Upon deciding to do an internship in India I knew I wanted to spend at least some time traveling. Originally I planned on spending about a week traveling and then when I found out that a good friend from high school would be in Nepal a week of travel became two. When I got to Ahmedabad and started my internship I was eager to work and excited by all the things I was learning. I was glad I had some flexibility and though I might end up staying longer at SEWA. Then a couple weeks in it started to become clear that the amount of work they had for me was limited and I had basically filled my purpose as far as they were concerned. Furthermore the person I was reporting to (not Jayshreeben but Nehalbhai who is beneath her and working on pension promotion) was taking a work trip to Laos. I changed my plans and decided to travel a week earlier. I may return to Ahmedabad to work a few more days with SEWA at the end of my travels when Nehalbhai is back from Laos but for now I am in Nepal.
I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal on Sunday afternoon. The tourist area of Kathmandu is not much different from a busy market-tourist area in Ahmedabad, India. Immediately I had people trying to get me to buy things and stay at their hotel or take their adventure tour. Luckily I had a place to stay with my friend’s (Cailey) family friends. After meeting up with Cailey in central Kathmandu we traveled out of the city and to her friends home. The home was not only very comfortable but also full of rich conversation. The male head of the household is an American who married a Nepalese woman. He is active in NGO work in Nepal and it was easy to talk to him about the rich cultural experiences I have been exposed to daily. I told him that I was questioning the idea of “progress” in a way I never had before. He noted that the Native Americans must have questioned why the British thought they were bringing “progress” to the Americas – “what exactly was so civilized about the British?” Keith asked humorously. Growing up on Thanksgiving my father once brought me to a Native American museum in New York. We talked about how terribly the Native Americans had been treated and what we were actually celebrating. From then on I had accepted that history as we learn it is not absolute. Furthermore I firmly believed that term progress had at best a slippery definition when applied to the past. Nonetheless I assumed, without thinking too much about it that my world was one of progress, my culture was what was internationally accepted as being appropriate in this day and age. I was of course very wrong.
When I spoke with Keith about how I was dealing with my ideas on the caste system and arranged marriage he encouraged me to think about what about such things offended me and why I felt they were things we should “move past.” In thinking about the caste system, the conclusion I came to with his help was that it offended my sensibilities because it is so hierarchical and one is “born into it” with no chance of change.
Cailey noted that in Nepal the government is trying to institute a program in which they pay people to marry out of their caste. This of course sounds ridiculous and as a group we dismissed it as a silly idea, but I couldn’t help but wonder if some good could in fact come out of it.
I have a lot more to write on this and it is all written down in my notebook. Unfortunately I am currently at an internet cafe and cailey has been waiting somewhat impatiently for the past 15 minutes. I will transcribe and elaborate next chance I get.