Inside her house23 Jun 2008, by Uncategorized in
June 19, 2008
Several months ago, before I left for the US, the group of women from Topsia’s community center formed a Self Help Group. This band of ten young women, called Ekta "unity," produces our Om Line of products, including embroidered handbags and tank tops. The treasurer of this group, Nasreen, invited me to her cousin’s home yesterday and I was thrilled to accept the offer. Since she lives in a predominantly Muslim area, I made sure to wear my most modest salwarkamee suit.
Walking through the narrow lanes of the area was an influx of sensory stimulation – pungent smells of food and human waste, cries and laughter, and countless malnourished eyes staring at me - it was a good thing Nasreen was guiding me. Her cousin’s home was a haven from these lanes; one small room with a large bed, dresser and bookstand. This one room was shared by her three cousins, aunt, uncle, and her uncle’s mother. But today the entire neighborhood had gathered to meet me. Children of all ages came in to ask my name, "Vaat ees your nam?" Two of the girls danced and sang for me, but I had to return the favor with the one Hindi song I know. Chocolate cake and chips were served, and an exchange of gifts that is customary for visiting a person’s house for the first time. As the loudspeaker sounded the call to prayer, we all bowed our heads, the Muslim women covered their heads, and we prayed to God for strength and forgiveness. They found it very interesting that I also prayed with them, but I explained that, to me, God is the same, whether by the name Allah or Yahweh.
Nasreen’s cousin is very sweet, and I encouraged her to follow in Nasreen’s footsteps as she’s now a wage-earning woman! This has brought an enormous amount of respect and responsibility from her community, since most women never work outside the house. She is really a confident young woman that demands her rights to education and employment – a true community leader and inspiration.
Sitting on their bed made me think of the days I used to fight with my sister and brother, and we would always stomp off to our separate rooms and slam the door. But what if we couldn’t slam the door? What if we all shared one room, and when we got mad everyone knew about it, and despite our anger we still had to sleep in the same bed at night? It’s absolutely mind-blowing to see how different the living conditions are here, and also how refreshingly simple. Why do we need 5 separate bedrooms? Just so we can slam doors?