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Untouchable

Updated: Mar 27


I come from a family of card players. Not gamblers, just basic card games. When our friends and families got together, we always ended up playing Hearts, or Spades, or Gin, Gin Rummy, 500, Euchre or even double-bid Euchre. Hearts has been my family's favorite—my dad is incredible at it. I don’t know how he does it, but he almost always wins. He has an uncanny ability to count the cards and know what to throw based on what everyone else has already played. We have an ongoing joke about him cheating, usually involving us accusing him of somehow seeing the cards in our hands.

I learned in a place very far away just how universal our family joke to dad was. The island of Khola is out in the middle of nowhere. Even for India it is out in the middle of nowhere. Some say the island is inhabited with an entire caste of people who migrated together centuries ago to flee persecution. They have lived through monsoons and cyclones that should have wiped them out years ago. There are limited resourced on the island, no running water, no sewage system, no electricity.

I don’t know the island's entire story, but I know the first time we arrived most of the inhabitants had never ever seen a white person before. There were dozens of people just standing on the coast, watching us as we passed by in our over-sized canoes. When we landed and unloaded all the medical supplies, people watched our every move as if we were aliens. Children stared as if we were ghosts. Little toddlers screamed and ran to the closest dark-skinned adult they could find.

It was difficult for me to be so set apart from everyone. I knew once I started treating people in the clinic they would warm up to me, but I also wanted to roam the village and connect to people naturally. This was difficult because we seemed so strange and different that they had no interest in letting down their walls. As we walked into the center of the “town” (which was really just an open square of dirt with little “businesses” around the edge) I saw some men playing cards. Often in India men will sit around and play forms of poker and bet money they don’t have. I was cautious about the impression I was making with all these people staring at me, but I wanted to see what card game they were playing.

I stood close to their foursome for a minute and picked it up right away. They were playing Hearts! The interpreter then told me the man on my left was making sure I wasn’t somehow signaling to the other players what he had in his hand. Ha! That could have been my very own father being accused of cheating and wanting to make sure he kept the game clean. I imagined my family sitting right there and interacting exactly the same way, playing the exact same game. In an instant, I was joking with them about what they should play next and pretending to know what everyone had in their hands and they tore down their walls and let me in as one of their own.

The game of Hearts.

You never know what commonalities will draw you close to people from the other side of the world.


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