We sat, crammed in Uttam’s (principal of the school I’m volunteering at) office room, talking as the flashlight lit the room enough for me to make out everyone’s face. Aimoni (Uttam’s wife/teacher at the school) sat neatly on a chair with her feet tucked beneath her. While Uttam sat perched behind his desk, with focus etched into the creases of his brown face. We talked about life. About our dreams. We talked about how we went from being worlds apart to sitting in the same small room…talking. Uttam eagerly asked me about my life. What is America like? Is it rich? I don’t know if I can truly explain America, because America is so many things. But, my America has been like a kaleidoscope. So many experiences mixing to create beautiful patterns. We talked about my life. I spoke in strides. Telling Uttam about growing up in Black America. He listened anxiously like a little child anticipating my every word. We talked about my childhood. About my family. About my mother. About my step-father. I told him now it’s only me and my younger sister, taking care of each other. Uttam looked at me as if stars had fallen from my mouth. The idea of me losing my mother and step-father really seemed to trouble him. How could you manage without the mother and father? I smiled. My smile seemed to confuse him. I told Uttam that everything in my life had been a divine plan and though I lost my mother I have gained so much. We talked. I spoke of soul food, poverty, community, love, family, books, music, and all of the things I remembered filling my childhood. Uttam listened, interjecting every so often to ask me to explain more about each thing. We talked. I glowed as I talked about my sister. How she is everything to me. How I know my mother gave us her spirit because she knew we would need each other. We talked. “Is soul food giving the people better soul?” I giggled. I told Uttam how soul food is love, it’s community, it’s our way of making the best out of the worst. Uttam was so intrigued that he kept telling me he wanted to try it when he came to America. We talked. I told Uttam about my experiences in college and how education saved me. I told him how traveling the world was a foreign concept to me as a child, but now it is my life. We talked about how dreams come true. We talked. We laughed. We had serious moments. Uttam spoke in waves, his voice rising and falling like tides as he talked about India: his home. I listened. Uttam told me about life in India. He spoke of traditions, Ganesh, villages, poverty, Krishna, Gods, family, tribes and community. We talked. Hours wrapped around our conversation as it continued to evolve and change from subject to subject. Finally the electricity clicked back on and the lights brought us back to reality. It was late, time for us to get ready for bed and for our next of day of teaching. As I was getting up to go to my room I asked Uttam and Aimoni to give me an Indian name. Uttam’s eyes lit up and he shouted “Rashmi! That is your name! Rashmi.” The look on Uttam’s face was something I will never forget. He looked like he had a revelation. He then looked at Aimoni, who nodded in agreement with a smile of her face. “Yes, this is for her. It describes her.” I looked between the two of them anxiously waiting for one of them to explain to me what Rashmi means. After a moment of silence, Aimoni explained that Rashmi is the Goddess of light. Uttam interjected, saying “Yes and you are spreading your light, so Rashmi is the name for you.” “And your smile lights up the world. When I see it, I’m not feeling the worries.” Aimoni said barely above a whisper.
I felt tears stinging my eyes. And as I walked away from the tiny room I felt something tugging at my heart. All of my worries and fears about being so far away from home began to melt away. And I thought: maybe home is not a place, maybe it’s a feeling we carry in our hearts. Home is anywhere we feel loved. And with Aimoni and Uttam I felt love. Just days ago we were strangers and now we are like family. Actually we are family. Conversations have removed the boundaries. Conversations have helped us bridge connections to understand each other. I realize these conversations were more than just merely talking, they were a cultural exchange of sorts. These conversations opened up the door for us to truly connect with each other. I went to bed dreaming of my new name. Rashmi. Why did they give me this name after only knowing me for a few days? Light of the world.