Plip. Plop. The peas fell gently into the bowl as we stood in my tiny kitchen, backs to the rest of the house, hands busy manipulating fresh pea pods that had just come into season. Eager to taste the new crop that my helper had picked up in the market, I had busied myself shelling peas. “Sister, let me do that,” she had urged. “No, no,” I said, “I enjoy work.” So, we stood together in that tiny place and there she opened a tiny door into her huge heart.
Plop. Plip. Plop. I asked about her family and and soon learned that she had four children.
When her youngest was just a baby, her husband died and her in-laws threw her and her children out of their residence. Desperate, she returned home to live with her parents who helped with her children while she got by with whatever work she could find, cleaning and cooking for others. About this same time, one of her sons began to have seizures. There wasn’t much money for doctors, but she managed to get him some medicine that helped. Without the meds, he was having seizures every day while with the meds, it was only several times a month. Still, his condition prohibited him from attending school and she could not leave him alone. During the darkest hours of her life, she had no choice but to lock him in a room, alone, while she went to eke out a living to provide food for him and his siblings that night. As he grew older and his condition worsened, her daughter stopped going to school in order to care for him, while she worked to keep food on the table. She rarely found steady work, just bits and pieces here and there. Yet, she was one of the lucky ones. Most Bangladeshi women in this situation either leave their children with their grandparents and move to the city to work under grueling conditions in a garment factory, or end up selling their bodies – either out of utter desperation or by coercion. She fought and sacrificed in order to stay with her children. On countless nights she went to bed with an empty belly so they could have something in theirs. She took her son to the doctor whenever she could afford to and spent all that she had so he could have enough medicine to get through another month. Never before had I seen such a fierce and utterly deep love.
Some of you may be unconvinced, stuck on the part where she locked him in a room. You may be screaming, “Child Abuse!” and wondering where social services were. Exactly! Where were they? As broken and messed up as our system is here in the US, most of us have access to resources. No matter the horror story one finds herself in, there are resources to help, options to pursue. Abandoned women in Bangladesh do not have that luxury. Family may take them back in…or not often depending upon their own financial situation. Too often it is just them against a cruel world. And this woman fought back. The cruelty she endured somehow hasn’t warped her heart or embittered her spirit.
Tears overflowed her eyes and rolled gently down her brown cheeks as her story rolled out. Peas plopping into the bowl. My hands couldn’t keep up as my thoughts swirled and collided with each other in my tiny brain and I tried to comprehend it all. Her son, now a grown man, will never know life as a grown man. Too many years of not having the right treatment has left him scarred and broken. He will never carry on a normal conversation. Never run to the market to buy rice for dinner. He will never marry and bring a daughter-in-law into the home to care for her when she is older. He has to always have someone by his side. Her family is older now and can help. He wears a motorcycle helmet when he goes about, just in case he falls. She told me, with tears in her eyes, how he wasn’t sleeping at night after an especially tough episode and she had spent most of the night fanning him in an attempt to keep him comfortable.
She doesn’t waste her energy thinking about what could have been. She embraces each moment she has of her life. Always thinking about her precious children and now her beautiful new granddaughter.
I was honored to meet her whole family all one day. She served us tea and snacks in her tiny, two-room house. I felt as if I was in a castle and she was the queen. Surrounded by her beautiful family, the love was tangible.
I want to love like that. Not caught up in all the “what ifs” but embracing the life that is in front of me. Fiercely. Gently. With everything I have.
Plip. Plop. Plip. I’ll never see peas the same way again.