My first glimpse of Bangladesh came at just past dawn. I was worn out from a grueling series of flights and yet eager and excited to experience a new country. It seemed as if thousands of curious eyes watched me, as I stepped out of the airport’s doors into a surging sweaty crowd all waiting for someone or something. My cart was piled high with suitcases, full of more goods than many of them would dream of owning. The grey skies, pregnant with rain oozed an oppressive humidity. I felt dizzy, my soul and body gasping for air. I was almost overcome by the sheer number of people and the blanket of heat that already had me drenched in sweat.
Soon, tucked safely into a van we escaped the busy pickup area and became one with the teeming traffic of Dhaka City. In spite of being in a city, we found ourselves surrounded by brilliant greens. Palm trees. Flowers. Staggering beauty. The color was alive – in the plants and faces, in the saris and lungis of pedestrians, all under a grey sultry canopy that seemed to be pressing down on me. I gasped for air again, hopelessly trying to take it all in.
As we drove, beautiful young women bordered the road, splashes of color, making their way up and down the street. Vibrant yellows and pinks framed against a backdrop of a green so green it left me speechless. This, then, was my first glimpse of the women: Strong brave women on their way to work at garment factories where their blood, sweat and tears, their hopes, dreams and futures would be woven into the seams that bind the garment industry together and cover our backs with bits of color.
These women are the women who changed my life, women I have never met yet they inspire me to take those baby steps of change that seem to grow by the decade until now I find myself back in my own culture, trying to mirror their courage and to some small extent, their sacrifices. These women have shown me that change does not come without effort or sacrifice. By now a number of these women of the garment factories have died from job-related injuries. Some, have moved on, married and care for their families in other ways.
The colors of these women still swirl through my mind as I explain to my sons why we make the lifestyle choices we do. What began over three years ago as a side business, is now our existence. The props of other incomes are gone. I was the first to give up my job and then my husband Austin followed when he resigned from his job at a graphic design firm. Equally exciting and terrifying! Are we crazy? Sometimes we joke about being the only link in this fair trade business not being paid a fair wage. Since starting Kahiniwalla nearly 4 years ago, we’ve tightened our personal budget more than we ever thought possible, finding creative ways to live more simply. Among other things we are slowly transforming our yard into a vegetable garden, we choose to make our meals from scratch and have even experimenting with preserving foods.
I pray about the smallest needs these days and I am at peace because of the stories that have been born from these prayers. I am reminded that, no matter how many things may be on my need list, I possess more than enough. Right here. Right now. Today, right where I live, I am learning to be content with less, to reduce my needs, to re-use, recycle and re-love things that others have cast away so that I can be a link in the chain that brings hope and change to over 6,000 women in rural Bangladesh.
Today, these women are wrapped in just as many colors as ever, and the world, if it could see, would gasp at the sheer beauty that Pebble is bringing about. Change is happening. And if I have to clip coupons, shop at thrift stores and say no to whatever I can live without, I will gladly do that. We are Storywalla, and there is a story to be told. And in that telling, I find my life has more, not less. There is a richness in my heart that I would not trade for more tangible goods. My soul is learning to breathe in color.