first week

I’ve spent a lot of this first week in Chavadipudur feeling a bit guilty—guilty for enjoying the food so much and guilty for feeling so healthy. Not all of the other students have been as fortunate. There’s just a point where you’re body starts saying, “Now just a minute here. You’re telling me you plan on eating Indian food for every meal? Not if I have anything to do with it.” And then it promtly starts rejecting everything you try to put into it. At the same time there’s a whole host of new little microbes trying to infect you with one ailment or another. It’s a lot to deal with all at once, as my group can attest. Over the course of seven days we’ve had vomiting, diarrhea-ing (one case ultimately led to a twenty-four hour rehydration session at a local hospital), one sinus infection, one swollen eye (from a bug bite … maybe … ?), lots of mosquito bites, and plenty of upset tummies.

As for me, my body’s come to expect these sorts of abuses every couple of years, and the transition’s been cake. Other than three or four hours of unbearable heat in the afternoons, I really don’t have much to complain about. So that’s why I feel a little bit guilty … but also kind of relieved to not have to experience the same kinds of traumas that I did in 2003. I’m free to focus on just being here.

In some ways Chavadipudur is familiar to the point of being unremarkable … but on the other hand, it’s wholly remarkable. Just walking the 1.5 kilometers from the village to the highway (where you can buy food or catch the bus into the city) is unbelievably scenic, in amazingly new ways every time. There are constant reminders each day that I am still very much an outsider here: I don’t look like other people, I don’t speak their language very much, I’m not making my living in the same ways that they do. Figuring out how I fit in here, and what this place means to me … these are the deep and confounding questions that follow me through each day.

It’s been a great week, though, especially as I’ve managed to track down old friends in the village. I’ve been especially glad to see Jagadesh (Age 17) and Selva (age 16), two boys who helped me a lot with my project last time. Selva’s a lot taller and both have facial hair now. Selva is working twenty-four hour shifts at a nearby petrol station. Jagadesh is about to start his final year of college studying electrical engineering. They’re an interesting pair, but really good friends of mine.

I also saw Mrs. Kousalya Ramachandra last night, along with her son Parrivel. Kousalya’s great-great-grandfather was the one who founded the village, and to this day their family holds the highest status in Chavadipudur. The Ramachandras were also very helpful with my research last time. I’m thrilled to be able to visit with them again.

From where I sleep on a courtyard floor each night I have a view of a narrow strip of sky between ours and the neighboring roof. The stars have been pretty amazing the last couple of nights. For some reason looking at the stars always makes me feel grateful for being where I am, no matter where that happens to be. That’s mostly what I’ve been feeling this week: gratitude to be able to be here. There are so many people out there I wish could be here having these experiences with me. I hope you all know that I love you and hope you’re doing well.

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