Beloved: The Story of Salome

Nagaland lies in the extreme Northeast of India, just off the border with Burma. With a population of two million, it is the smallest federal state of India and even many Indians (let alone foreigners) have never heard of it.

A typical hilltop village in Nagaland. Source:

Most likely, we wouldn’t have written about her either, if we hadn’t met Salome. Salome is a thirteen-year-old girl who now lives in the First Love Ministries community in Calcutta, along with eighteen other orphaned or abandoned girls.

War of Independence

Just as Salome’s story is dramatic, so is the history of her land.

As a state, Nagaland was founded in 1963 and consists of 16 tribal communities that are more-or-less cut-off from the world and live in the country’s higher, mountainous parts.

The media did not often report on the war and the fighting that had been raging in this territory until recently. The guerrilla army and the movement for an independent, free, Greater Nagaland often clashed with Indian soldiers.

More than 200,000 Nagalens and many Indian soldiers were killed in the war.

Bounty hunters

The tribal villages in the mountainous part of the country are known for something else. According to ‘bounty hunters’. The so-called ‘Headhunters’ are trained warriors whose greatest prestige and recognition is represented by the severed enemy’s head, proudly placed on a pole in front of their houses.

Headhunter in Nagaland – for some an attraction, for others a painful memory. Source: Youtube.

A scene that marks

Salome also comes from such a village (Khaibhung). If some tourists go to this part of India just to see how the infamous bounty hunters live, and if some travel agencies also include this in their offerings, believe me, Salome cultivates for them anything but admiration and approval.

She was three years old when her father was beheaded due to an inter-tribal rivalry – in front of her eyes! Those child’s eyes saw the knife cut through her father’s neck and his corpse lie on the floor in front of her.

Life in poverty

Even before this tragic event, they lived in poverty, but after the death of their father, it only deepened as the mother took care of her children with great difficulty.

Salome says they never had any money and were hungry. They could only afford one meal a day, most often rice with red chili.

It is clear that the mother was in great distress after the loss of her husband. But she was all that was left for the children. It represented their only security, the only thing they could cling to.

Where’s mom?

One morning, Salome got out of bed to make tea for the family. When she wanted to wake her mother, she found only pillows under her sheets.

Mom set them up so as not to arouse suspicion, then ran away from home and never came back. The children were left alone, frightened, and completely lost.

‘Salome is still talking about it today. She often has nightmares when she dreams of her mother’s escape,’ Indian educator and foster home manager Asha told us.

Ignored and neglected

The abandoned children were first taken in by grandparents, who left them to relatives who also lived in Nagaland. But for Salome, it was a more challenging ordeal.

Salome (foreground, right) with other children at lunch.

She found it challenging to adapt to her new circumstances. Besides, her caregivers neglected her and focused only on her older siblings, who were old enough to help with household chores.

‘I’ve always wanted to be an older sister,’ Salome once confided to us. ‘If you’re older, others respect you more and treat you better.’

She found her home

For Salome, the situation in the house became so unbearable that she ran away from home. She was only six years old! She was eventually found in the city, but relatives decided to keep only her brother and sister from now on.

Distant relatives Anila and Asha of Calcutta decided to adopt Salome and help her find the right path in life.

She joined their family, two biological children, and one already adopted girl, on July 7, 2010.

Here is what Asha says of her arrival:

Salome on the first day, she came to her new family. The picture was taken after she was washed and dressed in new clothes.

‘When Salome came to us, she spoke nothing but her own tribal language, so at first, we couldn’t communicate at all. She told us things, but we didn’t understand her.

She was dirty and completely neglected. When she first washed herself, she didn’t know what soap was for and how it was used. The old, dried skin was literally torn from her.’

Like a wounded bird

Anil and Asha cared for her as best as they could. The girl was actually not used to even those basic things that are completely self-evident for most children at this age.

‘She was confused when she saw the egg on the plate. She had never eaten it before.

She didn’t know how to sleep on the bed, as they always slept on the floor at home. The first night she fell out of bed and only the third night did she manage to stay on it until morning,’ Asha remembers.

But slowly, little by little every day, she was getting stronger. Like a wounded bird coming into the hands of a good man to feed and strengthen it.

Painful memories

Despite the fact that Salome has found her new home and loving adoptive parents, memories of the past haunt her and she still occasionally relives feelings of abandonment, sadness, and anger.

Asha remembers how one night, a little girl dreamed that Jesus took all the people on earth to Himself, only leaving her outside. She shivered and cried in her sleep that night. She calmed down only after her new parents assured her that they would never leave her.

So many gifts!

Salome (second from the Left), with other girls before the dance performance.

Today, Salome is 13 years old and is the oldest of the adopted children in the family. She is of above-average intelligence, capable, and talented. She loves to learn, is diligent, and knows how to work hard.

She is among the best in school, and he excels most in art. She has an extraordinary gift for drawing, painting, and singing.

As Anil and Asha say, they still can’t believe that this is the little girl who once looked into their eyes so scared, hungry, and neglected and looked for the humanity in them who would accept and love her.

God answered

‘God granted my request. I asked him to become an older child and look today! I have as many as seventeen younger sisters!’ Salome proudly told us.

The girl has developed a special sense of other people and has a great gift for leadership. She helps her sisters learn. Sometimes she leads a common prayer, singing, and dancing, which is her great passion.

The greatest gift

A game of trust. Salome has an experience of God’s faithfulness and goodness.

But of all these, she is endowed with a strong faith in God and an insatiable longing for His word. Such profound things as Salome knows how to share with others, a man usually does not hear from a thirteen-year-old girl.

Faith in God is a gift. It cannot be obtained by one’s own hand. But for faith to remain in man, to deepen and strengthen, cooperation is needed.

Faith is the fruit of life’s trials, the inevitable moments of pain, and at the same time, it is the ability to make pain meaningful and to give it to the Lord.

As the great Bengali poet Tagore said:

‘Leave all burdens in the hands of him who can bear; never look back, and don’t be sorry! ‘

Together with Salome at Ark Home. 

I don’t forget you!

Painful life experiences taught Salome very early on to transfer weight to the cross of Jesus. And her positive experience of loving people like Anil and Asha strengthens her in the belief that God has not forsaken her and remains faithful to her.

After all, we have His promise:

“Does a wife forget her baby so as not to have mercy on the son of her body? And if she forgot him too: I don’t forget you!”

(Isa 49:15)

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