Piercing the surface in Jalligeri

44 comments

I woke up on my second day in Jalligeri stiff from the rock hard mattress, my clothes damp from baby Gonal’s pee. This wouldn’t be the first time that day either, as his little bottom went permanently un-diapered and was often in my arms or on my lap as I blended further into family life.

A large bucket of water had already been heated on the fire for me, and Poopy invited me to “take a bath”. The bath was in fact nothing more than a raised stone platform in the corner of the kitchen, where I was encouraged to strip off and begin to wash whilst Poopy and the women of the house sat before me cooking chapattis and boiling fresh chai.

The bath

I stood there naked beneath the spiders and corrugated metal roof, trying to wash away my Western insecurities that proved as stubborn as the grime beneath my fingernails.

Following my bath Poopy and Meera were eager for us to head out and see their fields and livestock. We hitched a ride on the village tractor, driving past neatly planted crops and fields of cotton, before coming to a halt on the perimeter of Poopy’s land: a sun-scorched swathe of ochre stretching out towards the horizon.

Tractor ride

Cute kids

I jumped down from the tractor, only to have a day old baby goat instantly heaped into my arms. Poopy’s young son then spent a good fifteen minutes rushing into the vast herd to select another one for me to hold, staggering back towards me clinging tightly to the kid as it bleated and kicked for freedom.

A woman sat in the corner of the field cooking rice, and we arranged ourselves amongst the goat droppings beside her. Poopy emerged with a small bucket of fresh goat’s milk and added this to the rice with a generous handful of salt. A large sticky dollop of the mixture was then lumped onto a plate and handed to me for breakfast.

Breakfast preparations

Once breakfast was over Meera announced we would walk back to the village to catch a bus to the neighbouring town. They were taking Gonal to have his ear pierced; an act she believed would drive out “the bad in him”. I wasn’t sure how much bad a beautiful little nine-month-old baby could contain, but I nodded and smiled, happy to be included.

After a long wait for the only bus in the area, we found ourselves in the small town of Shirhatti. I followed Poopy and Meera as they carried a smiling Gonal down a small street, straight into the path of a festival procession led by an enormous elephant. They squeezed through unfazed while I rummaged for my camera, then ducked into a quaint little house decorated with strings of laundry drying in the sun.

Oh, just another elephant procession

Ear piercing available, enquire within

Meera and Poopy chatted with the man who was to carry out the ear piercing, before following him back out into the street, motioning for me to follow. I assumed he would be taking us to some formal place to perform the piercing, and was surprised when he stopped abruptly on the side of the street. I watched as he squatted down amongst piles of trash, lit two incense sticks, and then wedged them in the dirt as he wafted the musky wisps up to his face.

What followed was rudimentary at best. The man took a small square of paper, which he unfolded to reveal a coil of copper wire. His dirty fingertips worked quickly to straighten out the wire, and he tugged on Meera’s dress for her to crouch down.

Meera struggled to hold a now terrified baby Gonal, and Poopy and I were forced to help, each one of us holding a tiny little arm as he grew more and more stressed. The unsterilised, entirely blunt piece of wire was then forced through the top of Gonal’s right ear, and he let out a scream as silent tears streamed down his mother’s face.

The ends of the wire were roughly entwined. Gonal was then stripped of all his clothing and bangles, which Meera tossed on the ground amongst the trash. I then noticed that it wasn’t trash after all; it was piles of previously discarded clothing and jewellery, abandoned after what must have been dozens of similar rituals.

Gonal’s little ear

Gonal finally manages to sleep

We turned and followed Poopy back down the street, where she led us all into a goldsmith’s studio. This hardly felt like the time to be shopping for new accessories. Instead, little Gonal was laid across the glass display counter and a young boy stood over him with a pair of tiny pliers, deftly twisting together the ends of the copper wire in his ear to make a smooth loop.

And then it was done. Poopy charged ahead and we fell in line behind her, back towards the bus stand. I kept my eyes on the ground as I tried my best to dodge the giant globs of spit and betel nut that dappled the ground, hoping they wouldn’t see my tears.

That night I lay sleepless in bed again, trying to process my thoughts on a belief system I struggle to understand. Gonal rolled over onto his ear and let out yet another agonizing cry. I knew it had been a weekend that would leave its mark on both of us forever.

  • Read the first part of my time in Jalligeri here.
  • For more photos from my weekend at Poopy’s house, please visit my Facebook page.

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim February 5, 2013 at 07:40

Hannah, great post. I love the image of the shower in the kitchen and little Gonal with his ear piercing. You’re so lucky to have had such a great glimpse into the life of this family..

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Hannah February 5, 2013 at 11:58

Thank you Kim, I am very lucky indeed 🙂

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Elisa Choi February 5, 2013 at 07:41

Hannah, i was so disturbed with the ritual that they have. And my heart goes to baby Gonal. The pain that the baby has experienced. Such a fragile state..It’s too much to bear. I guess culture will always be culture.
I enjoyed reading your adventures. It’s challenging and yet filled with life lessons. Take care!

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Hannah February 5, 2013 at 12:12

Thank you for reading Elisa, I’m so happy that you enjoyed my post. Culture will always push us to ask questions and test our levels of understanding. I wanted to highlight this ritual because I believe in telling the truth, but I can assure you that Gonal is an extremely well loved little boy who has already recovered from his ordeal. I saw him today (he lives outside my house here in Goa) and he is as happy as can be 🙂

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Nick Rutten February 5, 2013 at 07:45

That’s quite an experience!
It seems so harsh to do that to a 9 months old kid. At least it’s not some kind of (genital) mutilation. It could have been lots worse.

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Hannah February 5, 2013 at 12:01

Yes, it could have been worse and it was done with the very best of intentions. Gonal could not ask for a more loving family. It has inspired me to learn more about their culture so that I can write about it in more depth 🙂

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Savvy Scot February 5, 2013 at 09:32

Great to have a new blog post so soon after your last 😛
What an awesome story – you are so lucky to be included in something like that 🙂

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Hannah February 5, 2013 at 09:36

Thank you so much, it’s a sign of things to come as I endeavour to really focus on the blog this year. I really appreciate your continued support!

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Gerald Englebretsen February 5, 2013 at 10:17

Key words: pee, poop, goats, piercing, customs
Quite an assortment and another amazing post. Your ‘word pictures’ are vivid. What a set of memories.
Gonal will be fine. As someone has said ‘we’ do circumcisions in the ‘name’ of something or for some ‘reason’ which seems lost on many and presently we have a generational fixation with tatoo’ing.

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Hannah February 5, 2013 at 12:05

Don’t forget spit and nudity! Thank you for your kind words Gerald, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. And I can confirm that Gonal is indeed fine. He had an infection and fever for a few days but is now back to his usual happy self. I will post some current photos of him on Facebook soon 🙂

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Jeremy February 5, 2013 at 13:29

If there is one thing that always makes travel interesting, it is when you witness the differences of your culture against the host culture. It may seem weird or even down right cruel, but, these differences give us insight into another form of life.
Cheers to you for having joined in on this experience!

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Hannah February 5, 2013 at 15:00

I wholeheartedly agree Jeremy. I got more out of my weekend with Poopy and her family than I have done from any other travel experience so far.

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Dave February 5, 2013 at 15:42

Wonderful post , so well written for the rest of us !! Enjoyed the pics too ! Best wishes and safety ! Please continue to share your journey.

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Hannah February 5, 2013 at 16:03

Thank you very much Dave 🙂

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Rika | Cubicle Throwdown February 5, 2013 at 19:57

Aw, Gonal! I always find it so tough not to judge with Western eyes when I see things like this. A good lesson and lucky for you that you got to be included!

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 08:51

Yes, it’s a wonderfully grounding experience and helps remind you to let go of Western judgements and misconceptions. I have witnessed more kindness and generosity of spirit in India than I have anywhere else in the world.

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Carmel February 5, 2013 at 20:35

Children usually forget that kind of pain (how many of us remember the things we did before the age of 1?), but it’s hard not to internalize it using our own memories of painful experiences. And then the crying…oh my goodness! Nothing worse than a helpless child crying. But I have no doubt he’s recovered from the shock. Your boundaries are being pushed and it’s uncomfortable, but I’m glad you’re sharing your experience and being honest with your reactions. It’s a beautiful story.
I still can’t help but think of all those hypochondriac people out there and how horrified they would be reading this story!

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 09:03

Thank you Carmel! I always strive to tell the truth and, as travel is not always easy, I wanted to share both sides of my experience. This weekend has been my greatest travel moment so far, and taught me so many important lessons. And yes, little Gonal has already recovered and his ear is healing well 🙂

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Katie February 5, 2013 at 21:09

Hannah,
Again this is beautiful, what a wonderful experience. Who knew such a simple invitation could be so remarkable.

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 08:53

Thank you Katie. It was certainly a wonderful lesson in learning to say YES! At first I wondered why I had been invited, but I quickly realised they didn’t have any reason beyond simply wanting to share their lives.

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Hogga February 5, 2013 at 21:12

The thought of bathing in that ‘bath’ terrifies me

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 08:55

Yeah, it was two of my worst nightmares: public nudity and spiders!

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Steph | DiscoveringIce.com February 5, 2013 at 22:21

Wow, just wow! You are a natural storyteller! Poor little Gonal…I know how it feels to see things like this in India. I think you dealt with it and embraced your circumstances amazingly. Can’t wait to read more.

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 08:56

Thank you Steph!

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Jill Miller February 6, 2013 at 01:28

Another awesome day in with Poopy & their family. I must admit I am slightly envious of your experiences. You Go Girl!!!

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 08:57

Thank you Jill, it really was an awesome experience and one I hope to repeat some day 🙂

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Sofie February 6, 2013 at 09:49

Great story once again. I hadn’t heard about the ear piercing ritual yet. Although it does sound very painful and unhygienic (to us), I also think it’s a ‘good thing’ it happened to Gonal now that he’s still to young to remember the pain afterwards.
And agreed: there are much more painful and life influencing rituals out there.

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 10:17

Thanks Sofie. Gonal has the most incredible spirit and dealt with the whole event remarkably well – I would have made a lot more fuss if it were me!

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Candace February 6, 2013 at 11:02

Hannah, I loved your first piece about your weekend at Poopy’s house, and I love this one even more. The descriptions are vivid (“sun-scorched swathe of ochre”) and your reflections moving. PS – The photo of the woman preparing rice in the field is wonderful – the perspective of capturing it from behind a few vessels of water is so good! xx

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 14:38

Thank you Candace, it’s so nice to hear feedback like that, especially from a woman as talented as you 🙂

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Phillipa Sen February 6, 2013 at 22:18

My mum and I have read this story for the 2nd time now and we are truly amazed by your courage and guts. To be invited back to a strangers house to witness how a family lives is one thing, but to see what Gonai went through, must’ve been heartbreaking. Good to know, at least, that he is loved endlessly. Cultural differences can sometimes be so extreme.
I love you best buddy! Speak soon.
P.S. Mum also sends her heartfelt love!

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Hannah February 8, 2013 at 08:15

Thanks honey, it means the world to have you reading xxx

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Amy February 7, 2013 at 16:29

I could not help wincing when I read this. These posts are amazing though and so fascinating – keep them coming!

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Hannah February 8, 2013 at 07:43

Thanks Amy, I’m so glad you enjoyed the posts!

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Rica February 8, 2013 at 04:06

I don’t know if I should feel happy or sad after reading this…sorry I don’t know the right adjective to describe what I’m feeling right now but this is such a great story (and great writing too!)!!!

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Hannah February 8, 2013 at 08:14

Thank you for your kind words Rica. I still don’t know how I feel about it all, so don’t worry about your lack of words! I just feel lucky to have been a part of such a private moment 🙂

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TammyOnTheMove February 11, 2013 at 04:53

Wonderful post. What a great insight into their lives. There are some rituals in the world that are very disturbing, but are just part of the local culture. Even though we as Westerners don’t agree with some of them I always try and be careful before I judge though. A piercing I can live with. If it goes further and creates proper bodily harm, like circumcision for example, then I think it is the right thing to be outraged and even try and do something about it.

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Hannah February 13, 2013 at 08:51

Thank you so much Tammy. I was very grateful to be able to witness this private moment, and did so without judgement, despite feeling very emotional about it. It lead me to want to understand more about this belief system, and instilled in me a great passion to challenge myself further with every travel experience. I have a lot to learn about the world and her people 🙂

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Wendy Klein February 12, 2013 at 05:21

Hello Sweetheart, just wanted you to know that I am in the background here in Canada following your adventures. It seems a lot of people have said it all. But I just wanted you to know that I am thinking about you and silently feeling so proud of you for your courage to experience the essence of such a different culture. Makes us seem quite pathetic and protected from life itself I think. Us Westerners consider we know it all???
Love Wendy xx

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Hannah February 13, 2013 at 08:54

Ah Wendy, it makes me so happy to be able to have you there in the background! Thank you so much for reading, and for your wonderful words of support, it truly means the world to me. Lots of love to you and Alain xxx

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memographer February 15, 2013 at 13:40

Great writing, Hannah. The vivid images of you bathing with a bucket of water in the kitchen and a man with dirty hands piercing baby’s ear will stuck in my head for a while.

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Hannah February 15, 2013 at 14:59

Thanks Alex, I’m so glad you liked it 🙂

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Madhu Bhardwaj June 2, 2013 at 21:04

Even I have not experienced something like this though I live in India. You were really in a back of the beyond place.
Great photos.

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Hannah Loaring June 3, 2013 at 11:21

Thanks Madhu, I’m so glad you like them. Jalligeri is such a beautiful place, and my experience there remains one of the best of my travels.

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