The word expert evokes a certain degree of respect and awe to most people. It is like the words connoisseur and specialist, they all try to differentiate those who know the most from the others who would like to know more. In India, however, the word expert describes those who at best have a degree, and yet most of the time they don’t. I am not saying that all those who claim a superior knowledge do not possess such, but most do not.
As the long-term intern, coming after two short-term interns from the summer program, I have the duty to complete the proposed projects that were funded. I am working on both getting training for the women at the center and now to build a greenhouse in a village that has no experience in growing small-scale vegetable gardens. In this area of Rajasthan, there are only 5 main crops, mostly grains, which are grown and on a very large scale expanding over the vast desert plains around the edge of the Thar desert. Being a white female in a male dominated society, where I cannot speak the language, I have been in need of help getting the materials and plans for the greenhouse together. There is one specific contact that the past intern has worked with, Mr. Dwivedi, who has agreed to help in whatever way possible, and has great English skills. He also works with the agriculture department and has contacts for certain necessary items.
Mr. Dwivedi has put me in touch with experts who are more than willing to help in the greenhouse endeavor, for a hefty price… That is the kicker. We are building this greenhouse to help people in the village of Chandelao, whether it be directly through job procurement or the availability of fresh vegetables at lower costs. The so called “experts” that have either come to the village or met with us in Jodhpur have expressed interest in building or helping with the greenhouse but only if we can build it larger than we have proposed, so they can make more money. On top of that, they do not seem to know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, in Indian society when a business meeting happens, they all agree on topics that are either not going to work or agree just to agree. After the meeting, however, the plans never get done, because even though they agreed in the meeting, they didn’t really mean their affirmations. I did not realize this until my host father explained it to me. This makes life difficult.
Per discussion with an “expert” on building greenhouses, we visited the CAZRI in Jodhpur. The Central Arid Zone Research Institute is a large-scale research institute where the administrators and scientists do experiments and research on possible uses and growing techniques for dry arid zones, such as Rajasthan. They have other projects as well, but these were the most relevant to what we were looking for. Another volunteer and myself went to check out CAZRI and see the “greenhouse” that the “expert” had built. When we got there, being women, the only person who was spoken to or answered was the older man who is volunteering at Chandelao and helping me set up the greenhouse. I did not feel put out or hurt at all by this because I was used to it, but it is still something I should express to explain the situation.
Walking around CAZRI, we soon found out there was no small-scale greenhouse that we had been led to believe we would get to see while visiting the institute. The greenhouse that was shown to us was a concrete structure with sprinklers and fans built into iron for irrigation purposes. Being that the budget is around $1500, the greenhouse shown to us was out of the question and more of a waste of time. But I was glad to see the center, because walking around we saw the way they have been traditionally teaching others to grow and compost. Being that our original ideas of composting and building a hoop-house style greenhouse still seem most relevant in the arid climate and budget we have to work with, we will not be following the advice from the “experts” and building the cheap version that will work just as well as the expensive and large-scale versions.
Now to implement… Teaching people who have no experience and or knowledge in growing will be a difficult task. That is why I am keeping extensive track of the steps we take to build and run the greenhouse so an operations manual can be written with pictures and descriptions clear enough for the new employees to understand, and hopefully implement in other areas.
Other than the greenhouse, I have been getting quite a few invitations to be involved in the village. The younger girls are always inviting me to chai and the other day even brought me to one of their homes to see a newborn baby. One of the unmarried girls from the crafts center is getting married soon and I have been invited to the 3-day wedding! I have been to multiple weddings in Jodhpur this wedding season, but this will be their first that I have been invited to in the village. Although I am sure that people would have invited me into their wedding if I were passing by, I would not feel comfortable if I did not know anyone at the wedding. This has happened many times in Jodhpur: I walk by somewhere that a wedding is taking place and someone tries to get me to join in on dancing or just coming into the festivities because I am white and a nice addition to the celebration. I am excited for the village wedding and appreciate how much the women are trying to include me in their daily affairs.