Monsoon, Monsoon, Go Away, Come Again Another Day

Posted on September 20th, 2009 by

Hello all!

This is Catherine Keith (a sophomore) writing on behalf of our group.

This week was definitely packed. I don’t even know where to begin!

On Sunday night, we left beautiful Visthar for the train station in Bangalore. We hopped onto an authentic Indian sleeper train and prepared for 10 hours of slumbering heaven–or not. Some people were lulled to sleep by the “gentle” rocking of the train, and others were merely thrashed into the wall. (I actually slept fine, contrary to how this sounds.) At about 7:30 AM, we arrived in Koppal, which is a city in northern Karnataka.

Our main purpose for being in Koppal was to help in the construction of another school that Visthar is working on. This school is also aiming to rescue young girls from the Devidasi system of temple prostitution. Eventually, they would also like to have 50 boys there, being rescued from lives as child laborers. It was definitely an honor to be included in the beginning processes of such an amazing place.

Our intention was to spend most of the week helping with construction and other labor at the school site. However, the monsoon decided to kick in unexpectedly. The Koppal area has been declared as being in a drought, and usually the monsoons there end by July anyway, so it was pretty crazy that it was raining so much while we were there. It was a blessing for the struggling agricultural workers in that area, but it hindered our ability to help at the site.

You may think that we had a laid-back and uneventful week since we weren’t able to build much, but that was not the case. Our leaders did an awesome job finding extremely eye-opening, exciting, and interesting things for us to do. We went from place to place constantly, but our time was managed unbelievably well and each new place gave us tons of new knowledge and questions and ideas.

On Monday, the day we arrived in Koppal, we met with some local farmers who told us about their crops, wages, difficulties, and so on. After that, we went to a school in the village and met with all the children. The village kids who aren’t lucky enough to get to go to school were also really interested in us–so interested that they were pouring in through the doors and even windows. The children sang some songs for us and we returned the favor. Then they asked us questions and we asked them questions. It was really incredible to hear what comes out of those kids’ mouths. One boy, maybe about 10 years old, stood up and asked, “Is corruption practiced in America?” Childhood in that village is certainly different in many ways than what most of us have experienced growing up in the U.S.

The next day, we got rained out again. We drove to Hampi, a breathtaking place near Koppal full of temples and statues and giant boulders. Apparently these temples and such are the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Also, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Thank you, Wikipedia!)

On Wednesday, we did get to help with the school. The Bandhavi girls (the ones being rescued from the Devidasi system) were a real joy. Not only were they adorable, but they were so eager to help! They ran over in their little dresses and bare feet and helped pass the bricks from the brick pile to the building foundations. They also sang while they worked, and they helped us learn more Kannada (my vocabulary now includes such ever-useful words as “brick” and “dirt.” I’ll never need phrases like “How are you?” when I know so much already!).

After our lunch break, we got the incredible opportunity to talk with some of the Bandhavi girls’ mothers, who are women that have been dedicated into the Devidasi system. We got to hear about their lives, what they’ve gone through as Devidasis, how the system works, and how they are uniting and working to eradicate it from their area. There have been no new Devidasi dedications in their villages in the past five years. They claim that they are the last generation: “It stops with us.” It was moving and empowering to hear their stories and get to know them.

On Wednesday night, we went to the movies! In Kannada. Actually in Telugu, the language of Andhra Pradesh, a neighboring state. I myself had some doubts about watching a movie in a foreign language with no subtitles, but as we watched the opening sequence of an overdramatic Indian warrior man jumping off a cliff and flying through the air to reach his falling lover, I knew it would be good. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie so much as I enjoyed that 3-hour ridiculous masterpiece. All of us were buzzing the whole walk back to the hotel, laughing hysterically about basically every moment of the glorious 3 hours. It still comes up daily. There is talk of purchasing it on DVD before heading back to the States.

Thursday was another day of rain, so we were unable to help at the school. Instead, we drove into a Dalit (untouchables) village. There is a lot of tension in this village regarding caste and class and everything, and there have been riots in the past, so we weren’t sure how it would go. It ended up being absolutely wonderful. We came in on our little bus, drawing a crowd (a regular occurence). We were ushered into a little temple-ish building, where we sat on mats in the corner as maybe 70 to 100 villagers (beware: I am horrible at estimation) crowded around to be a part of our visit.

The villagers played their instruments and sang songs for us, and finally we sang for them. It was really cool to get to just play music for each other and celebrate being there. After the music, we asked each other questions about our respective countries with the help of our awesome translators. Following those festivities, we split up into two groups and walked around the village (with crowds of excited children following us wherever we went) and got to go into people’s houses and interact with them and see how they live. It was heartbreaking at times, hearing about some of the things they’re going through, such as newborn babies dying, being crippled by leprosy, struggling just to have food to eat. It makes poverty real when you see it before your eyes and talk to those who live in it.

That afternoon, we went to–for lack of a better term–a hair factory. It’s a place where human hair gets cleaned and sorted to be sent to other countries and made into wigs. We met several of the teenage girls and women who work there, earning between one and two dollars a day.

On Friday we went back to the school site and helped out for the second time. It was really fun to get to be with the Bandhavi girls again. Later in the day, we went to the police station for the Koppal area and met with one of the higher ranked officers there. The police in India is infamous for corruption, and I think we got to experience some of that first-hand, based on some of his rather… peculiar… answers to our questions.

Friday night brought us back to the overnight train. We made it to Visthar by around 7:00 AM. This whole weekend has been free, which is a nice break after an action-packed week.

I think that’s all from me. We’re having a great time here! Thanks everyone for wanting to hear about our experiences!

Before I go, here are a few of the pictures I took this week. I hope it gives you a better visual idea of what things are like here.

Here's one of the kids from the village who wanted to see us when we went to the school.

Local farmersBandhavi girlsMamatha and Gauri on the roadShilpa and Rajeshwari eating bananaschild laborers in a cotton fieldDalit man from the village

 


3 Comments

  1. Barbara Keith says:

    There are a lot of good reasons for studying abroad. Social justice issues are not usually at the top of the list, but what an awesome reason for learning more about another country. It will be interesting to see over the long term how your and others’ lives are impacted by your term abroad.

    Props to GAC for arranging this kind of course, and to all of you for sharing it with us via this blog.

  2. Julie Nadeau says:

    Catherine,
    Thank you for this wonderful blog. What an experience for all of you to meet the people and hear their stories first hand. We take so much for granted in our country that it is easy to forget how corruption affects the lives of individuals, particularly the children. My best to all of you as continue on this marvelous journey.

  3. Jeannie Murray says:

    Catherine,
    I am a friend of the Nadeau Family, and Julie sent me your blog. I feel privileged to see your pictures and read your stories. What an amazing journey you are experiencing. Thank you.