So now that you have a vague idea of where I’m sleeping, I can tell you a little bit about our first days at Jamkhed. I know it seems like I’m posting a lot, but a lot is happening, so please, try to keep up. It’s only a three-week course and if you fall behind, you might not catch up. I won’t have a chance for private tutorials. The good news is that in a few more days, I’ll have to start studying and working on my group project and my short paper that is due before we leave so I’ll have to stop sharing so much with all of you. Can’t promise things will get any less exciting though.
On Monday, we had a tour of the compound, including the new hospital, which is about 2 years old. Most of my fellow students are staying in the old wards of the old hospital. We saw the surgical ward, children’s ward and labour and delivery unit. I haven’t spent that much time in Western hospitals but could tell that this was more rudimentary. However, it is comparable to something you’d find in Mumbai or Pune and considering how remote we are, that’s pretty impressive. It’s a 50-bed hospital with only 7 full time nurses because the philosophy is to train family members to care for patients in order to be able to send them home as quickly as possible. This is both for budgetary reasons and in line with Indian cultural norms. Every Thursday, an Ophthalmologist comes and offers free eye screenings and twice a month on weekends, they perform up to 200 free eye surgeries for cataracts, glaucoma and such for the surrounding villages. We’re allowed to witness the surgeries this weekend but I think I’ll pass…years of watching Hedy put in her contacts has convinced me that I am not up for watching a scalpel pass through a cornea!
In the afternoon, we went into Jamkhed town, about a 15-minute walk- or 5-minute drive- away. We went to check out town but also to buy some traditional outfits so we could go to villages dressed appropriately. There are 22 people on my program, 21 of whom are women. This is a shop that sells showra (the pant/long top/scarf combination- I'm sure I’m spelling it wrong) outfits starting at 450 Rps, which is about $10AUD. We went into the shop, up the stairs where they have literally hundreds of these outfits in packages and they start pulling them out and throwing them on the counter…it was like a Wal-Mart with the last Bratz doll the day after Thanksgiving.
I grabbed a few I liked but as most Indian women don’t have the same body type as me, I didn’t expect them to fit across the hips. I had a bit of a struggle in the dressing room and never got to find out if they fit across the hips since I couldn’t get them past the boobs. Instead, I went for the custom-made look where I got to select my fabric and I go back in a couple of days to pick up my finished product. I was a little disappointed to not have immediate gratification like most of the other folks, but I haven’t had a made-to-measure outfit since September, 09 and that one cost a little more than the $30 I spent on this one…plus I think I’ll wear this one more than once!
One of the reasons most people were so anxious to find the perfect outfit was because we had been given THE MOST EXCITING NEWS that afternoon. The grand-daughter of one of CRHP’s benefactors—the man who donated all the land that the compound is built on- was getting married…and WE WERE ALL INVITED TO THE WEDDING! THAT NIGHT!
I can only imagine how thrilled my mum would have been had someone from Dad’s office called 3 hours before my wedding to say there were 25 folks from another hemisphere who wanted to stop by the wedding, was that okay? I’m sure she’d have been as enthusiastic about our attendance as this person was. To be fair, the guest list for this wedding was over 1000 so what’s another 25 guests?
We returned from our shopping trip and changed into our outfits- luckily I had a nice (Indian, no less) dress I’d brought with me- and were on the bus by 5:30 as the wedding was about 90 minutes on the same bumpy dirt road away. But it was worth every bump in the road.
We arrived in perfect timing, just as the groom was doing his procession into the reception. There was a huge band playing Indian music you could hear in all directions. Young people had candelabras atop their heads to light the path and the groom was literally perched atop a white stallion.
As we entered the outdoor reception grounds, it felt like we were going to a festival. Everywhere we looked was another catering station. We were with Dr. Arole, the founder and director of the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) whom I’ll be talking about a lot in the coming blogs. After we greeted a gaggle of relatives with “Namaste” and smiles, we stood and stared in awe at the sheer enormity of what lay before us. Soon, Dr. Arole ushered us from station to station, letting our plates be filled again and again with dahl, paneer, various curries, dosa, pakora, and a bunch of things I can’t even name, each more delicious than the next. We had fried to order naan thrown onto our plates, roti, pappadam, and more and then we were led to the sweets table where there was a delectable dessert that was a sweet apple custard of some sort, basically sweetened condensed milk with some fruit in it that was AWESOME!! Had I known my fellow students better, I would definitely have had seconds of that one! Alas, I had to show restraint. There was a popcorn machine and cotton candy (aka fairy floss for you Aussies) for the kids and we barely scratched the surface. I thought Jews knew how to eat at wedding…and they were catering for over 1000!!!
Then it was time for the ceremonial part, so Dr. Arole instructed us all to the seating area and the bride and groom went up onto a huge stage where bride and groom each had a floral lei-type thing in their hands. They walked out onto the front of the stage, which then rose up about 20 meters high so everyone could see them as they wrapped the lei’s around each other’s necks. The bride’s sari was so sparkly and shimmery, it was like she had diamonds all over her. She looked like a bedazzled disco ball and I wanted to see it up close…and it was as if Dr. Arole knew my wish because as soon as the ceremony was over, we were all ushered up to the front and brought up onstage where we were posed for a photo with the bride and groom! (We don't have a copy of the photo of all of us with them, but this is a photo one of my colleagues took of them when we were onstage)
Apparently, it is a sign of status if you have westerners at your wedding so we made them look good, even as we stood with our mouths agape at the whole process.
As we were leaving, a guest asked us where we were from. When we replied “Australia”, he said, “oh, so this is like, all EXOTIC for you and stuff, right?” and we all laughed.
It was a great night, one that put every Indian wedding I’d seen on film (Monsoon Wedding, Bend it like Beckham, etc.) to shame. The ride home didn’t seem nearly as bumpy, perhaps because we were all floating from the unique cultural experience.