Her name was Cinderella, like the princess. She wore her frilly dress, trendy glasses, and short hair proudly. She wasn’t shy but she was sweet tempered, wearing a huge smile and timidly practicing her English. It didn’t take much convincing for her to locate videos of herself dancing traditional Bengali dances and allow us to cheer and affirm her talent when it was over. When I had held her injured hand to pray I would look up and catch her staring at me with big curious brown eyes, only for her to quickly shut them again, showing that she was serious about the prayer. A couple of times I found her fingers gingerly reaching for the end of my hair, her open mouth betraying her amazement at how my hair could be so light. I couldn’t offer an explanation so instead we giggled about it together and I offered the opportunity for her to feel it herself. She eagerly began to run her fingers through it and then started to do something that enthralls little girls all over the world: braid. She wove each piece, strand over strand. Her nimble fingers pulled in locks from each side and continued to weave, strand over strand. Strand over strand.
His name was Rusal. I could tell that he was rich, not only because he could afford to join us on the air conditioned bus from Calcutta to Dhaka, but because he carried himself differently. He was dressed nicely, well groomed, and he carried two different cell phones which he spoke on often. He spoke and understood English with little difficulty, which made him helpful as we struggled through the process of going through customs and finding our new bus as we crossed from India into the mysterious new land of Bangladesh. He continued helping us by allowing us to use his phone and translating for us but he began to ask us lots of questions: “Where are you staying? Who are your friends? What part of Dhaka do they live in?” I got slightly suspicious, until we were standing with him on a ferry overlooking the beautiful Bangladeshi river which was illuminated by the setting sun and the occasional flash of lightning in the distance. He was questioning us again, but this time he explained himself. This would be our first taste of his country and he wanted to be sure that we would enjoy it and that we would be completely protected from anyone who might want to take advantage of us. He shared his phone number with us and beamed as he told us about his beloved young daughter. The heart of a father was so clearly portrayed in his protectiveness of us, his genuine desire for our happiness, and his delight in his own daughter. His questions didn’t bother me anymore.
These are just two simple stories of two normal people I happened across in the midst of this summer’s adventures. And to be honest, I could probably tell you a story about someone like them for each day that I spent in Asia An elderly man gave his seat up for me on the bus insisting that “women sit”. A boy around 12 years old paused from his duties on the small bus next to mine, smiled hesitantly and waved. A jolly-faced woman welcomed me into her 8 foot by 8 foot home with a tight embrace and a smooch on each cheek. Their lives weren’t extravagant and their stories weren’t miraculous but they somehow wiggled their way into my life.
I often joke about my personal bubble. God seemed to think that it would be funny to make a person who isn’t very touchy and likes her space and plop her into a country where they fit 28 people into a jeep and on trains there is “always room for more”. Personal space doesn’t exist in India. Some people in America might appreciate physical touch more than I do, but I honestly think that almost every American has some sort of bubble. Occasionally someone is allowed to enter the boundaries of one’s personal space, private information, or deep emotions but it is a rare and regulated occurrence.
So as I thought about these everyday encounters with people who interrupted my life, weaving themselves into my story, I asked myself, “What if we were all so willing to allow someone we just met to reach through our façade and touch our hearts?” Or even more challenging still, “What if we were more boldly intentional about weaving ourselves into the stories of the people we encounter every day?” The only answer I have to these “what if” questions is a picture I have been so fascinated with, that replays in my head over and over again when I think about all the people I have met or encountered this summer. It is a picture of a braid being woven, strand by strand. Each piece is its own, but comes together as one stronger, strand by strand. The intricate encounters of lives invading each other, strand by strand.