Back to Ongoing Journey Index Page
March 7-27, 2004 - Chavadi Pudur in Tamil Nadu, Goa, and final days in Delhi.
I received an e-mail from Candace Couch after she read the book and my website. After a few backs and forths, she wrote that she had done some anthropology research when a student at Brigham Young, in a village not too far from where I was headed. She was eager for news about her friends. Would I go there? Sure. Why not?
I got myself to Coimbatore on a ten-hour train from Varkala and stayed in a hotel for one night. Then I was ready to look for Chavadi Pudur.
The directions were a little sketchy. Get on the #96 bus in Coimbatore and get off “the stop after Chavadi. Walk down a road. Take a couple of ‘dog-leg-lefts.’ And when you get to a village, ask for Matthew and Jeeva.” Really…..that’s all I had. Whatever is a dog-leg-left?
I knew that stops (on trains and buses anyway) are not announced and I didn’t speak the language (Tamil) to ask. I was nervous that I wouldn’t know when I was there and that the driver might not understand me if I asked him to tell me when to get off. And what if I got off at the wrong place and there was no road and no village. And how long was that road---it was blistering hot out. I decided to break down and hire an auto-rickshaw for 300 rupees, about $6.30, instead of 6 rupees. A crazy and extravagant decision that I was glad I made. The driver and I took off and after about 40 minutes (I bought a watermelon on the way) we began to ask where that road was. As we were asking for the millionth time, I was sure I would be going back to Coimbatore with the driver. But finally we turned down a road which twisted left twice, bounced a bit, and then we were in a village. We only had to ask one person to find Jeeva. Matthew was away for the day.
Jeeva spoke English, is a member of Latter Day Saints church (the BYU connection), and has two adorable kids, seven and nine, who go to an English medium school. I slept on a mat on the floor in my own room! in a cement building with lots of rooms off a long patio. And Jeeva gave me mosquito netting. It wasn’t her fault that it was too hot.
The village had lots of crows, like the last village I was in. And women in long house dresses, and men in above the knee sarongs. Jeeva had a little store in one of the rooms of her house and in the morning, after the kids have gone to school, people frequently gather there to talk. How I wished I knew Tamil.
Every day after school ten kids came to our porch for tutoring and to do their homework under the guidance of Jeeva and Matthew. And me, for a few days. I read my books and got the kids to read them as well. We sang a bit (If you’re happy and you know it…..), danced a bit (doing the hokey pokey). And when the tutoring hours were finished, everyone got a turn to play pinball on my computer.
One day I went to school (on the back of Matthew’s motorcycle) and read to several classes. Another day Jeeva took me to visit her sister, who is married to Matthew’s brother, in Coimbatore. I really didn’t know what to do with myself while I was there, so mostly I read and observed life as it happened off of my porch. I also answered e-mails that I had switched from Hotmail to Outlook Express so I could write offline. When I was bored, I played Free Cell. But mostly I just observed village life.
Goa----March 12th to March 17th, Delhi----March 18th to March 28th
When I left Chavadi Pudur, I headed by bus back to Coimbatore to catch a train for Goa. It was an overnight trip and I spent a lot of time talking to other passengers before we went to sleep. A woman in the navy, a man in the merchant marines, a religious leader, an architect, and others. I was on my way to visit Trudy and Steve. They both read my book and sent me an e-mail asking me to visit. Trudy is Indian, born in Bombay, and a specialist in special ed; she’s married to an American architect who specializes in models. They live in California but are spending the year in India. I was warmly and generously welcomed….they both came to pick me up at the station at 6:30 in the morning!
For five days I was privileged to be with the two of them and their two boys………..delightful kids who are happy, active, bright and funny. I met adult friends and kid friends and assorted people in their lives. We marketed and visited and toured and even took a boat trip. On one excursion, our car was rear-ended by a bus and I got to experience an event……police, spectators and all.
My favorite activity was a family sing-a-long. Trudy sat at the keyboard and we all sang. Old folk songs, old pop songs, Indian songs, African songs, show songs. That was something I always wanted to do with my family, but it never happened. There is such joy in a family singing together.
One night I cooked a meal and yet another family cook was briefly displaced, a woman who took care of Trudy when Trudy was the ages of her kids. (I am writing this a month after it happened and I have to confess that I don’t remember what I cooked.)
On the 17th I flew back to Delhi. I had called Rebekah at the farmhouse to let her know I would be coming and that I would take a cab to her house which is near the airport. “No, you won’t,” she said over the phone. “Haven’t you read the papers?” Well, no. It seems the night before, an Australian tourist, a middle-aged woman, got into a cab at the airport, the prepaid kind that are endorsed by the police, the kind I would have taken when I arrived. Her body was found the next morning. Rebekah sent a driver.
I had ten days (March 17th to March 27th) to say goodbye to Delhi and India. The days were packed with friends’ good-byes, shopping for gifts, a village wedding, a talk to Delhi Network (expatriots from all over the world), a final meal with the jhuggie kids (noodles with vegetables that I cooked. It’s called chow mein in India, lo mein in the U.S.) and a sad good-bye meeting with the jhuggie kids. A couple of final meals with Rebekah and her family and I was off to Seattle.
It had been a frustrating six months and I was leaving with mixed feelings. The book wasn’t written, so I was disappointed in myself . The weather had gotten horribly hot and I felt sluggish. The kids in the jhuggie and their parents were nervous because jhuggies all over the city were being bulldozed and they felt it was just a matter of time before theirs met the same end. A young man that I had hoped would be admitted to a private school and given a private scholarship for the rest of his education took the admissions test and failed. (His education in a lousy government school had been in Hindi through 9th grade. He had to take an entrance exam (to repeat 9th grade) for the English medium school…..in English….. and he’d never done courses in English. How could he have passed!) A friend of mine might have talked the principal into letting him go back to 8th grade……….but his parents, at that point, didn’t want him losing two years; so he’s back in the government school, his spirit dimmed. It would have been better if he’d never been offered the chance. I broke a lot of my rules while I was in India (non-interference in lives, non-judgmental about a culture); I’m not sure why, but I really came to see the world through the eyes of those kids and I couldn’t stop myself from becoming a part of their lives…..and judging the rest of the culture.
I arrived in Seattle on March 28th…….really happy to see Jan, her fiancé Bill, old friends and new friends. Those six months had dimmed my spirit as well. I was pleased to be back in the U.S. even if I did hate the fact that Dean was no longer the Democratic front-runner, that Bush was still grinning that slimy grin and talking about evil….without a clue to why the world hates the U.S. and not any inclination to find out. Arrogantly continuing to feed the hatred. More on the US in the next entry.