Posted by: lilyhamburger | January 28, 2010

The End of the Earth and Other Special Things

Today I went to the end of the earth. We packed my new slideshow with all the basic hygiene messages into the jeep with a projector, screen, car battery and a slew of extension cords and headed to a region called Vavar, which I’ve been to before. We stopped at the usual tea stall before heading into the “interior” and then started down a new road. The pavement became spotty and then disappeared entirely, and I kept presuming we would arrive soon. But we just kept driving….across a river, past fields of sesame, peanuts, sugar, peas and grains, people making bricks or repairing thatch, wells and bore pumps, peacocks, schools, an occasional temple and a completely abandoned and dilapidated government health center, stopping only for cows and goats that temporarily blocked the way.

Finally we got to Malgar, the village where one health worker lives. His name is Chendar and I’ve gotten to know him a little through planning these health education sessions. Now that I’ve seen where he comes from, my respect for what he’s doing has at least quadrupled. He had only practiced giving this presentation once before today, and that was perhaps the first time he spoke in front of a large group of people. This time he was operating in two languages: he spoke Gujarati to us and read the Gujarati titles on the slides, then explained about scabes, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, etc. in the local dialect of Maharathi (the language of Maharastra, the neighboring state which is visible from Chendar bhai’s house).

First, we set up: a slew of men navigated the mess of loose wires that connected the electricity (when the power cut out in the middle of the presentation I was grateful for the car battery-inverter back-up! We have needed that system each of the 3 times we‘ve done this presentation now.) I got the laptop up and going and helped hang ARCH’s old primary disease posters on a string around the porch where the presentation was held. My new posters are going to be printed in Mumbai next week!

Though this meeting had been designed for “selected leaders” in the village, about 100 people piled onto this veranda (which is a Sanskrit word!) to see the show. Chendar bhai gave a great intro describing why we were there and how we are planning to do health education sessions in the village over the next 6 months. He talked about how much money they spend on treatments for illnesses, and a representative from each “falia” (neighborhood) stood and introduced himself. None of the women did that. Chendar presented the slides gracefully for someone with so little public speaking experience. He had a little help here and there from Sarad, who also speaks the tribal language, but one of the rewards of this program is seeing the development of leadership skills in this one enthusiastic and broad-smiling health worker.

We had to skip the health song Madhu ben wrote because it’s in Gujarati and they wouldn’t understand, but we asked the villagers to sing one instead to open the meeting. (By the end of the meeting when “nasto” (snack) was served on scraps of newspaper to each participant, Madhu had translated a few verses and taught the song anyway.) When we asked who had a bathroom, no one raised their hand. No one had nail clippers or towels or hankies (like every other Indian person I met!), and about ¾ said they had soap at home. When we walked across the fallow fields of sugar and grains and watched men, women and children carrying water, firewood and crops across great distances just for a daily meal, using a ladle instead of your hand to scoop drinking water seemed like a trivial thing to worry about. Mosquito nets to ward off malaria? Yeah right. I wonder how easy it would be to get some leafy greens growing here when there is water … nutrition deficiencies (like anemia) and resulting conditions like blindness, goiters and body aching are rampant.

Chendar’s house is beautiful, though, swarming with children of all his relatives and baby chickens, cats and cows as well J It’s a mud house with traditional tribal architecture and cooking utensils. They use some of their precious water to grow cashew and mango trees out front, and we had a wonderful sesame-peanut salsa with our potato-eggplant meal. Maharathi music wafted over FM waves, and we laughed and talked until we had to hit the road…I mean….bumpy path back to the highway.

Since I titled this post “…and other special things,” I will list em here:

1. One evening, groping desperately for any form of exercise, I walked to the school next door and found Bupa teaching Rashad bhai how to play volleyball. I joined in and so did Saroj ben and Mayur bhai. Soon I had invented a game of keep away w basketball style dribbling. We were wailing with laughter and soon about 35 high school girls were on the sidelines giggling at the ridiculous group of “adults.” Great exercise!

2. I took several trips to the district police station in Valsad for a particular lesson in Indian bureaucracy. Some of you may recall that before coming to India I had a little trouble getting my visa in a timely manner….déjà vu! Only this time I found myself face to face with a humble Guarati-speaking man who, like everyone else, is all smiles in spite of spending his day buried in stacks of unorganized papers, charts that he draws himself with a ruler, and a basket full of enough rubber stamps to feed a small village (if people ate rubber stamps)!

3. On Sunday, a free day for once, my advasi (tribal caste) guest house mates took me out. I didn’t really know where we were going, but we took off in Bupa’s rickety van through the usual gorgeous scenery of yellow fields of grazing buffalo, green irrigated plots, and bursts of colorful flowers that absolutely reach straight into my heart and pull the strings. We drove for a few hours and stopped for fruit and to watch a mini train go by…through a nature preserve (didn’t see the tigers), and eventually arrived at a gorgeous ravine and waterfall! Not only that, but – of course this is India afterall – a temple. Yes there was the usual temple above ground, but below the waterfall there was a little cave where minerals were forming elephant-shaped drizzles from the ceiling. The gods also reside there. Because my friends are not Hindus, we could all observe the temple from a secular point of view. But we all wanted to pray in this cave – apparently it’s where young people come to pray that their boyfriend or girlfriend will love them very much! Ha ha! They joked that when I come back with my boyfriend I will have them to thank for bringing me there 😉

4. Jan 26 is Republic Day in India, the commemoration of the ratification of the constitution. Basically offices close and every primary school puts on a big hooplah of cultural programs and “garbas” (performed dances). Dharampur got decked out. Christmas lights (I wish there were another way to describe them but you might not get it if I wrote “republic day lights”) were strung from rooftops along the main road into town in stripes of orange, white and green, the colors of the Indian flag. Also, there were lighted peacocks whose tails flashed like some kind of Times Square fixture. I spent the day in Valsad with my German friends who are here for another month. We climbed to the top of a hill (temple) and went to the sea beach (temple there, too, of course) where there is a hilarious smattering of food stalls (grilled corn, coconut w a straw in it, shaved ice – not for western stomachs, fruit, pani puri, roasted nuts, and the usual packaged chana, chips, biscuits) and men selling cheap plastic toys. I was so tickled by this scene on the expanse of black sand! There was a group of guys gathered around and when we got closer we saw it was a version of potato sack racing….without the race….just knocking each other down! I really wanted to ride a camel…next time.

i put some pics up. check em out.



  1. word.

  2. Your fantastic Lil. I wish I could travel around with you.

  3. Great post….I am seeing in my mind’s eye the lighted peacocks with flashing tails…..

  4. Lighted peacocks….what??????

  5. Lily,
    I miss you! got a skype account so i could talk to you, totally frustrated with many failed attempts to use it. technology and i aren’t friends! love you very much.

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