Saturday, 24 March 2012

A typical day in Munsiyari

I thought a good way to start writing about my experiences at Munsiyari would be to describe a typical day here. But, the fact is, there seems to be no such thing as a typical day.

When I came here more than a week ago, I was down with fever and hadn't eaten in 2 days. I do not know how I survived the 11-hour journey by road taking us from the lower Himalayas into the higher Himalayas, a journey that I almost missed because I forgot to get down at Haldwani and finally got down at Kathgodam - the last train station in this part of Uttarakhand. When I arrived, my 'family' (the homestay where I am put up) was waiting for me and all I remember from that day is that I had 1 hot roti and slept under 4 layers of blankets.

The next day, there was a meeting regarding forest rights hosted by a organization called Kalpavriksh from Pune and a local women's collective called Maati. And I finally met Malika Virdi - she is the reason I am here. I saw this video while I was in Toronto and was inspired by the holistic development with a strong connection with the land. So, here I am, to learn first hand.

Among the many things that I have found myself getting into, I am supposed to work with an engineering student from Poland who is here through Engineers Without Borders to work on mapping and improving the water supply system at the village we are staying in. So, one day, we go and map all the houses and the water connections in our village. The next day, we are looking for the right kind of soil to make model of the village so that it is easier for the locals to understand the topography and the gradients. Another day, we restart work on a half-done pond as the kids can't wait to put the fish in. The kids have joined in and there has been very good progress so far. As we work together on these activities, the student and I have struck a strong bond built through conversations on life, travel, culture, war, beliefs (and non-beliefs), water-filters, cheese, dogs, etc..

My other task is to get a decent solar cooker working. Some families here do have a box solar cooker given by the government of Uttarakhand and the kids do an amazing job of baking cakes in them. However, there is a need to be able to build one locally so that every family can have access to it. In the little free time that we get, I get to help my family with some gardening both outside and inside a green-house. I am impressed by the fact that science and technology has reached these remote corners.
In all these activities, the goat belonging to my family gives birth to 2 young ones and all the focus shifts to these as the mother refuses to feed its young ones. So, off I go with my new-found friend on a 2 km uphill trek to the nearest market to get a feeding bottle to feed the kids. Even with all the care, only one of them has survived so far.

There are other minor things that I get to do like fixing a phone, layering the kitchen floor with a mixture of mud and cow-dung, fixing additional shelves in the kitchen, renewing my tailoring and knitting skills, translating a water quality testing manual from Hindi to English (!!) so that my Polish friend could understand.. just to name a few.

In my broken Hindi, I ask the lady who runs the family I stay with, about what she feels about letting some stranger into their home. She said she was initially scared but then, in the 8 years that she has been running this program, she has had only good people coming in, and only a handful of them were like me who treat her family as theirs too! I realized I had passed the first test with good marks :). For me, the reason I feel the home-stay program is amazing is that when they let us into their homes, they let us into their hearts too!