We finally were able to start our heritage appreciation project this week! After spending some time at Sevalaya we’ve decided it would be best to change our initial idea a bit. We are now spending afternoons with the seniors and recording short biographies about them to display in the communal dining hall along with their picture. The hostel children will be helping us collect these and also help us to write both English and Tamil versions of the biographies. It took a lot of effort to get things moving but we’ve now completed about 20 interviews. The kids are actually really interested in participating, which is exactly what we were hoping for. Every day the hostel kids go to school from about 9:30 am to 4:30, then they have about an hour and a half of play time before they have to start homework and eat dinner. We’ve been speaking with the seniors in the Old Age home during play time so that some of the kids can come with us and also help us translate. It’s crazy that their willing to give up the only time they have to run around to come talk to old folks with us, but I think it really says a lot about their curiosity and willingness to learn. Another weird thing is that the kids that have been helping us are boys about 12-13 years old. We really thought the teenage girls would be more interested, but we’ll take any help we can get! And even though we’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed with teaching four classes each morning, most of the children that are helping us have been our students so I don’t think we would be having as much success without the buildup of teaching rapport. It’s been really cool to see the childrens’ eyes light up when a senior says that they’re from a state far away from Tamil Nadu or that they like cricket too (all the children’s favorite sport). Most volunteers that come to Sevalaya spend a majority of their time working with the children, which is understandable because 60 senior citizens that don’t speak too much English can be kind of intimidating. I really think the old folks are enjoying the new attention, though, because by the time we’ve completed a few interviews ten more people usually come out of their rooms to gather around us.
For our second weekend in India we took a trip to Mamallapuram, a beautiful little beach town about three hours away from Sevalaya. We went by standard class bus and train, which I really enjoy because I’m able to see so many different towns, villages, and people out the window that you can’t if you ride first class with AC. The inn we stayed at was right around the corner from the beach and only 5$ a night per person. We had so much fun seeing the ocean, shopping for Indian clothes to wear, and going to some of the area’s archaeological sites. We also had the best traditional North Indian food!
The shopkeepers there were much pushier for your business than any other place we had gone to. This was because Mamallapuram is really only a small tourist town and it’s currently off season, so everyone is desperate for your money. There were so many talented artists selling their paintings and marble carvings everywhere, some working outside so that you could stand and watch them. This place definitely had the most tourists I’ve seen so far, but nowhere near enough to support all the businesses.
This week I’m going to start working on my personal project for my honors thesis. It’s a bit trickier than Hilary and I’s joint project because my questions are a little more complex, but I’m hoping things will turn out okay. I’m loving India more and more every day and am so happy I’ve been able to experience this country first hand. It can be incredibly frustrating sometimes- especially with language barriers and differences in time concepts, but most things can eventually just be laughed off. I really love how open people are to talking with you. Most people would probably find it annoying to be constantly asked what country you’re coming from and why you are in India-and maybe I will, too, by the end of the trip, but right now I’m enjoying chatting with people about America and getting their opinions on places we must visit. With so many beautiful things to witness and stories to hear, India is definitely an anthropologist’s dream location.