First Person Singular

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In 1966, Nancy and I had just married. We were sent as health workers to a small village in India. The tiny clinic had living quarters attached, but that was full when we got there, so they built us a small house at the main village entrance.

We wanted to be as involved as possible in the community. Every morning, I'd have tea with the postmaster at the post office. By the time I got back at 8:30, I'd made three to five stops for tea. At the police station, any government official, out on the street -- you walked 30 yards, and it was, "Hey, come in for tea!" It was part of the ethos, the conversation. Over tea, we'd talk weather and news. Our primary task was family planning, so people would bring up the subject over tea. Also inoculations, a smallpox outbreak a village or two away, cholera, making sure the wells were clean, general sanitation. It didn't take long to drink a little cup; you could be on your way in five or 10 minutes. We were completely [immersed] in the culture. We were invited to every wedding -- untouchables, Brahmans, Muslims, you name it. Tea was the catalyst that brought people together. It created those social opportunities.

We sought out that tea at Indian restaurants when we returned, but you just can't get the same type. The quality varies a lot. Sometimes they spice it too much. This makes me long for the village right now.

Interview by Ellen Ryan

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