May 20, 2000
The next thing I knew, I was sloshing through the muddy goop of a rice paddy (for the first time in my life) on my way to make some new friends. As I stood in the middle of a bright green field of tall grasses, I was surrounded by women in colorful sarees performing what looked like back-breaking labor. They held on to my arms and guided me through the field showing me how to pick and pull weeds from the greens so they would grow properly. I pointed to my back and scrunched up my face in pain, trying to communicate that this seemed like hard labor to me. In solidarity, they all nodded strongly in agreement. Rubbing their backs and their shoulders they explained in Telegu how it was very hard work. We bonded.
Luckily, I was with my friend Devdutt who was able to translate.
"I go to the field to use the restroom, to fetch water and to get grass to feed the cow. I clean the pots from the night before and cook breakfast for my husband and children."
Her hut has no bathroom or running water. The thirty minute hike into the field starts her daily routine every morning. When she returns home, she uses mud and water to wash the dishes, scraping them with her hands, because soap is a luxury.
Cow dung cakes? That's no glorious task. First Arvinda chases the cow around, scooping up its poop with her hands and loading it into a clay pot. Then she makes small patties, like hamburgers (yummy!), and lays them out in the sun to dry and harden. They keep a fire going strong, so she uses them in her stove.
"After this I sweep and clean the house, wash the dishes, and cook dinner," Arvinda continues.
Chapati, (an Indian flat bread similar to tortillas), dal (lentils) and rice are on the menu, each of which also require a certain amount of spice grinding and other labor intensive processes. I sat talking with this group of women for at least an hour, marveling at their ability to endure this work, day after day. We talked about school and husbands, about traveling and writing. They were amazed at the opportunity I have to be able to see the world. Most of them have never left the confines of their villages. Yet, despite these differences, I found that they were not distant or so far from many of the women I've known in my life. They were real women who had dreams like me, who had feelings and emotions like me. They were mothers concerned about their daughters' futures. They were wives wanting to love and be loved by their husbands. They were the backbone of their society, and yet they were illiterate, uneducated, and bound to a life of servitude.
It was an interesting beginning, and I was longing to know more. Later, Shasheev and Kazabani helped me dig a little deeper. They shed light on the darker sides of Indian tradition; telling about some of the social woes facing women in India, like dowry deaths, bride burning, and the importance of baby boys over baby girls. Meet Shasheev in Love and Marriage and stay tuned as we get to know the Indian Motherland through her Mothers.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew - Tibetan Odyssey Part I: Honk If You Love Yak Butter Tea
Andrew - Tibetan Odyssey Part II: There's No Place Like Home - But Tibetan Exiles Make Do in Dharamsala
Jasmine - Bundle of Joy... if it's a Boy
Kavitha - Good For What Ails You
Team - Making a Difference: Beavers Build Them, So Why Shouldn't We?
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