Arriving in India was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. Getting off the plane was like stepping onto the set of a movie. It was about 3 a.m. and the fog was so thick that I wouldn’t have known if Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were conversing outside of the next terminal over. We took a bus to Immigration where we were promptly greeted by a tall thin man with a big smile and an even bigger gun. After we got our bags and left the airport for the parking lot, we were met with an even more interesting site. Let me just say that if you have never had a crowd of about 100 Indian men stare at you while you weaved your way through them, then you have no idea what awkward is.
The fog gave a shrouded feel to everything. We loaded our bags and got on the buses which, in a few short days we have all come to both love and hate, and made our way to Pathways. To be honest, I’m not really sure how we made it here in one piece. I wanted to sleep, but I was so excited that I couldn’t help but stare out the window and try to observe everything I could see through the dense fog and darkness. I could only ever see as far as the clay walls next to the road and I noticed that most of them had various types of barbed-wire at the top. Were we passing several prisons? Or secure military or industrial sites? Or were we just in a bad area of town? I couldn’t be sure at the time, but I learned later that day that barbed-wire is on top of walls around almost any building. The other scary and surreal part was just driving down the road. Only the highway had any street lights so I have no idea how the drivers knew where they were going on the rest of the roads. We could have easily been driving through a mustard field and I would never have known. Passing another car was even scarier because we had to stop to let them pass or vice versa and even then it always seemed like their headlights were going to come right at us as they just narrowly passed by.
When we finally arrived at Pathways at 7 a.m., we decided to sleep, shower and unpack until about noon. Again, I couldn’t sleep (unfortunately, that is a common theme of this trip). At noon, we got a quick lunch and left for Navjyoti India Foundation, a rural development center. We met with the head of the foundation and a few other members. Here the EWB team learned about some of the projects Navjyoti works. We also discussed what specific needs Abheypur has right now. Navjyoti works with thirty-four of the eighty-four villages in Sohna Block on various issues like female empowerment, domestic abuse counseling and recently, different environmental and social issues in partnership with Hartford. We discussed everything that still needs to be worked on, including:
· fixing the soak pit that the professional EWB chapter built in October
· repairing a small part of the rain water harvesting system
· mapping all the wells to determine the true demand for water in the village
· increasing awareness and education about the soak pit, village gutters and other water issues like the lowering water table through out the village.
After our meeting with Navjyoti, we all headed into the village to take a tour so that Dr. Pines and the rest of the engineers could see all of the work that needs to be done and those of us who have never seen the village before could see it. The village was an incredible sight. As we drove through, we were met by an increasing number of kids waving and smiling and staring until we got to the girl’s primary school, a.k.a. our base camp. As we walked around the village I was in a daze. This was somewhat from the lack of sleep, but also just because village life was astounding to witness firsthand. As we walked down the narrow streets of dust and mud, we passed everything from wild peacocks to stray skittish flea-bitten dogs to innumerable latchkey kids, some as young as two, being dragged around by their older siblings, with no one really watching them but each other. Some had funny fitting shoes that were too small so their toes stuck out. Some had flip-flops or sandals and their feet were caked in mud. Some had no shoes at all. I don’t mean to get uncharacteristically mushy on you, but as the sun set over the still somewhat foggy sky, I thought about how my photos would look that day and I actually refrained from taking a lot simply because it was so drab. Generally, when there is fog in landscapes, there is a sense of entrapment, like there is no escape. How are we going to help these people escape poverty? Can we? How are we going to make sure that these children’s children always have shoes on their feet? The one thing that gave me hope, other than being surrounded by some of the smartest, most caring individuals that I have met at Hartford, was the constant sound of laughter during our tour. One thing about Abheypur is that we are never alone; there is constantly a small group of children playing, laughing, probably daring their friends to come talk to us. I have worked with kids for the last two summers, as well as numerous other occasions and I have never heard as many children laughing as I heard that afternoon. That is the one thing I know now that I will never forget about Abheypur; it doesn’t take much to make a child laugh.