Inviting us to their homes is an honor for the artisans. At the end of the first day at the office, all of the artisans were already whispering into our ears about visiting their homes, meeting their families, and joining them for dinner the next day. The women behind Anchal's products work so very hard just to provide the very basic necessities for their families, however, when the team is visiting they want to roll out the red carpet! They purchase soft drinks, make tea and little snacks all the while letting all the neighbors know we will be coming by.
Many of our Senior Artisans live in the same community, a short rickshaw ride away from the office. As we walk through the neighborhood to our first artisan home, we start to notice people sitting on their front steps or peeking out their windows to see what the commotion is in the neighborhood. By house number two, we have collected a swarm of neighborhood kids that are following us house to house, excited to be a part of the parade. We start to feel like we are Forrest Gump during his cross-country run, picking up new friends and curious travelers along the way until our entourage stretches down the street.
Kamla was the ringleader and timekeeper during these visits, making sure we were spending enough time at each home, but moving along on schedule so we would be able to visit all of the homes before nightfall. She would pop her head into the front door if we were taking to long and gesture to her wrist that it was time to move along. It was so much fun to watch her playfully boss her friends and fellow artisans around with laughter and giggles.
Artisan Basanti couldn't wait to pull out her daughter's wedding album and show off the beautiful photos. Her two daughters were married on the same day to help with costs, but the wedding was possible because of money she saved working with Anchal. We flipped through every page of the album as she looked on with a smile spread across her face. A mother's pride can be read in any language, in any culture.
Maya's home was the last of the day. Her humble home sat perched at the top of a building, a single room that she shares with her three sons. It is hard to imagine how this space is big enough for her, let alone her three growing boys. It is a somber reminder, in the midst of a happy evening, of the hardships these women face.
As the sun began to set, we made our way back to the main road to catch a rickshaw back to the hotel. The group of senior artisans walked with us the whole way, acting as our protectors, pride in every step. You rarely see women walking in the streets alone, especially at night, and to watch this group of powerful, motivated women carrying themselves with such pride is amazing to witness.
Day two we visited the homes of a few of our Project Assistants. Despite our repeated requests not to do so, Gulshan had prepared a full meal for us upon our arrival. Without a dining room, her bed acted as our kitchen table. She laid out a mat of newspaper and served us a delicious home-cooked meal. As we ate, I noticed her reach above the doorway to swap out the one lightbulb that filled the room. She wanted to put in a brighter bulb, one saved only for special occasions.
Our last visit was to Seema's home. She beamed as we walked in, showing off the new purple (her favorite color) tile she purchased for the main area of her joint family home. She then took us to the room she shares with her husband, son and daughter. It was in this room we noticed a small chalkboard on the wall with a little school ID with her daughters photo hanging from a hook above it. This is where she practices her homework, such a tangible reminder of the education she is able to receive because of her mom's hard work with Anchal.
In total, we went to over 19 artisan homes. Their homes were simple concrete walls and floors, sometimes without running water or electricity. Most are joint-family homes, meaning the artisans live with their husbands and children, as well as their in-laws and sometimes their in-law's parents. In Kaushalya's home, there were 10 children all living under the same roof! A family will live in a single room, a small space where a husband, wife, and children will all share. There is often only room for one bed, if that, and the children will sleep on the floor. The personal space we so often take for granted is not a luxury the artisans know. But what they may lack in material things, they fill their homes with love and this love was shared with us in such a special way during these visits.