As the moonlight illuminated the level dirt path before us, and a warm breeze pulled at our hair, we made our way through rows of tin houses to Mahesh and Srivalli’s home. After the long day at the construction site, the community was alive with movement and sound – music and news announcements could be heard on the breeze, streams of light danced on the ground, and small clusters of people milled about. Upon our arrival to their home, they shyly welcomed the three of us inside, and asked us to sit on the colorful straw mats that covered the concrete floor. For a time, a large group of others from the neighborhood crowded at the door. Mahesh was shy at first, but he too soon sat down soon and we started to chat.
Speaking through a Telugu translator, we introduced ourselves as students interested in learning about their lives as migrant workers and gaining their input on the school at the site. They introduced themselves as well, Mahesh mentioning that he was skilled at mimicry. Unfortunately, however, he was too shy to oblige our request. Through a series of questions and answers, we gained a glimpse into their lives:
Mahesh and Srivalli, along with their two children have been living at this site for a few months now, and expect to live there for another eight months. The previous site they worked at, they stayed in for three months. Mahesh, as a migrant worker, follows work wherever it goes. Two years ago, he was forced to leave his profession as a brick-maker and become a construction-site laborer, because the earnings were not sufficient to support them, especially because Srivalli often falls sick. It was after this time that they left their village and home to continue to pursue work throughout the state.
Every day, Srivalli wakes up in the morning to cook, after which she has free time, until the evening, when she cooks again. Her husband wakes up and heads to the site, where labor begins around 6 a.m. For his job, he mixes concrete, which is passed on to the mason to build pillars and walls. At this point, Alikiah interjected, telling him of how he and his father had done the same this summer while building a garage. Hearing this, Mahesh smiled.
Mahesh and Srivalli are Christians, like the majority of the Telugu speakers at the site. They explain to us that their families have been Christians for generations, and that on the site here, there is a makeshift church, where services are held every Sunday.
He and Srivalli were married about ten years ago – he around the age of 25 and she around age 19. He was the oldest of four brothers, all of whom labor on the current site as well. Srivalli is the middle child of three sisters, both of whom she considers her closest friends, and both of who live in their hometown.
Back in their home village (they both grew up in the same place) there had been a school, but neither he, nor his brothers, nor his wife had attended. They instead had worked with their parents, in farming and construction. Despite this, however, they want their children to study – to not become laborers and to have a different life than theirs.
Wondering what they feel is important for their children to learn, we ask, and Srivalli, after some time, responds, quietly, saying: “Even though my son is studying now, I feel like it is his fate to become a laborer. I hope not, but it’s likely he will.” Uncertain how to respond, beyond encouraging them to allow him and his sister to continue studying as much as possible, we ask them where they will head next. They respond, hopefully back home for a time, but they don’t know.
After some time, Srivalli lay down, tired, as the mats we sat on also serve as their bed. Noting her fatigue, we took leave for the night. We thanked them profusely for their time and their help and wished them both a good night. Both of the children, who were awake upon our arrival, were asleep. They accepted our thanks and told us to be careful of the dogs. Once more we made our way through rows of tin homes, thinking, reflecting, as we left the site.