Oprah Talks to Meg Ryan
Meg: My other visits have all been to Mumbai, where I go to an ashram. This time I went out to the desert to visit salt-pan workers. You drive for hours and hours, and finally you see something in this flat, flat desert. And it turns out to be a hole they've dug, that they've put twigs over, where the kids go to school.
Oprah: And the reason they're in a hole...?
Meg:...is so the children can be cool. They've fashioned this little staircase down, and the kids come from wherever they come from, carrying their little cloth bags with maybe two books.
Oprah: Is it shocking to return to Western comfort and commercialism?
Meg: [Laughs] Everything seems like a Fellini movie. One day I'm in India; the next I'm sitting at the Four Seasons, one of the nicest hotels I've ever been to. I mean, I stayed in good hotels in India, but you couldn't drink the water. Then I went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. You enter through this archway, and the noise, the hustle, the din that is India stops. The silence of this thing! It looks like a cloud sitting on the ground. It takes your breath away, it's so stunning.
Oprah: I can't even imagine it.
Meg: Agra is this stinky town, but I was put up in a hotel where butlers were drawing my bath. By then I was so ripped open. I was all ready to go, "Oh, this is untenable; it doesn't compute with what's right outside my window." But something else opens up where you say, "Well, people are capable of building things that are so beautiful and serene." It's crazy.
Outside Agra we visited a village where about 75 women gathered in a circle to talk to the CARE workers. The women started singing exuberantly. One woman stood up, covered her face with her red sari, and began to dance. Anne Goddard, CARE's chief of staff, started dancing with her. Then Anne reached over and pulled the sari off her face, which was beautiful. This lady's face had so much love and gratitude. Finally, she said to Anne, "I have nothing. I work in the fields every day. But I am so happy with this life. There's so much color."
Oprah: Oh my God, that is beautiful!
Meg: Yes. During the entire trip, we talked a lot about women's lives—about all the ways women feel oppressed. Even in the first world, expectations are not as high for women as they are for men. We get that message subtly, but in the third world, it isn't subtle. Girls are isolated and encouraged not to talk to one another. A little girl we met in the Delhi slum threw up her hands and said, "I used to be so alone. But now I feel free. And I want total freedom!" Over and over, she raised her hands and yelled, "Total freedom! Total freedom! Total freedom!" Once women find a way to form community, everyone reaps the rewards.