Q: Did you ever face discrimination in India while eradicating smallpox?
Interestingly, Indians never thought I was a black American! For them, an American was a white male and I didn’t fit either description! When I was working in New Delhi, people were certain that I was an Indian, not from Delhi, but probably from Kerala. And when I visited Kerala, folks there knew I was not from Kerala but from West Bengal. And in West Bengal, they thought I was from the capital, New Delhi. But there was sexism. Women in general had no high status and because of the caste system, no Indian woman would be traveling around in a vehicle with men that were not family members. So as a woman one had to have confidence to convince authorities to do the “right thing”. I had money, I had a vehicle, and I had a team. I had power and authority. In the rural area, there were men that didn’t like this independent woman coming and “ placing ideas into the minds of their women”.
Q: What was the hardest part of your job?
My hardest days were when I was working in West Bengal during the first three months. I had no permanent lodging to return to at the end of the day. And if one was following a rumor you never knew where you would rest at night. After long hours (ten hour days were common), it would have been nice to return to a sure lodging.
Q: Did you ever arrive at a Dak bungalow and the rooms were all occupied?
Fortunately, that only happened once in West Bengal. We arrived at a dak bungalow around 9pm at night, which was rather late, and all the rooms were occupied. But there was one gallant man and he offered to vacate his room and give it up to me. I was forever grateful and this re-enforced on me that I absolutely had to arrive at lodgings before nightfall. And another time, we were really far from any dak bungalow! This was in Rajasthan. And we were forced to ask the village chief if I could stay in his hut with his wives! He was accommodating and his wife and female relatives got to see what the foreign woman wore to bed!