MUWCI is in rural Maharashtra, but in my opinion, we aren’t really in rural Maharashtra when we’re on the hill – we’re in a MUWCI bubble. We have WiFi, drinkable running water, electricity almost all the time, people cook delicious food for us, we each have our own bed and desk, and facilities like common rooms, ping-pong, foosball, a swimming pool, and a workout room. We have educational facilities like science labs and a library. On campus, girls are given just as many opportunities as everyone else, we have access to a high quality of education and we have a wide variety of extracurricular opportunities to enrich our learning. These may not seem like a big deal coming from a privileged background in Canada, but in the Mulshi and Kolvan valleys surrounding us, people do not have anything close to these kinds of amenities and opportunities. Life in rural Maharashtra, for the most part, is not cushy.
So, as you can imagine, getting out of the MUWCI bubble and experiencing what life is really like in the surrounding communities is crucial for a lot of reasons. Firstly, it makes us realize how lucky we really are on campus. Secondly, it gives us more context of where we are and how we fit into this story. And finally, it forces us out of our comfort zone, which is what UWC is all about.
Last weekend, all 119 first year students spent 24 hours in a village and stayed with a family. We each went in groups of 2 to a home, and basically we were told to put aside any stereotypes we had of rural India, and build our own story of this place and these people’s lives by living and trying to communicate with them. My partner was my friend Reva from Delhi, and we were sent to stay with a woman named Kalabai Sathe in Hadashi village, which is a 30 minute drive away in the Kolvan valley.
Kalabai is an older woman who lives with her husband in a tiny remote village. She has kids, but they are all grown up and have moved to Pune to find work. Her house had 4 rooms – a front room with a TV, a small bed and 2 couch/chairs, another room with not a lot in it, a kitchen with A TON of metal plates, cups, pans, etc, and a little bathroom (she also had a bathroom in the cow shed which she wanted us to use more). I think she was the only person in the village with a TV (it was extremely blurry) so lots of kids would come conglomerate in her home to watch it. Her floors were very shiny and nice.
Reva my partner speaks Hindi, but communication was not that simple. The older generation in the village (Kalabai and her friends) spoke very little Hindi (the local language here is Marathi), but the kids speak it cause they learn Hindi in schools. So Reva could communicate with the young people we met. For me and Kalabai to communicate verbally, she would speak in Marathi to the kids, who would translate it into Hindi for Reva, who would translate it into English for me. Kalabai spoke a tiny bit of Hindi, so she understood when I said “dhanyavad” and “acha”! Mostly, I just communicated through smiling, the “ok” hand gesture, and nodding my head from side to side. It worked out just fine!
The camp counsellor in me was so happy to find lots of kids in the village that I could play games with, and I was really glad I brought my frisbee with me cause we had so much fun together! We threw around my frisbee on Kalabai’s front porch as it poured rain around us, and I got the kids too teach me how to count to 10 in Hindi. Ek, do, teen, chaar, paanch, che, saat, aath, no, das! They taught me how to swing a cricket bat and were amazed that we don’t play cricket in Canada and that we don’t even show professional cricket on TV! I also couldn’t help myself from teaching them camp games like “stella ella ola” and “pass the weasel” and changing some lyrics into Hindi with Reva’s help.
Another highlight for me was cooking with Kalabai on Sunday morning. In this part of the world, it’s chapati, bhaji, rice, dal and sometimes curd for every meal, 2 meals a day. The first chapati I made was not round enough so she made me restart, but then I made a really good one that was up to her standards, and Reva said she called me “smart” in her very limited Hindi. I felt so accomplished in that moment! Her little approving smile and sideways head nod gave me so much pride. The food tasted so incredible – much better than the food they make on campus! We ate on the floor and used the chapati to pick up the bhaji and dal rice. I wasn’t very good at this at first, and Kalabai and Reva both watched me struggle and thought that was pretty funny.
We asked if we could help in their farms, but they said tat there isn’t any work that has to be done in the fields right now. But they still took us on a walk to see the river and some rice paddies and I felt so happy walking barefoot in the rain along the muddy little paths. The foggy, green mountains make me feel like I’m in a cloud forest. It’s kind of surreal.
One thing that surprised me was that all the young boys in the village had some basic English, but the girls had none. Reva and I chatted with a couple of girls around our age about this and they explained to us that the boys get sent to an English/Hindi school and are highly encouraged to study, while the girls are sent to an only-Hindi school and and are not encouraged to study past the 10th grade, because they get married off soon after that. One of these girls was named Nisha, and she’s a 20 year old college student and travels an hour every day to Paud to her college. She said that her father believes that girls should pursue their education, but not everyone has the same views as him. She said that she would love to become a dance teacher if she had that opportunity. Another girl we met, named Puja, walks an hour to her school everyday while the boys take a school bus to their English school. I really wished I could have communicated more effectively with these girls because I feel like they had so much to say but we had to translate everything through Reva, so it was not that easy. These conversations left me thinking for a very long time about how the opportunities I’ve had have allowed me to dream about the future, but there are so many women who have never allowed themselves to dream about a different future, because their culture already has expectations of them.
When the jeep came to pick us up at the end of the 24 hours, I could have stayed longer in Hadashi. It’s a small village with very few people and not a whole lot going on, but the people I met were incredibly generous and hospitable to me. Later this term, all of the host families will be invited up to the college for a thank you dinner, so I’m really hoping Kalabai comes back so that I can see her and thank her again. I hope I can return to Hadashi again sometime soon to see everyone. The homestay was my first of hopefully many meaningful interactions with the people in the communities around me, and I’m so excited about what the next 2 years will bring about.
Me, Noori, Noori’s host Rakina, Kalabai, and Reva.
This mud is more fun barefoot!
Making chapatis up to Kalabai’s standards takes a lot of focus
Lots of laughs playing frisbee with the kiddos 🙂
Kalabai making chapati dough
Shukriya, Kalabai, for everything!