last hurrah

we finished our last field vist on thursday, bringing the tally up to seven vists all together.  for this one, a revisit to aresinakunte to catch what we’d missed before, we were on our last legs.  our funding was running low and didn’t allow for us to hire a car (long story, ask me later) so we took the bus and walked in from the main road.  the GP had just finished electing new members and was occupied in orientation and welcome for them.  we were short one team member and one translator.  we were tired.  all told, the day wasn’t promising to be our best effort.  little did we know that by the end of it we would all be thrice-garlanded, smiling celebrities giving speeches to the masses and rubbing elbows with elites.

but i’m getting ahead of myself.  there were a couple of really jazzing experiences in the morning that are worth mentioning.  other than the free tea and cookies, that is.  first, the newly elected GP president here is a woman.  and the GP secretary is also a woman!  my unofficial estimate of male-female ratio among all the (six) GPs we’ve visited is approximately 6 to 1.  so there must be something empowering in the water at this place.

because of our lack-of-second-translator, the team couldn’t divide responsibilities, and so i sat in on some interviews that i’d missed out on at other locations.  therefore the second jazzing experience for me was a visit to a local child care center slash nursery school (anganwadi) where i learned how children get toilet-trained (woohoo) and how these centers serve as hubs for the sharing of all kinds of good information among new mothers (aka hygiene, nutrition, vaccinations, etc).  just like in the US, mothers come to pick up their children from nursery school, meet the teacher, and chat with one another about the trials of wife- and mother-hood.  in a country where women belong to their husband’s family and after marriage lose the support network they’ve cultivated among their own family, this kind of hub also provides women with a greater sense of community.

in the same vein, jazzing experience number three was a focus group discussion with women from a microfinance group, called a self-help group here.  as a group, they are able to take out and repay small loans for things such as school fees for their children, a cow or goat, or a new toilet (yay!).  most of our discussion was about the role of women in the success of the sanitation campaign, how they convinced the stubborn open-defecation-loving menfolk, giggle giggle.  (everyone we’ve talked to agrees that men can go when and where they like but for women it’s unsafe and undignified to go in the woods).  right at the end one woman said, totally unprompted, that the self-help group had been so important for her, so life-changing, that ‘now we are stronger, we can talk openly now, even at the bank.’  can you imagine a place where women couldn’t talk openly at the bank?  for those of you small-town folks out there, who like me constantly run into random people you know at the bank (aunt holly, my brother’s high school friend jeff, my kindergarten teacher), can you imagine?

ok i know you’re waiting for the bit about the speech.  yes, i gave a speech on thursday, on a stage with a microphone, under a tent, to the entire GP and approximately 400 students and assorted community members (OK liz and lokesh did their share of it).  as visiting dignitaries we were asked to stop in on a local ‘function’ going on at the school which turned out to be an elaborate annual celebration of the ex-GP-president’s generosity – every year he provides notebooks, soap, and cricket bats to poor children at the school.  this year liz and i (face it, they wanted the foreigners for the pictures) handed out the notebooks to fear-stricken children who hadn’t the slightest idea what to do with my outstretched hand.

after the ‘function’ they had us stop by at the taluk office to say goodbye and, low-and-behold, they were holding orientation for 50-odd newly inaugurated panchayati development officers (only 6 women in the batch).  we were seated at the front of the room on a dais with the taluk executive officer, garlanded and given snacks (tea was on the way but we couldn’t stay long enough).  the EO and i chatted about our impression of the work that’s been done at aresinakunte (all good of course).  i felt downright queenly.

the speech is on youtube if you’re interested.

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~ by aliciawolcott on July 5, 2010.

One Response to “last hurrah”

  1. Hi Lisi Sounds like you’ve made some progress for the poop scoop detail. Way to go!
    Be glad to see you stateside though. What an opportunity you’ve had to see so much
    of the world. Had dinner with your folks last night. Everybody OK. Love , Booma

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