Greetings from Gumballi! (May 25)

(I wrote this post on May 25, so some of the info may have changed, but here you go for now… happy reading!)

Isabel, Bhargavi, and I are all in our guesthouse at the moment, typing away at our laptops. The monsoons have begun in Karnataka, and last night we fell asleep with the sound of rain pounding on the brick roof, the grumbling of thunder, and lightning flashing through our room. Two nights ago, the three of us arrived here from Bangalore in the pitch black after a five-hour car drive and were greeted by two narrow beds topped with aging, eaten-away mattresses, mosquitoes whirling above our heads, and a sizeable population of lizards and what I think are flying roaches. It was great :). Not everyone exclaimed “AWESOME!” like I did, but the three of us pushed the beds together and got to work creating a pretty baller mosquito net held together by one piece of clothesline, a safety pin, and a stick of deodorant (picture below! the deodorant has now been replaced by a bottle of water). We’ve settled in relatively comfortably, actually.


The area we’re in is gorgeous – groves of palm trees, fields of sugar cane, lush green hills everywhere you look. On Tuesday, we took a bus ride to a tribal school up in the hills and found ourselves climbing higher and higher on bumpy & winding roads through utter wilderness and forest. The place is a tiger reserve, actually, and the guy who showed us around today said he’s seen a tiger on his way up here before. Wild boars, monkeys, a pack of dogs, and a horde of cows populate the place as well. The three of us are unsure of our projects at the moment, so we don’t know how often we’ll be going up to BR Hills from here, but hopefully it’s often. The place is amazing, with a honey production center, a food production center, and a sewing center where saris are made, all run by tribal women it seems. School is out right now, but a few dozen kids from all over the state of Karnataka were there for a life-skills camp. Yesterday was their last day. Around 4 PM, they had a closing ceremony at which we were honorary members; the kids handed us arrangements of flowers they’d created themselves, and gave us a bit of a surprise when, without warning, they called us up to the podium to give speeches. Thank goodness for our Penn bullshitting skills — we stood up there and created inspiring-sounding sentences out of thin air, and were received pretty well, I think! (The fact that the kids most likely didn’t understand much of our English may also have helped…)

Of course, being here is not without its difficulties. On our first day in Bangalore, we were each assigned a project by our Karuna Trust mentors, ones we were pretty excited about (doing focus group discussions with adolescent girls and vulnerable groups that come to Karuna Trust’s tribal health centers in Gumballi, looking into microcredit schemes in Mysore, etc.). But on Monday, Dr. Sudarshan (who seems to be the Dr. Paul Farmer of India, perhaps even more epic, with the number of accolades to his name) met with us and assigned us to different places and gave us vaguer, more general directions that overrode our original ones. We were shipped off to Gumballi, where we are now, and have spent the past few days asking people in charge what we should be working on here. Different people each tell us to do different projects, so we’re all confused about what we’re actually doing. There’s also a language barrier (they speak Kannada here), and although my Hindi and Bhargavi’s Telegu sometimes do the trick, most often our words are lost in translation. But I’m sure all of this will work out. Having a sense of humor helps. Today, I taught Isabel the Hindi for “What are we doing?!”, a phrase we will probably be using a lot here. We’ve also taken to naming the various uninvited creatures living in our room. ‘Alvin’ for the unseen animal who has been rummaging in our room for food and secretly pooping on our bed. ‘Secko’ for the salamander/gecko that has been croaking with a witchlike cackle at all hours of day and night. We’ve also decided that “Alvin and the Secko” would make a great band name. Most likely for our future CASI band. Get those guitar skills ready people. 🙂

I’m just happy to be here. That, and humbled by the fact that we were chosen to come to this far-away place to see a fraction more of the world, to talk to these people, learn from them, and experience their lives for a little while. More updates from the rest of us soon!

Until next time,
Shrestha S. 🙂

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About shrestha singh

Current graduate student at Harvard Divinity School. Penn Class of 2012, Health and Societies major with a concentration in Global Health, minor in Journalistic Writing.