Archive for June, 2011

Winding Down

Not a lot has been going on in Rishi Valley the last few weeks – I’ve been spending most of my time finishing up my reports and wrapping up my project. The kids arrived by the bus load in a flurry (literally) last week and classes have started up again in full force…somehow, I got roped in to doing a few assembly presentations about what exactly I’ve been doing here the last year. I’ve also been able to squeeze in a few mini-adventures of last minute things I’ve wanted to do like a (successful) hike to Rishi Valley’s Three Sisters and tasting true Andhra Pradesh biriyani. Tonight’s adventure involves a stashed-away bottle of wine and a local, roadside dhaba (think: greasy diner)…oh, the scandal.


I officially have about two weeks left of my fellowship – one more week in Rishi Valley and then I head north to meet up with the other fellows for our final week in India. It’s really unbelievable to think about how quickly this year has gone by and how much has happened. In some ways I’m sure I’ll head home and it will be like nothing has changed…in other ways I know many things – particularly many aspects of myself – have changed considerably. I can’t help but think about how familiar and comfortable this place has become for me, how much I’ve settled into the pace and lifestyle, and the family that surrounds me here. India has slowly become sort of like a second home for me and it’s going to be extremely hard to say good-bye to everyone and everything that has filled my life this year. I hope I figure out a way to come back at some point.


Sending love to all…


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Last weekend I returned safely back home to the Rishi Valley after my travels up north. The final route: Bangalore-Delhi-Dharamsala-Dehradun-Rishikesh-Uttarkashi-Gangotri-Uttarkashi-Rishikesh-Dehradun-Delhi-Bangalore. Whew. I went from sweating through a light, cotton kurta to freezing in four layers and a wool hat and took just about every form of transportation possible including a hitch hike in the back of a grain truck. It was a whirlwind of a month and went by in the blink of an eye – it was exactly what I needed.


Returning to RV has been pure bliss. The last few months were a definite low for me – I was consumed by problems with my project, with next steps, with saying good-bye and returning home – and I felt this overwhelming urge to simply…go. And so I did. A lot. I’m learning that as much as I need balance, center, and peace in my life, I also need movement. Every once in a while I need to test myself, take a few risks, and be totally immersed “in it” – in the world, in humanity, in life. It’s this instant reminder of our own impermanence, how beautiful the simplest of things can be, and the kindness of strangers.


When I was a kid one of the best feelings in the world was to cannonball into a pool and scream at the top of my lungs under the water where nobody could hear me – it was this fantastic feeling of freedom and relief all at once. This time I cannonballed into India…and it felt good.


So, I’m back – 100% of me – mind, body, and soul. I have a month to wrap up my project and write my reports but, more than anything, to be with my community here and honor the love and support they’ve given me. Having ditched the grey cloud of self-inflicted stress above my head, I feel like I can clearly see these amazing people that have filled my life and welcomed me into their family.


A few days back a beautiful thing happened: I got to witness true “development” in action. Some of the biggest consumers of pesticides in the area are flower growers. Flowers are an extremely lucrative market in India so farmers are very resistant to alternative methods or reducing their chemical use. But it’s not impossible. A connection of a connection of a connection led to my supervisor contacting a farmer from a village several hours away that grows roses naturally and is said to have fantastic soil. He agreed to make a visit to the valley on his own dime to speak with a few of the flower growers in our area. Well, word got around (as it does) and a few turned into several, which then turned into several more…the day of our meeting we had nearly 15 participants in the discussion – it was fantastic. Questions were asked and everyone was engaged and eager to share information. At the end of the discussion our guest farmer was invited out to some of the local farmers’ fields to discuss the soil quality and flower varieties. The local farmers then collectively decided that they would, in turn, make a visit to his farm this month to see all that he was talking about. A relationship bloomed and we had relatively nothing to do with it. It was totally inspiring.


A good friend of mine and advisor from grad school used to proclaim “Power to relationships!” whenever a good connection was made. I can’t help but carry on the tradition in my own head. What perplexes me about the development world is how many programs are created, initiated, and then scaled-up that completely and entirely overlook this factor. To me, this is the absolute core of successful development…why then, don’t we acknowledge this? Because of funders? Grant requirements? Efficiency? This concept isn’t rocket science…it’s so basic and simple it almost seems silly that it has to be even written out. Everything – everything – starts with relationships.



I’ve been (clearly) reflecting a lot about this – of the genuine, solid connections we make. These people pass in and out of our lives and we can either welcome them in – truly – or we put up a slight wall and remain at a safe distance that is still socially acceptable. Yesterday I had four people stop by my home to welcome me back…three of which were under the age of 15 and promptly cleaned out my cookie/chocolate stash. But my last unexpected visitor was a woman who works as a maid on campus and is from a nearby village – she had never been to my home and was curious how I live (not an uncommon occurrence…). I had been to her home several times this year for festivals, but there was something about her coming to me that was different and special. So, I welcomed her in, sat her down, and made her tea….just like so many others have done for me. We chatted a bit about her brother-in-law’s upcoming marriage, my holiday up north, and I showed her pictures from home. She laughed at how horrible my tea was. When she left, I had this overwhelming sense of sadness – without even noticing, she and I had become friends. She had become more than an acquaintance to me, and maybe I to her…and now I was going to have to say good-bye. But thinking about it more, I wouldn’t have it any other way – because this is it. These connections we make – the deep, true, genuine ones – are what it’s all about. It’s why we are here. Forget job requirements, projects, and everything else – this is what this year has been to me. This is what I’ve learned and contributed. It’s rather unlikely that the two reports I’m writing are going to amount to much…but the relationships I’ve developed, the friends I’ve made, and the community I’ve been a part of – that’s golden.

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