After a week and a half long blogging hiatus, I’m back in action. I started writing this post last Sunday, and I’m glad I stopped. Having just returned from my first two-day stint in Sangat (the rural village where I’m conducting research), India finally got even with me, and I cracked. I was tired of the incessant poverty I witnessed, caste-based discrimination that seemed so accepted in Sangat, never being able to choose my own food, feeling uncomfortable doing menial tasks like bathing and walking down the street and just generally missing home. Fortunately, my bout of frustration ended by Monday morning, and since then, my infatuation with India has continued to grow.
It’s been a big week and a half, but a really good one. Here are a few moments that stick out:
-Sitting on the floor of my rural host family’s warm, dark kitchen preparing dinner over a fire with my host-grandma, host-mom and host-sister
-Getting to know Mohini, a health worker who Meenal and I will work with while in Sangat. A 5 foot, 100-pound maverick, Mohini boldly disseminates reproductive health information and contraceptives in seven rural villages. She empowers women by allowing them to make their own decisions about family planning in a society where those decisions are usually decided by the husband or left undiscussed.
-Meeting the Sarpanch of Sangat. He’s the elected head of a cluster of five nearby villages; it’s a big-deal job, and his ego shows it. I thought it wise not to mention the fact that my host mom told me that he got the position by default because no one else ran for the position.
-Watching the official Indian Republic Day celebrations at the government arena. I had no idea what was happening the whole time or how we got hooked up with VIP seats, but it was fun to attend.
-Climbing the Tower of Victory at Chittorgahr Fort- we had to navigate through tiny staircases made from marble that has now become grooved smooth by the feet of thousands of visitors. Traffic goes both directions on the staircases and in some places there are no overhead lights or handrails. It really was a victory to get to the top.
-Seeing a painted elephant for the first time
-Turning in my first paper of the semester
-Cramming 14 people in an auto rickshaw built for 6 on our way to and from our first birthday dinner of the trip.
-Visiting Mohini’s house. She lives in a one-room structure made of rocks and mud with a thatched roof. Her family has one light bulb that works only certain hours of the day. She and her husband make about 6000 Rs a month (just over $100). They are rarely able to save money, but insist that all three of their children go to school.
-Riding home from Mohini’s house with Meenal. We’d called a transport service number that Mohini had given us. A man picked us up in his van, and we headed back to Sangat. On our way, we stopped at a school and before we understood what was going on, 15 first graders piled in the back seat with Meenal. Apparently the taxi van doubles as a school bus. It was an adorable surprise.
-Sitting on the roof with my host sister and her friends while Meenal napped. We struggled to communicate without Meenal’s translating help, but with their basic English and some sign language we were able to talk a little. The funniest moment came after a lot of whispering and giggling when one girl sheepishly asked me if my boyfriend and I ever hug. They thought it was hysterical when I said they we do in fact hug.
-Exploring Old City and Hathipol, two big shopping areas in Udaipur, after school
-Attending four wedding-related events:
Wednesday- Sangeet in Udaipur (Bachelorette Party equivalent for the bride’s 300 closest friends and relatives…the cousin of one of the program managers is getting married, so 14 of us milked the connection and attended)
Thursday- wedding reception with my host parents at a resort 30 minutes outside of Udaipur. By far the nicest wedding I’ve attended so far- strawberries, kiwis, brownies and ice cream, Chinese food (think I’m craving food from home a little?) At one point, the bride and groom were raised on a rotating platform as music blared, lights flashed and confetti guns went off; it was really like an Indian-wedding version of a Coldplay concert.
Friday- pre-wedding party (complete with dancing- see below videos) in the village.
Saturday- wedding day in Sangat. Meenal and I were invited to attend the ceremony, but had to leave to do research after the groom arrived on horseback followed by all his family and friends. When we returned six hours later, the wedding was still going on, so we attended for the last five hours. Every part of the process was steeped in tradition. The saddest part came at the end of the night during the vidai when the 20-year old bride said goodbye to all of her family and friends in the village; she’s lived in Sangat (a tight-knit community of 100 families) her whole life and has not gotten to know the groom or his family with whom she’ll be spending the rest of her life. The wedding was really fun to watch, but the vidai was overwhelmingly sad.
-Getting mehndi/henna done by Pinky, a new friend we’ve made in Sangat. Pinky is friends with my host sister and is the resident mehndi expert in the village; the night before, she spent 5+ hours painting the bride’s arms/legs.
-Returning home to my host family in Udaipur, relieved to be back and ready for a warm bucket shower (I can only get cold bucket showers in Sangat) and Deepti’s cooking.
When I started this post last Sunday, I wanted to write about Indian culture, making a sweeping claim about how its survival has been prioritized over the country’s economic development. But I still have no idea about India as a whole. I’ve been here a month now, which is halfway through my stay and long enough to know a little bit about the little bit of India I’ve seen and experienced. India’s an incredible, beautiful, vibrant, loud, unjust, and smelly place. And it’s constantly surprising me. While I don’t know much, I am slowly learning that the only way to navigate it without going crazy is to just relish its beautiful aspects and roll with its frustrating ones. It’s been an incredible four weeks. And now with my sanity renewed and my blog up to date, I’m back in action and ready for another month of Indian adventures.