It was more difficult than it looked. The woman that greeted us was moving with the fluidity of a well-oiled machine; forwards and backwards, in and out, her hands kneaded the dough and her fingers perforated through the thickness of its structure. The repetition was graceful, rapid and reflecting the mastery of muscles that had moved in this way thousands of times before. She tossed it quickly into the bowl of flour, flipped it, and with ease pushed and spread the dough with the tips of her fingers to form a perfect circle on the wooden board. Then with the wooden rolling pin, she flattened and shaped the dough, maintaining its circular shape while it moving it back and forth. She seemed to be applying no force, an effortless motion, and because we hadn’t noticed the definition of her forearm muscles, we too were almost led to believe it was an easy process. After we had offered to help and I had seen Jess and Ana try to mimic the actions of our host (with excellent effort and minimal success) it was my turn attempt the feat of making roti. The dough was satisfyingly soft; it seemed to be the perfect consistency, enough to push my fingers in without the fear of breaking through. I kneaded fast, imitating what I had seen blending in and out and watching as the clayish dough molded and folded into itself. I tentatively placed it into the flour flipping it into once to get barely enough on each side before placing it hesitantly onto the board. I was doing well according to Jess and Ana, not so well according to the teasing but welcoming laughter of the other members of the household, but it mostly went downhill from there. As I used the rolling pin, my pressure was irregular, and my arms weighed down in a manner that made the dough fold around the pin and spread out in asymmetrical shape. When the time came to hear the satisfying sizzle of the roti hitting the oiled pan, my roti came nowhere near the sensory perfection that was that of our host’s.
A few of us talked to Shekur about the purpose of our trip and the question he had asked us. His question boiled down to the fact that we are gaining so much by having the opportunity to visit Lilapur and yet, what were the members of the village actually receiving by our visit. I was afraid that we were perpetrating the ideals of selfishly taking without doing anything in return; the opposite of nonsibi if you will because it seemed like it was all for ourselves. It felt like we had taken resources, we taken a chunk out of children’s school time, and at the end of the day, we would be the only ones to come back and be changed by what we had seen. Shekur told us, at least what I had understood from our conversation, was that a day trip was definitely not enough to make a large impact, but that our visit had not been a waste. It was along the lines of perspective; that was our offering, our use to this community that had given us so much. The moments, and the shared experience was perhaps the only thing that didn’t make this gain one-sided. I think now to our experience making the roti. I fumbled, I messed up, I was slow. There was laughter filling the room, and soon after, an ease between the hosts and the guests, despite the language barrier, despite our differences. I don’t want to be to cliché and say that now that we understood what it was like to eat a meal and help (minimally) to prepare it, we could connect to our hosts because we now knew what it was like to live in the village. We are never going to be able to do that, to understand a fraction of what every day life is like for the people of Lilapur. But I have to hope that after the delicious rich meal they offered us, the hospitality that they showed, and the endless kindness and willingness to make us feel comfortable, maybe what we had to offer in these moments was our love in. The laughter of our hosts at my roti making incompetence and all the other wonderful times we had today; are hopefully a part of what we have to give back. It seems small, insignificant almost, in comparison to everything that we received today; but if we do not at least try to see a purpose for our visit that was not simply rooted in self-gain (albeit good intention), then we start to wonder if there is a purpose to the visit at all.