This year, my family and I would have a cool experience. We would be hosting a foreign exchange student visiting my high school. He was from India. My family lives in small town Texas and although Dallas is just a two hour drive, there is not a lot of exposure to different cultures and customs. My mom was concerned about a few "good ol' boys" as she called them. She said "they talk out of both sides of their mouth." I guess that meant that they shared the love of God on Sundays but talked bad about others on Monday. I was excited because I would have a new friend and hopefully someone to help me this year with my calculus. We drove to Dallas on a Saturday morning to meet Vinod's plane. On the drive back home, we were all amazed at Vinod's English skills and knowledge of America. I did not know much about India other than what I had seen on T.V. Vinod did not make me feel stupid. I felt his excitement to be in Texas and although his politeness was very present, I watched him relax as the truck moved out of the city and suburbs and into our rural county. He placed the cowboy hat we had brought him on his head and began to show me pictures of his family and town.
Vinod was very smart when it came to math. Quadric equations were second nature to him. He was most uncomfortable though when we attended church on Sundays. He told us although his family was Hindu, he did not practice any formal organized religion. Faith was a concept his brain could not grasp.
On Tuesday nights in our house, we had "game night." After dinner one of us would pick a board game or card game and we would have a fun night of healthy competition. Tonight it was my little sister's turn to pick the game. She was in "big school" now, first grade.
"Christopher, Christopher...get Chutes and Ladders! I want to play Chutes and Ladders,” she informed.
I rolled my eyes at Vinod but he didn't seem to care. We let my sister set up the game on the table as my mom got us some cookies. I was almost looking forward to doing homework, but Vinod's enthusiasm made it tolerable. After we had played the game through a few times, Vinod began to share.
"When you do good deeds, you can go up the ladder, when you do bad deeds, you fall down the chute. India is where this game was actually invented except we call it 'Snakes and Ladders.' Good things like sharing, forgiving and being kind get you good karma and things like cheating, anger and stealing bring bad karma. Too much bad karma and you could be a snake in your next life."
Then Vince turned to me and said, "I think some people in America think they are going up the ladder, but I see them falling down the chute."
"We have mean rattle snakes in Texas. Daddy won't let me go get the eggs in the barn by myself," blurted Sarah.
I had seen some of our neighbors at church not exactly welcome Vinod with open arms;
My mother, looking concerned over her eyeglasses said, "I am sorry Vinod. No one has said anything to you, have they?"
"I'm going to be an angel when I am with Jesus. There are no snakes in heaven." Sarah said without skipping a beat.
Vinod turned his glance towards Sarah, "Heaven? Well, how do you get there Sarah?"
"Oh, it is easy," my sister explained. "It is kind of like the ladder but the ladder is Jesus and you just hold real tight and He walks behind you in case you fall. Some people just don't hold on tight enough."
My mother's eyes brimmed with tears as she looked up at all of us. Vinod would have a successful year after the first few bumpy weeks. Church seemed easier and more people became comfortable as they got to know him. He attended graduate school here in America and eventually became a citizen, living on the East Coast. We try and get together often. Now whenever my own children get out that same game that once brought two different worlds together, I can't help but say a prayer of thanks for the ladders in my life and the faith that replaced karma.
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