Two Years in India: Settling In to Village Life
- Asia, India
Experience bullock carts, a weekly bazaar, life in India's caste system, and hard work in an Indian village decades ago. Nancy Tschetter recalls her Peace Corps service in a small village in Maharashtra, India.
Hi. I'm Nancy Tschetter, former Peace Corps Volunteer to India from 1966 to 1968. I served with my husband Ron in the village of Bori, located in Maharashtra, India. We left the States for our Peace Corps India assignment in mid-December of 1966. Arriving in our little village on Christmas Eve at 11:00 p.m., we had no idea of our surroundings.
We first saw our house in the daylight the next morning—Christmas Day—and a small crowd of children from the Untouchable community greeted us on our front porch. Untouchables, or Harijans, are the lowest in India's caste system, and we were living right in the middle of their part of the village.
The view from our house revealed tea stalls, a bus stop, and bullock carts going about the town. We were right in the thick of all the activity and quite a curiosity to the local folks. Several people dropped by to welcome us and to wish us a merry Christmas.
Now it was time to get our little home set up and organized for the next two years in this fascinating country.
Ours was an agricultural area, and most farmers that owned any amount of land did well for themselves. There was a bit of industry too, such as a lumber mill, where they milled teak wood. There were grain and cotton storage and sales, as well as sugar cane processing. Local farmers even brought their decorated bullocks to the weekly market, dressing them up to make a better sale. Brick making was also done locally. In fact, our two-story house was made of mud bricks, then whitewashed. Oddly enough, during our rainy season, or monsoons, little sprouts of grass would grow up in the window ledges.
We had a weekly bazaar on Monday where we would shop for our fresh fruits and vegetables. On the day of the bazaar, things were plentiful, but if you ran out of food before the next Monday, there wasn't much available except potatoes, onions, and bananas.
We fit into every caste system because we were not of any caste in India. We were invited to festivals, parties, and weddings on a regular basis. If the event was too far away from our village to make walking practical, the host would send his bullock cart for us to make sure we could get there.
The men, the Brahman men, were always served first at any celebration that included food. Ron was always served with them, and I ate later, with the women. And in order for the Brahman men or the women to eat the food, it had to be prepared by a Brahman cook.
We worked with a small staff at the community health center for the area that was located just at the edge of our village. My counterpart was a nurse midwife from Kerala. That's in south India. It was also my responsibility to provide some training for the young women who would act as social workers in the nearby villages. The male staff really gravitated to Ron. It was much easier for men to move about in the Indian culture than for women, especially in the village.
From the moment we arrived, until we left India, we felt total acceptance by the people. What began as a curiosity ended up in lasting friendships. We continue to keep tabs on one of the then-young men who appeared on our doorstep that first morning. He has managed to do quite well, in spite of the level of poverty he was once a part of. We still connect with other Indian friends we made in 1966 to ‘68, and we saw one of those couples recently in Chicago visiting their son.
Some days it all seems like our time in India was a wonderful dream. It's an experience that will never be matched, and the memories are as vivid today as when the events took place. Our Peace Corps experience has strongly influenced the direction of our lives.