BUILD: India Summer Trip 2013: "BUILD Friends Good Deeds Club"

by tuftsigl
Jun 12


It’s our last day here in Thottiyapatti, and thus this is probably our final blog post for this trip as well, unless I feel like writing one when we’re in Chennai over the next two days, but honestly, that’s not likely to happen. On one level, we’re all quite excited to return to civilization after three weeks of rice and sambhar, bugs and creatures of all sorts and being constantly covered in dirt and sweat. However, at the same time, there’s a sense of melancholy at having to leave Thottiyapatti and Payir after spending nearly a month here with the people; at having to put aside the new relationships we’ve forged over the last 4 weeks and the old ones that have strengthened. Now, before this blog-post gets too sentimental and sappy and the girls accuse me of being overly inspired by the Chetan Bhagat 2 States sort-of-romance novel I was reading, there’s still a week to update all you readers about, including explaining the title of this post, so read on.
In this past week, we’ve perhaps experienced some of the biggest moves forward we’ve had in our time here, and some fairly monumental breakthroughs. After much urging over the past few weeks to begin devoting attention and time to the youth of the community by Senthil and Preethi, on Friday, we actually had our first ever Youth Club meeting at the Learning Center. The young men and women of the village were gathered primarily by Ranjit, a builder who worked on the toilets who Shobhita has continuously referred to as a “God” due to his “lean build and chiseled features”. This meeting actually went off very well, as helped by Prakash, our translator who is pursuing a Masters of Social Work at Bishop Heber College in Trichy, and Preethi, we were able to convey to the youth that Thottiyapatti is theirs to make a difference in. But before we could even really discuss the agenda of the club, a more important issue rose to the forefront: the name of the group. Thanks to a number of the members, the group is now called Valar Nanbargal Narpani Mandaram which in English translates to “BUILD Friends Good Deeds Club”. We’ve had two meetings since, where the members have pledged to devote themselves to fixing a number of basic problems such as street lighting, the drainage, and bringing a gym to Thottiyapatti (we’re not so sure about the last one.) It’s incredibly refreshing to see the young people of the community getting involved and actually seizing the initiative to advocate change. Let’s hope the initial passion doesn’t wither away, and when we return in December, we can use this new gym for exercise as opposed to walking to Thottiyapatti every day as our work out.
On Saturday, Shobhita, The Kriste/ins, Angad and Prakash headed to Madurai (a two or three hour bus ride from Trichy.) Heidi had left the previous night to return home for an internship at the IRC and Hanna was deathly sick (I had initially written “rather unwell” and was told to change it because she was worried all of you readers would think she was lazy) and so elected to remain behind at Payir. Though she did have a decent enough watching all the chick flicks I have on my laptop (which I’m honestly not certain as to why I have such.) In Madurai, we were to meet with the Center for Entrepreneurial Development, an organization that, as their name explains, focuses on entrepreneurial development in rural villages in Tamil Nadu. After starting our day at 4:30 am and traveling there in a bus which had the most comfortable reclining seats one could imagine (“I could have traveled all the way back to Chennai on that bus,” Big K proclaimed), we reached Madurai at about 9. Our meeting with CED was largely positive as they seemed genuinely interested in the work we do and eager to help any way that they could. They not only have provided us with an opportunity at achieving some degree of success with our initial income generation goal by promising to send a team of representatives for a village profile analysis later today, but also provided us with an air-conditioned SUV and took us out to lunch once the meeting was over. The General Secretary of the organization with whom we met, Mr. R Jayaraman not only is on the board for a local university but owned the hotel where we had lunch- as he put it, “Entrepreneurship is not an activity; it’s a state of mind.” Fairly fitting for the occasion, I’d say.
Later that day we visited the Meenakshi Temple (the second highest in Asia, or so Prakash told me). Unfortunately, due to some very odd kind of prejudice, the Kriste/ins were not allowed into the central part of the temple because a large sign proclaimed “no Foreigners allowed.” After they tried sneaking in using their dupattas to cover their faces (another use to add to the list: to battle and escape racism at temples), and I tried to convince the security that Lil’ K was my wife and had become an Indian citizen through that (“you need a marriage certificate to prove this,” I was told), they eventually had to settle for sitting outside with Prakash who vehemently declared he was against organized religion due to it excluding people. Soon after, we returned to Trichy, but this time took a less comfortable, longer bus. We barely made it back to Chettiram bus station in Trichy by 10:00 and were alarmed to find out that our bus to Thenur had left. Senthil (who we obviously had to call for help) informed us that there was another bus coming shortly. But after 45 minutes, that bus just hadn’t appeared. Those 45 minutes were perhaps the strangest I’ve ever had in my time in Tamil Nadu as they featured Lil K’ feeding us all chocolate directly from the wrapper as our hands were dirty, Prakash continuously asking the conductors where the 123 bus we were to take was (as well as watching a number of buses that could have taken him home go by and sadly musing “there goes my bus,”) and Shobhita suddenly going into a self-diagnosed “manic depression.” This depression included her questioning as to whether she should continue to live and loudly asking Prakash if he “felt like dying. Do you feel like dying, Prakash???” I sort of felt bad for him by the end of it. Just when we were ready to give up and began to walk away towards a nearby hotel, the Shobhita-named “ghost bus” suddenly turned up (we were later told by Senthil that everyone here refers to it as the “thief bus” as it has a tendency to sneak up on you.)
I have no excuses this time as to why I should stop writing, except for the fact that the post is getting really long. Again, this being our last day here, we do have quite an agenda on hand- we want to interview some of the youth members, CED representatives will be here to talk to the community, and of course, we have to find a home for Ruby before we leave early in the morning or I don’t think Hanna will leave Payir and may end up living her life working as a tailor or becoming Jaiama’s (Payir’s cook) apprentice so she can take care of Ruby (Imagine coming back here in 6 months and being served sambhar by Hanna.)
It’s been a really great trip (I’m sure you’ll hear that a bunch of more times from me in the coming months) and in a lot of ways, I’d say this trip has changed us all. As I’m having a hard time actually writing a good concluding line, I’m going to ask the rest of them how to end and tell you what they say. 
Big K: “It’s also been a difficult 3 weeks with Jaiama but we parted on peaceful terms.”
Lil K: “I’ve given up showering. Aal iz well.”
Shobhita: “This trip was a test of physical hardship and we have all survived. Congratulations to us all.” 
Hanna: “I’m not leaving until we find a home for Ruby.”
Angad: “Day by day nothing changes, but when we look back, everything is different.” ( homage to our old friend, Barani)
Thank you to Payir for having us stay here; to Preethi and Senthil and all the rest for taking care of us; to Prakash for putting up with us (and the kids at Payir and Thottiyapatti) and to everyone else who made this trip so memorable. 

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