Ritu Primlani is the founder and executive director of Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education, a nonprofit that, among other things, provides environmental education to ethnic restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area. She is a fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program.

Monday, 19 May 2003

BERKELEY, Calif.

Lately I have had the urge to pray. Not that I am religious at all; just that I’ve been feeling rather fortunate in the blessings department. It’s Monday morning and I’m thinking of my work with ethnic restaurants. My organization, Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education, works on greening ethnic restaurants, and what a blessing that is!

Speaking, eating, and working with Burmese, Thai, Ethiopian, French, Mediterranean, Indian, Persian, Tibetan, African-American, Moroccan, and Ethiopian people — where else in the world but the San Francisco Bay area could I have such wonderful experiences? Cleaning up footprints from the Earth, talking in many tongues, and regarding the faces of the greatest cultures of the world with love everyday — these are many of the blessings in my life.

To give you a sense of how much I enjoy what I do for a living, let me share some memories. I remember once going on an assessment to Ahlishan, an Indian restaurant, and chatting with the owner, Sarabjit Kaur. She wore a bright orange and olive angora sleeveless sweater. It looked wonderful on her, and I said so. She replied, “Isn’t it gorgeous? My mother-in-law made it in Italy. It took six years to knit it, since we couldn’t locate the wool for the rest of the sweater.” And then she excused herself and went to the kitchen. She changed her shirt, came back, and handed me the sweater and told me to keep it. I am bowed down with the love and generosity of the people at the restaurants I work with.

A similar incident occurred at Thai Delight, a restaurant owned by Toy and Tuanchai Supsuwan, a lovely Thai couple. Frequently, when I went in, Toy was wearing a Thai shirt that I loved. One day, I sidled up to him and crooned, “Toy, that’s a lovely shirt. It would look wonderful on me.” He looked at me and said, “This old shirt! Get new shirt, this too old! If you like old, take me!” I gently reminded him that if I took him, Tuanchai would be upset with me. Anyway, it was the shirt I wanted.

After about five visits and much gentle pressure, I sat down with Tuanchai and said, “Tuanchai, you know I am going to take that shirt from that husband of yours.” Tuanchai said, “He has actually washed it, ironed it, and kept it for you. I’ll go get it.” She went home and got it, and I got my beloved shirt. In return, I gave Toy a brand-new Indian kurta in green (his favorite color); he said he looked like a maharaja. And the darnedest thing is, every time I wear his shirt, the Thai people claim it as theirs, and the Indians tell me I’m wearing a lovely Indian shirt. Frayed buttons and all.