January 21, 2010


I just befriended the house maid/cook named Padma, the coolest woman ever. She has no great job--she cooks for two hours for another woman every day, and on weekends helps out Dola as her friend, receiving some money, and that is all. She earns a salary of only 1000 Rs/month, the equivalent of $20. Her rent is 500 Rs/month, for a single room that is without a kitchen or bathroom. She pays an extra 100 Rs/month to use a toilet and access water. To cook, she uses the small stove in her bedroom, the only room. Once, she had about 55,000 Rs, but in caring for her sick mother, she spent it all on her mom's hosptal care, medicine, and food, as she wasted away for the course of 4 years. The old woman lay in ed, needing Padma to bathe her and feed her, take her even to the bathroom. Padma couldn't find a husband as a result of having no free time of her own, which would have been her opportunity to move into the security of a household. "Who would take care of mom?" Her brother and sister apparently wouldn't. The mother and daughter lived in the same tiny room together as the mother wasted away. When she died, she left her daughter in poverty and solitude. Now, Padma barely makes it, but manages somehow to always save 200 Rs/month. How does she live on the remaining 200 Rs? I have no idea.
"So little," I commented.
"That thing," she replied.
But God watches out for her, she claims. "I can pray. I can give others. I help my mom, I help my friend, I know God is always help me."
THen she wasted no time, asking me to help her come to America. First I thought she was jokng, since she was smiling. But I think it was not in jest but in happiness at the hopeful possibility. If she could only get a visa to visit the US, she could get a job and make herself a better life. She has no one here to leave, no family...
"See me, will you?" She meant will I see for her.
I am a bit shocked at the gravity of such a promise, but I made it anyway. I can at least write her a letter that says she is visiting me in America, right? But, what else can I offer? I can't help thinking of my own situation--no place of my own to live, just got off food stamps, and about to go $80,000 into debt. How can I even suggest helping someone to move to my country where so many are already homeless and unemployed, including, essentially, me? What do these people think America is?

And then I thought of the relative realities, and I realize then how ridiculous, how astonishingly vast the poverty level of difference is between the two places. What I once thought poor, is not poor. Even my own poverty is such a luxury, infinitely so. I'm sorry. It is really unfair to compare the two, they are such radically different contexts. But then I had to say I'd help. If I can possibly do anything to improve the life of this woman who has given everything of her own for others and continues to, but receives nothing but foul wages, poor employment, and loneliness in return, I absolutely must. I told her I don't have any place to stay in America, but I would at least write her a letter, if it would help. But I didn't have the heart to tell her about the terrifying unemployment crisis and the millions of poor left out on the streets. Not to mention the expense of the plane ticket, her not having a job...she thinks her future employer would float the cost of a ticket. She offered to teach me to cook and serve me lunch at her house, and we'll go to the Mother Teresa House together.

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