With the help of a Davis grant, Amanda Ota and I traveled to India this summer to establish a community garden in the state of Madhya Pradesh. In 2009, MP was recognized by The World Hunger Index as the hungriest state in the world, and it was emphasized in the report that a possible nostrum for this problem was empowering women in the region by providing the tools and education necessary to fight malnutrition and hunger that threatens their families. Amanda and I traveled to India to facilitate early participation in a community centered project, with the hope that by teaching healthy dietary habits and sustainable gardening techniques, we would be providing the education, support, and supplies necessary for such empowerment to occur.
I should admit that neither of us had ever been on an intensive humanitarian trip before. We knew that our summer would be filled with physical and mental challenges, but we never imagined that our trip would be as forcefully connective as it was. As much time as we spent researching India, poring over books and articles and recipes and culture grams, nothing could have prepared us for the reality of what it was to live and bond with an entirely foreign population.
We were infatuated by a community of people who will likely never escape the struggle that is survival, but who positively glowed with smiles and love and humor; with life. I think we needed to be walked all over by the ‘differentness’ of another culture before we could understand how lucky we are to have been born where and how and when we were. Our attempts to assimilate, to be Indian, entertained the village we grew to love, and I realize it was because they appreciated that we were trying. They loved us for just being there, and we loved them for dealing with us, and really that’s all that will ever matter.