Switched at Birth

Namaste. I see myself in you.

It is the simple Hindi word, easily pronounceable even for us westerners, that invites us into a house. It is the simple gesture that welcomes us into a new community. It is a form of respect, and it is a form of appreciation. It is a form of gratitude and celebration. But two days ago, I realized, that Namaste is so much more than just a means of saying “Hello”. The realization came when I met Kholi.

We stared into each other’s eyes intently. She into the blue ones on my pale Caucasian face, and I into her deep brown eyes, pools of liquid chocolate surrounded by the tan complexion of her features. A quiet moment had suddenly surfaced through the omnipresent chatter of our little discussion groups, and the sudden clarity of thought and mind had prompted her to notice my stare and catch it with her eyes.

Groups of about four to six of us sat scattered about the middle of an Anganwadi, a women and children’s’ community center in the small village of Kalol, about a two hour drive from Ahmedabad. Earlier that day, we’d been given a tour of the women’s town, a village of just about 2000 people. The Setco Company operated a foundation out of these villages that collaborated with the government to establish several of these Anganwadi, whose purpose it was to provide access to health care, job opportunity and pre-school education to women and their children. They had done a surprisingly comprehensive and well thought out job. I found myself once more applauding the willingness of companies and the private sector to collaborate with the public sector in an effort to improve infrastructure. The old Anganwadi had been nothing but a little plot of land crammed between two village houses, literally nothing more than a patch of dirt in a corner. Now, we were sitting in the newly constructed version, a single story accessible bungalow with numerous classrooms, and large learning spaces. Some of the girls and women from Kalol had come to join us to talk about their environment, and the type of lives that they lead.

But throughout the afternoon discussions, it had been one girl who looked about my age that had caught my attention. Throughout our entire discussion, I just kept thinking: That could have been me. Not really because of our physical appearances, (although she admitted to me through vivid hand gestures, broken English and lots of pointing and grimacing, that she faced the same problems of self consciousness and teenage acne that I did…) but rather because, I saw myself in her. All I kept thinking was Namaste.

“I see myself in you.”

Not just that- I could have been you.

[To be continued...]