Being in rural India has garnered me no shortage of stares, as my foreignness is easily visible. Stares on the packed bus, glances as I pass farmers trekking through the village, curious eyes in the dinner hall. Curious is perhaps the best way to put it. My initial reaction to these glances was slight unease, but I have come to realize, in light of the genuine warmth and friendliness of the locals, that there is little else their glances could signify besides mere inquisitiveness.
To say that people here are welcoming would be an understatement. In just the few times I have been in the field so far, I have been, without an ounce of hesitation, invited into people’s homes. Offerings have included Chai, lunch, and lots of smiles. Farmers have openly told me, through an interpreter of course, about their economic struggles, triumphs, and efforts to increase farming productivity through crop intensification. One farmer shared with me how her husband’s motorcycle accident, resulting in a serious leg injury, made times tough for them and their children. Others have demonstrated, with wide grins, evidence of recent improvements in agricultural productivity, such as enhanced soil fertility through the use of manure.
All this without a single question as to what I was doing at their home. Then, when I would leave and be on my way, I’d receive a cheerful wave, and everything would go back to normal as if nothing had happened. I soon discovered that these people would just as easily let me, a complete stranger, into their lives as they would strike up conversation with family members or close friends. There is something so simple and beautiful about this, that I almost wish it could be universal.
I experienced more of this “culture of cordiality” at an essentially impromptu visit to a post-wedding celebration, along with the CASI LEAP interns who came up to visit last weekend. The wedding was that of Ram’s cousin; Ram is the night guard here at CORD. There were probably around 100 people there at the celebration, each sitting cross-legged on the ground with a leaf plate in front of them filled with rice and Dal (various kinds of lentils). So we all sat down with them and plunged our hands into the food, because when in Rome. After eating, we joined everyone for a dance, and my uncoordinated twirling and spinning attracted the attention of some people who wanted to take pictures with me. I can’t say I minded the attention!
When we got back to CORD that evening, a group of young kids came out to play in the yard outside of the CORD center. I ended up playing tug of war and monkey in the middle with them, and they took great joy in giggling at my clumsiness—dramatized for their entertainment, of course. Now Michelle, Ravi and I play outside with them pretty much every evening, and it’s always a great way to end the day.