Chaparda, Gujarat - meeting the people of the village

The opportunity arose for Darshan and I to be part of the translation team with World Medicine and we grasped it enthusiastically. Volunteering has always been an interest of ours and in a tiny village in Gujarat meant it would be extra special. It was quite an ambitious venture having to translate between English and Gujarati and vice versa as we were by no means fluent in the language, our dialect was highly influenced by English and Swahili having grown up in Kenya. However, we were not unduly phased. It would be a great challenge, one that would make our parents proud!

We had been well briefed back in the UK of what to expect while in Chaparda. Our only preparation for translation was a proud drawing of the body on a scrappy piece of paper with body parts labelled in Gujarati put together by help from various friends and google.

The 2 weeks spent there were busy but rewarding. The team of acupuncturists were fantastic, and worked so hard at treating 20-30 patients a day each. We were the people in between making every effort to effectively translate between the patient and therapist. It was intense no doubt but the experience has left sweet memories.

There is so much that happened in the 2 weeks that I want to tell you about – meeting and chatting to Bapu, the hospitality at the ashram and the hospital, the food - fresh, organic and traditionally cooked, the picnic organised for us one evening at the farmhouse, our daily walks to and from the hospital, but the one thing that really stood out was the people we met in this fairly remote rural area of Gujarat.

It’s probably the most generic thing to write about ‘the people’. I know. It’s a cliché. In fact we have met so many awesome people already in India and throughout our journey. The people of this village however stood out in a way I had never experienced before. They are the first, second, third and fourth things that come to my mind when I remember our time in Chaparda. They are friendly, curious, humble and extremely hospitable. They lead simple lives, hardly influenced by modern living and superficial pleasures.

On our way back one evening from the clinic, we stopped to greet a delightful elderly lady who was on her way to the milking farm with her milk pail. ‘Please may we accompany you’, I asked. ‘Yes’ she said. ‘Follow me’. We chatted the whole way, like we had known each other for years as she led us to the milking farm. She was due back home to prepare the evening meal, but she seemed in no rush at all. She happily waited around with her pail full, catching up on the days events with the lady in charge of the milking farm while we explored the area. There are over 200 cows (gai) of 2 different varieties, the Gir gai and the Jersey gai. Each cow has a name and when called will respond and step forward for milking! Fascinating…. She escorted us back safely in the darkness and invited us over for chai one day when we had more time.

I was drawn to ‘Ma’ as they called her, a little old lady who worked in the kitchen. She was special. Any spare time I had I would go and chat to her in the kitchen while she was hard at work. She would let me sit beside her while she worked away. We talked about life in the ashram and she asked questions about life abroad.

Janki, a dear friend who I have so much to learn from. Only 21, she managed the entire kitchen under the watchful eye of ‘masi’ (the boss of the kitchen). Feisty girl, who made her presence known. She was a hard worker juggling the duties of the kitchen, college and planning her forthcoming wedding.

The girls who helped us run the clinic, Heena and Kalpna ben were wonderful! Both trained to do cupping, massage and removing needles, they were a huge asset for the clinic. I loved working with them as they did with us. I found them giggling at my Gujarati and would often re-translate what I was trying to say.

Chandu bhai the guest house manager and the boys that worked alongside made our stay at the ashram unforgettable. We were welcomed with open arms and treated with kindness. They would escort us to the dining hall, serve our meals and are half the reason why we left Chaparda having put on a few extra kilos. Chandu bhai made us laugh so much with his wiry sense of humour.

The experience of working in the clinic taught me the most about the people of this village. They travelled from near, far and wide to attend the acupuncture clinic held for 2 weeks each year, some waiting a whole year to be back. I was grateful to be able to converse with them, to hear stories of their lives, so different to my own, the nature of their work - gruelling days in the fields under the blazing sun, each day the same, the women we met were strong, relentless and selfless. Unfortunately healthcare in India is not the same as we know it in the Western world. Often patients are not involved in decisions about their care, rarely given time during consultations, the diagnosis of their condition vague but always sent home with a heap of medication. During the clinic, we made time for these patients and often that was enough reason for them to return. They were grateful, we could see it and sense it. For me that was what made my experience in Chaparda so rewarding.