“But where am I going to shit?” was the first question that popped into my head when I saw my name on the list next to the district of Gadchiroli. Yup, I was a student of rural development who had never seen the village a fact that never seemed amuse my classmates. I had left the big bad city to enjoy the idyllic student life in Tuljapur doing a Masters in Social Work. One thing that I failed to factor in was the mandatory fieldwork we had to undergo at the end of every semester.
With dread filling my heart, I returned to my room to start packing my bags like a maniac. We were due to leave for Khurkheda, Gadchiroli in the next two days and all I obsessed about was toilets.
“What if I had my periods? How would I manage?”, asked city girl in me.
“There are millions of women across the globe who suffer from the safety issue month after month.”, admonished the reluctant social worker in me.
“I can’t go for Open Defecation. I can’t I can’t I can’t”, I chanted to myself. I will not eat much if required but I won’t go for it” said the scared little girl in me.
“You can always dig a small hole and ask somebody to stand guard if you are so afraid”, said the social worker me.
And it was with crappy thoughts (literally) that I boarded the bus that would take me to my destination.
Navargaon was the first village that I had ever visited in my life and the minute I entered the sheev (boundary) I was enchanted. The amateur photographer in me squealed in delight whenever I saw a young calf running by and the social worker in me shyly said namaste to the people who would inquisitively look at us. We did a shevarpheri (transect walk) of the village to understand the geography of the village and at the same to time to get acquainted with people whose kindness we would depend upon for the next 5 days.
After a tiring albeit an enjoyable day, we went to the house of one of the sarpanch’s relatives to retire for the night. I had been careful to not drink much water nor consume too many liquids but in spite of all these precautions, my bladder was bursting. I took one of my friends aside and explained to her that I urgently needed to go and she, in turn, uttered a flurry of sentences in Marathi to our hostess who then took her out with me.
The moon was beautiful and bright, the air was crisp and somewhere an owl hooted. But all I could think of was, “Where is the toilet?”. I was led to a rather large tree and my hostess stood in front of it and told me that I could relieve myself behind it. I quickly went, completed my business and returned red-faced to the house vowing to eat as little as possible.
By the end of day 3, I was tired and my stomach was in pain. I decided not to give in. The next morning, my situation was so obvious that Ganga, all of 8 years, asked her aji, “yeh didi jati kyun nahi hai?” (why doesn’t this girl relive herself?)
I snapped at everybody for the next couple of hours and was in a foul mood until the little one, Ganga tugged my hand and dragged me to her school.
She took me in front of a small room and had a big grin on her face. The other pupils gathered, too and started clapping happily looking at me. I must have stood there looking like a fool for the next few minutes when a female teacher decided to come and tell me, “A few women in the village noticed your discomfort and pressurized their husbands to construct the toilet for the school in record time. It is yours to inaugurate” she said pointing to a latrine with makeshift tin walls.
I don’t have a high and mighty statement to make. I don’t want to gush about how kind the people of Navargaon were. All I want to say that this was a truly remarkable and unexpected journey that I will cherish for the rest of my life.