Sunday, February 8, 2009

In the footsteps of strong women

She throws the fish head into the pot of boiling water and searches around the empty kitchen for something else to put into the soup. She tosses in idle pieces of carrots, a tomato and an onion, the last of any food in the house, even as she contemplates over what to serve for dinner the next night. It has already been a month since the mailman brought her any money – the money her husband tried to send her every few months, his small income from toiling away as a manual laborer in another distant village. There is no telling when some more money will arrive again. Until then, she will just have to find ways to stretch the meals, to raise and feed six children all on her own.

Perhaps she’ll get lucky, she reasons as she stirs the watery broth. Perhaps she’ll get some more fish heads for free from the market at the end of the day – left over pieces that nobody else wants to take home. Saving her worries over tomorrow for another day, she pours the watery liquid into six small bowls. “Not fish soup again, Ma”, complains a little voice. “Drink it up, fish head soup makes you smart”, she encourages.

Each day brings with it a new struggle. There are always school fees to be paid, doctor visits to be made, shoes to be repaired, old clothes that need stitching, six mouths that need feeding. And yet she faces every day with a resilient spirit, refusing to be knocked down by whatever struggles life brings her way.

There is a knock on the door. It’s the post man with some money. But even as she stretches her hand to receive the money, it quickly passes from her hands into the hands of all those who stretched their hands before hers, demanding payment for every favor lent in the past.

I admire her spirit of resilience, her silent tenacity. I admire this woman who is my grandmother.

She takes her first step into her husband’s home. She stands in her bridal clothes by the doorway inspecting the tiny two room house – the small kitchen and the living room that makes the entire house. There is a communal toilet outside, some distance away from the house, shared by everyone else who lives in the neighborhood. He shows her the tiny bathroom he built into the kitchen just for her, so she can take a shower with some privacy in the mornings. She peeks into its tiny space and wonders how she’ll wrap her sari around in its small space. Or how she’ll comb and braid her long hair without a mirror in the house. Lost in anxious thoughts, she looks up into the face of the man she had chosen to marry. Had she made the right decision? She had turned down suitor upon suitor because she contended, she didn’t want a rich husband who would take care of her every need, she had wanted an educated husband who would respect her and treat her as an equal. He looks at her, trying to gauge her reaction to the house, wondering what she will say. “It’s just a starter home. I’ll work hard, we’ll save money to move somewhere else later.” She looks up at him and smiles, knowing she made the right decision.

Months turn into years, and she tenderly turns the two room house into a home. Then one day, he comes home, bursting with good news. He has just been offered a job abroad, should he take it? The very thought of leaving all her friends and family depresses her. Her first instinct is to put her foot down and say no. No, they can’t leave this home that they’ve created for themselves. No, they can’t leave the family or the life that they’ve created for themselves here. But then she looks up into his face. And she sees the enthusiasm, the dreams, the ambitions, the hope, the possibilities contained within. And she nods. Yes. You should take the job. We’ll be okay.

She gazes out at the view from the airplane as it takes off, rising high up into the clouds, leaving her country, her home, and the life that she knows behind her. In that moment, she chooses instead to put her own dreams, ambitions and hope into the hands of this man she has decided to trust. To trust him completely as she starts life afresh in a whole new continent far away from home.

I admire her implicit faith in life, her very strong courage. I admire this woman who is my mother.

I turn around to take one last look at my family as I walk on to the airport gate to check in my luggage. I see the tear that rolls down my mother’s cheek, and I want so desperately to run back to her and wipe it away. She smiles at me through her tears and waves a goodbye. I lift my hand and wave back in response, a tight lump forming in my throat. The enormity of what I am about to do dawns upon me and suddenly I feel scared and afraid. Why am I leaving the security and the comfort of the only world I know to start a new life in a country whose culture and ways are alien to me? I don’t know anyone in America. I have no friends or relatives there. I will be completely on my own. What if things don’t work out the way I’d imagined them to be? What if the elusive dreams that lead me there disappeared from sight along the way? I contemplate turning around but then stop and take a step forward heading to the gate.

I’ve wondered about that moment so many times over the years. What stopped me from turning around at that moment? What prompted me to take that first step ahead, to have the courage to move to America? What made me believe I would be okay despite it all? I still don’t know the answer but somewhere deep down inside, I think it is the power of the legacy I possess. I walk in the footsteps of strong women.

~vagabond~ © 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A few moments with myself

Lately, I cant hear the voice of my soul speak to me. I miss our conversations. The searching, the dreaming, the creating something out of the nothing. Finding myself within myself. Discovering thoughts misplaced. Ideas forgotten. Dreams abandoned. Planning new journeys to undertake. Instead, a noisy chaos surrounded me. A blur of rushed activity. Overbearingly important and seemingly necessary yet meaningless and unuseful. As the noise from the chaos around me grew louder and more demanding, the hushed voice of my soul spoke softer and softer, growing tired and weary, fading away from a whisper one day into the stillness of a tormented silence. I missed the voice of my deepest expressions, the nurturing voice of my dreams, the voice of my innermost conscience, the voice that calls me to live life again and again. Lately, I've been straining to hear it speak to me again. I've begged and implored it to talk to me again. To speak louder that I might hear it above all chaos. When all I really needed to do was just to step away from the noise, to walk away from the chaos, and to just listen.

~vagabond~ © 2009