Friday shot: falling in love with strangers

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I fell in love with this little girl every day for 7 days in February.

I was in India for a volunteer trip. Each day she would walk into the community center and look for me. And when she found me she would just stare at me with her beautiful, big, fawn-coloured eyes. No words were spoken. It was just me, her and the eyes.

And that is how I fell for her.

She didn’t speak English well and she didn’t need to. Every day my heart and hers met and we said all we needed to say:

“I’m so happy to see you today.”

“Me too. Isn’t life a lovely thing that it brought you my way?”

Sometimes she would silently and shyly slip her tiny hand into mine while I stood in moments of hardness (because volunteering in India is a hard thing) where my mind was far away oblivious to everything and everyone. I would feel the imprint of her small palm against mine and I would hold on tight with no inclination of letting go.

I would wonder about her future.

She reminded me so much of me. The deep quietness that seeped out of her, that cannot be explained only experienced. Her sharp observing eyes which took in everything around her, turning over things and finding safe places for each one of them.

Sometimes I caught her smiling. A real smile. The curving of her perfect lips following the lines and paths joy imprints on our faces. I would simply stop and stare then, the magic of her smile becoming my orbit. I would take all of her in, this little stranger whose world was unknown to me 7 days prior but whose very being had become meshed with my own.

I loved her. For no reason other than that which love affords: it exists.

Post India – seeking light

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

We went to see a musical, my best friend and I.

It was a musical about seeking light. Sitting in the dark next to her, this girl whose heart beats as full as mine, images of India came flooding back.

I had left Delhi two days earlier. Boarding that plane that would take me far, far away from India was the easiest thing I had ever done.

See, India broke my heart.

She knocked the wind right out of me. She took my beating heart in her hands and squeezed. It hurt. A pain I will never find full forming words for.

From the start, my intention was pure and my mission clear:

I was going to India to observe, to listen and to learn. I was going to India to experience her. An old land of history and culture. What I ended up experiencing was myself. In all my folds and crinkles. With all the light gone out of me.

I had the audacity to go with my candle. The moment I landed at the airport and stood at the immigration counter, my light was forcefully snuffed out.

“Where are you from” they demanded to know. That was the question that started it all and the question that I have tucked underneath every corner and every furrow of my body.

They wanted to send me back. They did. On account of my passport. My Zambian passport. I had become a spectacle even before I had opened my mouth. And it went downhill from there.

When we took to the streets, in the nooks and crannies of new and old Delhi, I was a walking, breathing anomaly. With my dark flesh and brown eyes. The stares I received were dehumanising. Constant accusations of why I wrought myself in this body. It was suffocating. It was overwhelming.

I found myself walking around with my head bowed as if in mourning. I was unsure of how to hold my body upright. Every ounce of confidence in me had been sucked dry.

But sitting in the dark of a theatre in Singapore, next to my best friend who holds my heart in her own breast, India close yet so far, I watched as the characters on stage danced the story of seeking light. They sough it from themselves and from each other.

It suddenly dawned on me that I had allowed the world to crowd in, to become so intimate with me. I had allowed myself to accept the ugliness it works so hard to reflect onto me: tales of dark flesh that was wrought in dark coalmines. Deep underground. Where light does not reach. Years and years of hearing this had stencilled it onto every fibre of my being. It had made me walk like a slave, my knees buckling the deeper I went into the core of the world. I had folds on my skin to prove it. Scars on my heart. Bundles of hurt hooked to my shoulders.

The world. The way it is structured. The way it moves. The way people view people who look like me. The perceptions. The stereotypes. They have tried hard to convince me and everyone else that I am part of the darkness.

But the truth is even more frightening for some, uncomfortable for others:

I am part of the light. I am part of the rainbow that forms because of the light.  I am created to belong in the spectrum. It is not your choice or mine whether I stay or go. I was created.

I have work to do in this rainbow. My job is to be here. To exist. To disrupt your fantasises. To make you think. To make you uncomfortable.

My job is to be light.

Light.

It is the most silent yet most powerful thing in the world. When it arrives, there is no noise, no drum rolls, no fuss. But it holds the whole floor by its presence.

It penetrates the murk.

It chases away the darkness.

It forms molecules of beauty that match every part of its essence.

Light is life giving. It is nourishing.

And this is part of what I have been called to be. I knew this, yes, but I did not understand it. Understanding means I lift my chin off the ground and I let this light unfold all the folded parts of me. It means I tell you when we are not being properly human.

It means I say NO to the darkness the world wants to shove into sacred spaces of human beings.

To be part of the light, I must seek it. This I know for sure.

India

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Today, I am flying to India.

This is as exciting as it is terrifying.  Because places have a way of leaving marks and traces on you. Like stencils deep into your skin. Into your soul. Places have forces. Heartbeats. Pulses.

I have spent the last few months preparing for this trip. I have considered every possible option of existence I could occupy in this foreign land. The effort was exhausting and it wrote on my heart. Things I wish I could erase. And things I want to keep forever.

She said to me, “Go as you. Go as Sunshine.”

She, this friend who has all of me and loves all of me, she said, “go as Sunshine.”

It sounded simple. Yet it was radical. For to be myself, to be Sunshine is precisely what I have been told would get me into trouble in places like India.  Because being Sunshine means being like that is my sole heartbeat. It means looking with deep eyes into the well and trying to pull things out…trying to pull people out. It means breaking down again and again and again if my heart cannot contain it. It means feeling with a rawness that burns.

See, they say India functions according to its own rules. Order in the chaos; things will be bad. Things will be good. There will be sights. There will be smells. There will be poverty. There will be wealth. And no one, NO ONE can do anything about it. This is the story etched in the rocks for this giant country.

I don’t know friends.

Why do we go into these developing countries? To save them? To feel better about ourselves and our lot in life? To help? To feel like we are doing something? Or maybe it is all of the above…

I am ashamed of myself. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. All of us. For failing in our thoughts and attitudes towards these “foreign looking, third world beggarly countries.”  We should be sorry for our assumptions about their lives and our supposed expertise on them. We should do right by them.

It starts here:

“When going into another country to do development work or even visit, we should never storm in and claim supremacy, thinking that we are here to change things, to make things ‘more developed’. First things first, it is not to change. It is to learn, share and give. And the first step is to delete all preconceived notions and start listening. Listen.”

So I’m going to India to listen. I know nothing about India. No, not really. Yet the knowing I will experience when I stand on her land, walk some of her paths and feel her feelings will be greater than all the knowledge in the guidebooks combined. Because it will be real in my being.

I don’t know friends. Maybe we are supposed to save one another. And God saves us all.  I have no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all answers. I only have my heart and that is what I will use. I cannot do the work for you. Or for anyone else. I can only be Sunshine. That is the only thing India will get from me. That is the only thing you will get from me.

It is my everything.