We’ve reached the point in the trip where I can really feel how fast it is going, and how little time we have left. The day started with the snake charmer I already posted about. Then I spent the morning doing work while some of the ladies interviewed two survivors. They were upper class and higher castes. The first one was being hidden by her family to prevent the embarrassment of the community, so she was reluctant to even use her name. Video and audio recording was out of the question. It reinforced the idea that intimate partner violence is a problem for women from all castes, all classes, and all shapes and sizes. The interviews were long and seemed emotionally draining for all involved. The second survivor joined us for lunch and our translators seemed to find relief in some time spent with her in a lighter setting.
I felt refreshed after a morning without doing research, and even got to talk to Josh, Dan and Danya while they snuggled with George in freezing cold Philadelphia. While I loved talking to them, and missed them, I was not upset to be missing that weather.
My attempt at a turban:
The afternoon was one of the most incredible experiences we have had on this trip. All of us ladies packed in the van, and we rode out to a village to interview the head of a Punch and a prominent Social Worker. The Punch is a local form of informal government in many of the villages that takes care of problems without going through formal avenues like the court. As we arrived, we caused the usual stir as children started following our van, trying to get a glimpse of the strange looking foreigners. Women and children followed us into the house of the Social worker, and everyone settled in the entranceway as we settled on the “cots” that function as couches and beds. An elderly woman came in, and Sara offered her a seat on the couch. She shook her head and folded with the agility of an 18 year old into a crouch on the floor, and settled in with the other women to enjoy the spectacle.
The man we interviewed was tall and stately. He wore a fantastic embroidered vest made of white cloth and burgundy thread. His black embroidered scarf stood out against it as it wrapped around his high collar. He sat with his long skinny legs on the floor and talked for half an hour with our translators. His hands made wide gestures and his face was incredibly expressive. At times women chimed in, but for the most part he sat and described the role of the Punch. We found out later that he claimed that issues of domestic violence are rare, dealt with fairly, and for a low cost. This was in contrast to some stories our translators had heard, but leading question after leading question led to nothing helpful.
Next we interviewed the Social Worker whose house we were in. She had an incredible presence. Children lined the roof of the shed at the front of the house that protected hay as we started the interview. In a booming voice she quieted the crowd. Later she grabbed a stick and chased the kids off the roof. They scattered as she turned her back on them and re-entered the meeting. Her blue sari blouse stood out against her black and green sari. Her white straight teeth stood out against her beautiful dark skin. Her eyes flashed as she sized us all up quickly and unabashedly. She moved to the floor for her interview, her deep voice rang out as her hands darted to tap on the ground, pointed in the air and waved around. She filled the room.
Afterwards, Jayshree showed us her Social Work certificate that she received after a training with an NGO. Jayshree pointed to me and told the woman that I was also a social worker. She looked me up and down three times and then nodded, perhaps in approval. Then, there was a commotion, and we were heading towards the door. It was goat milking time! The courtyard to the house was filled with people, and as we made our way towards the door, the children and teen girls got bold. Everyone wanted their picture taken. Everyone wanted to touch our hair. They were all impressed that I could count to five in Gujarati, and began to talk quickly to me. I shook my head and held my hands up.
We were pulled outside to witness the goat milling. A man squatted behind a goat with a bucket, filling it with frothy white liquid. The Social Worker then grabbed another goat by the hind leg and swung it into position. She squatted down and began to work the liquid into her bucket. She made it look so easy. Next thing I knew I was obviously asking if I could try. I squatted down, and looked up at her as she showed me the motion to make with my hands. I swung my scarf out of the way, and grabbed ahold.
Sarah being mobbed:
The utter were soft and rubbery feeling; wet and warm to the touch. As I pulled downward and pressed my thumb downward and into the $$$ a thin stream of liquid came squirting. I had to be careful not to miss the bucket. It was hard work! After a minute I gave my goat up again. It tried to get away, and the Social Worker grabbed it by the leg and anchored it into place. She got back into the rhythm, and I could see how measly my milk stream had been! With her strong hands, the milk gushed into the bucket, created a thick froth on top. Sarah and Carlie got in on the goat milking action as well, and by the time we left we had taken a picture of at least every child in the village, and perhaps two of every goat. The village boys chased our car as we drove into the sunset shouting “Abagio (perhaps spelled wrong but pronounced avjo – I think)” meaning goodbye in Gujarati. It was fun, and ridiculous, and at least it had made Jayshree smile after a touch day.
We stopped at the tailor on the way back, and discussed the things we are having made. This was also an amazing experience, and not the first time that I had thought about Memee on this trip. I’m sure she experienced something similar in Eygpt, but she would have loved how the tailor made a mini version of the dress in green scrap to make sure he understood what I wanted. She would have been impressed by how he deftly cut some white material and held it up to my chest to make sure that he had the right size v-neck. The v is pretty scandalous by Indian standards, and he did not look too happy about it, but he got it right. Memee also would have been impressed by the price: 400 rupees. I’ve been told not to get excited about my $10 handmade dress until I see it. I’m having a hard time with that.
Mini dress and Jayshree's hands:
We made it back to the palace for dinner full of smiles and stories for Dr. Greaves. He was mildly impressed by our goat milking having come from a long line of dairy farmers himself. Dinner was amazing as usual. Afterwards I enjoyed the company of the lovely ladies with whom I share this adventure. Indian Public Health Summer Camp is halfway over and I am loving every moment of our late night discourse. When else in my life will I be living with a group of smart women for two + weeks where we have hour long discussions about research and theory? Gaining access to the homes of community members and survivors is incredible and invaluable. And with every day we grow closer and closer to our translators, and become more and more motivated to do something important with our research so that we can help them in their mission to help their fellow Gujarati women. What began as an overwhelming project has taken form and direction. We leave in eight days. There is much to be done.