Rural Odysseys ~ I – Statesman

An important exercise in rural development management is the periodic visit of top managers to project sites. Convoys of off-road vehicles form part of an escort that zooms through a crowd of villagers amazed by a large peacock.

It is no wonder that older and more intelligent villagers do not trust all these urbanized gentlemen who are dragged into the village by jeeps, together with their luxury, encouraging the local population to produce fewer babies and more food for the benefit of their urban brothers. There is no mention of the exploitative prices of their products, which were the key cause of their impoverishment. They deliver these messages to the villages and hurriedly return to their urban environment in jeeps. Targets, commands, strategies, messages, tips and threats come from above. From the periphery and the bottom comes a weaker flow of filtered information that sends confusing signals and often deceives. Sometimes it’s honeymoon: achievement numbers get juicy through inflation to sound musical. At the meetings, the subordinates are ugly, deceived, and then the chiefs from the headquarters bombard them with batons.

The bosses are only interested in selective, and too much positive feedback. Critical feedback is appalling and can be very irritating to them. In most cases, several prominent villagers are bred; they are already trained to speak parrot sentences that are very pleasing to visitors. Every visit by a senior chief to a development site is a well-rehearsed thing.

The visitor, usually a top-notch honcho, leaves late, delayed by last-minute work, subordinates or superiors eager for decisions, breakfast postponed because of the wife’s desire to pack sandwiches for her husband so he doesn’t have to snack on unhygienic outside food. There may be last-minute telegrams or calls from colleagues in the country. Delays can be caused by mechanical or administrative problems with vehicles or city traffic jams. Even if the road is not lost, there is enough fuel and there are no breakdowns, the program is usually still late. The visitor is accommodated in the luxury of an SUV, seeking a temporary escape from the harshness of the imposed rural visit through music on headphones.

As the escort arrives, accompanied by a backpack with sandwiches and bottles of sparkling water, followed by a gala welcome, a tribal dance of girls, women in traditional clothes smeared with red paint on the heads of temporary gods, local dignitaries (chiefs, village committee committees, village accountants, advanced farmers) who devoutly await the darshan (look) of the dignitaries.

The poor, whatever their private feelings, were told to bathe their children early and dress them in their best clothes. The school teachers helped the girls practice a welcome dance for the dignitary. Everyone utters slogans praising the visitor as a great savior.

Buntings were hung; the villagers stay awake overnight, cleaning the whole village. The girls get up early to decorate their backyards with colorful rangols (ornate patterns drawn in colored chalk).

In such public situations, public relations units are established in the villages. When visitors arrive, a guide who fluently follows the rehearsed route and rehearsed routine. A series of events is repeated at each visitor review; the participants also repeat the characters and only the guest official is different. They have already repeated the answers of the teachers to the questions of the dignitaries. Since this is the first time for any visitor, it leaves him enchanted. The villagers get nothing, but the event provides an incredible profit for local officials.

The day before the visit, the local hosts received an assortment of top branded equipment: elegant bedding, towels, toiletries and more. The complete set of Italian dishes in the housewife’s car precedes the arrival of the visitor. They will manage high tea. A whole shipment of various biscuits and selected dried fruits was transported overnight. There is a wide selection of welcome drinks such as coconut milk, carbonated drinks, coffee, tea or milk; at least one should exactly suit the taste of the visitor. As the dignitary’s car approaches, local bloc officials or corporate PR people chase after the car with impeccable etiquette to introduce the visitor to a new world. The traditional turban is strung around the head of the dignitary together with wreaths. There is talk. School children sing or clap. Photos were taken. Buildings, machines, construction works, new crops, exotic animals, an ambulance, a school, a new road – everything is inspected and praised with happy smiles. Some special groups, such as progressive farmers or women’s collectives ~ members dressed in their best clothes ~ parade and talk to them. There is an exhibition on the production of fresh cheese by a girl entrepreneur and a knitting salon run by local girls. In addition, the traditional crafts of local tribal artisans are on display. The guest tastes a few sweets. The older woman wrapped the whole package nicely and handed it to the driver to deliver to the dignitary when he arrived at his base.

As the day progresses, the visitor becomes less curious, asks fewer questions, and finally rejoices, exhausted and confused, to retreat to a resort, the residence of a host official, or return to an urban house or hotel. Before returning, he asks his deputy to write remarks in the Visitor’s Book using the strongest adjectives and mechanically sign it. Most of the time, officers are preoccupied with tracking their department at headquarters via their cell phones. They have almost no time or attention for the local villagers.

The villagers suggest that they have prepared a special meal for the dignitary, using their culinary skills in the best way. They are politely told that the dignitary has a limited diet and is meticulous about it. Several enterprising and enthusiastic villagers offer packages of apple cream and exotic varieties of vegetables that are mechanically sent to the driver for safekeeping.

After the departure of the dignitary, the village quickly returns to normal, no longer wearing its own special face. These people don’t have time to fool the sentimentality when it comes to living. When dignitaries leave, the usual comments are: “They come, sign the book and leave.” “They only talk to buildings.” “We have to pull our necks out in the scorching heat just to see them, let’s forget to talk to them.” They snuggle in dirty plastic chairs under a nearby tree or collapse wherever they can and start stretching. ”

Although tourism and branding can be part of the learning agenda, it is not disputed if it is a strategy that benefits both the rural population and the development industry. Poverty is now a trillion-dollar industry. The poor wait with blank stares as the escort comes and goes leaving them wondering what this whole circus is about. This is a painful reality whose prognosis lies elsewhere.

(To be concluded)

(The writer is an author, researcher and development expert. It can be obtained at [email protected])

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