Guwahati isn’t exactly the most popular tourist location in India, and our activities keep us well outside it’s center. The Rickshaw factory, another hour’s walk away is in a village constructed of mud and bamboo, so when I say we haven’t seen any other white people here (save for some of the Olin team that left a week ago), we really haven’t seen a single Caucasian since we left Amsterdam. The people here seem to express the same sentiment. Every time we walk through the village surrounding the factory, we are greeted by waves and “bye”‘s (the one English word they know) from children peeking from behind bamboo fences, and as we leave we are followed by an ever growing band of them. Frequently, we are stopped in the streets by a local with enough English skill to ask “Where from?”. We shake hands, get our pictures taken, and try to explain what we are doing in Guwahati. Test riding any rickshaw now requires at least two people; one will be fully occupied with fending off a mob of children clinging to all parts of the frame. This afternoon I was stopped en route to lunch by a man running across the street to grab my arm. Once first contact had been achieved he regained his wits and proceeded to shake all of our hands excitedly.
This weekend, we went to the Assam Zoo. You all know where this is going. If we had worn cowboy outfits and brought a sign reading “Americans” we would not have been any more conspicuous. Every group picture we attempted to pose was instantly cause for a line of locals who wanted to join and get a picture of “Me at the white people exhibit.”I am sure that our faces are now spread across Assam.
On a serious note, working for an NGO that is directly in the center of the action has been a powerful tool for our connections with the people our designs are affecting, and for the betterment of our India experience. On our daily walk to work, we come into contact with people we otherwise never would- an old-time (by our standards) blacksmith who Gwyn met last year and whose work we stop to admire, children who may grow up to escape a small village and attend one of Guwahati’s growing universities, and most importantly: the non-English speaking, people moving, trash collecting, illiterate, India supporting rickshaw drivers.