Today we visited the rural village of Pimpakhed, about 30km from the township of Buldana. Just to paint a picture for you, there are 650 people in the village who live on just two acres of land! When I heard these numbers put this way, I instantly thought pf our family of six back home in Australia living on an acre block. A punch of perspective just there! Wherever we go, we always attract a crowd of onlookers, especially rural visits. I suppose not many international travellers journey out to the rural villages, and therefore not many villagers or their children get to see people from foreign countries. We are privileged to be able to do and see this life of rural India through our connection with Dr Moses who hands on assists villages with the delivery of a sustainable and empowered model a rural healthcare.
When we first get out of the car, and this time the mini school bus (as Charlie and Ash left at lunch time today in the 4WD with the four volunteers to the big smoke city of Aurangabad for a weekend away), the first thing that I notice is the brownness – brown dusty streets, brown stick fences, brown cow dung homes. Everything seems to be painted in brown. But then the children of the village appear, and the women folk in their brightly coloured dresses and saris and inquisitive looks. They stand tentatively near, watching our actions and movements, but far enough to try to work out who we are and what we’re doing here. Of course they see Dr Moses, and know him well as the city doctor who regularly visits the village with his sister Varsha and the health clinic nurse. But we are unknown and probably the most unusual human beings that they will see all week.
We meet up with the village chief and we stroll down a well-worn pathway towards a dam and a well. Each village has its own council with a chief that enacts the rules of the village and hears complaints. Herds of goats and cows can be seen in the background making their way to the dam across the paddocks. We stop at a well and look down over its concrete rim into the well. It’s nearly empty. Rubbish flashes in the water below. It’s a grim reality of one of the daily challenges faced by these villagers – clean water. None of it is really clean, even in the wells that are more full. The other three wells near the village with more water in them are still dirty and contaminated. The people use these wells as their only source of water for drinking, cooking, washing. Dr Moses tells me that chlorine drops are used in some homes to aid in sterilisation. My guess it’s not used as often as required. Boiling water first before use is promoted here as a way of killing germs but it’s not adhered to all that readily. Who wants to drink hot or warm water anyway? And without household fridges, this makes boiling water inefficient. It is common for Dr Moses to be called out for emergencies to treat outbreaks of dysentery, especially in the rainy seasons when all the drinking water has been churned up.
I notice a group of children approaching us, as well as a short astute man wearing the traditional Indian farming clothing: white cotton pants and white shirt. I know who he is instantly and I look to the young girl clutching his hand, his daughter, dressed in a bright pink dress. Two years ago when I was in rural India leading an Indian immersion program for nine Melbourne University students, I called for supporters back home in Australia to sponsor children attending Dr Moses’ English speaking pre-school. People were very generous and happy to get involved to sponsor a preschool child for $120 for the year. I was one of those sponsors as well, and this was the preschool girl my family sponsored that year. My heart lifted and a swell of emotion filled my eyes. I waved to them and greeted them with a huge smile. My girl had grown so taller; her father hadn’t changed a bit. She still clung close to her father’s side as she had done when she was just a two and half year old. I shook her father’s hand telling him how delighted I was to see him again. Of course there is no English conversation with any of the mostly illiterate adults here; the only chance to converse is with the younger generation. My girl, still as cute and shy as I’ve always remembered her, hid behind the other children trying to blend in. This is the photo I got with her. Beautiful girl from Pimpakhed village.
We walked back up the well-trodden path into the main village area. The villages are organised similarly like any suburb with homes on either side of a dusty road, with a local shop operated out of a village home. The shop sells chips, lollies, and other treats that I could not quite decipher what they were with all the Hindi written over the packet. A young boy operates the shop with his family, and we are invited in to take a look. It’s a well organised shop, with a scruffy thatched roof and sticks tied together to make the walls. The walls help keeps the rain out they tell me. The boy is proud, and is eager to bridge the gap in communication with me and starts dropping English words and pointing to certain objects. He has a heart of gold; I can just tell by the warmth in his eyes, and the biggest and friendliest smile I’ve seen in a long time. I have an overwhelming urge to buy up big from his little shop, but I don’t and we walk out and continue wandering the village, he and his friends by my side.
Governments are funny institutions and that is so true for the Indian one. On the one hand they do good for the people, but on many others they let them down. Two years ago I recall seeing rubbish bins in the streets of Buldana and even in some of the villages. I remember them so well because on the front of these trash cans was a photo of Prime Minister Modi. It was under his leadership that he wanted to ‘clean up India’ and start a re-educate program with younger generations to use the bins and take some responsibility of keeping their land and waterways litter free. But today, as we walk through the village from one end to the other, there is not a bin in sight. And it is here at the other end of the village where we see how they manage their rubbish – they burn it. The ground in front of me is a sea of speckled plastics and bits of paper, all different colours. This is not only a major problem in this poor village, but even more so in the towns and cities where a lot of the rural population are moving to in search of work and a better life. I have observed since we have been living here, that it’s obviously true that living not in a hotel room, where all your services (laundry, cooking, cleaning etc) are done for you by other people, but living in an apartment or a house in a foreign country means you actually live like a local and deal with all those services like a local too. Taking out the rubbish really means here finding somewhere to dump it, or arrange for someone to help you burn it. We have been dealing with stockpiles of rubbish bags at our own apartment, and been feeling guilty about contributing to it. I’m not sure what else we can do, other than buy our groceries in reusable carry bags.
I stand for a moment looking out over the remnants of rubbish at the back end of this village and my mind now is not alarmed nor shocked as it once used to be. I’m starting to not see the rubbish because for the last month I have been living with it all around me. I am growing accustomed to it being there; my reaction to it is accepting it and feeling like it is normal. I contemplate India having an authoritative Lee Kwan Yew Singaporean-style Prime Minister to clean this place up and interrupt the status quo of its rubbish problem. That thought is interrupted by Steve’s voice behind me talking about how the government installed solar street lighting. I walk over to join the conversation and find out that just two months back, this village had 10 solar street lights installed. I can tell they’re brand spanking new – shiny metal poles. It’s the only shiny thing in the village, except for the water collecting canisters the women carry on top of their heads. The solar lights look so out of place in this brown tinged village, but so needed by the people living here. Another woe to village life is the interrupted electricity supply, or more commonly known as non-supply. It’s a system that can’t be relied upon, and I’m sure it has caused many accidents (possibly deaths) with village people taking electricity into their own hands and trying to cross wires to tap into “working” electricity.
Along with the 10 solar powered lights, the government also built 20 homes in the village. Walking down the roads it is noticeable who has money and who doesn’t. There are homes built of sticks and cow dung, and homes built with stronger materials such as bricks and stone. Due to this work being completed, the government now classifies this village not as a poor rural community due to the fact that it has 10 solar street lights and 20 strong homes plus some maintenance done to the road. Blah! Amazingly arrogant government.
We walk some more, passing women shelling lentils on the side of the village road, a woman under her thatched road verandah making chapattis (Indian flat bread) and cooking them on a flat fry pan over the small fire while her young child sits near her playing in the dirt. We stop at the village school and Dr Moses knows many of the kids who once attended his pre-school in Buldana. One of them is still wearing the yellow pre-school t-shirt with his school name – Vidya Niketan English School Buldana – written on the front and back. He gathers them into a semi-circle and asks them to sing a song. The school caters for grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 only. A teacher travels each day from Buldana city to conduct lessons in the two village classrooms. Another positive government initiate is providing these village schools with a lunch program where each school child receives a healthy lunch of protein. As you can imagine, there are no overweight children here in the villages. They are lean and playful even without the presence of basketball hoops, monkey bars, or skipping ropes. All the children are barefoot. A phone rings, and I notice it’s a bright yellow toy phone that a young boy is playing with. The Indian rural children may not have materialistic stuff, but they will always be connected to technology via their phones.
We watch the women walk back to the village from the well with their shining steel canisters glistening in the afternoon sun balancing two or three up on their heads. The well is a place for the women to gather with their strong and durable plastic buckets or previously used chemical containers that are attached to a long piece of rope to collect the daily water needed for their families. This village does not have a hand pump so the repetitive and arduous process of collecting water occurs morning and night. Two huge mounds of rock are piled near the well – the contents of the blast that occurred long ago to create the well and access the table water below. As I peer down into the well, I watch the buckets dangle down to the water below and float on the top. The women perform a jerking movement on the end of the rope about three times, that helps submerge the bucket and then it is hauled back up. The rough movement of pulling the bucket back up causes water to spill out of the bucket, but the women appear not to care. They have done this day and night over many years and there is nothing to hurry them. This process is repeated nine times until three silver canisters are filled to the brim. We watch as the women lift the heavy water canisters onto their heads, there’s a slight wobble to find their balance and stability and then they’re off walking back to their homes in the village about a couple of hundred meters away. Billie and Dacey were amazed at what effort it took these women to collect water for everyday use. The children (and adults) brought up with turning on taps and gaining instant access to fresh, clean and unrestricted amounts of flowing water need to see this or know the water reality for millions and millions of village people in the world today.
The visit to Pimpakhed village puts life into perspective. It also puts our rants and raves and silly concerns on the back burner. These people need more but are happy nonetheless. They get on with life. They live as best they can with what they have in intelligence, relationships, and sheer belief to keep going living their life. We return to Buldana changed people because of this visit. A very humbling experience to say the least.