You may remember that when I left off telling the story of the opening of the first Food for People facility, the local Bantoli children and adults were just climbing the steps, about to enter the new, modern dining hall.
The very wide stone steps leading up to the veranda must, in themselves, have been impressive to the villagers. Although marble is plentiful in India, and indeed, some of the most beautiful stone comes from there, the people living in this remote part of the country had never witnessed this type of entrance, which is common to many government buildings, airports, schools, and private homes.
With some difficulty, we helped the children form a line to get started with washing their hands. It was obvious that they were not used to forming lines or washing their hands before a meal. (In India, it is customary to wash hands after a meal.) But then, I thought, why would they have needed to form lines? In this rural area, there are few social services where they would have to wait their turn to be helped, and there are no large buses, trains, or movies; so there really isn’t a need to line up for anything.
Once inside the large dining room, there was little of the whispering, giggles or chatter that usually accompanies young children. When I looked over at them, I saw that they had stopped walking. They were standing still, heads swiveling, hands covering their dropped jaws, eyes wide in amazement. They were completely in awe.
This dining area must have seemed like a fantasy palace. It was filled with the wonderful smells of delicious Indian dhal, subji (vegetables) and basmati rice. But there was something else that was unfamiliar in their village homes: Here was a huge, clean, modern building, complete with running water, electricity, and glass windows!
I can only imagine what went through their young heads and how this scene must have felt to the children, all of whom lived very simple lives in small adobe homes without electricity or running water and often had to scrounge for bits of food to supplement their meager diet.
Soon the line for the food was moving regularly, but more slowly than I remember at my school cafeteria. When I walked to the front of the line where the food was served, I saw why: Once the children reached the front of the line, they stopped to look over the vast amounts of food, smiling and giggling at their good fortune before holding their plate high above their heads, positioning it to meet the servers’ ladles of piping hot basmati rice and cooked vegetables in a delicious sauce.
They wanted as much of the mouth-watering meal as would fit on their plate or thali (a round stainless steel plate, with a little rim to hold in the sauces). With a plate brimming with a tasty nutritious meal, each child went to a mat to sit down and enjoy the feast, only getting up to fetch a glass of clean water or more food!