India Adventure #6

Dec 25

We woke up and chose the seven am nature hike instead of yoga. It was a great opportunity for the kids to climb and get some of their energy out. We always enjoy a good nature hike, no matter where we are. We love learning about the local flora and fauna and how the indigenous people use the local plants. One of the most interesting things we learned was about the Neem tree. Local tribes would take twigs from the branches, chew the ends, and use them as toothbrushes. Ricky, our guide, told us some toothpaste companies are using extracts from the Neem tree as an ingredient in their toothpastes because of benefits for teeth and gums. The Neem tree differs from the Kenyan toothbrush trees in that it is not at all bitter. We also learned that the only two local animals that can eat acacia thorns are goats and camels. The acacia are not native to this area, but were brought over from Africa. They flourish quite well in Rajasthan, especially during the dry season, as Rajasthan is either mountainous or desert. 

The land next to the Araveli compound is government owned land, available for anyone to use for pasture (or hikes). The area closer to the village is owned by private families, passed down over generations. There were small low stone walls built to prevent soil erosion, but there were also larger mortarless stone walls built to mark the borders between properties. The sunrise was glorious, as the kids continued bouldering across the landscape.

After breakfast, a new family joined our group. Nick and Jennifer (name) and their three kids: Max, (13), Anika (11) and Ronin (4). They fit in right away, with group card games starting almost immediately.

Our first activity after breakfast was a presentation by the Project Manager for India, Mr.  Ambrish Nikhil Talwar. He showed us a slide show, outlining the WE 5 pillars of sustainable development (Water, Education, Health, Agriculture, and Opportunity) and how they are specifically being implemented in India. As expected, the implementation here is different than in the sites we have visited in Kenya and Ecuador. As an organization, WE adapts to the culture and situation in every site, and adjusts as needed, working with the local communities to find local solutions.

After the presentation, we headed to the Antri village for my favourite part of every WE trip: the “Day in the Life” activity. We were invited into the home of a local village Mama. She outlined some of her daily tasks and answered any questions we had about daily life in the village. We also helped her with some of her chores. Daludi Bai, our hostess, made Naan, and we tried to help her. Our facilitator told us the women in the village are very particular about rolling perfectly round dough. Most of us failed on this count. I noticed her trying not to laugh as we handed her our efforts to be cooked in the pan over the fire. Clearly we have to practice a lot more. The stove she is using is an improved wood stove supplied by WE. It has two burners instead of one, and is ventilated to the outside. This has contributed to a large reduction in respiratory illnesses, especially amongst the women in these villages.

In our conversation, we learned she was gifted earrings, a necklace, a toe ring, and bracelets on her upper arms from her husband’s parents when they were married. The other bangles she wears on her forearms are her own choice. She explained that the bracelets on her upper arms are now tight because she was so young when she was married, an age around ten years old, and her arms have grown since then. She was not sure of her exact age. She will wear these gifts from her in-laws until the day her husband dies (they are all signs that she is a married woman), and if she becomes a widow, she will take all of them off, including cutting the arm bracelets off of her upper arms.

One of the most memorable moments from the encounter with Daludi Bai was her response to the question regarding the hardest part of her day: “Nothing is hard for me, it is just my life. And if it is hard, I just do it.”

Our next task was to head down to the well to bring water. The well was probably about four hundred metres from her house. The community has had to dig wells deeper than ever before to access the ground water due to recent reduced rainfall. There was an ingenious Indigenous system in place for the water: A large wooden bar is pushed by the villagers walking in a circle, which turns gears at ground level and then turns a metal “belt” with metal cups at every joint; the cups are lowered into the well water and brought up to ground level, in a continuous circuit; at ground level, the cups tip over and fill the clay or metal vessels; overflow splashes back into the well or mostly drops down into an irrigation channel which flows to irrigate the farmers’ fields around the village.

The local children all flocked down to see us, and helped push the wooden bar to fill the pots. We were given traditional clay pots to balance on our heads on a fabric wrapped circular aid. The “doughnut” is placed on your head and then you balance the pot in the circle. Nowadays, brides are gifted metal pots to carry the water. They can be steel or copper or brass. They are heavier for the women to carry, but they last a lot longer than the clay pots, as Noam found out when he tried to lift one of the pots out of the water trough and the neck broke off in his hands. We were horrified, but the facilitator assured us that this is normal and that these pots were for demonstration purposes only. Every pot gets weakened when oversaturated, and eventually they break, which is why they have switched to metal pots.

Next, we had some bonding time with the goats. We fed them, and the kids took turns holding and petting them. The larger goats were prone to eating constantly, nipping at fingers, and pulling their posts out of the ground to get more food. Our last task was to help patch up the gaps in the bricks of the newest part of her house, with a “plaster” mixture of composted cow dung and mud. They gave us latex gloves to work with, but for some helpers the plaster managed to seep though to the fingers. The plastering mix was cool and surprisingly odourless.

I don’t think any of us will ever forget that time we had in Daludi Bai’s home, which was typical of the Indigenous Villagers in this part of India. The main space, in which she cooks and the entire family sleeps, is less than ten square metres. The goats sleep in a separate smaller enclosure off to the side in the home, but the newest unfinished part of her home will be solely for the goats, so she can expand  the regular part of the home. We were so grateful that she took time out of her life to share her experiences with us.

We were supposed to do a cooking class before lunch, but we were running late, and we were all extremely hungry. So, after lunch Chef Ashante did three cooking demonstrations: Masala Chai (tea, but be sure to at least “double boil the milk to avoid a milky taste”), butter chicken, and veggie samosas. All of us have really enjoyed the food on this trip, and Chef Ashante was definitely a highlight.

After our cooking demonstration. we headed back to the work site in the village. As soon as we arrived, everyone immediately got right to work. We were much more productive today than we were yesterday. Many of us tried most of the jobs on the first day, and were now settling into jobs to which we were best suited. It was cooler in the late afternoon, which helped our productivity, but we were still desperate for showers when we returned to Araveli.

Our “Christmas Dinner” was fun and festive (although all but one of the families on our trip is Jewish). We had wonderful food, Christmas themed cocktails and mocktails, mulled wine, a visit from “Indian Santa” who brought us candy, and a gift for every one of us under a small Christmas tree: a personalized, handmade, leather-bound journal for each of us.

All in all, a pretty amazing day.

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