India: from a city of ten million to a farm run by four.
On February 7th, Michael and I braved the Colombo airport one last time and made our way to Bangalore or Bengaluru, a city in South India with an estimated ten million people living in it. Thankfully and weirdly, our first experience with an Indian metropolis was not the crazy, hectic, ‘India’ experience that people normally talk about but went incredibly smooth. This is due to 1. the orderliness of the Bangalore airport and 2. my friend Ashwin told his mom we were coming and she and Ramu (her driver) picked us up at the airport. Our first four days in India were filled with great food, huge city sights, and PARENTS. Ashwin’s parents took great care of us and supplied us with toothpaste and blankets and all those parent things parents do. It was fantastic.
We hit up the hippest place in Bangalore – the new Krispy Kreame on Church Street, and sat in a coffee shop late into the evening. Bangalore was a fantastic introduction to INDIA, if not short and sheltered. From what we experienced there all I can tell you is something I learned in Nigeria: in places like India everything is possible and nothing is possible simultaneously. If someone tries to tell you ‘not possible’ there is surely a way to work around it. And if something is surely possible, India will find a way to drive a wrench in that plan. But most of all this is because it is HUGE. However, flying into a city of ten million always feels somewhat ordered, if that can be possible. Millions of people walking and breathing and eating and living together. Obviously with that many people there are going to be problems and great inovation at the same time. It’s always both fun and hectic to watch that progress. And the money. Woah, there is a lot of money in Bangalore and a lot of ‘potential money’ to be made.
Funny story time! What we learned the most from in Bangalore was the relationship between the Warriors and their driver, Ramu. Ramu is a kind-hearted, extremely talkative man. The Warriors and Ramu and his wife (who cooks for the Warriors as well) are from quite different walks of life. The Warriors have spent over 35 years in the US and still live there part of the year. Ramu and his wife are from separate villages, married cross-caste, and are of a lower socio-economic branch altogether from the Warriors. So anyway, there was a huge concern because Ramu scratched his eye one day and Mrs. Warrior insisted he go to the hospital. But he says ‘no I got it taken care of’ and disappears for an hour in the morning. When we see him again they ask him where he went and he says he found the village cure for his eye. When asked what that was he says the breast milk of a lactating woman. They laughed and asked him where he really was. He says it’s no joke, he found the woman in his apartment and asked her, but that his eye still hurt and could he please go to the hospital now.
He was quite a character. His way of holding himself illustrates the differences across socio-economic cultures here.
So four days after we arrived we were back on the bus. We took a night bus at 7 PM from Bangalore (stopped at 11 PM at the grossest bathrooms I’ve seen in my life in the middle of nowhere) and arrived in Sirsi at 5:30 AM in the morning. We got off and stood around for a while in the one street lamp until one man on a motorcycle buzzed through the little city (approx. 100,000 people) and turned all the street lamps off, leaving us alone in the dark. Uncertain we walked around the town for a while.
It was not the India you imagine, with the crazy bustle and immense trash and shit lining the streets, the horrible poverty or wealthy corrupt businessmen and politicians. This India was pleasant and drowsy; a farm town waking. A man hurriedly rushed past us to open his shop and we bought some sweets called ‘barfi’ from him and his wife. We walked past little post offices and tuk tuk taxis kindly asked us if we were lost. Soon our friend’s taxi driver Muthalyf showed up to pick us up and we were off to the rainforest.
So I guess the backstory on this is that a professor at Seattle University (Dr. Serena Cosgrove) recommended we go visit a woman she had met in Seattle named Sunita. Sunita runs a woman’s seed collaborative named Vanastree (http://www.vanastree.org/) . We didn’t know much about it… or seeds for that matter but thought it would be a good experience and we offered to help her out with anything she needed around her farm. So about 16 Km from Sirsi we arrived at her farm. She had three cows, two dogs, lived with a farmhand and his wife, and had lovely houses she ran herself built from brick and mud.
Sunita is an incredibly busy, powerful, thoughtful and overbook woman. So basically what vanastree does is a crossover between women empowerment, ecology, politics, biology, etc. So what vanastree does is brings together women from all different villages in Karnataka to share knowledge and seeds. The effort is multifold. First, this ensures local biodiversity which means feeding people nutritious food, planting non-invasive seeds, and ensures that the locally grown goods keep growing instead of foreign ‘cash crops’ not meant for the climate or ground. Secondly, this empowers the women that participate by giving them another source of income by selling seeds and a way to help the community grow.
For a week we stayed with Sunita and two other US volunteers, meeting the women, helping in the office and even doing farm work (YES I did farm work!). We also participated in a homestay in the rain forest (I don’t even know where we were) in which we went on chaotic treks and ate with a farmer and his family. It was a powerful experience in rural India unlike anything I’d ever done before.
So anyway now we are finally in Goa. Goa generally has the reputation for awful and beautiful at the same time. There are more tourist here than I’ve ever seen and many locals dislike this. For me, I’m not a big fan of the beach already and the trash and overweight Russian look really doesn’t appeal. BUT thankfully our Goa experience has been wonderful and this is due to our fascinating hosts.
For the last three weeks we have been staying with people we know. In Sri Lanka we stayed with a politician of the opposition in Colombo, then Ashwin’s parents, then Sunita, and now John and Deepa. I couldn’t even tell you how we met John and Deepa but let’s just say friends of friends. They are amazing. And I’m not sure how we ended up here.
So we are staying in North Goa in a gorgeous house with two ex- World Bank senior advisers. They are incredibly fascinating people. Read about Deepa (deepanarayan.com) who was named one of Times top 100 global thinkers in 2011 for ‘seeing the poor as people.’ Their life stories and thoughts are beautiful and listening to them talk and discuss has been a treat. Both retired now, Deepa is becoming somewhat of an activist. She just wrote this piece about the Delhi gangrape and the ‘missing women’ phenomenon in India: http://www.epaperoheraldo.in/Details.aspx?edorsup=Main&queryed=9&querypage=24&boxid=3757609&id=6921&eddate=09/16/2012
Hilariously and ironically, Deepa for all her skill is quite new to technology and social networking. Last night during a conversation she was telling us about a female student protesting in Delhi after the rapes were starting to be reported. The woman was taken into custody by the police for protesting (which usually means assault and even rape in some cases) but as it was happening she live-tweeted her capture. By the time the cops had reached the police station, hundreds of lawyers and activists had gathered outside. Deepa says if she plans on writing controversial articles, she wants this kind of support. So Michael and I have spent the past couple of days setting up her facebook and twitter, and advertising her article by changing settings and adjusting things that will allow the most people to reach her and vice versa. Already, from only a couple friends on facebook, we have gotten dozens of comments, loads of shares and likes for the article and other related writings.
Tomorrow we leave for Hampi and from now on out literally EVERYTHING IS UNPLANNED. Guys, we have no plan. But that’s good! Scary and freeing. We’ll be in Mumbai (Bombay) by the end of this week.
It’s freeing and frightening. I guess the theme of the last couple weeks has been a mesh of time concerns. I have been thinking oddly enough on buses and trains more and more about who I am and where I am going. When you meet new people all the time when you’re traveling their first questions are always ‘who are you’ or more tricky for me ‘why are you here?’ I feel lots of times you have to construct an image of yourself when you meet new people and it’s forced me to think about this because honestly, my answer is never the same or totally true. When people find out I was in Africa earlier this year they are more confused, why are you here now? Sometimes, I really don’t know. I miss Nigeria. And it impacted me greatly.
Besides my past, I look forward a lot too, and think about school and changing my major and jobs and what fellowship I’ll apply for next. My mind swims to construct ‘the next Logan’ almost – who will I be? who will schools and jobs and people want me to be?
But if Sri Lanka and India taught me anything it is living presently is one of the hardest, most rewarding, and challenging things to do. Mindfulness sounds easy – clearing your mind of all thoughts? Not thinking? But it’s actually excruciatingly painful. I’m thinking so much. About what I can do for poverty here, in the US, in the world, women’s rights, politics corruption, the challenges, etc. Being mindful is hard but useful and for me I believe, will make this experience more useful as well one day for ways of looking at the past, seeing the future, and living presently.
P.S. You can tell the last photo post was Michael because 2/3 of it was just farm pets.