We arrived in India tired and hungry but full of anticipation. Carly, Erin, Michael and I didn’t know our minds and hearts were about to be stretched more than our stomachs. (When in India, you eat. A lot.) Jyoti Parnami greeted us with the biggest smile I’ve seen in quite some time. Her energy at 2 a.m. at the Dehli airport was bright enough to light the dark sky. As we hopped in the car, we began what would be a journey to meet our Indian family.
The first night was sleepless. I laid in bed, staring at the ceiling until 6 a.m. My eyes finally closed when our alarms jingled. Thanks to jet lag, we weren’t tired. The sights, smells, tastes and relationships that awaited lured us from our room straight to the hotel’s restaurant. The day wouldn’t officially begin until we ate our first Indian breakfast. Our eyes and mouths watered as the rich flavors courted our senses, and we were grateful. After filling our stomachs, we gathered our belongings and hit the road.
Rain fell from the sky, lightly pitter-patting on the windshield as we pulled into the dirt parking lot outside the weavers factory in Panipat. As we stepped across the threshold, the synchronized sound of foot looms greeted our ears. Michael disappeared into the dimly lit factory, and the music of his camera shutter faded into the choir of looms. Carly, Erin and I walked silently, criss-crossing back and forth through the rows of weavers weaving the most brilliant textiles. At one point, I caught myself staring at a man’s feet as they controlled his loom like a pianist changing the piano’s sound with the foot pedals. Instead of performing in a musical symphony, he was weaving a symphony of color.
After soaking in every inch of the factory’s space, asking the important questions and checking on Tribe’s production, we made our way to Jaipur. Carly breathed a sigh of relief as Jyoti reassured her that everyone we work with in the production houses are taken care of, paid fairly and treated with respect.
The car bumped and rolled along the roads. Our minds were so engrossed in the weaving process that we didn’t recognize the hunger that started to set in. Jyoti chose a tiny, shack-like restaurant where we could break naan. Because the three of us lacked experience in ordering from a roadside restaurant in India , we trusted Jyoti to do so for us. I knew I would over-consume whatever was put in front of me. We listened as Jyoti shared stories, and laughed about the day and the days to come. In that moment, we knew we were family— a tribe. Jyoti was more than our business partner. She was our sister, our mother and our aunt. The weavers in Panipat were our brothers, our fathers and our uncles. Also a part of our Tribe, our family, were the women and men we were yet to meet.
We took the last few sips of our chai tea and piled in the car. The sun slipped under the sky’s dark covers and the moon rose for the night shift. Our souls were light, hearts were glad and eyes were heavy. We were in India — the land of spices, smiles, color and determination — and it was only day one.