India Romeo 3 – Hongalavadi

15th July 2014

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We arrived in Hongalavadi on the 2nd July and have set up our camp in the community hall. When we got here we had to clean out the hall of flying ants, spiders and a scorpion and cleared the attached old weaving shed of weeds and cow poo so that we had space to cook and sleep!

Our village is nestled within the foothills of the Western Ghats, a mountain range that runs up the side of India. The forest that we are surrounded by was designated as a tiger reserve last year by central government (an issue that is particularly contentious with the villagers). The villagers talk about tigers, cheetahs and elephants very casually asking if we are scared about them and happily inviting us to go and see a dead elephant a few kilometres outside of our village! The story of a cheetah related death has been spoken of a lot but we’re not sure how much of the story is true. It’s like Chinese whispers.

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We are minor celebrities in the village but the kids all struggle to say the English names so we have all got Hongalavadi variants! We’re not Danny, Hugh, Nats, Natasha, Aramide and Emma anymore. Instead we are Channy, Que, Nas, Atassa, Aramida and Yemma. Sometimes both Hugh and Danny become Danny – It depends how the kids feel really!

The village is over 700 years old and is split into two parts around a lake.  There is the main village which has about 130 houses in it and the tribal village that is comprised of 10 families. Once we settled in and had overcome our celebrity status we began constructing the shower and toilet for the community hall and began our social map of the village. We hope to begin our survey soon too. We’ve met the village leader twice and he was delighted to see us and very helpful at explaining the political situation and its effects on the village. We hinted to him about watching the world cup final at his house but no such luck! Some of us too are getting very addicted to Chai – the stuff is amazing!

We have to shower and go to the toilet at the local primary school whilst we finish off the building at the community hall. It’s a bit of a walk but getting a shower under the stars is definitely worth it. I say shower, I mean a bucket of cold water and a jug!

When people tell you that Cricket is popular in India they’re not lying. Every morning, afternoon and evening we’re asked to come and play at the village pitch! This same pitch doubles in the evening as a field for the Elephants to roam!  We’ve tried to teach the kids more about football and how to play but not everyone understands that the ‘foot’ in football means that you only use your feet. It was good for our egos though as we were definitely the best footballers out there!

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The village is amazing, the setting is stunning and the people are so friendly and hospitable. Every day I pinch myself that this is where I’m living for the next 8 weeks! We have a busy few weeks ahead with our Participatory Rural Appraisal and Household survey to complete before we go back to field base for mid-phase review. We’re all raring to go though!