The Princess

Riley and the Princess at the well

Riley and the Princess at the well

I don’t know how old she is but she carries herself with a wisdom and grace that reminds me of my 91 year old grandmother—she certainly has endured enough pain to be that old. In reality, she is considerably younger than I. The first time I saw her, her sweet face drew me in. It was as if I was looking at a rainbow with the sunshine of her smile framed by unspeakable pain reflected in her eyes. Yet she carried an air of grace and I knew that, in spite of the horrors that she had seen, she was more than a survivor.

To this day, I cannot tell her story without crying. Abandoned by her father at a young age, he would return to beat her for learning to read or for number of irrational reasons. Eventually he forced her into marriage to an unfaithful husband who continued the cycle of violence and eventual abandonment. Desperate and homeless, in a world of ruthless men who prey on the weak, she sold her blood to try to get by. When she had nothing left, she began to sell herself to men who viewed her scornfully as an object of pleasure. Eventually she married, and again it ended in abandonment and the added weighty responsibility of a baby girl to provide for. She found shelter and a bit of hope only to be followed by more abandonment and false promises accompanied by more abuse. Pregnant once again, she eventually gave birth to a son but never once was able to hold him or look into his eyes. The doctors told her that he had died but she suspected that he had been given to another family. In desperation and shame, she began to cut herself and continued on with her life, hopeless and disoriented. She eventually gave birth to another baby girl and just when life could not become more bleak, she discovered a place that was offering alternative employment for women like her. And that is where I met her.

Sacred Mark. A story of hope, a place of peace and dignity. Our family loved to visit whenever possible, during our time in Bangladesh. Since Austin worked closely with them to establish their branding and package design, we had many opportunities to spend time there. On one particular sunny day, my three energetic boys were running around the courtyard in their bare feet, thrilled to be out of the city. They were playing soccer with a beach ball that kept sailing over the wall or ending up in a tree. The women of Sacred Mark were quite entertained! When it was time to leave, I told our sons to go wash their feet at the outdoor water pump. My youngest did not want to have his feet washed and needed a little more coaxing. My friend hurried over, squatted down and helped him wash his feet.

In a culture where feet are a “dirty” part of the body, there is actually a traditional ritual that many perform when they accidentally touch someone’s feet. To show someone the bottom of your foot or shoe is an insult that is used not only personally but in political demonstrations as well. In Bangladeshi culture, to show respect to elders or invoke a blessing  from another, you squat down and touch their feet and yet, here was my friend, washing my wiggly five-year-old’s dirty feet. She had that beautiful smile on her face and a sparkle in her eyes. Anyone looking over the courtyard wall would have thought she was our servant. To me, she was a princess. She doesn’t have a castle; just a shack. She doesn’t have a beautiful gown; just some worn saris. She doesn’t have a car; just two strong feet and yet she is one of the most beautiful souls in the world. And that, in my estimation, makes her a princess.

(Sacred Mark soap can be purchased in the US from Global Girlfriend.)