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
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!