***Written by production manager Jane Mellema***
Did you ever think that how you drink from your water bottle might reveal something about your culture and its values? Spend just a few hours in India on a hot day, and you will observe this.
Along with the snacks they had prepared, my friends offered me a water bottle taken out of their fridge. Of course I would want water! I tipped my head, lifted the bottle a few inches above my lips, and attempted to dump water into my mouth. As usual, a stream of water trickled down my chin and splashed onto my shirt. Many times I have been thankful for how fast heat dries cotton! The ladies chuckled at my attempts. Could I ever perfect this action to perform it as easily as they do? A bottle is not kept to oneself. Precious water is shared with anyone who is thirsty. Since the bottle will be passed around the group, no one touches it with their lips.
I quickly learned that if I give a toy as a gift to a small child in one of our artisan families, I might never see it in the home again. It took time for me to realize that this is probably because the toy has been passed on to other families and friends. Often when I bring gifts of food or sweets, my friends open them and quickly offer some to me. They want to share the pleasure.
One recent encounter tops my list of generosity...
I knocked on my neighbor’s door. “Come in, sit down. Chai?”
Every time I come, they seat me and offer chai. This visit had a different purpose for me; something was heavy on my mind.
As our conversation ensued, Fatima confirmed what she had told me two days before. It seemed that I would have to move unexpectedly in the next year. In a sad turn of events, my landlord had recently died, and his widow was considering moving into my apartment. After a year living there, it had just begun to feel like it was truly my home.
Fatima was obviously concerned about my plight. She began brainstorming. An apartment one floor up was free, but it would be three bedrooms and more expensive.
Fatima and her husband quickly reached a consensus. “Our daughter is gone now, and we don’t need all this space. You are welcome here.” They were very concerned about me. I was concerned too – packing up and moving is a lot of work. As they spoke, my first thought was “No, I could not live here.”
I told myself to stop thinking “no” right away and just listen. I found myself saying thank you again and again.
The proposal was that in addition to their spare bedroom, they would build a new wall, shutting out what currently was their TV/living room and sitting area. As they showed me the bedroom, they followed my eyes to the Indian style squatty potty. “We will put in a western toilet if you want it.” The balcony would be mine, and they assured me they would put in an additional kitchen if I wanted my own. A modest two-bedroom apartment could be carved out of their large three-bedroom place.
I did not need to decide at the moment. They said, "Think. If you want it, let us know".
As I walked away, the initial refusal I felt in my mind was replaced by amazement at the kindness of their offer. They would permanently alter and lessen their living space to help someone they hardly knew.
The generosity of many Indian friends has overwhelmed me. They do not cling to things with clenched fists but freely give to those who enter their lives. Their big hearts make my heart grow bigger too.
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