Maushi saves the day

Today, I learned that dehydration is a real occurrence, and I am absolutely susceptible to its clutches.

I woke up with a headache, as I did two days ago. I knew it could be due to dehydration, but since I came from Florida I felt that I was more prepared to deal with it. Yet somehow, I ended up with Bonnie, a student researcher here, at the front door of Ravi’s large cement home asking Maushi for “limbu pani.” The ancient woman slowly moved around the kitchen grabbing a cylinder of sugar, snatching a lime from the fridge, and shoving a small pot under the sink. She tossed two heaping pinches of salt into the pot, adding a spoonful of sugar and squeezing the lime into the concoction. She motioned me to come over with my mug held cautiously in my hands, and she pushed the mug onto the counter. She used a strainer to pour the liquid into my mug, and raised her hands to her face repetitively. “Try, try!” I took a gulp, and smiled at Maushi even though the salt hit my tongue before anything else. “Thank you, good!” I quickly moved outside, hoping that one mugful would be enough, as she grinned at me.

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Maushie prepares chicken drumsticks for our dinner in the large kitchen of Ravi’s house. We usually eat food reminiscent of home for dinner, while lunch is always Indian food and breakfast is typically boiled eggs and Indian grits with peppers and spices.

The days here at CRHP have flown by, like the crows who dart through the air and sometimes fly too low to street dogs who bark and try to bite their inky tail feathers. My work is to listen and learn about CRHP so that I might facilitate the same among the various groups of students who come to campus. Part of this role has meant that I picked up my copy of Jamkhed: The Comprehensive Rural Health Project by Drs. Mabelle and Rajanikant Arole.  The couple started CRHP because they realized their lives and destinies were inexorably bent toward serving marginalized communities in rural India, and the book is an ode to the stories of those they met along the way, and the true meaning of a community-based health and wellness program. CRHP’s foundation is in asking the community what needs to be done, and working collaboratively toward answering that need. As I continue in this book, I am becoming more and more awed and inspired by the Aroles and CRHP. I usually read on the red and gold couch in the halfway air conditioned intern office, with my head propped on a cylindrical pillow and my eyes moving from book to the room as I increasingly comprehend the power of this place and its people.

Since I am responsible for social media for CRHP, I have been able to shadow students and researchers as they work, and record their projects through pictures. I knew that Bonnie’s project led her to local villages nearly every day, so after breakfast this morning I asked if I could accompany her. After checking with Surekah, we all climbed into the car, rolled down the windows, locked the doors, and headed toward Jamkhed’s hills. I love riding in the car here; the breeze is warm, and the landscape slowly moves past like a green flag flapping and rolling. Men walk slowly, behind small herds of goats or with a cow or two grazing intermittently on small patches of grass among the rocks. Children in blue-and-white school uniforms march past, holding hands, the girls with red ribbons and scrunchies adorning their braids.

When we arrived in the village, we stepped out of the car and walked toward a small colorful temple. It adjoined a gaily-painted school yard with classrooms covered in Marathi script and Disney animals, and crowds of children gathering to watch us with excited curiosity. We moved into the temple and sat cross-legged. Surekah, Madhu, and Bonnie prepared their questions, notes, and tape recorder, and I unzipped my backpack to pull out my camera. Soon, older men who I later learned are village elders and the past mayor, filtered into the halfway-lit temple room and completed our circle. “Namaste, my name is Bonnie, and I am here to conduct research with the Comprehensive Rural Health Project…” Bonnie introduced herself, as did Surekah, and the focus group commenced. I listened and watched as a little boy played with the tip of an elder’s walking stick, picking up the end resting on the ground and dropping it when it was a few inches from the ground. The clack of the stick did not bother the older man, who glanced back to smile at the boy. Eventually, the little boy became bored and made his looping way over to his grandfather, Madhu, who gave him a pen and paper.

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Bonnie takes notes during the focus group, keeping a record of her observations in addition to tape recording community members’ answers.

After the focus group, we stepped outside into the bright morning, slipped on our sandals, and walked into one of the school rooms. I had to duck to enter the small space, and I stepped gingerly to avoid the children, mouths half-full of chapati and legs splayed haphazardly. Surekah motioned for me to pull up an off-white plastic chair, and together we all settled in a circle with the school teacher. Bonnie turned her tape recorder switch to “on,” and Surekah commenced another interview.

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Surekah listens as her questions are answered by our interviewee.

Partway through the interview I felt a tap on my right arm. I looked up into the eyes of a grinning woman who pointed at my bangles, then made a questioning motion. She spoke quickly in Marathi and I smiled painfully, saying, “English?” Surekah shushed the woman, saying they would talk later and pointing toward the tape recorder.  At the end of the interview, the woman returned and we laughed. I somehow expressed that I’d bought them here, in another village, and the listening women nodded knowingly.

We moved outside again and a seemingly unending mass of children gathered around us, whooping and bumping into each other. Someone shouted “photo,” so Surekah and Bonnie stood with the children as they slowly moved together and posed.

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I kneeled and clicked the button on my camera to show the children their photo, and was momentary lost as child after child moved close to examine themselves in the tiny screen of my dslr. I heard my name called and turned to see Bonnie Surekah and Madhu already leaving on a dusty path behind the schoolyard, so I said goodbye and jogged toward them. I stopped as I realized they had disappeared on a side path, and looked around. Villagers stared at me quizzically and I realized how silly I must look, a sweaty foreigner with a camera asymmetrically slung around her neck. I finally glimpsed the retreating forms of my group and walked toward them.

We walked into the home of one of the women who had accompanied us at the focus group. After removing our shoes we stepped onto a thin green carpet and sank to the ground, unzipped our backpacks and prepared for another interview. An older woman stepped onto the carpet and sat facing Surekah. Surekah pulled out her list of interview questions and began asking the woman about her blood pressure and knowledge of diabetes. Bonnie took notes again and turned her tape recorder on, but was interrupted as Surekah passed her the small bag of medicines which this woman takes daily.

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The older woman held some of the medicines in her hand, and I snapped a picture.

We were all quiet for a moment. “She is beautiful, yes?” Surekah asked us of the woman, and when we answered enthusiastically (she was indeed beautiful in her purple sari and graceful age), the woman spoke. Her gentle reply was translated by Surekah, and with Surekah’s help she complemented us. It felt like a communion, a gathering of women who saw beauty in each other despite vast differences of culture and lifetimes.

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As we spoke, a tiny kitten waddled into the room. Madhu picked her up and his grandson eagerly grabbed at her, but Madhu showed the boy how to carefully pet her.

When the interview was complete, our group left with many thank-yous We walked back onto the dirt path and I heard a soft  flapping sound; I looked up to see the brightly colored patterns of women’s saris floating on the breeze, hung from the second story of the home. They took up space, and utterly changed the colors of the home turning its brown brick walls personal and feminine.

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