Bittersweet

It is very hard for me to say goodbye; I’ve been told it is because I get attached to people and places very quickly and easily. Getting attached to Araku – with its beautiful red soils and green hills-, to the staff – who helped us untiringly in our project and introduced us to Indian culture-, or with Naandi- which showed me what sustainability is really like-, attachment was more than possible to happen. And that is why the last week was bittersweet for me.

It was sweet because Taylor and I were concluding our 112-pages report, the ultimate product of our work this summer.

112 pages of research and discussion, analysis and evaluation, editing and rereading. The hard work was worth it, because I was proud of the response that these 112 pages contained: Naandi had not committed cultural murder. By helping Adivasi tribal farmers produce organic coffee to sell it in international markets, Naandi was prompting a cultural change in the community, but one that was within natural boundaries. In other words, the Adivasi community was following a natural evolution of their culture, not being forced by Naandi. Naandi is just another player in their constantly-evolving environment.

112 pages that we had to summarize in a one-hour presentation to other Naandi staff in our last working day. Although only the top officials were invited to our presentation, we managed to invite our driver Santosh; Taylor and I advocated for him and we were adamant in that he should see the work he had helped us with for the last 3 months. At last, Satish, Prakash, and Venkata allowed him to hear the presentation. Naandi had said before that they were working towards a flat organization; however, there is still a lot of ground to cover, especially in this rural town that is very distanced from the city. Having Santosh in the room was one big step for the staff, and I appreciated it.

My last week was also bitter, because I had to say goodbye.

After the presentation, we went to the CPU for our last training session with Taylor. Only this time, we were accompanied by the staff’s children. Satish’s twins were there, together with Santosh’s beautiful daughters, Venkata’s daughter and Prakash’s children. Taylor and I gave them their first volleyball class (well, Taylor did and I helped). The boys were already good, because they had been taught at school or learned with their brothers, but the girls, who were not introduced in the sports culture, were learning from scratch. It was nice to share our last day by leaving a mark in these children, teaching the boys that their sisters could (and should) also be included in games, and teaching the girls that they are free to do exercise and play whichever sports they wanted to. I had to say goodbye to these children.

I also had to say goodbye to Santosh and his family. To give their farewells and express their appreciation for us, Santosh’s family stopped by our guesthouse later in the night. His wife was wearing a sari and carrying packets of mehendi. She spent the next hours drawing intricate designs in our hands, and practicing her English with us. When our hands looked like those of brides who are about to get married, Santosh’s wife gifted us bangles. They were the final touch for my hands’ bridal look. Meanwhile, Santosh and us began remembering all the funny moments we had spent together, and I realized that I had some work to do.

Due to my inability to give a proper farewell in person, I decided to write some goodbye letters.

It was difficult to find some time to write them, because I had to pack. In between wrapping up my bathroom supplies and packing my shoes, I wrote a letter to Santosh. I thanked him for his friendship, for the variety of fruits he had introduced me to, and for the Telugu classes he had patiently given me while driving us back from the fields. I also wrote one for the office, thanking every person for their support: Satish for helping us with information, Prakash for being our translator, and Lakshman, for his delicious tea. The next day, when I gave the entire office my letter, they proudly put my letter in the board by the office’s entrance. Everyone said goodbye to us and wished us our best in the things to come.

We then hopped on the car and drove to the airport. During the ride, I thanked God for the wonderful people I had met in this internship, I thanked Naandi for the opportunity to learn about development projects in India, and I thanked Araku and the mountains for treating me well.

Looking at the red soil, I knew it was going to stay with me for a long time, even if it was in the soles of my running shoes.

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About Gabriela Juarez

Rising junior studying Economics and Sustainability in the College, currently interning in the Araku Valley with the Naandi Organization.