Wherever she walked, it seemed that all eyes were on her beautiful ivory sari. Golden threads woven into a delicate border complimented the gold blouse with the metallic floral embroidery. It was an unusual sight on the streets of Mahab because today, the starched ivory fabric matched the blonde hair and pale skin.
How many blonde women do you think roam the streets of this small village?
Recently, I received a very special gift of a beautiful ivory sari, woven in what is known as the Keralan style. We've learned that each region of India (and sometimes even each village) has its own style of sari fabric, colors, or embroidery and even children can distinguish the very subtle differences. The Keralan sari derives its name from the southern state of Kerala and is known throughout India as a very elegant sari. The golden threads and ivory color are symbols of serenity and purity. ...
On my first trip to India just after the tsunami of 2004, I learned the importance of abandoning western dress for a more appropriate Indian style. I was in awe of the saris worn by woman in India but was intimidated by the 9 yards of fabric wrapped around them 3 times, so I chose to wear Salwar Kameez instead. The long tunics worn over baggy pants known as Salwars are worn by young women in large cities but are typically scorned by village women as "too modern". In my subsequent trips, I fell in love with the pajama-type feel of Salwars and convinced myself that as a foreigner, it wasn't necessary for me to tackle the huge learning curve of wearing a sari. Last summer, the teachers of Achiever Academy surprised me with a priceless gift - a gorgeous purple sari that matched the ones they wore as a teachers' uniform. They wrapped me in the exquisite fabric like Cinderella going to the ball and sent me home determined to learn how to wear saris every day. But as we arrived this summer and focused on the work, it seemed simpler to wear my familiar Salwars each day and the heat was a strong deterrent. But to be completely candid, it was pride - once again my foolish pride - that convince me that I couldn't master the technique and wouldn't allow myself to look foolish in front of my friends when I failed. So I didn't even try.
When I received the very special gift of the ivory sari, I was excited because it reminded me of the teachers' saris. How beautiful, how gracious, how serene they looked as they seemed to float up and down the dirt streets. I felt a little guilty that the sari was so beautiful and elegant. Was this the appropriate image for an American woman who has come to serve? But the teachers include me as part of their school and last week, even insisted I take a school photo with them for my faculty ID card. Wearing the same sari as they did seemed a meaningful affirmation for both the teachers and me. I was very proud when one of the teachers wrapped me in the ivory sari and taught me how to do it myself next time. Finally - I was sari-wearing lady!
It was wonderful to feel a part of the school with my beautiful new sari but I have to admit that I couldn't fully embrace the moment. I was distracted. My mind - and heart - was still with the Woman in the Plastic Sari. Your outpouring of encouragement and prayer after reading the story had a profound impact on Jim and me and this morning, we decided that we would purchase 2 saris in the name of our friends back home who have been praying for her since reading the story. So just after morning assembly was over, we hurried down the street to the sari shop. As we stepped out of the gates of Achiever Academy, we were immediately greeted with stares and smiles. All around us, villagers were noticing my new sari and complimenting me. As we entered the sari shop, the shopkeeper complimented me and suggested I add a bindi to my forehead. Ashley, Ben, and Mother - you'll be happy to know I rejected the suggestion to add a pierced nose jewel!
As we left the shop and walked further down the street for more errands, we were constantly greeted with compliments and affirmation of my sari. Young and old, male and female, all around us, people paused to stare and freely approach us to offer their appreciation for my choice of dress. Jim and I were stunned! We had no idea how significant it was for me to dress as an Indian woman. I have always worn Salwars here and considered that I was embracing the culture in doing so. With the unconditional acceptance of the villagers, it never occurred to us that there was yet one more gift we could give our new friends. We could give them deeper acceptance of their rich traditions of dress and fashion.
After school, Jim and I decided to spend the rest of the day visiting the tourist sites in Mahab, primarily the grounds of the ancient stone temples carved in the 7th century, now turned into a lovely park filled with local children playing while the adults attempt to keep them a safe distance away from the monkeys and goats that freely roam this village. So along with hoards of local visitors and a handful of European tourists, we wandered the paths, scrambled over large rocks, and even climbed the incredibly narrow, steep steps of the lighthouse, always stepping carefully in my ivory sari. To our amazement, each turn of the path seemed to invite yet another opportunity for the villagers and other tourists to compliment my ivory sari. Local Indians expressed appreciation that I would dress as an Indian woman and even some European tourists offered there compliments in perfect English. I suppose a pale blonde woman in an ivory sari may be an uncommon sight in this village but by now, it felt comfortable and the natural expression of the warmth and acceptance we have enjoyed from the people in this village - our village.
I loved the way I felt in my beautiful ivory sari. And yet I felt guilty at the same time. I was surprised to be accepted in deeper and more meaningful ways because of what I was wearing and especially as it reminded me of how the Woman in the Plastic Sari had not been accepted, nor even acknowledged because of what she was wearing. I felt guilty because I knew I didn't deserve all the attention for doing something so simple as accepting a gift and wearing a sari. But all eyes seemed to be on the beautiful fabric while no one seemed to notice the heavy bag I carried as I scrambled up and over the steps and stones. For you see, the Woman in the Plastic Sari was never far from our thoughts. We had been praying all day that God would give me a 3rd chance to show His love to the Woman in the Plastic Sari. We had scoured the streets from the back seat of a Tuk-Tuk and walked the streets, searching back alleys and doorways. But the Woman was nowhere to be found. We decided that we must carry her new saris with us at all times as we would never know when God might give us another opportunity. But despite our best intentions, and your encouragement, we left the village with our prayers unanswered.
It was a beautiful day of acceptance for the Woman in the Ivory Sari. She felt surrounded by a community of friends. She felt accepted. She felt loved. All because of what she chose to wear.
I wonder what kind of day it was for the Woman in the Plastic Sari. I can't imagine she feels accepted, wherever she is. I only saw her for a few minutes, but she gave no indication that she had experienced love in a very long time. I had an opportunity to love her and may have missed this chance forever. But we all still have an opportunity to demonstrate our love for her with our prayers.
We continue to carry her saris with us wherever we go, all the while praying that God will bring our paths together once again so that we may have another opportunity to demonstrate Jesus' love for her.
Will you join us in this prayer?
With Love and Appreciation,
The Woman in the Ivory Sari