Someone once told me that India will teach you what you need to know. Maybe not what you want to learn (no one wants to learn what happens when you eat dodgy curry, but it’s definitely in the syllabus), but what you need to. It’s almost as though when you fill out the visa application, the country peers right into your brain and decides which experiences will aid your personal growth the most.
I, apparently, needed to learn a lot. I’ve got a full course load of India-lessons: How to say no, the art of waiting, how to play scam or not a scam, that anything is possible but it won’t happen the way you think it will, to always bring my own toilet paper, etc.
One of the bigger, unexpected, and joyful lessons I’m learning here is all about sisterhood.
Shakti (from the Sanskrit, Shak, “to be able”): Meaning “power” or empowerment”, is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move the entire universe. Shakti is the personification of the divine feminine creative power. Sometimes referred to as The Great Divine Mother. Shakti manifests through female embodiment, creativity, and fertility. Shakti is responsible for creation, and it is also the agent of all change. Shakti is existence as well as liberation.
When I was planning my trip, I’d arranged, through Roots & Wings, to stay in a convent with Catholic nuns and do some volunteer work there. And to that end, I’ve been making a lot of spinster jokes. Thirty years old and single? As Hamlet said to Ophelia: Get thee to a nunnery!
On my third day at the convent, Sister Alice, the nun who runs the kitchen, pinched my arm as I was doing some washing up after dinner and said, “Still single, na? You are just like us!” She went on, with mischief in her eyes, “you should tell everyone back in Canada that you’re becoming a nun. It’ll be funny.”
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered doing exactly that. It would be funny. (Right, mum?)
The more I travel, the more I understand that we are all the same. In North America, we have a culture that values individualism, and everyone likes to be unique (well, after high school they do). But India has taught me that while everyone has their own unique way of expression, at the core, we are all the same. And I find a lot of beauty in that. I feel more connected to people; empathy comes as easy as breathing. It’s a wonderful thing to always find something in common — like a particular sense of humour — with anyone, even if, superficially, they could not be more different than me.
Age, background, nationality, religion, culture — none of it really matters. Real sisterhood transcends all that. Real sisterhood happens over a cup of tea, sharing laughter, sharing tears, sharing pieces of ourselves. From my childhood girlfriends, my mother, sisters, grandmother, aunts, cousins back home, to the forty-plus incredible women I shared my yoga teacher training with, to all the inspiring women I’ve met in my travels, to living in a convent with nuns who embody everything that religion should be, I have a great abundance of sisterhood in my life right now.
Sacred Heart Convent sit just apart from Chogawan, a village that is about twenty five kilometres from Amritsar, towards the Pakistan border. No one in Amritsar had heard of it. After a lot of googling and asking around, an auto rickshaw driver said he knew the way and I paid him too much to get me there. Upon arrival, I discovered that there is a local bus that comes from Amritsar and drives by the front gate of the convent every fifteen minutes.
My arrival is inauspicious. There were two deaths in the community that day. On route to the burial service of one woman, the woman’s sister had a heart attack and died. By the end of the week, there are four more deaths — shootings in another village. The nuns are very matter of fact about death.
Ten women from the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary live at Sacred Heart. Some work as teachers in the adjacent high school, and the rest work in the convent or in the Social Work and Training Centre. Their motto is Deus Caritas est — God is Love.
The villages in the area of the Punjab state between Amritsar and the Pakistan border are rife with poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and the constant threat of war and violence. Some villages don’t even have proper sewage systems as the government allotted money gets ‘lost in the mail’.
The Sacred Heart Sisters, and the parish priest, Father James, work tirelessly in the communities to build the people up, to educate and train them, to fight poverty and addiction, and are there to soothe tears, celebrate births and marriages, to share happiness and sadness. The Sisters specifically work to empower the village women — when the women are empowered, the village follows. The Sisters are truly instruments of Shakti and love.
Read more about the Sisters and their work here: http://instituteofsistersofcharity.wordpress.com/