Posted by: lilyhamburger | April 19, 2010

Impossibly mangolicious

I think it’s time I tried to overcome the feeling I have that putting my life into words is absolutely impossible. Especially after coming back to Dharampur after being away, I have sunk my roots in deeper here and rediscovered the magic of the place. I have gotten used to being here and how I live, yet my every day experiences still constantly astound me. Aside from stuffing my face with mangoes, which is magic enough, here are a few highlights of the past few weeks that I hope give you a taste of what I wish I could share with you in full:

1. I had the honor of accompanying about 30 traditional birth attendants (called dais) on a field trip. These old women are from remote villages and most of them have never left those villages. They are completely illiterate, but play an important role in communities as midwives, so ARCH trains them in hygienic and safe practices for delivering babies at home and also how to send complications to hospitals. This field trip was to show the dais a hospital, which most of them had never seen before, and also to have a little fun and build rapport with them. Well, success. At the hospital they kept repeating everything they heard, investigating the babies in the wards, and commenting on how clean everything was. (Oh how reality changes with perspective!) They sang in the bus on the way there 🙂 We went to the museums in Dharampur and the old ladies in their rainbow of saris (worn tucked between the legs tribal style) were fascinated by everything – including the trees on the streets that were different than those in their villages. It was incredible to watch their eyes light up with wonder at so many things – they reminded me of little kids seeing things for the first time, but these are old, graying, toothless women! What would it be like to see such things at their age? Trying to imagine their perception of the world is mindblowing…[see photos]

2. Recently I spent a few nights in Vavar, a village that I have been to several times for health worker meetings. An ARCH colleague, Vinayek bhai, lives out there and runs the dispensary and informal educational activities for the kids, and he’d introduced me to all his little friends when I had gone before. The kids asked me to come visit before they went on summer vacation, and – how could I refuse those gorgeous smiles, pigtailed girls and skinny legged boys hiding behind Vinayek and whispering questions for him to ask me in his ear – I went. The village is gorgeous, even now in the hot, dry season, and a cool breeze lightened the burden of summer up there in the mountainous fallow fields. After chatting with the boys at the school for a bit, entertained by the constant parade of women and children fetching water at the deep well and the only working bore pump in the village, I walked out the country road to a cliff overlooking a breathtaking valley. Vinayek and I were accompanied by a gaggle of 10-13 year old girls exclaiming about the cashews and mangoes and jungle fruits we passed (and plucked) along the way. (Cashew fruits are strangely acidic, and they are super sweet but burn on the way down!) And we sang all the way home. At night we slept under the stars – bajillions of them visible from the roof of Vinayek’s home – along with the 24 kids remaining at the school hostel before vacation, and our friend Namdev.

The second night I had the same routine, only the school children had gone home and Vinayek’s nephew had arrived so my walk had a soundtrack of good old American hip hop – hilarious, fun, and what a contrast! Vinayek’s sister in law, an educated working woman from a city, didn’t know what she was seeing when an airplane’s blinking lights appeared in the starry sky…

3. Another group of dais (the old traditional birth attendant ladies) came to ARCH for a training this week. They had been here before, so they knew me and kept asking for me to come and chat in the evenings. We communicate through their young trainers – I speak Gujarati and the trainers translate into Koknii, their dialect. Both the old ladies and the young NGO workers had a million questions about America, my family, and airplanes, but then they remembered that I like to sing. They sang a few, I sang a few (I had them clap along to Joy to the World). But then the dance party started…oh. My. God. These old women put on the rowdiest party I have been to in India. They were slapping their booties and singing “garbas” and skipping around in circles and making fun of each other – and of me – and laughing their asses off. They were so silly and energetic I could have sworn they were sneaking into the bathroom to take drinks or something, but the only substance being abused was their form of chewing tobacco wrapped in little plastic sheets and hidden in their saris or belly shirts. When we finally stopped, we went outside and heard a garba going on at the temple down the street, so we danced to that music for a while. What would you do if 40 gorgeous, hilarious toothless old ladies and 4 hip young tribal women asked you to show you your culture’s dance moves? I did the hora (to fit in with the circle dance theme), salsa, some fun African moves I know, and a few made up steps, but I was close to showing them how to pop-lock-and-drop-it because anything would have flown up there that night….phew!

Two days later when their training was ending, I was called into the training hall. They wanted to dance. It was during work hours this time, so we stuck to the circular garba, but all the ARCH staff came to see what the commotion was about. A few of my co-workers joined in, and my friend David who was visiting me from Mumbai. Dave put pics of it up on facebook, along with other photos of his visit, so check me out.

4. Daxaben got a karaoke machine for her birthday. Need I say more?


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