In the tribal lands
Long post – but a great day. Yesterday (7/31/2012), the folks at BCT took me and another American here to see their tribal education initiatives. It was a long day, but one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had here.
We left around 5 am and arrived (slept about half of the way there) around 7:30 am at the first village we were going to see. It was very rainy in the mountains, and the dirt roads were all filled with mud. The first village we went to confused me, though, because everyone was speaking Telugu, and it looked a lot like a regular village, except that there were no government schools. This village wasn’t even that remote, so that couldn’t have been why. It turns out the reason for this was the usual one when it comes to politics: tribal community members have little education and little voice in the political process, so they get little from the government.
We saw several villages, met many tribal children, and got a chance to speak with some of the inspiring men and women dedicating their lives to this effort, but in an attempt to stay as brief as possible, I’d like to share a brief story about the last village we visited.
The final village was the most incredible experience I’ve had on this. Before I continue, I want to say how amazing the scenery in this area was – the mountains look like the Alleghenies but have the sense of being more ancient. The monsoon clouds shroud the tops of the peaks in a thin mist that shifts around with the changing winds. As we set off for the sixth village we were going to see, we rolled up our pants to trudge through the mud. It was a solid 40 minute walk through the valley from the edge of a dirt road an hour and a half drive from the nearest asphalt road, which itself was about 20 km from a highway exit three hours from Visakhapatnam, the nearest major city. It was remote, possibly the most remote place I’ve ever been.
It was 15:30 when we got there, and the one girl stood out to me in that school, because I think her family’s struggle embodies a lot of the challenges tribal communities face. This girl was deaf and dumb (and couldn’t sign). It took 30 minutes of slight smiles, eye contact, and a little attempt at signing to get her to lose her fear of me. When her mother came, the BCT administrator asked her why she hadn’t sent her daughter to the school for the deaf in Narsipatnam or to the BCT center, where they would teach her better communication skills. She said she was sorry, but she didn’t want her daughter to be so far away that she would never be able to visit. Maybe it was best for her daughter, but it was very hard for her. When we were outside, I asked her about her family. They have been in that village as long as anyone can remember and “the whole village is [her] family.” I smiled and mentioned that I thought their village was beautiful. She sighed and gave me a response that left me speechless, “Beauty? What’s to love about this place? It makes everything difficult. But our lives are tied to this land, so what can we do?”
I’ve met so many different people on my trip, and it’s experiences like these that make me confident, that if I take anything from this summer, it will be a heavy dose of perspective.