Chirag and I are celebrating our one month anniversary today, and we couldn’t happier. Since my arrival in the hills, every hour has passed at a drastically different pace from the last. When I’ve been developing my research project I’ve felt a bit like a suspended wind-up car, wheels spinning eagerly but not quite hitting the ground yet. On the other hand, all of the unintentional learning that comes with trying to understand life in a foreign place has been fast-paced, non-stop, ever-interesting and invaluable. Finally, though, I’m beginning to feel like I’ve hit the ground and hit my stride, developing a routine of sorts that I’ll be very happy to maintain for the next few weeks if possible. Now that I’m back at the office, I’m spending my mornings teaching English songs at the Chirag School, my afternoons reviewing and transcribing interview footage, and my evenings out on the field with a translator.
I’ve just returned from several days at a homestay, living with a family in another village. They were wonderfully generous, and we spent many evenings laughing over my misshapen rotis and their well-intentioned pantomimes. And the food! I couldn’t tell if I was crying from the chilies or from sheer joy. It felt like every member of the family spent most of the day doing something productive for the household, and yet they barely let me lift a finger to help (I literally fought to wash my own plates!).
I spent most of my days out interviewing village women. I had the translating help of a spunky local girl named Tulsi whose self-confidence was downright audacious (“You are so lucky to have me translating- everyone here knows me!”) but so laughably likeable that we became an excellent team and great friends in these few days. I was fortunate to be living with a woman named Kuntidi who I met several weeks ago and who is President of a self-help group (SHG) in the area. The SHGs, usually comprised of only women, are formed by groups with similar interests and often involve a saving and lending dimension, offering the women a source of credit through micro-lending and interloaning. Many were created under the guidance of Chirag or other local organizations and seem to have taken off with varying levels of success. I’m looking to compare several SHGs in this area by assessing their members’ motivations for joining, their understanding of the group’s rules about repayment, and their perception of the psychology behind different repayment strategies.
Interviews tend to run long – thirty minutes or so with each woman – but I often walk away with a better understanding of that woman’s notions towards saving and towards me, an outsider who they nevertheless insist on treating as not only a guest but a “daughter”. The kindness and warmth I’ve been met with in every villager’s house has been delightfully disarming. Once again, the passage of time must be carefully balanced – it’s important not to spend too much time taking them away from their housework with my interview but equally essential to ignore the clock when having chai with them afterwards (or sometimes even lunch). I can’t help but recall my Philly days spent at the newspaper when the objective was to get there, get the story, and get out. This new approach is certainly one I can get used to and the investment of time in each person has taught me a thing or two about the value of time spent on the field.
Besides, if I didn’t leave enough time to get to know these ladies outside of the interview questionnaire, how would I have learned that Kuntidi and other women in leadership positions from her village are some of the goofiest, funniest, and loveliest people imaginable?
I assured Kuntidi, as well as all the other homestay moms I accumulated in those few days, that I will be back again soon. And yes, yes, I will stay for lunch.