Connecting through people’s people

Olavipe Homestay Estate

How do we know which connections are important?  My recent trip to India has made me think about this in a number of ways.

All the connections I made on this trip have enriched my life, but I find myself thinking about the homestay we stayed in, in Olavipe, Kerala towards the end of our trip. This was a unique experience, where the family home which has been occupied by family members for 120 years and lived in by six generations, now makes four of its eight bedrooms available for guests. On one wall of the family home has been drawn an extensive family tree. Although the family is now dispersed and there is some concern about whether there is anyone in the next generation who will be willing  to maintain the family home, the family keep in touch with each other, wherever they might be all across the world by email – and yet whilst there was a computer in the family office, the computer was nowhere near as much in evidence in the Parayil home ‘Thekkanatt’ as it is in our home.

Staying at ‘Thekkanatt’ is really like staying with a family. The homestay is managed by two brothers and one of their wives. This was not like a hotel. The family entertained their visitors. We had meals together, long chats on the veranda, trips to the village and round the estate.  I asked the oldest brother how they coped with having guests in their house all the time. He said that it worked well because his brother and his brother’s wife were people’s people. I knew exactly what he meant and it seemed to me that they were experts at connectivity. They were able to engage in conversation with all their guests, whether the conversation was about Indian politics, religion, clothes, arranged marriages, music, or the equivalents of these in other countries. They took photos of all their guests and these photos were posted up on boards in one area of their home. They took a real interest in their guests and were masters at drawing them out, asking unintrusive questions and following through on these questions. For the 5 nights we stayed with them never once did conversation falter and they had a wealth of experience and knowledge to share.

In addition to connecting with their guests from around the world, the family were actively concerned to remain connected to their village roots. The oldest brother explained that in the past village members had been loyal to the family in times of financial difficulty and now the family was trying to repay this by employing village members from 25 families to work on their estate and running monthly gatherings for the village old people and children at their home, arranging outings and so on.

On the connectivism course a number of people were interested in connectivity beyond technology – what it really means to be connected – what are the characteristics of a well connected person and so on. I wonder if being a people’s person sums it up.