Today I had the great opportunity to go to a nearby village with my friend Simona, who is studying medicinal plants in rural areas. A local student was escorting us for translation, as the villagers speak Malayalam and Tamil but no or little English. He addressed us as “sister”, maybe our Western names were too complicated?
Not long after we sat down at the medicine man’s place, we saw kids approaching the hut to have a look at us then run away. Slowly, the approached us, sat down a dozen of metres away, and yelled at us, pointing at the dog: “very danger! very danger!”. We laughed, the dog hadn’t moved since we arrived. Growing bolder, a kid more fluent in English asks us “What’s your name?” to which we answer “Simona and Rosanna!”. I have taken the habit of switching names according to countries, especially here as almost all Indians, even those who are fluent in English, can’t seem to be able to pronounce “Chloe” properly. I always end up being called with a name that I can’t recognise, and that actually sound closer to the Swiss-German word for “toilets” than my own name.
But the kids pick up Rosanna easily, and call me around: “Rosanna sister! Come!” and proudly show me plants, friends and siblings. The kids were very welcoming and want me to take pictures of everyone, as they recognised me as a “photographer”!
Once the interview with the old man was concluded, we walked into the village, following the kids. On our way, we met a lady in her 90s, who was the medicine man’s wife. She was energetic and smiling, proud of having her picture taken.
We were stunned to learn that the life expectancy in these rural villages was around 90 to 100 years old! In our “modern” societies, we always crave for a healthier life, and want to live older while remaining in a good shape. Who would have guessed these people from some of the poorest places on Earth would have figured it all out? Even though they have very basic facilities and almost no sanitation, they must be living a very healthy lifestyle, and most of all, they aren’t under much pressure like we can be.
The kids lead us to the baby’s classroom. They came out to greet us, and looked like baby models. The tiny kids stared boldly into our cameras, smiling, while their siblings teased them and lifted them up in their arms. The caregivers observed from a distance, happy to see us but shying away from our cameras.
Unlike the adults, the younger kids do not try to display a very serious face on pictures: they laugh, they pull faces and make rabbit ears to each other. I taught them how to take pictures with my camera, and press on the big button until the “click”. I try to hold the camera with them, and sometimes I trust the older ones to take pictures on their own. The most difficult is to get them not to touch the camera lens, but it always happens. Terrible kids.
We ended up taking many pictures and selfies with the kids, they loved following us around and showing us interesting thing to see. They even managed to find a turtle and bring it to us! When it was time to leave, the kids waved us goodbye: “Bye Rosanna! Ciao ciao Simona!” We drove away from the chaotic road, we were still amazed by these super cool kids, who welcomed us as sisters for the day.
And just as I write this article, I realise how cheesy it sounds and how I have just became the “Instagram volunteer”, or the white girl going to a poor country just to take profile pictures with the kids and saying how happy they are despite having nothing. Well to be honest I did not have anything to do there. Anyway, it was cool!