From 10,000 Weddings to 10,000 Villages

On the road to Moradabad

From Agra we travel to Moradabad, where I was born at a Salvation Army Hospital. We arrive at our hotel in the afternoon and are informed that one of those 10,000 weddings I’ve mentioned will be taking place in the hotel that evening.The hotel is huge, built to accommodate just this type of formal occasion. Our rooms have a view of the pool surrounded by life-sized brass statues which also decorate the many lobbies and hallways of this convention-ready building and grounds. Moradabad is known for its brass work. Since my parents brought brass bowls, lanterns, vases, figurines with them when they returned from their five years in India, I grew up loving the fine etching and coloring that distinguishes Moradabad artisans’ work. We’ll get to watch the ring ceremony from our window but for now we can relax and have a cup of Masala tea.

A few years ago, I received an email from a fair-trade dealer who noticed I was born here when reading my bio webpage, and asked if I planned to visit. We had a few exchanges, but that trip never panned out and when I changed computers, I lost his email. With my sister Susan’s encouragement, I check through the phone book and take a chance on a number for a business called Noah’s Ark International Exports. I have a vague recollection of finding a school for artisan’s children called Samuel’s School funded by Noah’s Ark and posting it on my Facebook page last year. I call, hear a voice at the end of the line and inquire if this might be the man who contacted me a few years ago. Sure enough, it was Samuel Masih, and, yes, he remembers me! We agree to meet in the hotel lobby that evening to get acquainted. Not only does he come by and meet me, he insists on having his driver assist us to see the school where my father taught and the hospital where I was born! We also arrange for a tour of his business on the morning before we leave for Rishikesh.

To be in the place where my young parents lived and worked was very emotional. Although the school was closed we took a few pictures …

Anne and Susan in front of Parker Intermediate College, Moradabad, India

and then walked across the street to the hostel, now hardly used except for Sunday services. We knocked on the gate of the minister who manages it and got a tour of Reverend Paul Sarswat’s garden. Although much of the hostel building was in disrepair, his own home, garden and love of life were inspiring.Here he is showing us one of his favorite flowers.

Reverend Paul Sarswat in his garden

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop: what used to be the Salvation Army Hospital. We’ve been warned it is now the Secret Service Headquarters. Needless to say, when we arrive we’re quickly escorted away from the building’s entrance, though the very kind headmaster of the Salvation Army school next door lets us in and offers us a cup of tea. We return to the hotel, and, after a break, head with our driver and guide to the market for a uniquely crowded and colorful experience on narrow streets. Sari shops, bangle peddlers and all kinds of beautiful brass are tempting but we return with very little, exhausted from the sensory stimulation.

In the morning, Samuel’s driver meets us to lead us to Noah’s Ark International Exports for our tour. A warm greeting and tour of the place answers a lot of questions.

Noah's Ark Fair Trade Artisan at work

Samuel’s artisans provide beautiful work for the Ten Thousand Villages stores! He pays fair wages, provides clean water systems and began a school for artisans’ children that now educates over 300. Here’s what they do: “The way Noah’s Ark approaches the idea of fair trade is by (1) working closely with the artisan groups and educating them to understand the Fair Trade business (2) preparing them for fair trade business, (3) marketing their products to the organizations with similar objectives, (4) providing transparency to our clients (5) and by investing our profits in the welfare of artisan and community.”

The four of us with Samuel Masih

We were very impressed, and I kept thinking how much my father and mother would have loved to sit and talk to Mr. Masih about his vision of India. He ended our visit by handing us a bag of gifts which included a vase with the inlaid/colored brass work of old style Moradabad artisans that I remember. My mom is going to love that vase but she’ll love Noah’s Ark’s mission even more.