Monday, July 5, 2010

Squeaky Clean

When I woke this morning to teach go teach in Valivalam, Valayrmathi insisted that we get started a bit earlier this time. Since it was only my third week traveling by bus to this town, I was not yet familiar with the bus times and routes and thus could not really make any argument for us to wait around a few more hours. After burning my mouth with a small cup of coffee that did not have time to cool due to our rushed departure, we ended up getting on a much earlier bus to go into the village. When we arrived to the bus stop, I was acquainted enough with a few landmarks around the area (coffee shops, pharmacies, etc.) that I began walking in the direction of the hostel. Only four or five steps into my short journey, Valayrmathi informed me that there was a surprise waiting for me, but in the opposite direction. Although a single parent providing for two children on a very low income, she had already paid for a small auto rickshaw to take her family and me to the exact location where this surprise was to be discovered. After a very bumpy and dusty 30-minute ride through a village filled with families much worse off than hers, we arrived at her family’s home.

As I have written a separate blog specifically about Valayrmathi and her family, the following paragraphs are meant to address the very specific state of the houses I came across within her village. While she began showing me around the few cement but mostly dirt roads that comprised the main village, I was completely stunned. The place was squeaky clean. The dirt roads were swept, the straw roofs dusted, and all the bicycles lined up neatly in a small covered area beside the house. As I was welcomed into all the homes, the insides of these village houses were cleaner than most any house you would see in the U.S. With sporadic rain, constant heat, strong wind, and continuous dust, the amount of upkeep that must be done in order to maintain such an extraordinary level of cleanliness for houses that are far less enduring than our own is beyond imagination.

I am writing about such a simple thing as village housekeeping because the act itself symbolizes a greater and much more powerful observation. The fact that people living in such a naturally “dirty village” filled with stray dogs and swarming mosquitoes take so much time to make their home and their village beautifully presentable says much more than is indicated by the naked eye. Besides the obvious fact that they value their straw huts and four cement roads far beyond that of the rain, wind, and heat that challenge them, they defy one key characteristic so often found among poor populations. When people find themselves in a situation where survival is much more of a priority than optimism, there is a certain culture of hopelessness that often consumes them to a point of indifference when it comes to clean houses and dust-free roads.

While there still may be a great deal of street begging and slum living, this village serves as an example of true integrity, actual hope, and real development.

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