Our visit to Kashiben is our last visit of the day, and our final visit after three days of field work. The sun is sinking lower in the sky as our car bumps down the dirt road, passing rows of green fields separated by trees. Women carrying water jugs or bundles of sticks on their heads, boys driving motorcycles, and girls walking on the side peer curiously into the car as we pass. The cows and goats are less impressed, and no amount of honking will shift a few particularly stubborn individuals.
We stop in front of a small compound, and walk past a calf on a tether to get to the front porch. We are greeted warmly by a small woman in a light purple sari, and take our seats on the outside bed. Our two translators and Kashiben settle into plastic lawn chairs, and we start “firing” our questions (that’s what our extremely patient SEWA translator calls our interview style). Unlike our other visits, we are not joined by a crowd of curious children, family members, and neighbors, and so this interview has a more relaxed and convivial feel. All our questions have to be translated into Hindi by one translator, and from Hindi to Gujarati by another, and then back again for the answers. We are learning to be patient, and to rephrase when something gets lost in translation.
Kashiben tells us about growing up in another small village with four sisters and parents who work as agricultural laborers. She and her sisters were only able to complete 6th standard, because the higher level school was further away and they needed to help their parents at home. She was married at just fifteen years of age (she is 40 years old now) and moved to this village. Luckily, two of her sisters married into the same village and one of them, she gestures across the field, lives very close. She joined SEWA ten years ago, when they visited her village, and has been a Rudiben for five years. She started out as a member of her savings group, and now she is the leader of it. Like many of the other women we spoke to, her husband and family are supportive of her work. She tells us that her two sons and daughter-in-law help her with the distribution sometimes, and her husband will come meet her when she is working late. Her daughter-in-law, a petite, quiet girl, drifts across the yard and settles in behind us, but does not join our conversation.
Her village is medium sized, about 200 households, and there is no store. People must travel to the next village over. She has about 20 primary customers, but says that almost everyone in the village buys a little bit from her. She uses the mobile phone now to place orders, and proudly tells us that this is her first time owning and using a mobile. She wants to expand into more villages, but transportation is a problem. The route planning is helping, but has only just started. We laugh when she tells us that really, she needs a bigger bag so she can carry more products on her head, but she is not kidding. She also talks about opening up a small store in front of her house, which is situated along the main road into the village, and we agree that it would be a great idea.
Our interview is briefly interrupted by her introducing a small, hard fruit to us that looks like a rock. Kashiben cracks it open against a doorpost, and shows us the coral colored flesh inside. We each try a little bit with salt, as she suggests, but it is pretty bitter. Our local translator finishes it off while they explain that they use it in chutney. The tree that the fruit came from is growing nearby, and there is a monkey hanging out in the upper branches. They tell us that during the fruiting season they keep children away, because the fruit could cause some damage when it falls.
. Kashiben really starts to shine when we ask questions about why she is successful, what makes a good Rudiben, and how SEWA has helped her. She is proud of the money she earns, and she uses it to pay household expenses and to save. Most of the women we have talked to have increased their incomes five times or more, and make as much or more then their husbands and sons. When we ask her what she would tell a new saleswoman, she pauses thoughtfully, and says she would tell her that once you start selling, you get your own identity in addition to the commission. She knows women in her village that she thinks would also benefit, and she herself is eager for more trainings. She tells us that because she is less educated, she wants to become more aware, more knowledgeable. Before SEWA she says, she was scared to travel. Now, she has gone to Ahmedabad by herself.
We wrap up our interview, and take pictures with her. In her individual picture, she flashes a big, confident smile. Before we leave, she walks us across the street to see the peacocks and the monkeys in the field. Other villagers start to gather as we climb into the car with many thank yous and goodbyes, and Kashiben waves us off with a big smile.