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Clay Chai Cups

Remember that you molded me like clay. Job 10:9

Recently a group of designers from Texas and some Ruhamah Designs staff and I met up for a week of designing in Calcutta. Converging to create bags and scarves for this fall, our group lived and breathed the color, texture, and madness of that crumbling, behemoth city. An almost intangible charm floated on the heavily polluted air amidst the winding narrow labyrinth of streets and alleys. The old decadent and dilapidated buildings of the British Raj rubbed shoulders with newer concrete and steel structures with an inconsistency as bewildering as the eternal rush of the seventeen million souls who occupy them. For me, its a place of dim and shadowy memory, of riding in a man-drawn rickshaw when I was three, of a rambling house and yard in the heart of the city, shared with many others. Does memory get stronger as you get older?

Our team worked together with a brilliant intensity and focus that week. The Texans drew the templates, chose the color combinations and styles of stitches and the girls in the Ruhamah workshop patiently translated them into embroidered samples. Towards the end of the week, we celebrated our achievements sitting together on the floor sharing rice, curry, and a sweet Bengali yogurt set in its own clay cup.

My mind flew back to other clay cups in Calcutta, many years before.

I remember tiny hand-thrown clay cups on the quayside of Hooghly River in Calcutta when I was eight years old. As odd as it sounds, I lived on board an ocean-going ship. During our six years on the Logos, we often circled back to India, the land of my birth. Sailing up the Hooghly River into the heart of Calcutta, we docked for weeks at a time. The grown-ups opened the ship to visitors eager to buy good books and conducted ministry programs in the city. We kids were free to roam close to the ship, occupying ourselves with whatever caught our fancy. Those days (not so very different from these days,) I had a burning desire to ride horses. I thought if I could just save up enough money my parents might take me to a riding stable in Calcutta.

One day, while playing, I noticed piles of discarded clay cups. While many were broken and dirty some were in perfect condition. Taking a short walk I explored the whole area and watched crowds of people buying chai in the little clay cups and throwing them away when they were finished. I couldn't believe something so beautiful was just thrown away, but at just a cent a cup, it was Calcutta's disposable system. Delighted, I gathered up the best I could find, washed them, and set about painting each one with bright stripes, zigzags, and polka dots. I quickly spread a mat on the ground and set up shop. A few kind folks must have taken pity on me, because that day I made enough money to rent a horse for an hour, and my short life was complete. The joy of creating something that earned money to reach my goal was a deliciously sweet moment.

Today I think about our rescued girls, each one used and discarded, each one in the Potter's hands, being shaped, renewed. Their beauty continues to astound me. Out of their resurrection, they are crafting beautiful things. I love watching their healing. I also love that they can make a living from the work of their hands.


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