Suji spread the pasty batter over the hot pan, widening it out into a thin circle with the back of a spoon. Just the way I do it, actually. Dosas only take a minute to cook, only a minute until they’re used, warm and delicious, to scoop up sambal and curry and potatoes with cumin and chili. This was breakfast in her home on day two of our new friendship.
I took in the details of her apartment; metal plates, cups, and specialty cooking dishes. A hefty industrial blender. A sparkling new vintage-style bicycle in the living room with the price tag hanging on it. The deep permeation of cooking spices so that to breathe is almost to taste curry. Dried flowers glued to a framed portrait of Hindu gods.
I had brushed up on Indian dining etiquette before I came over, so I asked to wash my hands before I ate and carefully made sure the dosa and the sauces ended together. I also, genuinely, complimented the food profusely which brought a quietly pleased half-smile to her face.
We went to a lecture together that my friend was giving on using natural and herbal remedies. It was the first time she’d ever been in a church building and found it amazingly “huge”. We visited another friend’s greenhouse and I tried to buy her flowers, but she would have none of it. For some reason that I may never understand, the thought of it made her sad.
We talked and talked. Ninety percent of our conversation was her asking for work, for a job, for me to tell people that she is a good cook and can sell a whole meal, that she has a clean kitchen, etc. I honestly wish I were as well-connected as my refugee/immigrant friends think I am. Or as rich (many have asked if they could clean for me, etc). Most of all, I wish I were seen as a person rather than a resource.
I do understand it, I do. It is very rattling to be without work and bills coming due. And this all without the cushion of extended family nearby or even the security of speaking the local tongue. After many years overseas in third world countries, I have developed a pretty thick skin to being seen as a rich resource rather than a person, but still it at times saddens me. Can you not see below the rind? I’m a person, not a means to an end.
Invariably though, as relationships progress, that does happen and true friendship emerges. Sometimes they’re a bit embarrassed about how the relationship began. In Chile a friend was chagrined that he made a big deal of showing me all the holes in his sweater the first day we met.
But here’s the grace, if you catch it….when you feel like a resource instead of a person, it is an excellent cautionary sign that you may be treating the other person like a charity case or a project instead of a person. The sword cuts both ways.
We need to see and be seen. We need to honor the sacred life before us and give it all the dignity owed to one of God’s creations. We need to see below the rind and there begin, truly, to love.