I’m Being Treated Like an Indian Princess

Upon our arrival in Biswanathpur, Odisha India we were greeted by 5 beautiful Indian women. Two were dressed in jeans and a nice top and the other three in traditional Indian Sarees. They each took my right hand in theirs and with one light raise they “shook” my hand, bowed their head slightly and said “hello”.

I was so exhausted from the long drive that I couldn’t wait to see the place I would be sleeping and crash. They were very welcoming and the outspoken one in jeans could speak fairly good english. They walked us up to towards the house and said “Welcome to our home.” Then pointed to the house and said “This is where you will be staying.” They slipped off their flip flops quickly and walked up the short steps to the interior of the home. I bent down to take off my hiking boots that I had been traveling the past 2 days in, but they all chimed in with “no no no mam”. So I walked up inside with my dirty stinky boots on.

The home was built in concrete from floor to ceiling. The steps up into the front door lead to the dining area. To the right as I walked in I could see a small red refrigerator and in front of me was a table decorated with beautiful brightly colored linens.

Through the doorway on the other side of the room was a similar sized room with a small bed and a chair that could fit two people. At the foot of the bed stood an older model television set and to the left of the bed and TV was another door out onto a small covered patio area. To the right of the door I had just walked through was another doorway into a room that fit two beds pushed together to make one large one with a cabinet and a small table that supported a tall mirror that was decorated with etchings of flowers. The bed linens were brightly colored with pillows that donned flower patterns on them. We continued through the doorway onto another doorway to the left of the room that led into yet another room that included another bed and a large mirror. Among the four of us girls, Katherine and I have been friends the longest so we took the large bed together with Kara in one room and Barb in the back room.

We were very hungry after our trip so the women set the table and fed us. The food consisted of partha, a thin bread, with peas and potatoes in a curry sauce. The women had us sit down in our chairs as they served us and stood watching us as we moaned contently through our satisfying dinner.  The women asked us several questions including if we like milk tea or black tea for breakfast. When we finished up we dug into our bags for the first time in 2 days and pulled out our sleeping gear. I plopped myself down on the bed next to my sleeping bag and fell right asleep in the 80° heat.

The next morning I awoke when the power shut off and the overhead fan was no longer working. I saw Kara get up and walk to the bathroom that resided in another smaller concrete building just outside the home. When she came back I grabbed my lantern and walked out after her. The bathroom had a concrete floor that had a slightly raised part towards the back with a hole in the floor surrounded by a ceramic inlay as a toilet. Next to it was a bucket full of water and a small pitcher. I saw some hand soap in a pump on the shelf by the door and used that to wash my hands with the water in the bucket using the hole I had just gone in as the sink.

 The morning air was brisk and felt nice compared to the muginess of the room I was sleeping in now that the fan was no longer on. I sat on the front steps and looked into the distance past the concrete wall and iron gate that kept us securely in the compound of the home. In the distance I could see a hillside covered in the morning mist that had an interesting rock formation that set just a top of it. Just beyond the iron gate was the dirt road leading to the compound followed by what was to soon be a bridge as there was construction still in progress.

Sabita (the most outgoing of the sisters) walked up holding a red cup with her sister, Sanita, holding a tray with 3 more cups. She held up the cup and said in her soft voice “Tea mam?”. I perked up and said “Yes! Thank you!”. The two went inside and Barb walked out just after with one of the cups in her hand. Barb’s tea included milk that was unpasteurized and had a creamy taste to it. We talked for a bit and were soon joined by the other two of our foursome of women.

 An hour or so after we had awoken the women hosting us had set the table with dinner plates and a fork and spoon to eat with. Just atop of the dinner plates were three small bowls. As we sat down Sabita grabbed one of the large metal covered bowls pulling off the lid exposing the thin bread they call chapate. She carefully lay two pieces each for us on our plates as another of her sisters grabbed a second pot and a serving spoon dishing the contents into our small bowls. Following behind her was another sister with another item for a second bowl, followed by a third and finally a small piece of cake that was soaked in sweet milk and covered with a sweet sugary syrup like substance.

 I tried to get them to let me serve myself but Sabita wasn’t having it. When we were finished I offered to help clear the dishes and clean up but again she insisted we just enjoy while they serve us. I lifted my plate as I stood and she scowled at me so I out it down and laughed leading her to laugh as well.

The women carried the plates away quickly into the back building as we gathered our things to head to the work site.

A few minutes later we piled into our ambulance transport with Sabita joining us. Katherine was told to sit in the front as the leader of the project and honored guest. When we arrived there were local village women dressed in beautiful brightly colored sarees each holding flowers they had picked in their hands. Marigolds, lillies, daisies and more all in lays and bouquets for us to don. The women holard while flinging their tongues back and forth makin a sort of tribal sound. All were saying “Thank you.” many times while bringing their hands together and bowing slightly.

We were walked up to a small shelter they had built for shade out of sticks and covered with leaves and a large tarp on top. We were placed in chairs and waited as the men and Katherine talked about the project. We eventually walked down and began to measure, then the villagers and mason dug the foundation holes, and watched as the women brought the sand for the mortar and stones for the foundation columns.

The work comensed as did our large meals and being served and waited on for a couple of days. Our third day in we ran into some issues with the local village men. As a result we were forced to leave the work site and spend time in the safety of the home compound.

The four sisters Sabita, Sanita, Nirmala and Bimala all took very good care of us. Each morning we would wake up to tea being served to us in bed followed by a large breakfast. They would then the us out for a walk around the village through rice fields and tours of the local businesses including a silk worm farm. After our walks we would spend some quiet time reading our books. I, myself, would write in this blog here. Before lunch the sisters would find ways to entertain us by coloring and creating crafts, braiding our hair, painting our nails and decorating our hands, arms and legs with henna.  At times we were asked to sit outside while they cleaned up our rooms and changed our bedsheets, not once would they allow me to help. Lunches were served in the afternoon loaded with amazing food from curry dishes to their various flat breads. We ate so much that naps became a necessity as my companions would spend quiet time again and eventually doze off while reading.

Four in the afternoon meant tea and some sort of snack. Our second full day in the home we at so much food I remember trying to get comfortable on the bed with my full tummy. When our tea time came the girls went into the dining room and we’re very quiet as I trailed in a minute behind them. I walked in to large piles of chow main on each of our four plates and laughed incessantly. All of the women began laughing together, the sisters with a puzzled look on their faces. I calmed down enough to say “We love your food, but it’s too much.” We all sat down to eat while still giggling at the enormous amount of food while still trying to digest lunch. I looked at Sobita and began to tell her a story “My Grandmother used to cook for my family as a way to show how much she loved us.” I proceeded to explain the large breakfasts with every kind of meat, eggs and pancakes as well as dinners loaded with chicken, salads with shrimp, rice, potatoes all topped off with cake and cookies. I then said “She loved us very much.” I paused and then said to Sobita “You love us a LOT!” We all laughed again.

Later that day Kara was bending over and reaching for her shoes that were outside on a rack they had made for us when the Father (Gabriel) of the four sisters jogged across the grounds to grab the shoes and hand them to her before she could bend over and get them herself.

The home here has been very welcoming and the family has taken us in as an extension of them. Sobita and Sonita have said many times to us that they are going to be sad when we leave and that we should all stay in touch.  We still have three days left here and I have made Sobita promise to let me help with the dishes this evening. While she was reluctant, her sister Sonita chimed in and said “You are like family now so you can help.”

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