If I could describe India in one word... Braxton asked me this question on our third day here, and I couldn't even think of a word large enough, colorful enough, and wonderful enough to describe Hyderabad, India. But Braxton thought of the perfect word: saturated.
Everything is saturated in color, in spices and flavor, in smells (good and bad), and in expression of feelings. Traffic is thicker and less enjoyable than saturated fat. We are permanently saturated (maybe soaked is a more appropriate word here) in sweat. IT ROCKS!
(I will be inserting random pictures to break up the big blocks of text but may or may not have anything to do with what I'm writing.)
This is the Charminar, meaning "four minerets", the center piece of Hyderabad! An active mosque built a loooong time ago. Since it is Ramadan (or Ramazan as they call it here) this month, this place is HOPPING all the time!
We got stopped LITERALLY every 5 minutes by random people asking to take pictures and selfies with us. We felt like celebrities, and then we realized we would never want to be celebrities because it was actually kind of annoying hahaha
Although somewhat overwhelming, we are enjoying every second of making this place our new home. Our first few days were spent meeting with long-time partners and friends of HELP International, and we even got to go out to a village we worked in last year to evaluate the project being done there. The project revolves around "soilets", or bio-friendly toilets built for families right next to there homes. Open defecation is a huge issue all over Indian, and the lack of bathroom facilities in poor areas has caused most of India's poor to walk nearly a mile to an open location far enough from their house to relieve themselves without being seen. Bathrooms aren't even an option. This subjects many women and children to the discomfort of only being able to go to the bathroom 1-2 times a day, and often they are victims of assault, abuse, and harassment as they travel these long distances during the day and at night. So on our first day here, we went to a village that is located right at the base of the city dumping yard (landfill) where 18 of these soilets have been/are currently being constructed. A soilet is a toilet, really a squatty potty in an outhouse, located right next to a home, that requires very minimal resources to maintain. Instead of needing plumbing and intensive piping, all you need is earth worms, gravel, sand, and cement. Beneath the toilet is a filtration system of all of those things, filtering the waste through gravel and sand with the earth worms turning the waste into compost! In conjunction with building these soilets, community or personal gardens are being constructed and seeds are given to the families with the soilets in order to grow their own nutritious food. Nutrition classes are provided to the communities to teach them how to facilitate a healthy lifestyle and diet! Last summer over 90 soilets were built by HELP with our partners, and this summer there are plans to build many more. When we were talking to the women in this village last Friday, I was amazed at their stories of the drastic change simply having a toilet next to their house could bring to their lives. One woman even thanked us, calling us her "only gods" because we "saved [their] lives."
The women who now have soilets! They were so happy that we came to visit (and that we are newly married) that they threw us a little Indian wedding ceremony complete with flower, cookies, and sprite! Notice the beautiful sarees :)
Mom always used to say that one of the things she was most grateful for was indoor plumbing. I used to laugh every time she said that! But now I have to say that indoor plumbing is the biggest luxury we all enjoy, and I am just grateful for toilets, in whatever form they come in or wherever they are (even if they aren't right inside our homes). These Indian women, teenage girls, and children no longer have to walk miles in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. They no longer have to be beaten with sticks by guards that are paid to chase away women using the bathroom in open fields. They no longer have to be terrorized when drunk men masturbate as they watch these women relieve themselves. I have taken toilets for granted my entire life. But this summer we will hopefully allow a few more families to have a toilet that they can eventually take for granted too. Each soilet only costs $192 USD to construct, and yet can you really put a price on the blessing they are to these families?
That was a powerful first day in India.
This entire last week has been spent finding housing for our team for the summer (which was far more challenging than we expected)! After our partners working miracles to find us many different apartments and houses to look at, and after convincing a very reluctant landlord (people are very wary of foreigners here, like extremely distrusting, it's an odd experience), WE GOT A HOUSE! 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms for less than half of what we pay for our 400 square foot studio apartment in Provo, Utah where we live... plus we got a ton of free lizards and spiders and mosquitos to go with it! The bathrooms here are slightly extremely sketchy but functioning and any toilet is a blessing right?! So we are scrubbing away and getting the place all cleaned up (although several layers of dirt are permanent so there's not much we can do about that) for our volunteers to arrive in a week and a half! All of the walls in this house are painted either a bright yellow, bright green, or bright pink! The colors saturate everything! It is going to be a blast, even though we are currently lacking a blast of AC. Actually we are lacking all AC and living completely off of fans. The first night was HOT and miserable, but since then we have been sleeping surprisingly well and the 100+ degree weather is bearable! The nights are cool, and it's not quite as humid as Cambodia here so the shade stays relatively cool during the day too. And true to all intensely hot places, the more you cover up the cooler you are! Women here wear the MOST BEAUTIFUL CLOTHING, sarees and kurtas that are more vibrant and exotic than anything you could ever imagine. Just looking at women walking down the street or in the market or sitting in church and seeing a blend of crazy bright colors, no two sarees the same, might be my favorite part of everything we've seen so far. In America, you wouldn't catch anyone with an ounce of fashion dead wearing four different neon colors at the same time. Yet the Indian women wear even more colors than that with elegance and beauty and as an expression of a deeply rich heritage and history.
At Chowmahala Palace, one of the great palaces of royalty in Hyderabad. Stunning.
We have not even scratched the surface of the culture, the people, the issues and problems, or the beauties of this place. But we've started, and that is the most exciting part!!! It is going to be a good summer.
Melody Allred, India Country Coordinator