Wed 7 Mar 2012
On Saturday, for the first time, Colin made the journey to the villages in the Western Ghats where we have been providing solar lighting. Vavurla is one of three villages that we have been helping and in terms of first impressions it is probably the most spectacular. It is a small tribal enclave of 31 families (or 250 people) living in very simple mud-built houses with cow-dung floors and it clings onto the edge of a ghat 370m (Colin measured it by GPS!) up from the coastal plain. Access is only possible because the villagers have made a dirt track road which is just passable in the dry season by a sturdy vehicle (in the monsoons you might just make it in a 4×4).
When we entered the village they were preparing for the Shigmo festival which is celebrated around March every year – the dates vary according to the Hindu calendar that is based on lunar cycles. It is a Goan festival that exactly coincides with Holi (you have probably seen Indians throwing coloured paint and water over each other?). In the villages it is celebrated in their own way with special dances and merry-making.
We arrived just as the sun was setting and the whole place had a very atmospheric feel – smoke from the rice fires hung in the air. The villagers were just arriving home from their work in the fields; this was after having made the trek down to the nearest proper village to vote in the State elections which were also happening that day. The ladies were preparing the feast dinner which would have been rice, dahl, and pumpkin served with coconut, also sanna, which is a steamed rice patty made for special occasions. Some of the ladies were elaborately decorating hats which would be later used by the men in the dances that they all join in later after much drinking of feni!
Father George introduced us to a blind lad from Vavurla who all his life has found his way around the village without a stick and with supreme confidence. He now goes to a specialist school where he learns Braille and is the proud owner of a talking watch. The other village kids treat him really well and love asking him the time – out it comes in an American accent which he then translates for them. His English is getting quite good and he made sure he told us the time rather than let us listen to the watch.
Colin, being Colin, entered into a technical discussion with Fr George and this lad on how blind people cast their votes in the era of EVMs (the current elections in Goa are using Electronic Voting Machines for the first time) – Fr George seemed to be interested in Colin’s proposal of Braille overlays or stickers for the EVMs but we soon learnt that they had been learning about voting at school and they apparently use paper Braille voting slips. The old ways are usually the best!
I always feel a real connection to these people when I visit and it makes me realise why I do our work in Goa. I think that connection also happened today for Colin [indeed so! C], because it is not until you see and spend a little time up on the mountain that you understand the difficulties they face but also the quality of life that they share – and that I envy!