It is amazing how spending time halfway around the world in the beautiful nation of India can impact a young and budding social scientist such as myself. I came into the experience with set perceptions, plans and action items. Things quickly changed as I learned more about the Siddi people and the fluidity of their collective identity that I did not expect based on academic articles. I learned that strength and resiliency in many respects can be attributed to faith within Siddi communities; faith in one another, faith in karma, and faith in their own special and specific religious practices and rituals. One way in which I believe my presence may have impacted the people within the villages we visited was that I helped shake the perception of what it means to be from the United States. They knew that myself and the other students with me were from a foreign land, and yet many of them noticed my features and decided that while I may be foreign, I was also one of them. The people I met in rural Karnataka demonstrated such strength, generosity, kindness and spirituality that I can honestly say I have never witnessed in the same respect in the United States. I hope I bring into practice what they taught me into my own life moving forward.
My time in Mainalli was one of the most transformative experiences I have had. It’s one thing to hear stories about people who live in poverty and in rural areas and the challenges they face, but to see it firsthand taught me so much. It’s made me think more critically about my obligations to others and about the type of work I’d like to do in the future.
It was very inspiring to see how the sisters devoted their entire lives to helping the community. Often times I would shadow of the sisters as they went about their daily tasks, meeting with the sanghas, or visiting the remote balwadies. Because I did not speak the language, I observed and gathered what I could from the sister’s translations. I kept a journal during that time and wrote over two hundred pages of “thick description”, an experience, along with accompanying Professor Pash on his fieldwork, that was integral to my anthropology major.
I began to volunteer at the local balwadie, where I felt my lack of local language would be less restricting. I helped teach the English alphabet, and introduced some songs and picture books to the children. I also helped out with afternoon tutoring at the convent. If anything, I learned so much from the balwadie teacher. She made many of her classroom supplies, such as counters made from brightly painted dried beans. In the absence of pencil and paper, she got the children to write and draw using sticks in the dust outside the school. Several years later, while teaching preschool in a high poverty school in Louisiana, I drew on the same ingenuity when I found myself without adequate teaching materials nor the funding to buy them.
I learned a lot from my time in India, as an outsider looking in, and this has helped me understand the world I have grown into. I saw poverty, gender inequality, and the aftershocks of a legalized caste system, and came to understand them as complex systems that affect everyday life in a way that reading a textbook would never have shown me. Later, when I moved to rural Louisiana to teach preschool, I encountered poverty, inequality, and the aftershocks of segregation. My experience in India informed how I understood, interacted with, and reacted to these complex systems at work on the lives of my students.
I think that the more I live and grow in the world, the more connections I will see to my time in India.