like a monkey in a zoo

For many months now I have been working on a project that is looking at the effect small businesses have on rural poverty. After months of waiting and working, I am finally at the stage to conduct interviews. And of course this being India, nothing goes as smoothly as you hope! I have a company helping me with the logistics, they said for me to just arrive and they would have everything sorted. So i quickly booked the only train ticket I could and headed off to Gujarat a day later.
After 12 hours of travelling (5 am – 3 pm) I finally arrived at my destination, several hours late of course. And what do you know… the company hasn’t made any of the arrangements! grr. But I managed to get it all pieced together in a few hours – interviewers, hotel, car and contacts to help us along the way. So the following morning we head off bright and early for rural Gujarat – a 5.5 hr drive from the semi-rural area I was in. It was nice scenery and I got to eat my favorite gujarati foods along the way so I was relatively happy.
Upon arrival we found that a hotel was not booked for us like we thought and the ones recommended were full. I think it is better that way though as we got a different one that is pretty comfy for the 250 (5 dollars) a night we are paying. And amazingly my wireless internet card works here, whereas it didn’t in the larger city!After 6 hours on the road our day didn’t officially begin until we arrived. It was to be another long day.
The project I’m working on is with a company that makes products for dairy collection centres and our main contact was the “chilling” centre where the milk is taken until it goes to the large dairy. They were quite helpful which was nice and they enjoyed hearing my few bits of gujarati.
Now on the road again – another 40 km to reach our destination. We arrived in a cute little village called Sara. Everyone was very friendly, too friendly if i were to be honest. Basically my arrival created absolute chaos in the town. I was the first foreigner to ever visit there, so I of course was the main attraction. The interviewers had previously thought that my precense would assist them, but they soon learned that I was going to be more of a hinderance than anything! After about 1 hr of chatting, drinking tea, being show people’s homes and the local temple, we were finally allowed to set out working. This turned out to be bad actually as that hour gave everyone enough time to inform the entire village that I was there. After about 1.5 hrs of being mobbed by people I had just about had enough of being surrounded by hundreds (literally) or old men, young men, children, women and even a few animals. They wouldn’t speak to me so much as they would just stare. Ok. I understand this is their first time seeing a foreigner, but get a good look and then carry on!!!
And since I was the main attraction I had to stay far away from the interviews going on so the work could continue.. even though I needed to be there to train them properly! I was being shuffled from one location to another trying to escape the crowds. I even went into a lady’s home and locked the door to no avail. Somehow within minutes the house was full of people again. I was sat in a chair on a ledge while they all sat below me like I was the teacher – except nothing was happening except staring!
And then, still with enough of this nonsense I went to the car and tried to hide there. It was just as bad. They all surrounded the car and just stared some more. oh and along with the staring comes the laughing at everything I do or say. So there I was a monkey in a cage. Now I really feel sorry for animals in zoos!
After 3 hours of this we escaped with not so great interviews, pure exhaustion and hunger!So today, at our 4 a.m. wakeup call, it was decided that I would stay out of sight so the interviews could be conducted. But it was early morning so I didn’t cause so much chaos!! Still word travelled fast and by the time we left i again had a circle of people around me. This continued all day as we went from village to village. I wish i could interact with the locals more, but it becomes so exhausting to just be stared at and asked where i’m from!
Tonight we’ll do it all again and then I’m leaving back to Mumbai tomorrow. I am sure the interviewers will be happy to see me gone – it will make their job much easier in many ways. But for this effort, I have enjoyed seeing the rural areas. Compared to other rural areas in India, Gujarat is much better for my 1 hour nap before being put on display again!

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