Call me Soya…mosquito destroya. For anyone who didn’t get that reference, you should start watching GLOW on Netflix 😊 but actually, I have become a serious mosquito killer this past week. One-handed, with a shoe, two-handed, I’ve done it all. One evening, over the course of chopping one small onion, I was bitten FOURTEEN TIMES. Fourteen times in five minutes has to be a personal record I would have been happier without setting. And, I think I have decided that my special circle in hell would be trying, and failing, to sleep with mosquitoes whirring around my head. The constant mosquitoes are the biggest downside to the monsoon. The huge upside, however, is the cooler weather: if the windows are open, I sometimes wake up at night feeling…dare I say it?…chilly! In the villages, where there is a marked difference in temperature and air quality, it is very pleasant to be outside even in the middle of the day.
· Last week when I was accompanying a Dilasa worker to a field site, we got stuck in the rain for a few minutes and took shelter in a shed with some female agricultural labors. Agricultural laborers in India tend to be landless women, in contrast to the US where less than 20% of farmworkers are women. In fact, a 2011 FAO report found that across the world a full 43% of agricultural labor is undertaken by women. The same report highlighted that in India women do 30% of the labor, but I have informally heard that women do up to 80% of the labor in Maharashtra. In 2005, the Indian National Commission for Women actually found that the number and in India ranged between 55% and 66%, with several outliers. They also quoted another FAO report from 1991, which pithily illustrates the plight of some women farmers: ” In the Indian Himalayas a pair of bullocks works 1064 hours, a man 1212 hours and a woman 3485 hours in a year on a once [sic] hectare farm.” So, taking advantage of the moment and encouraged by my Dilasa counterpart, I asked the women a few questions about working in the fields and their lives when I turned the tables on them and inquired as to whether they wanted to know anything from me. One of their first questions was about how women laborers and farmers in the US fare. My travel mate was astonished that they would be thinking of such large concerns like gender around the world. Lesson learned? Never doubt the insights and perceptions of “simple” people.
· The workshop plan started as a blend of my science knowledge and an emphasis on traditional technologies through design thinking. Then, in a moment of enlightenment (and through some discussion with more experienced individuals), I realized that there was no point in trying to 1) shrink and replicate a college course I took and 2) go through so much theory and academic background for a group of people that, though they may be interested, don’t need that at the moment nor have the time to dedicate to the topic during planting season. Just this week, the workshop took another turn towards both emphasizing smaller tactics like mulching that farmers can use, describing new innovations in the field, and highlighting the roles women can play in managing the farm. Planning a curriculum is difficult even for one week…
- I think the funniest parts about being a foreigner in India are the curiosity and worry I inspire in others.
- The curiosity is easy: just like when I was in Jordan, I look, talk, and dress differently. Countless individuals have expressed their amazement that as an American graduate I came to India and, more specifically, wanted to work directly in the villages. On the one hand, I understand this amazement – my family still does not have a solid grasp on what I am doing and why (and, to be honest, I don’t always either). On the other hand, after four years at Georgetown, I have almost come to feel like this is just another average project. That was another environment that I was lucky to be a part of – full of ambitious, driven, and passionate individuals. It also seems like people are curious as to how I survive here: “what DO you eat?” “do you like it??” I’m my own one-person circus at some moments.
- To complement the curiosity is the unexpected and entertaining worry. People want to know how I like the food and what I eat, and then they ask me if it isn’t too spicy for me. Like I mentioned in my last post, women in the fields were totally shocked that I walked all the way out, and were praising my health (at least I’m told). When I arrived at the apartment the first day, my roommate sat and chatted with me, but turned the fans on full throttle. Low tolerance of heat is probably the most realistic worry for an outsider from a very air conditioned country. Thankfully though, the temperature in my house is religiously kept at 78 degrees Fahrenheit (~26 degrees Celsius) so it isn’t terribly hot indoors for me here. Who knew something all of my friends would complain about would become so handy? #ThanksMom
Highlight of the Week
The VP of Dilasa – a much less administrative, and much more hands-on person than an American may expect from her title – is the person who has helped shape my workshop the most and who is physically accompanying me to the workshop each evening to both observe and translate. This Sunday, the day my workshop started, she invited me to celebrate her nephew’s birthday with her family. It was fun just from the perspective of meeting more locals and people my age (her niece is finishing up college), but it was also super neat to see how birthdays are celebrated here. Aside from the universal cake and presents, her family had me partake in a traditional birthday blessing: the birthday boy is capped and a small bronze (I think) dish with two candles, red powder, pink sprinkles (that’s what they look like), one nut, and gold is held by the blesser – which his mother, his aunt, his sister, and myself played. Then, the blesser in sequence puts a thumbprint of powder on the birthday boy’s forehead, tosses a few sprinkles on his head, waves two half circles in front of him with the nut and then with the gold, and finally moves the whole dish in a circle in front of him. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a beautiful and short birthday wish for health and prosperity. Then we each fed him cake – that’s a tradition I would like to bring back to the US 😉 Plus, I got to eat more homemade food and hear about life in Aurangabad and her family. It’s always nice to share in somebody’s home.
Next up: the workshop!
The flora and fauna of India: