With two days until I leave, I’m a mess of emotions. I can’t tell if the feeling of nausea is from the Typhoid medication or if it’s from straight-up nerves. Either way, roller coaster is the best way to describe the past week. I go from moments of “I CAN’T WAIT” to “Oh my gosh what am I doing” with such speed and ferocity it’s as if there are two different people battling in my head for the reins.
As I continue packing, though, everything seems more real. I’ve bought all my train tickets — real tickets that are for real trains with real seats that real people fill — and my flight itineraries are all printed and nicely arranged in a brightly colored folder. I’ve been asking the farm directors last minute questions about what is considered appropriate to wear, do I have to buy a mosquito net, do they prefer close toed shoes or open, will I have a roommate in their housing assigned for me, ect. Being the curious soul I am, my plethora of questions has undoubtably gotten annoying (Sorry, Navdanya!).
On the topic of the farm, let me give you some background information on what I’m doing (and why I’m so nervous). Navdanya is a farm that focuses on sustainable and empowering methods of farming. This farm is located in Dehradun, India, a town that is a seven hour train ride out of New Delhi. It is known for its environmentally conscious citizens and for being a safe haven for many scholars and political activists/figures. Navdanya’s main goals are to support local farmers, rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction as well as make them available through direct marketing. The farm also educates the local population on how to thrive both with farming and with preserving their cultures in the face of globalization. On their website, they state that their mission is “to protect nature and people’s rights to knowledge, biodiversity, water and food.” Through other programs as well, they help empower the women in the community, building a strong support system and network for the women in a country where women are not currently given the same advantages and rights as men. In summary, this a sustainable, organically-raised farm that aims to protect the rights of the food and the people.
As for why I’m so nervous? Well, re-read that paragraph above! Navdanya is amazing in what they have done and what they aspire to do. I am undeniably intimidated, awe-struck, and honored to be joining them in achieving their mission.
In hopes of doing so, I will become a part of the farm: sowing seeds with the farmers and cooking with the kitchen workers in order to see how the farm works from the inside out. Through my research, I aim to inform more people of their ideas and operations as well as suggest ideas to the farm itself on how to further improve.
When mentioning that I’m scurrying off to India for a little more than a month, most people’s reactions are simply, “…why?” After famous movies such as Slumdog Millionaire as well as reports of the rape culture have been released, I fear an image of India being a dirty, horrible place is dominant in most peoples’ minds. I’m not denying that India very well may be dirty and have very sad (yet very real) sides to it like those displayed in Slumdog Millionaire; however, there is also another dimension to it that many have yet to explore.
I have been obsessed with Indian culture for as long as I can remember. Despite being very white and very much not Indian, I was on the Bollywood dance team in high school; I was also infamous for being decked out in henna tattoos during all seasons — either done by professionals or attempted (stress: attempted) by myself; spending nights in the Gulati’s kitchen eating all of their biryani was a dream I frequently lived (as could be seen from my steadily expanding waistline); and attending traditional graduation parties and Sweet Sixteens were the highlights of my summer.
These are the things that drew me to India. The culture is so strong and rich and beautiful, something I feel many Americans (myself included) are missing nowadays. Perhaps immersing myself in Indian culture was my way of being connected to something I felt my family had lost generations ago. By intermingling in the soup bowl that is America, it’s possible that we’ve lost the individual traditions and cultures our families once proudly bore. So, I simply just borrowed them from others. In fact, many of my Indian friends claimed I was more Indian than they were. I had effectively made India my own.
Although I love the swish of the saris and the jingle of the jewelry, I know not everything in India is Bollywood and bindis. I’m not blinded by the gold the upper class families adorn themselves with. I know poverty exists, and I know it is a real problem. This is undeniably something I’m going to be stricken by within the first hours of my arrival as I step off the plane.
Despite my nerves and my questions, my qualms and my worries, I am incredibly excited and honored to be given the opportunity to not only complete a dream of mine (going to India A.K.A. my homeland) but also to be given the opportunity to work in such an amazing place with such amazing and driven people. I can’t begin to imagine the lessons I’ll learn, the people I’ll meet, and the new ways in which my eyes will be opened.
On this note, I’m going to go to bed so I can coat my clothes in Permethrin (intense insect repellent, for those who have had the honor of avoiding its toxicity) in high hopes that this will help me avoid mass amounts of mosquito bites. Wish me luck!