Breakfast at eight a.m. was the same, hard-boiled eggs with semi-sweet rice, and bread for buttering or peanut-buttering. After eating, I quickly packed olive-colored across-the-shoulder bag with my DSLR camera, water bottle, and wallet, and then found the car I was to take with Taylor, Stephan, Alex, and our guides (who were Surekah and Ratna) to a local village. The village’s name is Pimperkhed, and is only perhaps 45 minutes’ drive from CRHP’s campus.
Once we got to the village, we stepped out into the warm Indian morning and walked into a small school building. The door was perpetually open, only a thin piece of fabric covering the doorway and even that had been tossed aside. We peeled off our shoes at the entrance, stepped inside, and joined a group of young children and older women sitting in a semi-circle.
The language of this area in India, Maharasha, floated around the room in a hum of foreign syllables and short laughs. The women greeted each other, and the children eyed us shyly or reproachfully, as if we had no business being there (as perhaps we didn’t). As everyone quieted down, one boy with an especially sweet smile was urged to stand up. He sang for us, a song which was not translated but was obviously a happy tune, and then the murmur of conversation resumed. I took pictures, and a few young boys came up to me, quizically examining the camera. I showed them how to see the audience beyond the lens, and how to click the button to take a photo. Two of the boys posed for me, arms around each other, leaning back against the wall in a purposefully relaxed pose.
Soon one of the village health workers, a woman named Akila, began to demonstrate her work on the women gathered around us. She took blood pressure, measured waists (for diabetes), and boiled a urine sample (also to test for diabetes).
We left, our guides explaining that we would be driving to a nursery. Taylor excitedly said that she couldn’t wait to see babies, and Surekah laughed. No, she told us, it would be a plant nursery. When we arrived, we saw the rows of small lemon trees, and Akila posed with one seedling under the green tarp of their makeshift greenhouse.
We followed Surekah into the fields behind the greenhouse, past cows dozing and goats butting heads. Surekah pointed to the lemon trees planted along the left side, and picked a green bean from a bush next to her. She showed us the bean, explaining that the women grew these vegetables and sold them in the Saturday market in Jamkhed. She pointed to grass upon which the cows would feed, gave us small eggplants to hold, and showed us the corn which was just starting to emerge from the ground. We marveled at the various plants, understanding that most rural Indian women did not have such a farm. These women had purchased the land from a grant through CRHP, and they farmed through a co-op framework. When we returned to the main house, Surekah pointed to the goats. “She bought just one goat,” she explained, pointing to a nursing mother, “and then this goat had babies. She will sell two of the babies and keep one.” In this way, the women of Pimperkhed slowly grow their co-op and increase their stability, as well as pursue gender equality. It is their method and route toward achieving empowerment.
Next, we went to the house of a large family; I think we went just to see their baby, because Surekah knew how much Taylor was hoping to do so. We sat in a circle and an older woman brought us tea to sip as the family asked us, and Surekah translated, whether or not we were married. “December,” I told Surekah, smiling, and Alex said “three years.” Stephan said “about three years,” and Taylor laughed. “I gotta find a guy first,” she said. They asked if we had any videos of weddings; I did, from an outdoor wedding I had attended earlier in the year. I showed them, and when the audience in the video on my phone clapped for the bride and groom, the family clapped with them.
Alex and Taylor took turns holding the baby, and then Ratna, our other guide, held her too. I watched as the baby’s grandmother brought her back inside and placed her carefully in a long purple cloth strung from window to window across the room, pushing the cloth so that the baby would swing gently, cradled within.
Because I was holding the camera and taking photos, the family asked me to take a photograph of their son, who had just successfully passed his 10th grade exam (this is a major accomplishment for young people, and means they can go on to learn a profession). I was flattered that they felt I could take a good photo of him, and waited as the young man ran to put on a nice shirt. He stood with his sister, the mother of the baby, against the family’s wall and looked into the camera lens. I was struck with their expressions, so serious, and also hopeful for his success in school and her own as a mother.
Lastly, we visited an animal farm as part of the co-op. There were cows, goats, and chickens, with minuscule chicks hiding under their mother hen’s feathers. A man reached down and plucked one chick, then two, then three, and placed them in our hands. Each of us cooed and giggled as the tiny creatures peeped, dancing around our palms in such innocent confusion.
Our ride home was bumpy, with the smell of incense and gravel wafting into the car with the warm, humid wind.
When we got back, the puppy who I’ve named Norah was waiting for us. She whined as I bent down to pet her, and we walked to our rooms to rest before lunch.
After lunch, Surekah agreed to take a few of us into town to get items we needed. We rode in the same car, and first stopped at a large two-story clothing shop. Surekah told the men to stay downstairs, and brought me and Ashley upstairs to find a kurta. We looked through dozens of colorful fabrics, searching for a beautiful kurta in our size. We tried on a few, and soon found our favorites. Surekah facilitated our search for matching pants and scarves, and we were soon ready. We returned to the car but I had forgotten the blanket I meant to buy for Norah, so Surekah laughingly brought me back into the store to quickly buy a soft green and gold blanket which I imagined Norah would feel comfortable laying on at night.
We went to stores for cake (we all bought a chocolate cake to split), shoes, a hairbrush, shampoo, laundry soap, and snacks. The market space within the town was a narrow path lined with stalls shoved together in a chaotic yet pleasing way, with cars and motorcycles honking their way through lines of school children and shoppers. More than once, our group was separated and we had to wait for stragglers to weave their way through the crowd. When we had checked off all of the items on our shopping lists, I felt a sense of relief and satisfaction. We returned home to the CRHP campus, in time for dinner and pleasant conversation.