Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Feast Fit for a King

Sitting in a circle, surrounded by women, all of whom either are lepers themselves or are related to someone with leprosy. It's early afternoon in Tikeri Border Leper Colony, and the conversation swirls around me, almost as brilliantly as the colors mix and flow in my line of sight. Red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, gold--garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, peppers, onions. The smell of onions mixed with wood smoke makes my eyes burn and the garlic in my hands is added to a small pile at my feet, where I sit cross-legged on a mat, removing the "good" from the bad... a husking of sorts. The winter sunshine falls weakly over me, casting a mild blanket to protect me from the breeze that carries more pollution and the smell of spices. A glass of chai sits at my feet, bought off the street and prepared with local water. When it is finally cool enough to sip, I am amazed at just how good it tastes.

On the other side of the mat, laughter erupts as a Hindi woman tries to get an American girl to eat a hot pepper. Half of the women close their eyes and look away, some laugh, and others protest loudly. "Ne," Patima, and old woman with a leprous left hand, says. "Do not eat." Still, this daughter of Mississippi threatens to bite off the end, to everyone's delight.

One piece of garlic, two, three... the work is very methodical and easy. It's pleasure. As the conversation swirls around me, I find myself lost in the normality of the moment and the beauty of all that is around me; of gnarled hands shelling peas and bandaged disease-formed feet resting close to the food, almost in the pile. No one cares that we are American and Indian, sick and "whole". No one sees our differences. We are united in our common humanity--the need for food--and most of all, the need of Him.

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