Wilfred Njagi | October 15, 2013

From Jambo to Vanakkam


A month has passed by since arriving in India from Kenya. It’s been exciting to see new faces and feeling strange at times. Here they have a saying that goes like Atithi Devo Bhava which means “guest is god”. With that you can imagine the hospitality being extended to me; I couldn’t help getting immersed in the rich and diverse culture. I have been offered lots of free food. The best part has been eating from a banana leaf instead of a plate - Something we do in Africa as well. I have come to like South Indian delicacies. I just can’t get enough of the lip smacking idli, sambar, dosai and curd rice.

I have had a few challenges with traffic. People here don’t drive. They ride! I mean like riding a horse. At first I always had to keeping looking right, left and behind. Somehow I have figured that you can find your way in the crazy traffic by just ignoring a few things. As a pedestrian, traffic lights are not something to go by. So what I usually do while crossing the road is to wait for a flock of people to gather and then go with the wave. I heard a friend make similar joke about Mumbai trains that if you want to get into a train, all you have to do is stand by the door. You don’t even have to move your feet; the stampeding crowd will do it for you. They will push you in. With lots of people in the streets, at the train stations and in buses, it is a clear way of saying ‘Hey, we are 1.3 billion of us’ (Indian population)

Flowers are a part and parcel of culture especially in the South. It’s not surprising to see ladies adorned in garlands of kasumba and marigold flowers strapped on their hair leaving a trail of fresh fragrance behind. In Hinduism, flowers are also offered in the temples to appease the gods. You are bound to find lots of flower vendors along the streets. I once brought home from the temple some Bhagawan ki phulain (flowers offered to gods). In addition to flowers, women also wear bindi on their forehead or mangalsutra on their neck (if they are married). Different colors and shapes denote age, marital status, religious background or ethnic affiliation.

Working with enterprises serving the BOP, I have to appreciate the role of women in poverty alleviation. A lady at Erode district of Tamil Nadu tells me that 90% of the self help groups there are led by women. The men have lagged behind and are shy to embracing community leadership. Despite the plight of Indian being in the media for all the wrong reasons like rape and violence, they have demonstrated resilience by overcoming it all and gone a step further to pull their men folks out of poverty. Also to note, many young ladies are taking up self -defense training and this can be seen by the number of ladies I have spotted wearing judo and karate uniforms after office hours.

Now that I have learnt a few Tamil words let me throw in some.

Yepidi Irukeenga? which means “How are you?”

Kudika thanni kadaikuma which means “Could I have some drinking water?”

Theriyom meaning “I know”

Theriyaadhu means“I don’t know”

Nandri means “Thank you”.


The induction phase is now over its time to get down to work. It looks like we have a promising year ahead. As I sign off, I would like to take this chance to wish my fellow fellows a rewarding and fulfilling time in the social enterprise space.



Wilfred has worked in the tech startup scene for almost two years now, both in Jordan and Kenya. He has joined Villgro as a Fellow (2013- 14) and will be working with Villgro’s Scale initiative.