Thursday, January 13, 2005

Village People

Today was initiation day into the Veerni Project. I was told I'd just drop by to meet the girls at a few villages but then they left me there alone for an hour and a half--as the saying goes here, "why not?". A little improvisation never hurt anyone.

The Major, a dapper silver-haired gent who's a program coordinator, picked me and Jess up at Sun City at 10am, then whisked us (if this verb can apply to anything in this country) to Veerni's offices near the Maharaja Palace. Because of unexplained "power cuts" the lights weren't working so we didn't gather inside, but I did peek in. There was a map on the wall of all the villages in Rajasthan's sub-district of Jodhpur, with symbols indicating that almost all 15 participating villages had medical, literacy and sewing centres (which by the way doesn't mean sweatshop, it's where they teach women to sew on machines so they can contribute economically to their family/village). Then Nishi, a social worker employed to coordinate Veerni, gave me the spiel outside under the hot, hot sun with flies crawling all over us. Into the van we went (or rather I did because Jess's stomach is exploding or something, so she went home).

As we left Jodhpur behind there were less ramshackle stores at the roadside and more emaciated cows, midget donkeys, buffalo, half dead (and fully dead) dogs, the odd camel-drawn wagon. (By the way I almost had a heart attack when I saw one for the first time in the streets of old Jodhpur--they can be MASSIVE and quite intimidating) We left the one lane road and turned off for the first village, Barwala, where we were met by the pink sari-clad Veerni promoter (in uniform, as required--it's her job to make sure their activities are carried out when the bosses aren't around). In Barwala I said hello to Class 8 and 10, asked their names. I made a vague attempt to riff off a girl's name (I think it was "Cella") to talk about music, and the cello, or something. Luckily they saved me after a few minutes and we went to Akelai, stopping first to see a drinking water well Veerni's dug for them, which is a great improvement from the ponds they had been using to wash clothes, alongside cows and such.

At Akelai they were having a math lesson, but once I appeared, the teacher ducked out, with Nishi. I went on about Where/When/What (WHERE do you live? WHAT is a city? country?) ect. An hour passed and even I was bored. Then we talked about nose rings ("Pini" in their dialect), which they all have, and braids, which was another commonality. They don't know any body part names like ears and hair, which is like Lesson 2 in the curriculum. They were amazingly attentive and eager to learn the entire time, but I had nothing planned and got a bit desperate after an hour. Finally, Nishi returned with the teacher and spirited me away.

Back at Sun City, Govind called to ask if we wanted to go watch camel racing with the Prince in an hour. Unfortunately I decided to explore the hood on foot for a few minutes, with a map entirely in Hindi and--surprise--ended up getting lost in smoke clogged rush hour on a dusty road near some Army barracks. A 15 year-old schoolboy took pity on me and walked me home. I took my first hot shower and boy did that feel good.


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