia

(*name changed)

Get monthly emails to inspire and help you learn how to practically live out Christ’s mission with us.