[images picture_size=”fixed” lightbox=”yes” class=”” id=””][image link=”” linktarget=”_self” image=”https://alisecortez.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/IMG_08351.jpg” alt=””][image link=”” linktarget=”_self” image=”https://alisecortez.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/IMG_10301.jpg” alt=””][image link=”” linktarget=”_self” image=”https://alisecortez.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/IMG_08381.jpg” alt=””][image link=”” linktarget=”_self” image=”https://alisecortez.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/IMG_08401.jpg” alt=””][image link=”” linktarget=”_self” image=”https://alisecortez.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/IMG_08881.jpg” alt=””][/images][fusion_text]And the India adventures continue … After experiencing the Meenakshi Temple on our first day in Madurai, we were taken to Tata Dhan’s Guest House, which we would call home for the next three days/nights. The Tata Dhan Academy is a premier educational entity focused on creating extremely talented, professional, and passionate graduates who will serve in a Social Development capacity in the area. This organization is connected to and collaborates with a number of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), several of which we visited during our 10-day stay.

Our fearless leader and tour guide, Dr. David Willis, Professor of Anthropology at the Fielding Graduate University, told us we’d be “staying in the country.” I think it’s fair to say most of us did not fully understand what that phrase meant.  Yes, it was amazingly quiet and peaceful, a welcome respite from the constant sound of vehicles sounding their horn in traffic – and the surrounding green and open field space was good for the soul. What we didn’t expect at the Guest House were our accommodations: we each got our own room with a single bed … and our own bathroom. The bathroom, we soon learned, allowed us to experience the local culture a bit as it had no shower but rather a faucet, a large bucket to gather some supply, and then a small bucket to dump the room temperature water over ourselves. This way of bathing was actually quite effective and easy for me to get used to, as it’s very hot in Madurai and a little cooler water in the morning is quite refreshing. Note: the locals send their women to the city with a large plastic container to fetch the water, and they carry it on their heads back to the house. We were quite fortunate we didn’t have to go get our water – it came to us!  And we did each have our own toilet – up town accommodations indeed! See photos below of the bathroom and the outside of the Guest House itself.

The next day, Monday December 8th we began our day by attending the Inauguration Ceremony and Launch of INFARM, related to how the state of Tamil Nadu manages water for sustainable development.  Think about that for just a moment … we are visiting a country with reportedly 1.2 billion people – access to a sufficient and clean supply of water is essential. Tamil Nadu, the state in which Madurai is located, was serendipitously conducting their annual Water Week program, hosted by the Tata Dhan Foundation, while we were there. We observed the first four hours of the ceremony and speeches.  Like many gatherings in India, it had a formal structure to it with the lamp lighting and ceremonious greetings of those involved. The thing that stood out most, though, is the various parties in attendance and speaking – all the way from government officials, to various foundations, to universities, and to the farmers themselves who need the water for their crops. All parties were heard – with lots of translation occurring from Tamil to English and vice versa. As ours was a study tour by design, one of our students Erika Duncan-Horner was perhaps most elated with this happy coincidence as she plans to study public policy around water management issues back in her home country of Australia for her own PhD program. It was truly an inspiration, and perhaps something all countries can learn from, in that this water management effort was truly community-based, enrolling everyone into the effort. Though I only drank bottled water during my stay, it seems Tamil Nadu is making great progress in its water conservation and treatment efforts.

Breaking for lunch at 1:30 (standard time for this meal in India), the whole conference of perhaps 350 people were invited to the mess hall downstairs.  The scene that greeted me was a fantastic study in culture! Long tables seating 6 people each were placed end on end next to each other to form seemingly unending lines of eating areas. A sheet of paper was laid down on each 6-top, and large banana leaves were placed in front of each person seated at the table.  Lunch was then served “family style” in that a server brought a large pot of some amazing faire, spooned a bit onto each banana leaf, and continued serving down the line. Then, several other servers followed along behind with additional servings of other foods, including rice and the ever customary sambar dish (lentils cooked with vegetables).  I learned we were enjoying saarada, the midday rice meal. As is common throughout India, we ate with our right hand only (as the left is used by the locals for “cleaning” purposes and thus never used for eating). As this was our first meal eating with our hands, it was awkward and slow going as you have to break the bread with the one hand to hand to gather up the gravies and then scoop up the rest with your fingers. The servers continue to bring more food until you fold over your banana leaf in half, signaling your completion of the meal. When all six people at your table have turned over their banana leaf, they all rise from the table and leave together (regardless if they know one another). A hand washing station is set up in the back of the room to clean your hands. The servers then roll up all the banana leaves and leftovers into the paper liner and set into a pile which will then feed the various animals later. The table is then lined again with paper and banana leaves, and the process continues with wave after wave of diners enjoying the same experience. Quite an efficient way to feed a lot of people in a fairly short time and limited space!

Click on any photo below to get a closer view of the Tata Dhan Guest House and the lunch described above: