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Sri Lanka: overwhelmed
with hugs upon parting

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Sahr and Jesi meeting for the first time after Skyping every week for five years. | Benjamin Weatherston

Sahr Yazdani and Jesi meet in person for the first time after Skyping every week for five years. | Benjamin Weatherston

By Sahr Yazdani

“Sahr, are you coming to Grace this summer?” Jesi’s voice, a part of my Sunday mornings for the past five years, crackled through my computer’s speakers.

Mentally begging my eyes not to relay my excitement, I pulled my saddest face. “Not this year, maybe the next?”

• • •

Only the beat of drums alerted me that we had finally arrived at Grace. As my fellow travelers exited the bus and were greeted into the arms of girls carrying garlands, I laid on the bus seat, anxiously awaiting my cue.

In a moment, Jesi appeared on the steps, little Amasha in her arms. I looked into her eyes, now pooling with tears, and saw my friend — someone who asked me to stay on Skype when the lights went out in the orphanage, because she is scared of the dark; someone who had relieved all of my anxiety about college with her mispronunciation of “Harvard,” reminding me of the much bigger world out there; someone who motivated me with her incomparable resilience and dedication to creating a better life for herself. Surprise, Jesi.

She wiped her tears, took my hand and showed me the place she calls home. I had known Jesi was adored, but I hadn’t known that as she walked along the beach, the little girls of Grace would cling to her, their lifeboat, as they dipped their toes into the water. I had known she was caring, but I hadn’t known that Mathu, recovering from PTSD, slept with her every night, able to wake up suddenly and feel the warmth of her caretaker. I had known that she was my friend, and I was hers. However, I had never felt love as I did when I stumbled upon the orphanage’s dining hall, festooned with streamers, an orange cake and an accented version of “Happy Birthday” emitting from the Grace girls.

The organizer, Jesi, smeared frosting on my nose, laughing and shying away from my sugary finger. Surprise, Sahr.

• • •

“Akka, akka!” Young Dineka pulled at Jesi’s shirt, wanting her affection as our bus pulled away for the last time. The other girls see this, stumble over, and Jesi is soon overwhelmed with hugs. She is not only my role model but theirs, too, encouraging us to be appreciative of everything we have, however limited, and to be strong, however difficult. Goodbye, Jesi. See you on Sunday.

The author, Sahr Yazdani, is a sophomore at U-M majoring in neuroscience, and is active with the Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan and the South Asian Awareness Network. She has been involved with Grace in many ways, including tutoring the girls in conversational English and establishing Glasses of Grace.

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