Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Rural India Homestay: Kamcheepuram

On day 2, Alexa and I got in an auto-rickshaw after some rough bartering and did some shopping in a local market area. I bought bangles with gold on them, which are made from glass and are commonly worn by women here. I also bought a sari, which is what all the women wear here daily – especially in the south as it is very conservative. The ladies at the store wrapped me in it and I left wearing my sari over my clothes, but took it off in the rickshaw because it was thick and hard to move around in, and I was very hot.
        I quickly packed my back for my overnight home-stay in rural India with a company working to eradicate child labor. I threw an unopened deck of cards in my bag as a gift to the family I’d visit because it was all I had to give. After grabbing a PB&J at lunch, I went to the union to meet the others in my SAS trip – and realized that Tam was on the same trip! I don’t know how we hadn’t realized it sooner… but we hang out with the same people and are getting to be good friends, so I was excited to see her there.
        About 30 of us showed up and boarded the bus. I fell asleep for an hour, and chatted with Tam for the other hour and a half. We went through smaller cities and towns until we arrived in what could be considered a suburb of Kamcheepuram, the silk capital of India. A female Indian guide took us through the village of colorful buildings and dirt roads and showed us the building where we would be sleeping so we could set down our overnight bags. I was bummed realizing I wouldn’t stay with a family, but was still excited to be there. We went back downstairs and several women had arrived in saris with flowers that they pinned in our hair (I pinned mine on my shirt!). They served tea, which I couldn’t drink because tea and coffee here are made with milk rather than water.
        At about 4:30, we left for a very rural village to visit a “bridge school.” We had a male guide, who was our female guide’s husband, and he explained to us that the homestay was with a program he’d started called RIDE, which works to empower women in the work force and terminate child labor. They’d started these “bridge schools” to help kids transition from a life of dangerous work to a life of growing and education. The schools are open in the afternoons and evenings, much like a Boys and Girls club would be in Los Angeles. There is a school room, a sand area outdoors to play in and an outdoor stage.
        When we arrived, all the children had lined up on either side of the entrance. They had flowers and loose petals in their hands. We all stood staring, hesitant to move, and they stared right back at us. We took bold steps between the lines, and the children started cheering and handing us their flowers, throwing petals over our head so excitedly! They were so colorful, shy and smiling. It was so touching that they were as excited to have us as we were to be there. There was one teacher at the school, and a volunteer teacher from Germany who was19 yrs old and living in the building where we were to stay the night. There were about 70 children.
        They ran ahead of us around the corner to the stage and piled up there. We arranged ourselves in front of them and our guide told us that we should play with each other, so we did! It was so much fun.. hokie pokie, duck-duck-goose, jump-roping.. it was like being a kid again. It was hard to think that these smiling little people spend the day under rough machinery in terrible conditions; they were so bright and happy that it seemed impossible. As it got dark, we headed into the classroom and sat on the floor with them. Several kids got up and sang, which was so cute. I have no idea what they were saying. There was a huge language barrier as none of them spoke English.
        We left shortly thereafter, and they all waved at us yelling “byee!” as we piled onto the bus. We were served an Indian dinner at RIDE headquarters which was spicy and delicious, and had a presentation afterwards by the other German volunteer staying there named Alex. She is a teacher in a different village, and explained how the teachers require that students come to school in clean uniforms and with flowers in their hair. India’s big on flowers. She said that during her walk through the village to school, many parents will pass their children off to her to walk to school together and that she was happy they were beginning to trust her with their kids. I can’t imagine moving into rural India to volunteer without friends or being able to speak the local language.
        We got into bed by 10. There were cots and floor mats set up for us, so Tam and I took the floor. Each floor had 1 large room with about 10 beds in it, and it was not hard to fall asleep through the chatter after such an exhausting day.
        We woke up at 7:30, had breakfast and were on the bus in an hour. Our guide took us to another rural village. They were expecting us, and there were drums beating as we approached the temple in the village square. The women of the village gave us flowers and adorned our foreheads with a spot of red powder and a spot of deliciously floral-smelling yellow liquid. We were separated into smaller groups and taken around the village in different directions. There were excited children everywhere, and the people of the village followed us, parading us down the dirt roads. There were open sewers on either side of the roads like we had seen in Ghana, though less structured.
The people were eager to take us into their homes and show us what they had and how they lived, even though it was very minimal. Their hospitality was exceptional. There was a TV in every home. It was unexpected and fascinating – this was a higher priority than a bed. The government had provided a bathroom, but they preferred to use pots they’d set up in between homes. The homes were built from clay and mud with palm-leaf rooves. No one spoke English. We spent about 3 hours exploring their small town, and left at around noon to go back to RIDE.
On the way back, we stopped at the village potter’s home to see how he works. He uses a wheel with a prong that he sticks into a mound in the ground. Once it starts spinning, it doesn’t stop! It was amazing. The wheel was very unbalanced, and I can’t imagine trying to throw a pot on that thing. He made several right before our eyes, and I bought one for 20Rupees before we left. We grabbed lunch at RIDE and said goodbye to our hosts, and piled onto the bus to Chennai at about 2 pm.
We drove for an hour until we stopped at a silk factory. It was in the top floor of a small building, and was a company that RIDE had impacted by removing children and replacing them with their mothers. We all bought silk scarves from that shop which was neat, because even though we paid a little more than our friends did in the markets.. we knew that we weren’t supporting child labor.
We finished the drive quickly. Everyone on the bus fell asleep, including me. Tam and I raced off the bus and onto the ship together. We met back up after a shower with Megan and Kali in Tymitz Square for dinner. I’d run into Alexa, so the 5 of us headed out to a local restaurant.
The food was delicious, but a bug crawled up the wall next to my face as I shoveled chicken into my mouth – which reminded me to look around and realize what kind of place I was in. Luckily, I didn’t get sick in India – I’m surprised.. it must have had something to do with all of the Pepto I’ve been taking. Alexa and I packed for our overnight trip to the Taj Mahal, for which we would have to wake up at 3:30 am. India is exhausting, and though I only slept for about 5 hours – I slept hard.

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