Leap, and a net will appear. I had come across this saying a while ago and it has been my motto ever since. My encounter with my newly found sister and what ensued in the following few months were just that. We took a leap and a net did appear!
“She is from Bangladesh and she is a runner too, just like us!” That was how I came to know about Esther. My younger sister, who lives in Phoenix, “met” her on Twitter as they exchanged comments after one of their recent races four years ago. Esther’s Twitter name is @BengaliBeauty, and that is what caught my sister’s curiosity. My sister and I left our birth country in our early twenties as newlywed brides. Esther left our birth country at 18 months, sold by her birth father for less than $10, brought to Oregon via Vancouver BC through a Christian missionary. She had never met anyone from Bangladesh since she arrived here, never had any experience with her birth culture, language or traditions. A week after my sister told me about her, Esther and I met at a coffee shop in Downtown Portland. Esther is 38 years old now, a mother of three boys, each named after a US President. She told me on our first encounter that she had always wondered about her family, why they gave her away, and that she wanted to find her mother.
Hearing this, I found myself, a mother of three children, telling her “bring me whatever you have-adoption papers, passport, names, anything, and I will see what I can do.” Faded and hard-to- decipher paperwork, frustrating dead ends, and numerous false starts made me even more determined to try another route each time. Two years and about 200 phone calls later, my husband and I accompanied Esther to her birth home last summer. The first time Esther talked with her mother was on Christmas Eve, via Skype. I used FaceTime on my iPhone with Esther on the other side with her phone, and called her mother on Skype video chat, thousands of miles away, through my laptop.
Thanks to modern technology, a long lost immigrant child spoke to her long lost mother. The daughter spoke no Bengali; the mother spoke no English. Yet both smiled through their tears; the mother reassured the daughter not to be sad anymore, that she had a houseful of family waiting to shower her with love. Esther told her mother about her three sons and that she would come to see her family. All the while, as I translated back and forth, I cried and laughed at the same time, seeing the mother and her child, snatched from her lap when she was only five days old. I noticed the uncanny resemblance between Esther and her mother Nurjahan Begum: the same cheekbones, the same forehead and the same strong smile. Roots can be that strong. Roots can unearth feelings from the deepest of cores, beyond barriers of all kinds.
Leap, and a net will appear. We wanted to be certain that Esther and Nurjahan were truly biologically related. A DNA kit was send from here. Anticipating possible negative results, my mother told Esther that she was officially adopting her as her third daughter. Once we got the sample back, Esther sent the packet for testing, along with her own. A week later, the results came back-- 99.99% match between the Esther and Nurjahan Begum.
The day we landed in Bangladesh, a year later, was Esther’s birthday. Esther was born on June 24, 1979. We arrived on June 24, 2015. The heat, humidity, noise, and chaos were all overwhelming for her. It was the first time she had traveled overseas since her arrival in Oregon 38 years ago. Three days later, Esther met her mother and siblings in the midst of curious women and children, local newspaper reporters, TV journalists, and village elders, who surrounded them, wanting to be a part of this beautiful experience.
Mother and child embraced each other, crying hysterically. There was not a single dry eye at that moment. Language was not a barrier anymore. Love can speak in any language, when given the chance. Esther met her two sisters, her brother, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and an entire village of cousins. They fed us with utmost care and attention, a feast of rice, chicken curry, fried eggs, spinach, and lentils, which probably cost them an entire month’s salary. Esther’s brother is a rickshaw puller and earns about $15 a month. Her sisters break bricks at the brickfield. Her mother catches baby shrimp with a shallow net on the banks of a river and sells them to the fisheries, fetching about $10 a month. We became huge celebrities throughout Bangladesh, with people recognizing us at shopping malls, bus stations, and airports. Esther soaked it all in, drenched in soupy summer heat.
As she bid goodbye, Esther choked up saying she had not experienced so much love before. Esther made her mother promise not to go fishing again. She now sends $50 every month to her mother and gets to talk regularly on the phone, with me still as the translator. Esther brought back several books on Bangladesh, one of them is How to Speak Bangla, of course! Esther and I plan to go visit this year, this time in December, to avoid the soupy summer heat, humidity and relentless mosquitos.
When people ask me how I got them reconnected, I can only say that I just happened to be present at the right place at the right time. I was a mere catalyst, connecting the dots, putting the puzzle pieces together. There was certainly a Higher Power working from behind, or else how can one explain all these beautiful coincidences? During a local morning talk show on TV, the host thanked me for my generosity and asked why I had helped Esther. What was in it for me? I said I did it because it was just the right thing to do. As a mother, I could not imagine losing a child and not knowing where or how she was. The talk show host asked me if I had anything to say to the audience. I paused for a few seconds, and thought about my Zen teachers. So I said, looking at the camera, “Just be present, at every moment, with every breath, and do all the good you can.” Just this breath. Just this moment. Just this breath-moment.
Today, we are three sisters. We talk every day, check in on each other, we laugh, we tease, we cry, we visit, we celebrate together. Esther found her birth family, and as she says, she also found her “Deshi” American family. She calls her birth mother “Ma” and she calls my mother “Amma,” just like I do. Leap, and a net will appear.