Sometimes the stars align and you meet the exact people you were supposed to meet. That’s what our connection with Mirai Chatterjee and the wonderful women of SEWA felt like. Sue has already written about the circumstances of our meeting and the great work that the Self-Employed Women’s Association does in Ahmedabad and in a number of other Indian states www.sewa.org. We spent an inspiring several days talking with Mirai and visiting SEWA bank and several SEWA work sites, with our wonderful guide, Rashmi. One of the many memorable moments of this part of our trip occurred late one afternoon, in a very unexpected way. It was 5:00 pm and by this time, my heart was so full of what we had seen and experienced, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. We’d just come back from visiting a SEWA day care center and health education center. Of course, the place was bustling and we caused quite a stir, walking through the very poor neighborhood on the way to the site.
Street leading to SEWA Daycare Center Photo: Cheryl Weber
The kids at the day care center broke my heart; there were 16 or so young children—bright and beautiful, if a little cranky for having missed their naps waiting for the visitors to come. Their caretaker was a vibrant woman who sang songs with them and engaged them on many levels. It was obvious that they were receiving tender, loving care—but also obvious that this was not a day care center as we might imagine.
The room was small and dark and taken up by several cradles; there were virtually no toys, although there were brightly-colored pictures on the walls. These conditions were far better than the conditions on the street, where many young children sit and play within inches of traffic—but still it was hard to witness the reality of poverty in the lives of these children and the stark contrast with conditions faced by most children in the US.
Marytha teaching a song at the SEWA daycare center (Photo: Cheryl Weber)
So by 5:00 pm, I was feeling emotionally spent, but we still had one more thing on our “Programme”—a Garba in the courtyard in front of the SEWA offices. Even in my low-energy state, I was looking forward to the prospect of seeing and participating in this traditional dance, done in honor of the Divine Mother as part of the Navaratri festival. And of course, now I actually had a Garba costume! So I put on my red dress and headed across the street to the courtyard. Already the dancing was in full swing and it was fun to join in with the other women dancing in a circle. Soon the rest of Libana arrived and we hauled out our instruments, preparing to sing and dance our Garba and Dandiya Raas stick dance for these lovely women. I’m sure they had no idea what to expect, and neither did we. Cheryl started singing and at first there was a sort of shocked look on the faces of these women, as they began to realize that Cheryl was singing in Gujarati and of course, THEY KNEW THE SONG! Within moments they were whooping and cheering and whistling and singing along; you just can’t imagine the grins on their faces and the grins on our faces as we shared this moment of incredible musical connection.
And then Linda and I started to dance and I felt totally embraced within their circle and within the circle of this ancient goddess tradition. At the end of the Garba, Marytha and I made a quick transition and I took up the drum sticks and Marytha took up the Dandiya sticks and she and Linda began the stick dance. If possible, the level of elation escalated even further. The SEWA women were singing along and we were all totally beside ourselves experiencing this transcendent connection.
Dancing the Garba with our friends at SEWA (photo: Alan Mattes)
And then, because none of us could contain ourselves, we did the whole thing again, this time with everyone dancing and singing in a crazy celebration of transcontinental woman-power! In the several times we have practiced and performed this dance since returning from India, I think fondly of our sisters at SEWA and celebrate a world in which the enormous gulfs that divide us can be bridged with a mutually-loved song and dance.