Friday, April 5, 2013

Southern Hospitality

This week, I have travelled way down south to Alleppey, Kerala for an Operation Smile mission. Kerala is known as “God’s own country” and is one of the most beautiful states in India. Rolling hills, tea plantations, beaches, meandering backwaters, nice people, relatively clean towns, delicious food… Kerala seems to have it all. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to see all of this, but just a smidjin of Kerala is a blessing. I never thought I would make it this far down south. I am literally at the tip of India as it juts into the Indian Ocean.

Kerala in red.
A is Alleppey
When I was driving from the Kochi airport to Alleppey, which is about a two hour drive, I noticed four things. The streets were clean. The traffic was calm. The office buildings were newly developed. And there were lots of Christian churches by the side of the road. I talked this over with my Indian friends and they confirmed that I was right on. They told me that coming from Guwahati, Kerala has to seem way different. Kerala has a 99% literacy rate, which explains why all of the signs are in the local language (Malayalam) and not in English. (In Guwahati, where most people speak Assameese but cannot read or write it, all of the signs are written in English.)

One of the many churches found in Kochi/Alleppy.

On screening day, which always comes on the front-end of the mission, I see all of the patients' files. One of the questions asks the parents if they can read and write. Most of the patients here, if not ALL of them, can read and write. They can sign the consent form instead of finger printing it as we often have to do in other parts of India. Most of the patients, if not all, know their birth date and age and have a medical background. For the first time, I sense a middle class in India.

Today, during the first day of surgery, only one out of twelve mothers cried when saying goodbye when their child was escorted into surgery. That is unheard of in my mission experience. All of the mothers were hanging out in the waiting area talking, laughing, and having fun. Never on any of my other missions, which have all taken place in North India, have the parents interacted with each other. The people here are so friendly, always willing to have a conversation, flash a smile at you, ask if you need anything. I feel like I am back home, comforted by a gold, old Southern lifestyle.

As I was explaining to the speech therapist how shocked I was regarding the differences between the north and south, she commented that it all starts with education. She asked the mothers waiting (about seven of them) what their highest grade in school had been and they all said "tenth standard," which is basically a high school senior year in India. And they also said all of their friends had graduated from tenth standard as well. The North needs to start taking notes from the South.

As for the beauty of Kerala, well, it ranges from the scenery to the food. On team day, which is our day off, we took a houseboat ride through the backwaters of Alleppy. Alleppy is known as the “gateway to Kerala’s backwaters.” Not only did I jump off the boat into the water and take a great swim, but I also got to see beautiful palm trees mixed in with miles of swampy backwaters. The food here is quite different. Of course there is rice and dal, but fresh fish (fish curry, masala fish, plain fish, etc), mixed veggies, fried bananas, uttapum (a rice pancake), and believe it or not beef fry are just some of the different cuisines found here.

I will have much more to tell about my visit to Kerala in a couple of more days. This visit keeps bringing me back to thinking about the Lakhtokia kids in the slum and is making me ask more questions. How can you make education the norm or something that everybody completes? Kerala and other southern states have accomplished that on a large scale. Is that because since India gained independence they managed to push it to the top of the government's agenda? Is it possible to change a culture that has been avoiding education for
over fifty years?

Sending smiles from India,

Some photos from the week: 

Beautiful, eh?
The team's boat devoted to exploring the backwaters of Alleppy. 
The man steering the wheel is wearing a skirt called a Lungi, which is typical southern Indian male dress. 
Soaking wet after jumping into the backwaters.

"The local alcohol" shop. 
This shop is in the middle of nowhere in the backwaters but is famous for selling local  alcohol. 
Our lunch: freshly caught fish. 

Had a connecting flight in Mumbai and took a photo of my kindle as I read "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" and pass by the slum that the book is based on.

A depiction of a dancer from Kerala.

No comments:

Post a Comment