Lonely Planet?

This blog post is written between visits with the two families I’m jumping between. Well, make that three families. But I’m getting ahead of myself (a habit that seems to be catching up with me).

On Saturday, I left the relative familiarity of Jaipur for a whole different experience of India. My "Independent” Study Project* began with a bus ride to Delhi, where I would catch the train to Ranchi, Jharkhand.

Anyway, I am now living in a lovely little room on the main floor of a house in Ranchi. Antony, my landlord/friend/guide arranged for me to take this spare room. He would have put me in his house, but he runs an orphanage, and so he thought it would be difficult for me to work with all of the girls running around.

Speaking of Antony and the orphanage: the girls that stay with him are the sweetest ever! He has ten girls, and then something like ten or fifteen boys in another home. He started the orphanage several years ago in memory of his late wife. While she was going through chemotherapy, she had a vision of him surrounded by children. He took that as a sign, and shortly after her death got the licensure to start an orphanage.

Most of the girls have no parents, and come from very poor villages in Jharkhand. Many of them are of the indigenous community. Most of them weren’t being looked after in the villages at all. I’m not sure how it is that he was able to find the girls, it sounds like someone from the village contacts him, and then he comes and does the legal legwork to collect them.

Quite honestly, I have very little idea how all of this works.

My main advisor, whose name is Bineet Mundu, is fantastic. He’s been working on displacement/indigenous issues for decades, and got his master’s degree in international indigenous rights/law from a university in Norway. Highly educated, very interesting, very compassionate guy. He has been supremely helpful in finding contacts for me to interview, and helping me to figure out site visits and such. His wife is also very interesting – she left today to present research at a ten day conference in Indonesia. Her research is on the scapegoating of widows in tribal communities. (Fascinating stuff – apparently, in some village communities, widows and other women are sometimes scapegoated as “witches” when a disaster happens. I will have more on this later.) Aside from doing very interesting research, Elina is kind, beautiful, and very funny. The two of them are an absolute delight.

Hopefully from this blog post, you’ve got an idea about how absolutely wonderful the people here are.

I don’t know how I feel about Ranchi – should I call it my new home? I definitely feel “at home,” but that is through very little affinity for the place. Quite honestly, this is one of the most trying, difficult places I’ve been in India. There are just so many issues here, it’s hard to begin.

First of all, the displacement issues. I’ll have more on this once I’ve visited people who have been displaced, as well as the “resettlement” villages. But displacement is just one aspect of the problems village communities face in Jharkhand.

The city of Ranchi itself is very dirty, chaotic, and clearly growing faster than the infrastructure can handle. As the capitol city of a new state, many people are moving to Ranchi very quickly – much faster than homes can be built. When I walk to the main road, I pass so many tent homes and almost slum-like homes on the way. They aren’t true bastis, but they come close.

People are also less trusting here. I can’t really put it into words, but the people here have been fairly protective of me.

My impressions of Ranchi so far have been very mixed. I love the people I’m working with, and I’ve found so much beauty here and can already see my personal growth through this experience, but the city itself is posing some challenges to my personal comfort. The next three weeks are going to fly by, as this one has. I’ll have to get acquainted with it quickly.

**

In other news, feeling vaguely homesick. Mostly, I just miss being able to communicate effectively with people. And fall. And things being easy. Nothing is really all that easy here.

Also, I’m missing fall.

Actually, let’s just make a list of things I miss:

Friends and Family
Cooking
Non-Indian Food
Fall
Knitting!
Coffee!
Hamline University
The Twin Cities Bus System
Personal Independence
Animals Which Are Safe for Cuddling

… actually that’s not that bad. I can wait five weeks for those things, right? Right. Buck up, Abbie, you can do this.

**

And now I’ve stopped feeling well. Here’s hoping that doesn’t stop me from going to Jamshedpur to do an interview tomorrow … bleeeeech. Ok, time to relax. Especially because the power just went out. That’s a pretty good indicator of relaxation time.

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