Saturday, March 31, 2007

Oh Oogna my love...

Sorry about the following spelling mistakes...I've become to lazy to correct them...he he he!

I'm not sure where I left off, thus I'm not sure where to begin, but I feel as though the following place will be more than sufficient.

So, the first point I'd like to address is my recent lack of blog posting. The fundamental reason that I've been posting less and less with time is because I always feel as though my posts are wildly incapaiable of describing whats going on over here. I can barely take it all in, and I'm living it...writting about it in any accurate way is extremly tough. The proximate reason as to why I haven't been posting, and specifically why I haven't been posting very recently is really quite simple...I haven't had any access to a computer.

Oh my! Seth, why haven't you had any access to a computer?

Here goes...

For the past week and a half I have been living in a village called Oogna. It's in southern Rajastan, and if you wanna look at a map, your best bet will be to find a city called's the closest to Oogna. Basically, last Monday night, I left Jaipur with my fiend Chris, Aron, Lissa, and Kat. All four of us took an overnight train that departed at 10:30 P.M. and arrived in Udaipur at 9:00 the next morning. Once in Udaipur, we were picked up by a van and taken to a guest house that SIT is affiliated with, and we were fed breakfast. After breakfast we quickly showered and then headed out to the village. Before departing from Jaipur, the program coordinators prepped us with a mini packing list that included such items as water purification tablets, bug coils, bug nets, bug spray, antibiotics,...the list goes on, but in short we were told "you guys are basically going camping." So in Udaipur, before we set our for Oogan, we were all expecting an extremly rural setting. The drive in to the village took about two hours. The scenery slowly faded from a city scape to beautiful mountains, and evenutally as we got closer to land.
Now, Oogna was by no means as rural as I think we all had romanticized it to be, but lemme give a short description of it to set the scene. The village itself has less than 500 people living in it. Everyone knows everyone else, and the five white students from America, us, were quickly spotted by everyone in town. The center of the village consited of approximately 30 shops. All of the shops had nothing more than very basic necessities, i.e. food items and simple clothing. In short, Oogna is not a place one should go in search of a great shopping experience. Fortunately, this was not what any of us hoped for in Oogna, thus there was no dissappointment with it at all. In actuallity, we were all thrilled to finally be out of the crazy-ass cities and be in a place where the concern of being hit by motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, cars, and busses was truly at a safe minimum. In fact, the village is so small that there are no rickshaws at all. One bus comes into town each day, and I probably could have counted the number of cars I saw on one hand. In short Oogna is tiny, and I fell in love with it.
So, you must still be wondering what we were doing in Oogna. Well, we weren't shopping, we clearly weren't surfing the net, and however nice it would have been to sit in some sort of air-conditioned room, that was way out of the question. Again, what were we doing there? Well, there is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called the Ghandi Mono Kalyan Society (MKS) English this means, the Ghandi Human Welfare Society. I, and the other four students were spending a week interning for this NGO. MKS is a multi facated organization and deals with issues that include, organic agriculture, soil conservation, water conservation, pregnancy/womans issues education, domestic violence education, primary education reform, food for community development, disaster releif, early childhood health and education....the list goes on. MKS deals only with rural villages, and areas that are termed "backwards." Basically, they are trying to help many people whose welfare is directly tied to agriculture, and who otherwise would not recieve much of the vital education that MKS is providing to them.

I decided to work with the Food For Community Development program for the week. Ironically, neither I nor any of the other students ended up doing much work with our respectively choosen divisions. This was because, during our week visiting MKS, they were organizing their annual Womans Day festival. So, instead of doing FFCD work, I went along with a guy named Nareshji, and Ramlalji, and passed out invitations to this event. MKS is very much commited to progessing womens empowerment, thus this event that has been going on since 1991 is appropriately run by them.

So, for the first four days of being in Oogna, Nareshji, Ramlalji and I motorcycled all over the village countryside and passed out invitations to the event. The area we were in was breathtaking. There was not only the type of beauty that a seemingly endless field of golden wheat creates as the wind gently rustles through it, but there was also the type of mighty beauty that mountains bring. This is because Oogna, and all of the other villages we went around to, are situated in a valley between two mountain ranges. On either side of us at all times were these beautiful mountin ranges streching to the horizon, and obviuosly tempting my desire to hike...more about this later.

Basically, for those first four days the three of us, on one bike, motorcycled/dirtbiked to a bunch of villages and passed out these invites. Since the roads in this area are far from good, it was extremly common for us to be taking the motorcycle either up or down a "road" that, in my mind, more closely resembled a steep, rocky, loosely packed hiking trail. Further, at a few points the roads simply ended at a river. So, much to my surprise, we simply took the motorcycle through and across the river. Being knee deep in water while sitting on a motorcycle, and bumping across a rocky river, is truly thrilling, and I highly recommend anyone willing to wreck their bike, or simply get a huge thrill, to try doing this. This is another place in which the detail could go on endlessly, but in short we really went on some rugged terrain to get these invitation out.

I guess I should take a moment to explain what Oogna, compared to the other villages was like. Oogna is arguably a tiny tiny town. The other villages are nothing like towns. First the villages are basically dependant on agriculture. Thus, the village is actually comprised of various fields, which at this time of year, are growing wheat. Each plot of land is obviously owned by someone and this is clear by the mud houses that dot the pastural yet desertish landscape. Further, all of the farm work is done by oxen and by hand. The fields are planted by ox drawn plows, and the fields are harvested by workers using merely hand tools. The villages are litteraly void of power tools or felt as though I had stepped back in time a few hundered was truly beautiful.

Ok, again, I could go on with details, but they'll have to wait until I get back...then, I'll make everyone some Indian food, and spill all the nitty gritty.

Anyways, after passing out all the invitations (we had only been there for 4 days of the 3 week process) womens day happened. Women from 17 villages all around the area assembled in marches, and walked at least the last 5km into the town. The marcheres carried banners with various slogans pertaining to womens empowerment. In short this event was truly amazing. Once everyone arrived there were about 1600 women and about 500 men present. Various state level dignitaries, documentry makers, and reporters were there too. So, why was this such a big deal? Well, women in India, and especially women in villages, are extremly unequal on many levels in comparison to men. 50 years ago the notion of a womens day event would have been unthinkable. Even this past week, many women present wore full face coverings, and some even had to sneak out of their homes to attend the event because their husbands dissapproved. In short, this was a massive example of social mobilization, and thus generated a large amount of outside interest. Again, I could go on endlessly about the critical view, I took as well as the 4 other students, but in short the event was great. I will stand firm in my conclusion that Womens Day has a long way to go in regards to promoting womens equality and empowerment, but change is slow, and at the very least there is a much larger sense of awarness surrounding such issues than there has been in the past.

Also, while we were in Oogna, we took about 5 hikes up various mountains. There were no trails, thus the hiking was somewhat slow going, but indescribably beautiful.

So in short, my absence from the cyber world can be blamed on Oogna...but in my mind blame is not at all the right word. Being in the village, the type of setting that 70% of indian citizens still live in was a blessing. Not being able to get online, not having easy access to a phone, not hearing trafic, seeing the most brilliant stars at night, and hearing true silence is not something I can "blame" Oogna for. Instead, I have to thank Oogna for showing me a side of India, that has quickly become my favorite.

Much love to everyone,
I miss you all,
See you sort of happy yet sad,
As always,
Be well,

After about two hours of driving in to the dessert, our expectations didn't fall short, and we found outselves

south to Oogna and arrived

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