Chai Tea with Strangers

June 12, 2023

I was elated. When I was welcomed to by strangers into their home to drink chai tea.

Your body aches from walking and getting in and out of tuk tuks, aircraft, taxis, and rickshaws.  As a result, we scheduled a full body ayurvedic massage in Udaipur.

After getting massages in Agra and Jaipur, I was in dire need of a good serious body rub.  It’s as cheap as chips and such a nice treat after a long day of travelling.

It was a nightmare, to say the least.  That only bad experience throughout our travels in India.  Her hands were as rough as sandpaper. And was checking her constantly during the massage.  So, after 18 minutes, I said “thank you,” changed my clothes. And walked out.  Obviously, the manager was taken aback. But because he was preoccupied with a group of tourists, I didn’t want to make a commotion because he was about to earn good money.  So, I promised to return and explain later. I let my husband know I was going exploring.

I came out of the shop and across the street was a dilapidated building. With these lovely ladies dressed in such bright saris. Giggling and talking about me on the top level.  So, I invited myself up because I was eager to be a part of the laughter.  And see a local’s home, to see how these exceptional women lived. In comparison to what I knew and had seen in my life.

I was greeted in the kitchen.  The ladies and children sat on the floor, as did I. There were four adults, who looked like sisters. And roughly five children, one of whom was an infant. The others were over the age of six.  One of the children who was 12 years old, spoke very little English. I grabbed her, made her sit next to me and bombarded her with questions. Overwhelming the small girl, took a deep breathe, gathered her thoughts, and started to tell me everything.

Overjoyed that she could help with the translation. Even though we were lost in translation.

I craved for genuine interaction, knowing that I would learn so much from these lovely beings. They were both happy and poor. There was no storage, granite counter tops, SMEG gas top, state-of-the-art stove or even a toaster. We sat on the floor, cooking the most amazing Chai I’d ever tasted on a two-plate cooker.  There was a lot of chatter, laughter, and smiles. I could see by their expressions that they were just as fascinated as I was.   These women had lines of labour on their faces, feet, and hands. So many great stories to tell me. Stories of their lives, heartbreak, love, and adversity.

I sat in the little dark room. Preparing fresh dinner, with coriander with, green beans, and a large head of cauliflower thrown all over the place.  The kitchen was a buzz of faces peering in and inspecting me. As we grinned and tried in vain to connect, I took out my camera and photographed everything around me.   They touched my hair and put a lovely crimson shimmering bindi sticker on my forehead.

All the women were gentle and loving.  I felt fully at ease and at home.  Did it matter that I was a different colour, spoke a foreign language, and was a stranger in their home?  

This, however, will never happen in my country.  I often wonder why we are so preoccupied with colour, ethnicity, and religion.  We’re missing out on so many truly memorable times in our life. Worrying over little matters for no reason.  Instead, we should be sharing, caring for, and, most importantly, respecting one another.

It was time to leave after about an hour with my newfound buddies.  My objective was to look around every room and see how average Indian families lived, but I realised it was not important.  I was embarrassed by my curiosity and nearly felt like I didn’t deserve a tour of the house! As Westerners do? What are we thinking? And here is the lounge, as well as the laundry and the master bedroom, which has an ensuite bathroom. I will never do that again in my life.  Life is judged not by what you own, but by how happy you are in your house.

When I was about to leave after finishing my tea, I felt this punch in my stomach.  What happened to this woman in a sari who was so lovely and generous to me?  Would the sun constantly shine in this kitchen during the summer? Would the adorable child who knew only a few words of English be ready for my next visit?  I naturally and unconsciously emptied my purse, giving the “main mamma” all the rupees, I had.  I folded up the letters and handed them to her.  She refused to take it, and they all said no.  But I told them it was exclusively for the lady and that they should preserve it or tuck it away for a rainy day.  With tears in my eyes, I embraced them all and promised to return.

I had no light in the kitchen, and because I don’t use flash photography, I believe these were my personal best images because of the chuckling and grins, as well as the light and love. They’re not ideal; they’re grainy, and some of the images are a touch dark. I could have spent more time adjusting ISO and Aperture, but I’d miss out on this natural meeting.    I’ve sent them all of the photos, and I maintain in touch with all of the females via WhatsApp via the husband via my partner.  As the wife does not have a mobile, I assume there is a family hierarchy.

I would give up my ensuite bathroom and kitchen counters to spend more time with my Chai girls; they will always have a special place in my heart.

    2 Comments

  • Kyle
    June 18, 2023
    Reply

    I love the style of the way you tell a story! Beautilly written.

  • Margarita
    July 6, 2023
    Reply

    Such honest and humble writing, I really appreciate your take on this lovely local meeting!

  • Leave a comment

Total: