Love, truth and seva

Dear Mami,

With my three weeks in India nearly over, I have learned to identify three core values of my experience here: love, truth, and seva. When I think of my story, these are the three words will always resonate with me.

Yesterday was my last day working with the Setco Foundation, an NGO that focuses on education and nutrition for preschool children, as well as empowerment and awareness for mothers. At the Muslim Refuge village, Urja, Rhaime, and I pay home visits to young mothers of local children. Our goal, as Urja explains, is to make their lives a little bit easier, to share information, to give advice, to share a little bit of love. We are not here as intruders, but as fellow humans. With love, we search for the truth. With the truth, we can seva.

As we make our way through the busy village, many people stop what they're doing and peek over at us, curious. Some of the children recognize us from their anganwadis and come over to say hi, timid hands, messy hair, toothy smiles and all. "Tamaru nam su che?" "Maru nam Isa che!" (As you can see, Mami, I'm now completely fluent in gujarati....)

We arrive at the first house, and a girl who looks about my age, maybe a little older, comes out to greet us. With one hand on her hip, a baby girl on the other, and a little boy peeking out from behind her long black hair, she has a subtle elegance in the way she holds herself that somehow reminds me of my grandmother who recently passed away. She bows her head, "Namaste."

We enter her home, a two-room house with a kitchen/living-room and a bedroom, and she gestures for us to sit on her bed in the corner. A baby goat peaks its head from under my feet and then shuffles off, irritated at our intrusion. I silently apologize.

One of the preschool teachers who works with Setco has come along with us to ask questions. As the teacher makes casual conversation with the young mother, Urja quietly translates in English. I gather the basic facts: the girl is twenty-two, married at seventeen, her children are four and one year old. Her son attends the anganwadi from eight to two every day, while she stays at home with the baby and does household chores, etc. Her husband works with machines. She likes to sew. Her name is Sunita.

I listen carefully to what Urja tells us, but simply observing the girl with her children tells me what couldn't possibly be expressed in words. The way she strokes the baby's soft tussles of hair with her thumb, the way her son pulls at the edges of her kurta with little fists, the way she keeps both children in the corner of her brown eyes as she answers our questions readily. Jayesh-bhai once told us, "You can count the seeds in an apple, but you cannot possibly count the apples in a seed. You can't see the unseen, only feel it."

Her innate love for her children is so visible, so endearing, so pure.

By this point, we are joined by an assortment of curious onlookers: two aunts of the children, 16 and 17 respectively, a mother in law with a long grey braid and smiling wrinkles, a six year old with muddy feet and cheeks, and the grumpy goat who has somehow come back to forgive me. The  toddler boldly tries to grab at the goat's ears to get my attention, and the old lady pulls his hand away, scolding him. She makes eye contact with me, apologetic. I smile back understandingly.

Looking around the small room, the rug on the floor, the pots on the shelves, the small knapsack, the bucket of water, the assortment of people (and domestic animals), I realise that this is the first time in India where I do not feel like an intruder.

I do not even feel like an outsider. This feels so normal.

Every person in the room is a counterpart to someone I know or once knew-- every dignified step, graceful nod, gentle action, soothing gesture, nervous laugh, goofy grin, shy bite of the lip, I've seen this all before, I know this, I am this.

Mami, I wish you could have seen the young mother play with her baby girl. She held her so softly, so carefully, so familiarly. I wish you could have touched the baby's little hands and feet like I did, felt the softness that only a baby can possess. I wished so badly in that moment that you were there with me to share the happiness I felt.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with all this, except to just express how much I love and miss you, and how much I appreciate the sacrifices you made to make sure I had a little smile on my face, too. That is my truth, that will always be my story, and that will never change as long as I live.

I love you,