Friday, 20 April 2012

Knowing where your food comes from

Two weeks ago, I had to move to another home since I had to vacate my better furnished and more beautiful room to accomodate a German couple. My hostess was pretty upset that I was leaving but I did not mind much because the new home was less than 100 meters away and I could drop by my old home almost everyday (and I still do). What I did not realize was the home-grown food that I was going to miss. And the tasty natural milk from the cows. And a chance to sit in front of the fire and wait for the milk to slowly come to a boil as I knit my scarf. A farmer's home is a lot more different as it is generally more active with a lot of work to be done, come rain or shine. There is cowdung to be cleared and taken to the fields, there is grass to be cut for the cows, goats to be taken care of, weeds to be cleared, seeds to be planted and plants to be watered.

The knowledge of where our food comes from does make a difference and can add to the satisfaction of a good meal. The closer it comes from, the less is the distance between us and our food (especially our daily meals). As my friend and roomie noted, when you eat with your hand instead of a spoon, it feels much better since you have nothing between you and your food. She being a European hadn't been exposed to eating with hands. I was impressed by her observation and the clarity with which she put her thought across. More so because English is not her native language. Coming back to food, my current hostess does grow some potatoes and greens, but nothing like having a larger land where you grow green peas, rajma, beans, methi, radish, onion, garlic, etc.. Additionally, the green house accomodates some exotic stuff like raspberries and brinjal (I call brinjal exotic because I do not remember seeing one in the last one month!).

The other advantage of having fields/gardens is that the cycle gets completed for kitchen waste. No food gets wasted, more so when there are cows. Even in my current home, food waste is given to neighbours who have cows, but the whole feeling is different. It is similar to living in urban areas where we live in small isolated islands, not knowing where food comes from and where the waste goes.
Though groups like DailyDump and MySunnyBalcony are doing a very job of closing this loop in individual homes with their composting solutions and urban gardens, there is still a long way to go. What worries me however, is that these beautiful villages are making the same mistake as their urban counterparts as families are either becoming smaller or are moving to towns and cities making fields and cows difficult to maintain. But, I also see hope as a few committed individuals like the people in the women's collective I am interning with have kept up their struggle to maintain what they have realized is important to them - their connnection with their land and everything that it produces.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Language and lifeskills paying off (literally)

When I considered spending a few months in Munsiyari, I asked Malika about learning/working opportunities with Maati(the local women's collective)/Himal Prakriti (a local trust to preserve local bio-diversity). Though she welcomed me, she could not promise anything on the earning front. How could she? I do not have any specialist skills that could help me earn anything worthwhile here.. or so I thought and hence came here without any expectations.

Within a few days of seeing my enthusiasm and my work (!!), I was being considered for the next funded project in the pipeline. Even as we discussed the timelines for one of these projects, I found myself working as a research assistant on a German research project on student migration in the valley. I am not new to surveys and data collection, but the reason I got included in the project makes me laugh! Since I am the only intern who knows both Hindi and English and is available to work on this project right now, I am part of it along with a local and together we are collecting migration related data in the neighboring villages.

What amuses me is that I barely manage to communicate in Hindi (though I can understand quite well and enjoy watching movies) and the less said about my grammar, the better. Hindi is a language that I learnt on my own (with some help from dad) when I was 9 years old and when I think of it now, it makes me feel proud. When I changed my school in my 4th standard, the new school had Hindi since 1st standard so I had to catch up with them. I still remember the day I cried as I wrote the Hindi alphabet as an answer to all the Hindi questions asked in the entrance exam. Since I was good at the other subjects, I did get admitted into the new school. I spent the whole of my 3rd standard holidays learning Hindi from "Learn Hindi in 30 days" and also by watching TV. Even with all this, my Hindi is still pretty bad though I put on a fake confidence when I have to manage in Hindi speaking areas. This same Hindi now helps me earn a few hundred rupees per day and it covers a major portion of my living expenses here for a few weeks. Thank life for the small mercies!

Another skill that is paying off is my driving. Though I have an interest in learning new stuff, I must admit that I am a pretty slow learner. Almost a decade ago, I went for driving classes and then I went again after a couple of years. Since we did not have a car then, I lost touch. I took lessons again, this time with my brother in our Bolero. I remember he waking me up at 5 am and there I was, a little girl in a big car, half asleep and half scared trying to learn the dreaded half-clutch. My friends threatened to not accompany me unless I drove at a speed of more than 20 km/hr. But, I did not give up and finally reached the stage of getting compliments for my driving. Today, I am 'world-famous' in Munsiyari as probably the only female taxi driver in Munsiyari because I happened to drive a couple of tourists around since the regular driver wasn't available. It was my first driving experience in the hill side, and except for a small glitch (the half-clutch again!), I think I did a decent job at my new part-time job. I received a payment of Rs. 300 for a couple of hrs of driving (plus free entry to the local museum, some compliments and many raised eyebrows). On the way back, I offered a lift to a local till my village. She refused because I had already gone past my village - I hadn't noticed it as I couldn't properly gauge the distance by car and all houses looked the same for the first few days :)