When people have been asking me what highlights I would share from India, there's always one thing that immediately comes to mind.
For weeks before arriving in Kolkata, Beth would tell us stories and show us photos of this one particular family whom she had befriended on her last stay in India, a street family who lived outside the gates of a guest house on one of the main roads. I loved listening to her stories and seeing the photos, and it's always fun to actually meet in person the people you hear so much about, but I didn't think that it would end up happening. However we did get to meet them and the time that we spent with them may have had the biggest impact on me out of our entire time in India.
The day that Beth was reunited with them didn't impact me personally aside from enjoying watching the excited chatter and catching up, the hugs and the way that they clearly remembered her and the relationship that they had formed 5 years ago. But when I went back with Eric and Hannah a week or two later, we spent an entire day sitting on the side walk with them as Eric asked questions and took photos for his photo story and that day was beautiful.
I can't tell you just how much I loved that day. We connected with the children straight away through playing games with them, throwing them up in the air, swinging them around and taking multiple photos of them. Their parents and 15 year old aunt took a little bit of time to warm up to us because Beth wasn't there with us but it didn't take too long before they were happy to sit and chat. We bought them chai tea and one of my favourite parts of the day was sitting on their makeshift lounge floor, made of cardboard, and drinking chai together as we chatted.
Although the class separation isn't as obvious to me as I expected in coming to India, it really stood out to me that day as we watched people give us strange glances as we sat with this family and treated them like... humans.
As I was playing with the children (they have twin boys who are around 4 years of age and a younger brother who is 2 years old) people would look at me disapprovingly and you could practically see them shake their heads in disappointment. Most people would cross over the side of the path or just completely ignore the family as they went about their day.
The thing that hit me the hardest though was when a bunch of young school kids, about the ages 10-14 years old, came past around lunch hour break and acted just like the adults had been all morning. As I drew the kids closer to me to stop them from getting into the way of the busy side walk, many of the older students would give me looks of disgust. Not too long after that two of the girls came back and started to warn me about spending time with 'those people' and stated that they 'know we aren't from India and wouldn't know better, so they thought they would let us know.'
It broke my heart to see that two 12 year old girls felt as though they had to warn me about spending time with 3 little kids who were clearly enjoying a bit of attention and love.
That one day wasn't the only time that we got to go back and spend time with the family, which I'm thankful for! Several other times we went back to see them. Once we ended up sitting under a tarp covering with them as it poured with rain and talking a little bit more about their lives. Other times we would just be walking past on our way to somewhere else and stop to say hello.
On our last day we purposefully went early to our next commitment so that we would have time to say goodbye to our new friends, which was hard! From quite far away the twins saw us coming and with bright smiles on their faces ran up to us with their arms out for hugs and we were met by their mother's beautiful, quiet smile as we joined the rest of them. We hung out for half an hour, taking more photos yet and finished off our time with multiple hugs and a group photo.
I'm so thankful that Beth introduced us to this amazing family and that it paved a way for a friendship including us all. They are such amazing people and it saddens me to think that their life situation has been so rough, and that the kids have been born into a life that treats them as though they aren't good enough to be associated with. Sometimes I would look up as one of the boys was climbing around in my arms to see their mother smiling at their joy, loving that someone was treating her precious children as the valuable people that they are.
It definitely made me much more aware of the people around me and how I treat them. I know that too many times before I have been exactly like the people who walked past us and ignored the family or treated them less than human. Spending time with them as people and getting to know their situation and gaining perspective was probably the most valuable thing that I got to do while in India!