I’m sitting on the floor, cross-legged. Bangla conversation floats around me, over my head. I’m making paper tags. Punching holes, cutting string, threading it, tying it off. Menial work. Mundane. How many of these have I made in the hours of this work day? Hundreds, definitely. Thousands, maybe? I shift position, try to stretch out my back from its cramped position. And I pause to watch the ladies, moving needle and thread up and down in endless rows of neat stitching across the length of the room. Menial? Definitely mundane. The sari fabric changes, but the straight stitching stays the same. So this is freedom work. It is far from glamorous. It is repetitive. It is tiring. It’s not sexy.
Sitting on my floor mat, I realize that for exploited women, freedom isn’t a one-time thing. It’s not about being rescued one day and then your life is forever changed. End of story. No, this business exists because being freed from the sex trade would be meaningless if there wasn’t something else to do instead. In the absence of this daily grind, this monotonous moving up and down of a needle in the hand, a “freed” woman would either go back to the way life was before – or die.
No, freedom isn’t a one-time thing. It’s having something to go to every day that keeps you alive. Freedom needs to be sustained. To be actualized, freedom needs to be a way of life.
And as my fingers continue their repetitive task, I see this room with spiritual eyes. My spiritual freedom is also not a one-time thing. I wasn’t saved and rescued from a wrecked life once and for all, a magical wave of the fairy godmother’s wand and kazaam! Everything’s different..and wonderful…and glamorous…and exactly as I always wanted. No, freedom is like having a 10-7 (Bengali) job. It’s repetitive, and not that exciting most days. But it is something to continually celebrate. It is something to rejoice in. Because this mundane path is the path that keeps me alive.
I look at the tag in my hand. “New Life in the Making.” Yes.