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My team was stationed in south India, in a remote village, in what was Mysore state. We had to wade through a stream and walk about 2 miles farther to the bus stop to get to Bangalore. The buses ran whenever. You just went to the bus stop and waited. Usually about 3 hours.

We were a Community Development team. We also taught English as a Second Language. The community development was much more personally satisfying because it involved living in our village and instituting change from the inside, if it was needed and accepted.

We started with English as a Second Language for the first 3 months. It was a way of getting acclimated to India, practicing our Kannada, and at the same time having a chance to ask ESL speakers about customs and opinions about certain basic practices (while practicing their English): prenatal care, birth control, weaning, kitchen gardens, protein foods, water, cleanliness, toilets, cooking, etc. It was quite an education. At one point, I asked Kamala why did Indian women practice severe reduction of food intake during the last two months of pregnancy. She answered that the diet made the baby smaller and the birth easier. I said, 'do women know that low birth weight babies are at higher risk for infant mortality,' and she said yes. Then she told me that Indian women prefer their traditions even when they know it is dangerous for both mother and child.

I took the lesson to heart. If I were going to effect any kind of change, I would have to show the benefits to the change. AND the change would have to be sustainable—in other words, when I left the village, the new practices could be maintained. That meant that using outside aid (like CARE milk) or outside money (foreign donations) wouldn’t be acceptable—they would be a temporary palliative, but not sustainable.

When I went to my village 3 months later I went by bicycle. Peace Corps Volunteers did not receive a salary; we had a stipend that was the same as the village teacher’s. Enough to live on if you were frugal. The idea was that we were to embed ourselves in the culture, and, once acculturated, to see what could be done within the existing framework of culture, society and religion.

There was, of course, always the danger that one of us might “go native” and the British used to say. Or that we might get sick physically or emotionally. So every 6 months we gathered at a hotel in Bangalore with a Peace Corps professional for interviews and physical exams and a chance to speak American English and renew our friendships with other PCVs.

Yet in another sense, being a successful PCV meant becoming as Indian as possible, to see the village from the inside out to see where I could help and where I should leave well enough alone.

I have some indelible mental images:
*Crossing the river in my sari, holding my bicycle above the water with my PCV teammate watching from the far side and taking a picture of me
*Riding my bicycle in my sari, along the paths between the rice paddies, missing a water cut and falling in the paddy (at least no one saw me)
*Kamala’s sudden bright smile, dark skin and graceful movements
*The village headman graciously allowing me into a men-only village meeting
*Riding in the car through a fire storm
*Holding in my arms a child dead from cholera (we had a cholera epidemic while I was there) and the mother asking me to help

Lots of tales to tell, some successes, some failures.

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