Monday, July 2, 2012

Bittersweet Endings

I've been really dragging my feet for the past few weeks.  Trying to figure out what to say and how to write about the end of my time here.

On May 21st I made my final trip back to Saurath, Bihar to visit Bhawna and Rangoli.  In addition to checking on the shop's progress, my main objective was to finalize the transition and ensure Bhawna was really taking full ownership.

What I found really surprised me.

"Aapko kaisi lagi meri dukan?" (What do you think of my shop?) she asked after giving me a big hug.   For the first time since the shop's establishment, she was referring to the shop as her own.  "Wonderful," I told her as we both laughed.

Things were running fairly well she told me.  Of course, some days were better than others and the normal up-down retail cycles were still at play.

But something in Bhawna was noticeably different.  Bhawna was smiling more, laughing more, and seemed generally much more at ease.  In fact, another volunteer who was visiting for the first time asked me if this was the same woman I had described just a couple months ago.

I spent a few hours each day at the shop.  With old customers coming in and out, surprised to see me back.  We chatted, caught up and had cup after cup of chai.  One afternoon, Bhawna insisted that I stay for lunch.  "Aap ke saath betke khaana khaana, mujhe achha laga" (I enjoy sitting and eating here with you), she told me as we ate daal, chawal and aloo sabji together in the inner courtyard of her house.

Then we got to more serious topics of conversation.  How can we improve this shop further? And compensate for particularly slow days?  And so we discussed the option of getting her some beauty parlor training so she can provide a few basic services (threading etc.) that always seem to be in demand in the village.  And regarding the products, we brainstormed additional items we can test in the market.

We also talked about the larger future of Rangoli Women's Shop.  I shared with her our plans of bringing the model to 10 more villages.  "What do you think is important for us to tell the future entrepreneurs of these new villages?" I asked her.  This was her response:

"When my husband is out and the sabji-wala (vegetable man) comes, the feeling of having enough money of my own to pay for it, is great.  It's a good thing for a woman to be able to help her family like this."

I was touched by this response.  And so I asked "What will you do with this extra money you are now making?"  "Use it to help my family," she said.  I used this opportunity to ask about Madhu, her daughter.  Would she start using this additional income to send her to the same type of private school she was now sending her younger son, Mittu, to?  Yes, she said.  If the business continued to be profitable, Madhu would be sent to a better school in Madhubani once she passed the next level of the government school she was now attending, Bhawna told me.  And I just hoped, that this would really be true.

With only a few days in Saurath, my trip was over almost as quickly as it started.  And I found myself already saying my goodbyes.  An incredibly bittersweet experience.  Because as sad as I was to be leaving, unsure of when I will see these people again, I was still happy to be leaving on such a positive note.

As I said my goodbyes to Bhawna, her family and others in the community, they all asked when I would return to Saurath.  "Jab mauka milega," (whenever I get the opportunity), I told them.  And as I hugged Bhawna, she again told me that she would always remember me as the one that came to help her start Rangoli.  And again, I reminded her that this was now her Rangoli.

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