Adjusting to Araku

For the past five weeks spent in Araku Valley, I’ve lost myself in the lush forest, friendly villagers, vivid sunsets, and cardamom-spiced local coffee. After the first part of our internship, documenting indigenous coffee farmers living in tribes in the Eastern Ghats mountain range, Veena and I returned to Naandi headquarters in Hyderabad last Friday. Since then, I’ve reflected on my time spent in the valley, reminiscing about the precious memories and recalling the moments that taught me something new.


Sunset from our guesthouse

I learned a lot about life in rural India, where the time flows with the natural rising and setting of the sun (unlike life at Penn), surrounded by tall, earthly green jackfruit trees and vividly neon-green rice paddies. Araku was exactly as I imagined it to be: a land untouched by corporations commercializing into resorts, a land carefully tended only by the indigenous natives who use the land for their harvest.


Land untouched by corporations, where the cattle graze freely.

Being the second batch of interns that Penn has sent to Naandi Foundation, I had only two past interns, Gabriela and Taylor, to obtain information from in order to prepare for my life in Araku. Having experienced Araku for a solid month myself and hoping that future interns to Naandi will have the opportunity to work with coffee farmers in Araku Valley, I’ll write five tips that prospective interns can reference.


A baby that I met who showed more interest in my phone than me 😥


I. Learn a few useful words and phrases in Telugu!

All farmers in Araku Valley speak either Telugu or their local language, Adivasi Oriya, or both. Fortunately, Veena knew Telugu and taught me a few basic phrases to help me with my job. As a photographer and a videographer, I was responsible for capturing precious moments.


Two Nanhi Kali girls reacting positively to my Telugu! (pure happiness)

The words I highly suggest future interns learn are “నవండి” (navaṇḍi)and “వస్తాను”(vastānu).

The literal translation for the first word is “let’s laugh/smile!” and the latter is “we will come back.” The first I used countlessly after gathering a group of villagers, women, family, and children because most villagers do not spontaneously smile for photographs.



Are they laughing because I said “navaṇḍi!” or because of my accent? 


“Vastānu” is used as a farewell expression in place of “Goodbye.” I love the expression because it reflected my emotions when I left the villages. I wholeheartedly meant vastānu. I really wanted to return to the villages where the people spent time telling us about their lives and making us feel welcome.


A couple of flowers that the villagers gave to us as a present. Women often wear these flowers in their hair.


II. When on the job, keep your eyes peeled and constantly track peoples’ gestures and movements as they are speaking.

As someone who didn’t know both of the local languages, Telugu and Adivasi Oriya, I had to rely on the body language of the villagers to capture their speech, action, and emotions.


I took this picture because people started laughing so brightly. Later, Veena explained why they were all laughing — they were teaching her how to speak Oriya, another commonly used language in Araku Valley.


III. Be sure to capture the dynamics of the dialogue but also don’t limit your eye to focus only on the interview. Let your eyes look around a bit and you’ll capture precious moments.


Children eating popsicles who kept appearing out of nowhere!

During our interview, one small girl, with popsicle melting down her hand, crawled into her father’s lap during his interview. Soon after, the children started approaching the group interview one by one, and upon noticing them, dispersed around us, I asked them to stand in a group for a photo. The result is this wholesome picture of small children smiling, eating popsicles, and drooling at another kid’s popsicle.


Older brother playing with his baby sister!

This baby started crying in the middle of our interview, and her mother put her on the roof to stop her from crying. The older brother came to make sure she wouldn’t fall off and to keep her entertained. I wouldn’t have been able to capture these children if I hadn’t been paying my full attention to the interview.


IV. Be open towards trying new things. Three of my most cherished memories of Araku are from when I opened myself up to try a new food and to overcome my fear of babies.

Hukumpeta Chapathi

A roadside chapathi place that Veena and I became major fans of!

This is the legendary, amazingly delicious, 10 rupee chapathis that Veena and I tried as a whim and ended up loving! We visited this place every time we drove by Hukumpeta.

6:21 survey baby

This baby wiped various body fluids on my kurta but that’s okay because he was really cute and bubbly 🙂

I ended up holding this baby and playing with him to get him to smile. Babies’ smiles are addicting and contagious and make you forget about their snot on your kurta!


V. The weather forecast is often not available so you have to dress appropriately. Be sure to be ready for anything, and look forward to how the unexpected will play out in your favor.


A girl who came to watch the interview returned with an umbrella due to an unexpected rain.

Roads in Araku Valley are good for the most part, but some will still be dirt roads. Combined with rain, these roads become inaccessible and will leave you with the only option of walking. Bring tennis shoes you don’t mind getting muddy!


Heavy rain from the night before created mudholes, in which our Jeep got stuck in :/ The Jeep was thankfully rescued after our interview.


I’ll sign off here, hoping that this list proves to be helpful to future Naandi interns.

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About judyychoii

Summer 2018 intern at Naandi Foundation! Majoring in Biology, C'20.