Friday, July 10, 2009

My first week in Mysore

I arrived in Mysore 9 days ago and have already experienced Indian culture! The traffic is very disorganized, as horns sound all the time and there don't seem to be many enforced rules.The peopl of Mysore seem very friendly and the area seems safe. It's the monsoon season, so there are many rainfalls throughout the day. In Bangalore, horns started honking without a pause at 6 a.m. and people chatted loudly. Every morning, I hear a man singing "tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes,..." and some words in Kannada, the local language. Men walk through the neighborhoods every morning, selling fresh fruit and vegetables.

"There are two different Indias in India... one is the one you've seen and the other one is the rural part," Nanjappa, vice president of rural projects, said.I went into the village Begur yesterday and will study the culture of rural India for the next week. Rural India is home to over 70% of the population, according to the International Human Development And Upliftment Academy (IHDUA), the organization for which I intern. After my observations, I will work for two local newspapers. The IHDUA based in Mysore is a non-government organization established in 1991 by Oncologist Dr. B. S. Ajaikumar. The organization works on four main rural projects: rural literacy, women empowerment, economics, health and education, and awareness about health and hygiene. The IHDUA now works with 55 villages.Yesterday, there was a Self-Help Group (SHG) meeting in Begur. These meetings help a group of men or women to ameliorate their businesses and upgrade their skills. I first sat with a group of men who try to work together to strive for economic development. Because the majority of the rural population doesn't speak English, I could not understand most of the conversation. After the second meeting, which was among women, I went into a room with six girls who produced purses. The other women returned to their businesses, which include selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, chicken or sheep fur. Some of the girls knew some words of English and asked me for my name and my parent's name. Two girls used sign language to ask if I had eaten lunch, which in India means about the same as how I was doing.I rode on the back of a motorcycle the "Indian way" (girls sit sideways) and visited some local stands.

On thursday, the first stop was at a small kindergarden and school. The children seemed shy, because they sat quietly on the floor the entire time. The kindergarden was one room with one small desk and one chair. The walls were full of colorful pictures, so that the children could learn the words of different fruits, vegetables, animals, body parts and so on. Before I left, I wrote a few sentences in a guest book and saw that two other Americans have visited this place.
Unlike the kindergarden kids, the school children wore a uniform. I have noticed that most schools in this area require uniforms, often blue- or green-colored.
My driver then took me to see some rural projects of IHDUA. We stopped at several houses in about 8 villages and every person was very welcoming and friendly. Every single household offered me chai tea and some gave me snacks as well.
In one village, I saw a kitchen garden constructed by IHDUA. The purpose is to provide nutrition through vegetables and fruits to the habitants. I also sat in another SHG (Self-Help Group) women's meeting. The women seemed very interested in my culture as well and my driver translated their questions to me. They asked if I was married and if I wanted to stay at the village with them sometime.
The second project I visited a smokeless oven, provided by IHDUA. According to Nanjappa, women used to inhale smoke and get sick while cooking, so the organization constructed one where the smoke goes outside only.
In a different village, I observed the production of silk. There were large wooden wheels on the front porch with hundreds of silk worms weaving. One of the men told me that it takes three days for the worms to construct the material. I refused a chai, but got one anyway. It seems as if nobody takes "no" as an answer here regarding to food or drinks.
Although it was pouring this morning, it fortunately stopped once we got to Begur. I had a different driver today and the motorcyle seemed to be going a lot faster. Because the villages today were a little more distant from Begur, we visited fewer areas. The people at the first house were keeping different food items, such as mangoes and spicy pickles, in different-sized, blue containers. Provided by IHDUA, these items apparently ameliorate their business. At the next village, we visited a woman that was tailoring, such as the girls in Begur.
At the last stop, women were preparing nutritional supplements for malnourished children.

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