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Published: March 25th 2006
Women selling veges at the annual Hatru fair
The ferris wheel in the background was powered by an agile young guy, who scampered around the axis like a hamster in an exercise wheel!
Eight down, four to go! The twelve weeks of my placement are slowly dragging by, although at times it feels as if each successive week lasts longer and longer. I'm comfortable here now - and grateful for how God's helped me adjust to this very different culture - but I constantly find myself itching to swing my pack up onto my shoulders and head back out into the big, wide world! I have to keep reminding myself what an amazing opportunity this is, and am trying hard to suppress my impatience and make the most of this experience while it lasts.
Now that I've been here for some time, the days have slowly settled into something of a routine and are usually fairly similar. Most days, I spend a surprising amount of time just waiting for the guys to arrive, (there are no 'office hours' as such), before we head out to visit various villages and projects. I'm trying to use all this free time constructively - reading widely, slowly increasing my Hindi vocabulary, picking up cooking tips from Baby, learning to sketch (very poor results so far!) and listening to music, (I bought a discman in town and my
I still haven't gotten a shot of the REALLY full ones =P
Once I counted 30 people in a similar jeep - sitting cramped & two-deep inside, seven on the roof, and more hanging off the sides!
parents have kindly sent lots of CD's). This may sound quite boring, and often it is, but I've realised that this 'enforced' relaxation (there's not much else to do) is just what I need, after the workload and stress of final year Engineering. My batteries are slowly recharging, and I'm relishing the busyness and excitement of my upcoming exchange in Thailand.
Once one or more of the guys have turned up at the office, we head out to the villages to start work. I won't write much more about the details of EFICOR's work though. I just read over the last entry I put up and realised that for those of you not particularly interested in water engineering or developing world NGO's, it must have made for quite a dull read! This time, I'll focus more on my personal experience of the work, rather than the work itself. I hope that will be more interesting to family and friends!
Roughly half of the EFICOR projects are located quite close to Paratwada and can be easily accessed by motorbike on decent, tarmac roads. The other half, scattered all over the rugged Satpura hills, are a little harder to reach.
For these, we hire a rusty little jeep that had the life beaten out of its suspension system a long time ago. For roughly eight hours in each day, we jolt along winding, rocky tracks in a cloud of choking dust, (I've taken to wearing a bandana tied across my nose and mouth). When the road's at its worst, we can only do about 10 km in an hour. Often a few of the EFICOR volunteers get a ride with us, so it can get quite cramped and stuffy, (the windows are usually kept closed to keep out as much dust as possible). While this can make the journey even more uncomfortable, the tight pack does prevent us from bouncing around so much inside the jeep!
Apparently the federal Forestry Department exercises full authority over this area, (all of the remote hill villages are inside the 'Melghat Tiger Reserve', a national park and tiger conservation area). They prevent the state government from building proper roads here, on the grounds that it might increase poaching. While this may be true, it certainly makes it hard to get around to many of EFICOR's target villages in one day. For this reason,
Bittu, Jitu & myself at Chikaldara hill station
This is a small holiday retreat with beautiful gardens near Paratwada.
we usually visit as many as possible in one day, then spend the night in one of the most remote villages and return to Paratwada the next evening, after another full day visiting different villages and projects.
These are very interesting, and sometimes quite uncomfortable, trips! We usually roll into the final village just as the sun sinks beyond the hills, the jeep groaning after a full day on the brutal roads. Most of these Korku villages are very similar - a single rocky street with a dozen or so houses on each side, and the fields extending out behind them. Almost all of the houses are constructed in the same way. Tree branches are used for the basic structure, woven bamboo mats are then attached to this framework, and a mud and cow dung mixture is used to thickly coat the mats and smear the floors. The end result is surprisingly comfortable, keeping cool even on the hottest summer days, (noon temperatures are around 35-40 degrees Celsius at the moment, and set to rise higher).
For the first hour or so after our arrival in the village, I usually sit on the mud-and-cowdung floor of the local
Sleepy little Sarvar village
We often stay in this village, as the local volunteer has a very comfortable house.
volunteer's home with the others, while work is discussed, volunteers and labourers paid, and decisions made. The discussion is usually in Hindi, occasionally in the state language (Marathi), and every now and then in the Korku tribal language - never in English of course. Once I've just about lost the feeling in my legs from sitting cross-legged on the hard floor so long, I get up and stagger out for a wander around the village. It's never long before I've attracted a small crowd of fascinated kids, who are initially a little apprehensive and follow at a safe distance. So I stroll along the village road alone, trailed by a throng of laughing children - the Pied Piper of the Korku! Before long they decide I'm not so dangerous after all and sometimes I can entice them into a game of cricket or volleyball, (even more popular than cricket amongst the Korku). Of course, when I pull out the digital camera the last traces of their shyness quickly disappear, as they compete to pull the most impressive pose and then swarm all over me to try and get a look at the shot on the camera's LCD screen.
Volunteer's house in Sarvar
This is the one with holes in the roof.
normally comes along with us on these overnight trips, to cook and to keep us supplied with energising cups of chai
, the sweet, milky, spice-laden tea that she makes with fresh ginger. There are a few Indian dishes I'm trying to learn before I leave, but the first priority has to be to uncover the secret behind the distinctive taste of Baby's chai
Often we eat chicken when in the village, as the guys swear that 'country chicken' is far superior in taste to the 'broiler chickens' we get in town, (although chicken has become much less popular, regardless of where it calls home, since the outbreak of bird flu elsewhere in the state). On my first overnight stay, I watched a villager spend a full minute trying to slit the chicken's throat, sawing ineffectually with his 'knife'. These are typically just pieces of blunt iron, sharpened against a rock but without any real edge. Since then I've always offered my Swiss Army knife, which provides a much quicker end for the chickens destined for our pot, (not sure how much of a consolation it is to them, but at least it makes me feel a bit better)! Once
dead, the chicken is plucked and dressed very quickly, usually just on the ground behind the house or an old piece of bamboo mat. Only the intestines, feet and bile duct are thrown to the pitiful village dogs, (which constantly dart in and out in the hope of snatching a titbit away), everything else goes into the pot. None of the villages have electricity so all of this, as well as the cooking, is done by the fairly inadequate light of the fire and occasionally a kerosene lamp. Despite this, Baby always seems to be able to cook up a feast, as delicious as it is safe, (surprisingly I haven't had any stomach trouble in India, for which I'm very thankful to God!).
It's usually quite late by the time we've finished dinner, (the normal time for dinner in this area is between 8-10pm), and everyone's exhausted from the day's travel and work. Sometimes we simply stretch out on the floor, other times the local volunteers generously give up their cots for us, (wooden frames with a bamboo or rope mat woven across the top). Occasionally, the rooms we sleep in have holes in the roof or walls, so
we're able to sleep around a still-smouldering fire. Gazing into the dying flames, or up at the blazing stars (through the holes in the roof), from the comfort of one's sleeping bag has to be the best possible way to nod off!
Without fail, the surviving chickens exact a sweet revenge on us the next morning, dragging us from our sleep at the crack of dawn, (and there always seems to be one particularly vengeful rooster in each village, who gleefully jumps the gun at around 3am). Once we've had breakfast and attended to 'morning duties' (which involves a stroll into the nearby forest), everyone piles back into the rust-bucket jeep for another full day of bouncing along between villages and projects. I always feel a slight sense of relief, and a renewed appreciation for my comfortable room in the EFICOR office, when we descend out of the Satpura hills and return to Paratwada!
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