Exactly two weeks ago I woke up in a train reaching the Solapur station, an hour away by bus from Tuljapur, the little rural town where I was to spend the next few weeks of my internship.
Rural town means being surrounded by buffaloes with red painted horns and by an amazing amount of flies. Our daily walk from the hostel leads us to the town market where we became familiar with each and single shop that has its own particularity, one for butter, one for bred, one for milk, one for rice and one for maggies. We know as well where to find the sweetest mangoes and the long lasting bananas. Not to forget the Chai, this goes without saying.
Rural town means as well that we live in the very middle of a never-ending countryside, with cereal and sugarcane fields reaching the horizon line, clear cut rainbows and amazing monsoon skies, fast changing colours, fast moving clouds and beautiful birds that sing for us announcing that we forgot the umbrella once again.
We learned that local people show respect to their guests if they welcome them with very sweet tea, and therefore we feel VERY respected, no need of chocolate anymore! The villagers we meet greet us with smiles, songs, and I was astonished to see that my country, Switzerland, is well-known here, in rural areas, thanks to the Bollywood movies produced in the Swiss Alps. This was a nice surprise, as I am used to hear “Switzerland? Where is that? You mean Sweden?” when I tell people where I come from.
Two weeks of exposure to the local life is more than enough to experience incredible emotions, too many to describe them all. It is more than enough to learn valuable life lessons as well.
First, staying humble. I am the foreigner here and I am the one that must put aside all the life knowledge I thought I had to listen and learn. The deep dark eyes of little children have life stories to tell, and not speaking the local language can be felt as a handicap, but it is on the other hand a wonderful occasion to move beyond words, to observe the villagers’ facial expressions, women’s smiles and sharp eyes of the elders staring at me.
And second, the saying stating “you can lead a horse to water but cannot make it drink” is more than true. After the first day of field visit we had in front of us, impossible to ignore, the fact that many projects designed without the involvement of those who are supposed to benefit from them are meant to fail. Many issues that seem obvious to us are not that evident to people living in different contexts. And life habits are not easy to change, even for the most well-intentioned policies.
When I was working in Geneva I used to think that being in India would finally mean getting some exposure to what is commonly called fieldwork. I thought Delhi was the field. But now I know that for rural development work, in a country where more than 65% of the population live in rural areas, Delhi is not the field. The villages surrounding Tuljapur are.