I’ve just returned to Chennai on a high from a wonderful weekend visiting another AIF fellow (Lindsey) at her placement in rural Andhra Pradesh. Even though we’re both here in India doing the same fellowship, our experiences have been strikingly different and it was refreshing to live in her world for a couple days.
Before the visit, I asked Lindsey what I should bring. “Imagine you’re packing for summer camp, and that will pretty much cover it. Oh, and chocolate. Please bring me chocolate!” she said. So with flashlights, bug spray and Cadburys in hand, we arrived in Rishi Valley.
After breakfast in the dining hall, I tagged along to Lindsey’s job at the Rishi Valley Rural Health Centre. She was explaining the survey she’s been conducting related to use of agricultural chemicals and the health of people in the valley when I found myself completely distracted. It wasn’t that I found the issue uninteresting, but more that a monkey had sauntered up to a faucet in the courtyard, turned it on and was drinking. This is simply not something I’m used to seeing on the streets of Chennai. But apparently this happens all the time in Rishi Valley. Lindsey got up to turn off the faucet –guess the monkeys don’t realize water conservation is necessary in their drought-prone valley.
But the monkey business doesn’t stop here. Five minutes later, we were continuing our conversation when into the office ran a monkey. With zero hesitation, it grabbed a banana off the desk of a nurse and just as quickly, it ran back outside, ripped open the banana, stuffed it in its mouth and sat there taunting us. Between laughs, Lindsey choked out “Yes, yes, this is my life.” As the students at Rishi Valley call such an incident, I had just witnessed my first “snatching.”
Other than being highly entertained by monkeys, we spent the weekend hiking around the valley, appreciating the slower pace of life, the calm and quiet environment, and the corresponding opportunity for discussion and reflection.
During our first hike, Lindsey introduced us to the delicacy that is raw tamarind, AKA nature’s very own Sour Patch Kids:
Also on our hikes, we met a few of the goat herders Lindsey works with and she taught us about local agricultural issues such as: the use of indigenous vs. Western cows, the problems associated with government subsidies being provided for crops such as rice and tomatoes in a drought-prone area, and the necessity to shift toward organic farming and some of the corresponding benefits and challenges in doing so.
Over the course of the weekend, we did our best to apply lyrics from the Lion King to any and every even remotely relevant situation or topic of discussion.
And though Rishi Valley does have an Internet connection, we took a break from technology for the weekend and somewhat of an alien, but simultaneously obvious concept came up during one of our hikes. Before the advent of the Internet, if a disputed and highly important question arose, for instance, “Is Crocodile Dundee an American or Australian movie?” and the answer could not be found in the volumes of an accessible encyclopedia, people would have had to agree to disagree, and potentially never know the answer to an argued question. For those of us who have grown up with any answer at the tip of our fingers, this was a strange thing to consider. (For the record, Crocodile Dundee is in fact an Australian movie, and NOT American.)
And with an amazing sunrise over the valley, my weekend in a different India came to an end.