I'm new to the Loyal family, kind of.

I first visited Kolkata in early 2014, just a few months before The Loyal Workshop came into being. Many aspects of this place captivated my heart and mind on that initial trip here, these same things drew me back too. It’s really difficult to articulate what they are, but I feel them most days, rumbling deep down in my gut. A year later I came back with a crew. We did some painting at the old workshop. The business had been running for a year and I met the 11 ladies who I now call my sisters and aunties. After this, I knew for sure I’d return to work at Loyal.

For the first six months of this year I was in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka studying Bengali (the shared language we speak here). I moved there in order to be able to communicate and connect well with the ladies we work with. The desire to communicate well motivated and continues to motivate me bigtime to push past the discomfort of learning a new way of speaking.

One weekend while living in Dhaka, I took an 8-hour bus journey out to my Bangladeshi host family’s village. I saw literally thousands of women pouring out of a garment factory at the end of their working day, as our bus with a horn louder and more abhorrent than you can imagine, blasted the streets clear of all life. At the time I was thinking about our connectedness as human beings and my family back in New Zealand.

This is what I scribbled down.

As we drove into town I saw you there. And by you, I mean me, and by me, I mean them. After all, I’m finally beginning to see sameness despite our difference, individuality in community, and the beauty of a long lived liminality. 

You were a sea, an ocean of kaleidoscopic salwar kameez, rising and falling as your current of stories carried you along arm in arm. 

And we just blared on through hastily and obnoxiously, forcing you to part ways with the turf you knew.
How rude. 

It’s only now that I’m beginning to realise that while I may be far from home, I have sisters just like you.

Now I’ve arrived. I’m home in Kolkata. I have been embraced by my new family. We drink cups of cha together, eat rice at lunch times and sing songs of freedom. While I’ve only just arrived, I feel like I’ve been a family member here for a while. I now know what it’s like to be welcomed, I’m beginning to understand my roles and responsibilities in this household and slowly but surely I’m starting to see how our freedom is all tied up together in this messy place.

We are also welcoming some more ladies into The Loyal Workshop really soon. I can’t wait to see this family continue to grow.

Stay true,

Joel (জোয়েল)