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Victor Huynh - Blog 1: Landing in the City of Coconuts: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Victor Huynh - Blog 1: Landing in the City of Coconuts: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

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Here I am sitting in my room at the YMCA Trivandrum. The first week has really been a whirlwind! After over 24 hours of travel and almost missing my connection in Mumbai, I arrived safe and sound in Trivandrum at 9am on Thursday January 17th! I was relieved to finally end the traveling and be able to make roots somewhere.

 I was picked up at the airport by Sister Sally Michael, the national coordinator of Migrant Forums India (MFI). She greeted me warmly with a firm handshake and helped me with my giant travel bag.  She kept insisting that she carry it for me, but it was almost as big as she was and she could barely even drag it on the ground. At that point, I knew I was going to be in for 6 months of good southern Indian hospitality. 

From the airport, we took a taxi to the YMCA to drop off my bags then went for a quick bite to eat. We went to a nearby hotel for breakfast. We had “appam”, a type of rice flour bread, with curried onions and an egg hard-boiled spiced egg. It was delicious! And eating with my hands was a real joy! We first had to go to the “wash” where we wash our hands then began eating. Eating only with your right hand, also known as your flexible fork, was a real challenge, but the simple beauty of it made me enjoy my food so much more.  As I was dropping food all over myself, Sister Sally told me she wouldn’t give me any tips on eating and I’d have to figure out how to properly do it over the next 6 months! I was up for the challenge.

After breakfast, we took a taxi to the MFI office.  On the way, we stopped for fresh coconuts on the side of the road.  They were husked, sliced to sip with a straw, then cracked in half to eat. Delicious!  After our coconuts, we continued weaving through oncoming traffic and finally arrived at the MFI office.  There, I met the staff: Rosemary –field animator, Sophy – project coordinator, Yesudas – assistant coordinator, Kamalam Ma – a domestic worker and of course Sister Sally Michael.  Father Eugin, the district coordinator was not able to attend.  We were only able to have a brief chat as everyone was preparing for the first Kerala Garhika Thozhilali (Domestic Workers) Union meeting of the year.  Domestic worker group leaders from all over the Trivandrum area attended the meeting and new members received their Kerala Garhika Thozhilali Union (KGTU) ID cards. These cards allow them to access social welfare and security schemes and lets their employers know that they are unionized and demand to be treated fairly. 

77 women were in attendance and before they received their ID Cards, I was asked to introduce and address the women about women’s rights, rights of domestic workers and the importance of unionizing.  I had the help of Yesudas to translate.  Still feeling disoriented from the long travel and feeling out of place as a man standing in front of a group of women speaking to them about women’s rights, I proceeded.  I took this opportunity to create a stepping stone to hopefully one day become a true ally.  Speaking from the heart, I ended my introduction by noting how strong, smart and powerful each woman is and how the solidarity amongst this particular group of women was so inspiring.  The women erupted in a roaring cheer that brought tears to my eyes.  That truly was one of the most powerful moments of my life. 

With all this happening just on my first day, I know there are going to be so many more amazing experiences to come.  Although I expect many more inspiring moments, I know wholeheartedly that there will be many ups and downs throughout my journey, experiences and adventures here.  And although at times I expect to long for the old and detest the new, I’m ready to embrace the personal growth I’ll experience, professional experience I’ll gain and the relationships I’ll build while overcoming the many challenges of living in a new geography and culture.