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Homestays Part 3 - During and After

Part 3 of a three part series on how to use homestays to jump-start a community-based entrepreneurial initiative. Also check out Part 1 and Part 2.

A window into the communityA window into the community

May 6th, 2006, the third day of my homestay in the Sri Lanka colony of the Indiramma Nagar slum cluster, next to the airport in Hyderabad, India. The mercury was pushing 46 degrees Celsius. No hint of the coming monsoon.

"Soja," my host Sultana ordered me. I didn't argue, the combination of the Indian summer and all the rice and spice I had just eaten made taking a nap look like the most sensible option. A well-intentioned ceiling fan was forcing hot air down onto me, evaporating the sweat below my skin and drying out the insides of my nose. I felt like I was drinking gallons of water yet never had to go to the bathroom.

Before starting my homestay with Sheik Baba and Sultana, I had a host of plans to learn local skills and reach out to people in the slums, but the sheer heat of the day had made me scale back my aspirations. I was still managing to get out and meet people in the community, but had to retreat to shadier spots whenever the sun was high in the sky, which was often. Making friends while doing something active like hauling trash, as I had in Nairobi, didn't seem like much of an option here.

In the meanwhile, my attempts to help out around the house had met with mixed success. For example, when the local taps turned on in the morning I had gone out to help Sultana haul water, but I almost botched the job when some joking neighbors tried to get me to pour the water down a sewage trench instead of into the family's water tank. Still my presence seemed to have bumped up Sultana's position in the subtle hierarchy around the public water taps, so maybe I was helping after all.

I lay down to rest as the kids settled in to watch a show on the family's TV: the electricity could be fickle, but they had access to lots of channels. In an hour my new friend Muneer was coming around to introduce me to someone who ran a small ice cream business, and then later we were going to his cousin's wedding. Along the way we would stop and visit some more local businesses and meet some of the rickshaw drivers.

Things hadn't turned out exactly like I had expected, but I guess that was to be expected too...

Homestays Part 2 - Setup and Preparation

Part 2 of a three part series on how to use homestays to jump-start a community-based entrepreneurial initiative. You can read Part 1 here.

An alleyway in Indiramma NagarAn alleyway in Indiramma Nagar

"Can I talk to you about something?" Muneer asked me during one of our afternoon walks around the city.

It's May of 2006, the fifth week our BoP initiative with the Solae Company, and I was in the middle of a weeklong homestay in Indiramma Nagar - a cluster of slums by the Hyderabad airport. Muneer was a young Muslim resident who I had been introduced to on my first visit to the neighborhood. Every day I looked forward to his arrival at my hosts Baba and Sultana's home, a little wood and corrugated steel structure by the airport wall. Not only did Muneer's 5 PM visit herald the abatement of the sweat-boiling heat, but his near perfect English gave me someone to talk to, not to mention someone to explain to me what I may have done wrong. I recognized his question as a prelude to such an explanation.

"Of course," I replied, stepping to the side of the alley as a rickshaw rumbled by.

"What happened last night?" he asked.

Ah yes, that . . . Ilias and his brother. I told Muneer about Sultana encouraging me to go with the two boys, walking with them through the alleys to another home, pushing aside the front curtain, and then seeing the sudden reaction of the women and children lying on the floor – surprise, fear, anger. I had no idea what was going on but I knew it was wrong. I had bowed a quick apology and dragged the boys out the door, walking hurriedly back to my hosts.

"That naughty boy," Muneer replied after I finished describing what happened, "I told Ilias you could not stay with him, but he decided to take you home any way. It seems he told Sultana that his family invited you, but they had not." He was looking at his feet, "We don't enter people's homes here without permission." Not where I come from either.

I sighed. Navigating the cultural trips here was tougher than almost anywhere I'd ever been. Sure I had studied before heading to India, but the Hyderabadi slum was a tumult of Hindu and Muslim cultures; I didn't even know what to say when. I'm not sure what I would have done without Muneer, or Srini, who worked for our local partner SIDUR and who would occasionally drop by. Culturally, I was like a child: I knew nothing and I trusted everyone. Muneer and Srini had already helped me avoid getting entangled with one local politician who wanted to "adopt" me... now I had gotten in trouble because two children had wanted to do the same

We walked quietly for several moments, but then Muneer turned and gave me a reassuring look. "Do not worry," he told me, "Here is what we can do..."

Homestays Part 1 - Objectives and Challenges

Homestays are a powerful tool to begin a community-based entrepreneurial effort, but they need to be approached with tremendous humility and planning.

Homestay in AP, India

In 2006, I spent a week living with a family in the Indiramma Nagar slum cluster of the city of Hyderabad. Sheik Baba and Sultana – along with their four children, mother, and niece – hosted me in their small, single room home by the airport wall. Baba and Sultana were perfect hosts. They opened their small home to me and I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with them: despite the extreme heat of the Indian summer (115 °F) and our limited means of communication.

Weeks later while working with our business partners (a group of local women in the slum), a colleague brought up the fact that I had stayed with Baba and Sultana. There was a stir of comments among the women.

"What is it?" I asked.

"The family is very poor,” my colleague translated, “they are surprised that you could stay with them.”

They were particularly surprised that I didn't mind eating and drinking with the family: Westerners aren't normally known for very strong stomachs. To be honest, I had been a bit concerned when Sultana handed me that first cup of water, but it hadn't really seemed practical to refuse. Did I mention how hot it was? After the first cup went down though, and stayed down, I accepted plenty more.

In fact, besides my almost comical trait of not being able to eat without crying – no matter how little spice Sultana tried to cook with – everything had gone great. I had made friends and experienced a side of the community that few outsiders ever get to see. Plus, most of these women who we were building a new business with had met us as a result our team's homestays. Introductions had led to introductions, but it had all started there in the community.

Quite a productive week.

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