Woke up today at 7:30am hoping to have a nice shower and it was freezing cold! So I decided to wash Indian style; tap and jug wash. We were picked up from our apartment at 9am by Destin to go shopping for Sari's to wear at our arrival banquet at Jananeethi. I'm still overwhelmed by the hecticness of the roads and streets. Our first time crossing the road was a mission; just walk, and hope is my motto! I love looking in the shops at all the beautiful sari's, there are so many different designs, colours, materials, sequins. I chose a lilac blouse and a white, pink & silver sari. We also bought bindi's which are the decorations worn in the centre of the forehead.
Jananeethi is down a dirt track and over a tiny bridge in a lovely tranquil location lined with trees. As Kerala is nearing the end of the monsoon season the trees and surroudings are a beautiful lush green.
Upon arrival we were greeted by George (the director) and a number of members of Jananeethi who all seemed really eager and interested to meet us. There was an Onam flower (Pookalam) on the porch area which the members had made out of flower petals to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali(this is an Onam tradition – Onam is a festival celebrated in Kerala). We were given a tour of Jananeethi and then Destin helped me to put on my sari, there was a lot of material and it was hard to walk in, but we all looked really nice and Indian!
We then tucked in to the banquet, for Onam food is traditionally served on banana leaves! I discovered that it’s quite difficult at first to eat rice with your hand! After watching Malin (another intern) I realised that the trick is to mix the curry into the rice and squish it all together. It sounds disgusting, but you get used to it. The meal consisted of rice and a number of different curries - my favourite being the pineapple one. This kind of meal is a tradition during the time of ONAM festival. Whilst in India I have decided not to eat meat in order to minimise the likelyhood of becoming sick! In South India a large majority of the population are vegetarian so there is no problem here as most meals are typically vegetarian.
Immersing yourself in the culture is the best way to experience the real India. I am very grateful that we are being introduced to the Indian customs by the local people themselves, and being made to feel like part of their society rather than merely a tourist.
After the banquet George briefed us on the project we will be undertaking during the course of the next month. It is going to involve interviewing 100 women; 40 current representatives in the Panchayat (local government), 40 former women representatives, 20 government officials and 20 family members to see if they think women in politics can change Kerala. This is due to a new law being passed in 2010 which reserves 50% seats in local government for women.
We are going to be working 6 days a week, I'm looking forward to starting the project and meeting local people to learn about women in Kerala society. Sundays are our day off and George has kindly offered to take us on visits to different places in Kerala which will be interesting.