My trip to Mainalli was a unique experience. I had traveled before, but never had the opportunity to engage so directly with only one segment of the population. When we first drove down the little street leading to the convent where we were to stay, I saw a village of people who, in any other context, appeared to be African. But as I learned — and there was a lot to learn — the Siddi people are a perfect mix of African and Indian. It was amazing to see the depth of the community’s African cultural retentions (music, language, oral traditions), and their level of adaptability to the Indian culture (language, clothing, religion, and traditions). Despite the two worlds embraced by Siddis– one through ancestry and one through lived realities, however, the lack of cultural assimilation and integration into greater Indian society was surprising. Though rural communities are commonly isolated from the greater urban dynamic, it was shocking and disappointing to see that so many ethnic Indians were completely unaware of even the existence of the Siddi peoples who had been in India for several hundred years and many generations.
On the other hand, it was amazing to witness the level of self-sufficiency that this small but powerful community has been building up. This heavily community-based civilization could not depend on the state or national government for assistance; instead, they rely solely on each other with the help of few others. We saw structures in place to raise money for micro-financing projects among women and families, implement community health outreach programs, access education, as well as informal markets to buy and sell goods from each other.
Mainalli is a small village, surrounded by many other similar small villages. It can appear picturesque, quiet and quaint from a first glance, but the legs of this society were, and are, working hard beneath the surface.
In July 2015 I was able to travel to India for the first time and experience life in a developing country. Being a teacher I was interested in seeing how the education system was in rural India. I brought some basic english books and puzzles as well as math manipulatives with me to use with and give to the children. I originally thought I would use these to help teach the students but I quickly realized most of the people living in Mainalli didn’t know English and that I wouldn’t be teaching in the primary grade schools. However I did share the materials with the children during free time and they thrived playing with the puzzles and tangrams. I was so overwhelmed with the language barrier that it was easier for me to observe life in Mainalli and all that was happening before I had big involvement and projects. I spent some days in the preschool in Mainalli watching how the children learn. I experienced the differences in education and the barriers that children are facing when learning in school. Since it was my first time to India my trip quickly turned into just spending time in India and observing all that happened in Mainalli. I was able to learn about the people and children in Mainalli and the experienced filled my heart with so much love and drive to help make their lives the best they can be. I have taken with me all the smiles that greeted me in India and I hope to return to them soon.