62 hours. That’s how long I spent without my bag. Between an 18-hour plane journey, a full day of touring in Delhi, a 12-hour night train ride, and a day of formal orientation meetings with our local hosts, I wore one pair of clothes. That is I wore the same sweatshirt, sports bra, pants, socks and shoes; I was able to change my shirt and underwear once.
By the time my bag finally arrived yesterday morning, it had begun to take on human qualities in my mind. I kept wondering how it was doing, where it was, who it was with. All I wanted was to hug it and have it with me. I still have no idea how it got from Delhi to Udaipur: by 16-hour car ride, by overnight train, or by the plane rides that fly between the cities only once a day.At this point, I don’t know and don’t care. We’ve been reunited!
After I got the call at 9:30 AM that my bag was waiting for me downstairs, things just kept getting better. I ran downstairs and changed into a fresh outfit before our orientation session began at 10. Yesterday’s orientation sessions revolved around the fieldwork we’ll be doing in rural villages. We met with our co-researcher, NGO field-based worker, and NGO mentors to discuss our upcoming work.
Duke has set up a whole network of support systems here for us. Every student is connected to five different sources of local support. The first is our co-researcher. Meenal is the name of my co-researcher. She’s an MBA student at a university in Udaipur. She and I will live together for the two weeks that we work in the rural village, and she’ll help me with translation. She’s been incredibly nice so far and has invited to take me shopping this weekend.
Next, I’ve been partnered with a field-based worker from ARTH, the NGO I’ve been partnered with. I’ve been paired with Mohini, a 40-something year-old woman from a rural village nearby where I’ll be staying during my village homestay. Mohini has worked with ARTH for the past 5 years, so she’ll help me coordinate interviews with appropriate village members and leaders.
Thirdly, I’ll work with my NGO mentors. Dr. Kirti and Dr. Sharad founded Action Research Training for Health (ARTH) in 1997. ARTH works to improve underprivileged communities’ access to health care, and they focus especially on women and children’s health in the area surrounding Udaipur where a large portion of the population comes from scheduled tribes and castes. Dr. Kirti and Dr. Sharad, a husband-wife duo, will be my mentors for my research project (eventually, I’ll just be assigned to one of them once my project takes shape). They’re also going to be my professors for one of my two classes here. They’re big shots in the NGO world here, so I’m really lucky to get to soak up their wisdom both in class and with this project.
Finally, I’ll stay with two different homestay families here: one in Udaipur and one in a rural village. Yesterday, I met my Udaipur host family. My host dad, Ajay, and host brother, Matrieya (apparently everyone calls him Golu, though) picked me up at the hotel where I’d been having orientation. The three of us ate lunch together and then we went back to their house where I met my host mom, Deepti.
The Sharmas live in a cute house on the edge of Udaipur. I have my own room here that functions as sort of a guesthouse; it has its own door from the outside and its own bathroom. I share a wall with the house, but have to walk just a couple yards on their outdoor corridor to get into the main house. Two minor shocks, my bathroom only has a squat toilet and a bucket bath meaning I will not sit on a toilet seat or take a proper shower for the next two months. Yikes.
I’ll get used to it, though, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. What’s more important is that my host family is nice and welcoming, which they definitely are. The Sharmas have hosted over 10 “interns” (that’s what they keep calling their exchange students) over the past three years. After Golu left for university in Jaipur, a town close to 200 miles away, Ajay and Deepti started taking in exchange students, so they’ll usually have a guest in this room seven months out of the year. That makes me feel really reassured. First of all, if they were terrible host parents, someone would have written something in an evaluation. Secondly, being a good host definitely takes practice. We hosted four exchange students (three for just a couple of weeks and one, Athena, for five months) during high school, and as we got more and more practice, we felt more comfortable with what to do and how to make them more at home.
Last night after Ajay returned from work around 5:30, he, Deepti and I sat down for tea. Golu was napping, so it was just the three of us. We chatted some and then Deepti went to rest before starting to prepare dinner. She told me to go unpack and get settled in. At 8:30, we all reconvened in the main house for dinner. When I walked in Golu was sitting on a mat on the marble living room floor. I asked if this is where they eat. He looked up kind of surprised. He told me that they could find me a chair to sit in. I insisted that this was just fine. He smiled and pointed to one corner of the carpet. “Sit there,” he instructed. “That’s where all of our interns sit.”
Ajay brought in thin metal plates and bowls and sat down next to me. Deepti gave us a cucumber and tomato salad, a bowl of dal and a pot of rice before returning to the kitchen. Ajay served me, and then he and Golu served themselves. We began to eat. Deepti kept cooking, bringing out fresh chapatti as it came off the stove. Apparently, chapatti is a bread group of which naan is a specific type. To me, chapatti is indistinguishable from naan; it’s a thick, white bread that looks kind of like a pita, but fluffier. It’s delicious. After she was done making chapatti, she sat down with us and ate.
After dinner, we cleaned up and then Ajay and I talked about his daily routine. He wakes up every morning at 5:30 and goes walking at a nearby field at 6:30 (I may try to join him next week). After returning from his walk, he reads the paper and gets ready for work then takes Deepti to the bus stop at 9:30. He returns to the house to eat breakfast before leaving for work at 10:15. He comes home for lunch at 1, takes a 20-minute “siesta” (yes, he called it a siesta) and returns to work at 2:30. He’ll usually come home around 5:30 for tea. Dinner’s at 8:30. Afterward, he likes to watch TV and go to sleep.
Ajay works at the Institute of Agriculture in town and holds a position in the livestock side of things. From the sounds of it, his branch advises farmers on proper livestock farming techniques and oversees agriculture matters throughout the district. Deepti is a teacher at a public school an hour away. I asked her if there wasn’t a closer school she could teach at, but it sounds like this one is better academically, and she likes it, so I didn’t push further. She leaves for work at 9:30 and returns home at 5:30. It surprised me how short both Ajay and Deepti’s workdays are, but I guess that’s just the way things are run around here. Deepti also wakes up at 5:30 every morning. She makes breakfast, packs lunch for everyone, and cleans the house. Golu is a third-year at university in Jaipur. He’s studying engineering and will return to school in a few days once his holiday break is over.
The three of them have been incredibly nice so far. I feel so lucky to have been placed with them…it doesn’t hurt that they’ve invited to me to join them for two weddings while I’m here. So my bag came and I met my host family. Reunited and united- It feels so good.