Sunday, March 13

"P" is for Peacock

Wow. I am not shocked by the culture here, but I am shocked by how much a person can experience in eight hours. I am laying in my bed right now curled up with my iPod trying to ignore the pressure in my bladder. Nothing is the same here. I was carefully guided through last night's events, but I am not quite ready to learn the bathroom routine of my host family.

I have a private room here but it's not my own. It's a storage room of sorts and it has many guests including buzzing flies, a noisy and outgoing lizzard, two chirping crickets, and temporarily a kid of the goat variety.

Now to the beginning. We arrived in Jodhpur, Sambhali Trust headquarters, a couple days before setting out to Setrawa, our rural project site. A young South African girl from England warmly welcomed us to the Jodhpur site which is the most inviting and comfortable guest house I've been to anywhere and is also the location of the Jodhpur empowerment projects. She had been in Setrawa for one month and shared with us everything she knew. We spent the rest of that day and the next preparing supplies and relaxing. We put the WiFi to good use; I secured my place at UBC graduate school and we both sent final farewells to our folks. The land of English speaking Indians, western toilets, and Internet seems like another world now. 

My first impressions are fleeting as it is now Tuesday. My schedule here is more controlled than I anticipated. My family tells me where to sit, how much to eat, when to shower, what to wear and everything else. I find that I am infinitely grateful for this, because these are not decisions I know how to make in rural India ( although I disagree about how much I have to eat). Even now I am pulled away. It is now Tuesday night and I've left the wedding celebrations early to type this with my host family under the impression I am sleeping.

It surprises me how much I have been thrusted into this incredible cultural experience. I am laying in bed bloated on Indian food, decorated with a Bindi dot, and smelling of Pushpa's perfume. When we left Jodhpur it was under the direction of a Sambhali Trust employee who bargained our rickshaw, handed us to the ticket sales people and shoved us into the arms of the bus conductor. All things Jen and I can and have done repeatedly on our own in India. The spoon feeding briefly ends there as after a three hour bus ride to the middle of nowhere the conductor booted us off the bus leaving us on an empty highway with our packs next to a sign that reads in Hindi and English, "Sambhali Trust, 3 km --> ." After a couple jeeps loaded up our fellow Indian highway hitch hikers without us, we decided to make the three kilometer trek to Setrawa. What I haven't mentioned yet is that we were in the dessert and our packs were very large and heavy.

Fortunately we made it and avoided any mirage causing illnesses. A tuktuk with customers already in it took pity on us and brought us to the only white person in Setrawa. Julia is a German volunteer and a quintessential hippi finishing up her final week of service. She kindly walked us to our new school where we were ceremoniously greeted with Hindi blessings by two of the girls. We had chai, of course, and then listened to rhymes and prayers of the 20 or so girls who had been waiting all day for our arrival. Their small Indian girl voices were so charming that I was instantly in love. 

Our school has three covered rooms, one which also has walls, and two other areas where we can gather. Although it is very warm here and daily hotter, the open learning space remains fairly cool as we sit on the cold stone floor in the shade for the most part. The building is a converted home complete with a washroom and kitchen. The front space has a delightfully soft sand floor that our principal, Moosingh, threatens to plant grass over. The walls are a charming and play school appropriate sky blue. It is the responsibility of the volunteers to add decorative painting and hang art on the walls. I am looking forward to making a mural of a peacock. 

After games and warm greetings from the girls I was introduced to the ultimate maternal character: Pushpa, my new mother. She characteristically greeted me with an offer for chai. I barely had time to put my bags down before she had food on a plate for me. I was then shown the family photos. Many were taken by and of the previous volunteers who lived here. Pushpa has assured me that she cured them of the same malnourished look that she says I am also plagued with. This was done in broken Hindi and charades since her only English words are "tasty" and "no problem?". Measuring my progress in chipates, she has promised to get me up to a respectable five from my meager 2.5 and I think whe has also promised me arms twice as thick as mine. Today I learnt that former volunteer, Lilly, disrupted her treatment through exercise in the form of a morning walk. I pray for strength in saying "no" to the most delicious food in the world. I will continue this note later, my hand is cramping up from typing on this iPod.

The village of Setrawa reportedly has 3000 people, but I'd guess there is less than 300 buildings including the market shops, many of which are fabric suspended between bamboo poles. To account for the 3000 people there are many children in each home, but I would not be surprised if animals were also included in the census. After all, cows are treated as holy and goats as family. Barns do not exist here and livestock persistently sneak into homes. My family has two goats that live in our living room. It is a full time job playing gatekeeper and literally kicking out the neighbor's goats. And oh my goodness! JUST now as I was writing this note in the back classroom I investigated a noise. A damn goat just snuck in and got ahold of one of our brooms. I chased him away, but he has gotten away with one of our straw brooms.

Then, there is of course, the stray dogs that accompany dust and debris in all impoverished communities. The pitiable dogs are typically scared of humans and lay about decorating 'street' corners and doorways. Finally, there are the birds. Some houses have roofs, but many don't and all have generous skylights (power outages are nearly daily). The birds take advantage of these opening to come in and build their nests in our homes (including a nest in my room and on the fan spinning above me now at school). Most impressive and least aggressive of these are the wild peacocks that grave the rooftops and garbage piles of Setrawa. The iconic bird holds an honorable position in the classroom as "P" for Peacock in the alphabet and is one of the first words the children learn in English.


  1. It sounds like you are taking the new experiences in stride very well. Next time tell us a bit about what you'll be doing there. The whole thing sounds completely and wonderfully foreign. Your writing is awesome! Take care. Chris W.

  2. Thanks for the beautiful account of your first days in Setrawa. I can't imagine my little princess sharing a room with crickets, flies and goats. I hope the food agrees with you. I guess there's no hot tub to sit in when you get stomach cramps. Are there enough blankets on your bed and do you sleep well? Take care and we look forward to your next post. Love Mom and Dad

  3. Wow! What experiences you have had. You made me laugh with your last post. The animal antics sound incredible. I am glad you love the girls and I am very sure they will love you! Will you be teaching them some English? Your description of the classroom sounds amazing and I hope you are taking pictures. You won't be able to gain any weight because it sounds like you will be shooing the goat out much of the time! Glad you love Pushpa! Hugs, C. Berg.