I stay with my mom’s older sister whenever I visit India.
She lives in a two-story house with a continuous supply of clean water, air conditioning, and healthy food.
Behind her house is a small, man-made neighborhood consisting of back-to-back huts all enclosed under one unsteady, tin roof.
I would always see kids with no shoes on, sometimes wearing torn clothes, walk out of that neighborhood and run down the mainroad, seeming to ignore their safety and health.
One day, my aunt came up to me and requested, “Come with me to see where Mary went.”
Mary was my aunt’s maid. She cleaned the house, washed clothes, and rinsed dishes every day. Mary lived in the neighborhood behind my aunt’s house.
“She always tells me if she can’t come, but didn’t today. I just want to make sure everything is okay,” my aunt explained.
I understood and accompanied her on her search.
We walked to the back of her house and crossed the street. We stood at the entrance of the neighborhood and stared at the flimsy door that we had to push open to enter.
My aunt used her sari to push it. We walked in and I was suddenly hit with the most repulsive smell. I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly caused it until I turned to my right and saw two buffaloes covered in mud, sitting in their own defecation.
On one hand, I was disgusted by the smell; on the other, I was terrified of these unguarded buffaloes.
My aunt noticed my newly formed fear and assured me, “Oh, don’t worry. That’s pretty normal around here. You’re safe.”
She dragged me away from the buffaloes and kept walking me down the unkempt, dirt pathway.
Both my aunt and I used the long end of her sari to cover our noses and mouths as we made our way through the neighborhood.
People living there stared, with big, bold eyes, at the both of us, without even blinking until we were out of their vision.
“These people never see the higher-class walk into their neighborhood. That’s why they’re so appalled. Don’t mind them,” my aunt said bluntly.
As we continued walking in search of Mary’s home, I saw many moms bathing their children with filthy water in the open area of the neighborhood. I saw shirtless, old men using twig branches to brush their teeth. I saw kids eagerly shoving pieces of candy down their throats and throwing the wrappers onto the dirt floor.
After what seemed like a lifetime, we found Mary’s hut. My aunt tried knocking, but the door was flimsy enough to swing open with one touch.
I saw Mary sitting against the cement wall, holding her 10-year-old boy’s head in her lap as she smoothed a damp cloth over his forehead.
Her eyes bulged when she saw us standing at her “doorstep.”
She stammered, “Wh-what are you do-doing here Mad’am?” as she gently placed her son’s head on the dirt floor.
Before allowing us to answer, Mary said, “Oh, my God. I never told you that I wouldn’t be coming to work today. Saleem had a high fever, and I had to stay back. I’ll come back tomorrow, Mad’am. Please don’t fire me, Mad’am. I really need the money. I’m so sorry, Mad’am.”
I was shocked by how much Mary valued her simple cleaning job. It was then that I realized it is that money she earns for performing those tasks that she uses to provide for her three sons and herself.
“Mary, you’re not losing your job. I just came to check on you,” my aunt explained. “Go take Saleem to the medicine shop around the block and get a prescription for his medicine. I’ll pay for it.”
“No, Mad’am. I can’t let you pay for his medicine. He’ll be fine without it. He’s just red and hot. He’s fine,” Mary replied stubbornly.
My aunt, being the fierce lady she is, replied, “Mary, he has a fever and it looks pretty bad. Take him to the shop or you really will lose your job.”
Mary didn’t reply, but I knew she was grateful.
That day, I watched families beam with joy for the smallest things in life. I watched parents work to their limit to care for their families. I watched children treat education like it was a piece of valuable treasure as they hoped to one day bring their families out of poverty.
As a future healthcare professional, this experience motivated me to be able to provide the same services and aid to those who cannot afford healthcare, along with my regular patients. More importantly, as an individual, this experience fuelled me to always push further every time I want to quit because I knew that Mary would never give up.