Monday, June 8, 2009

June 1st: One week to go.

Internet in Bhinder has been sporadic at best these last couple of weeks which is the reason for the large gap in information.

The last weekend bore witness to one of the most historic moments of our trip thus far. We spent one bumpy night on a sleeping bus (passengers and drivers) to Agra and we were glad to make it there in one piece! The consensus is that Agra is a silly place and that the train is a much better way to travel than the bus. However, despite the loud honky drivers, expensive fares and dirty streets, the view of the Taj Mahal made this trip well worth our time. We visited the Taj at 6:30am in a torrential downpour which made for a unique and most needed experience, it was quite the sight. While tourists fled to the confines of the intricately carved marble domes for shelter some of our group preferred to frolic in some of the first rains of the monsoon. When inside the main chamber the echoed prayers and hushed voices bounce around the dome creating a soothing sound for listening ears walking on smooth aged marble floors. We also had the privilege of seeing the Taj from across the river at sunset where we all sat along the banks watching flowers float by and children splash in the murky waters.

The rest of the day was spent frequenting bazaars, getting lost, cooling off in malls and visiting the only McDonalds ( not a good idea for some in hind sight....the Chicken Maharaja didn't go over too well). One entertaining aspect of Agra is the species of wild monkey who roam the streets eating the power cables and tearing down brick walls. In the city with a large group and limited Hindi language skills our carefully picked auto-rickshaw drivers proved quintessentially useful. In addition, Charles L. eagerly flagged down goods carriers which are essentially small pickup trucks which were happy to cram us in the back and ferry us wherever we desired even through dodgy police roadblocks for the right price!

The journey home was a long journey indeed but time passed fast because of our ingenuity. On the 12 hour sleeper class train we put on an all night original train party complete with Bollywood classics blaring on speakers and matched dancing much to the delight of everyone in the 6 surrounding cars. Needless to say we met so many people who were more than happy to shove food down our throats, take our pictures and introduce us to their entire extended families ( some even invited us to their homes) . We arrived as one very sleepy team in Chittorgarh at 4am in the morning where we parked ourselves on the pavement outside, along with an army of sleeping locals until our fantastic driver Sundar rescued us and drove us to a hotel for breakfast and naps. Chittorgarh is home to the largest fort in Rajasthan and Asia built by the Mauryans in 7th century AD. We spent the morning climbing the crumbling walls of the remaining grand palaces and visiting the various marble temples within its all encompassing walls. It was well worth the visit and the sleepy arrival time to see such marvels.

With one last week of work we bid ya'll adieu.
Over and Out
Ciara and her trusty assistant Ben

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 20: Settled into a daily routine.


This week in Bhinder the temperature has been around 40-43 degrees during the day! We generally get up for a 6 am breakfast so we can work during the morning and leave during the heat of the day for a siesta. People have really settled in here and on any given day someone is out and around town playing cricket, or watching cricket, exchanging foreign tongues or chasing children.

Despite the temperature being so hot, the work has been surprisingly productive and already quite a large amount of walls have been built. On the larger site where there are 6 of our team working they have almost completed a wall around the edge of a farm plot of about 100 or more meters. We still spend out days moving rocks and soil but I think everyone is enjoying the work. Always surrounded by children and various farm animals, the work sites are very social places and lasting relationships are being formed between many. People communicate with bright eyes, excited hand gestures and the occasional Hindi which everyone is picking up.

On Monday, there was a death of an elder at the village so we did not go to work. Instead we visited some of the successful projects of our host partner and learnt about the improvements they have made in the farmland and lives of the villages. We were also able to visit the completed water harvesting structure of the last DWC team, although there is no running water to see it at full capacity. Some of our team members are planning to return to the site after the monsoons in August to see the project in action. It was very encouraging to see the vast differences that projects similar to our own have made while also seeing the plans in place to tackle climate change in the area. When we returned to work we payed our respect the family which was a very important experience.

Lunch is ready, curry potatoes and lady fingers!

With love from the palace,
Ciara and Stuart

May 17: City of Udaipur - the dry Venice of India


The team spent the weekend in Udaipur exploring the city and taking some much needed relaxation. We sat on the rooftop restaurant enjoying some cold beer and watching the evening colours transpire bringing choruses of bats and a cool breeze. The city at night is all lit up, illuminating the white washed buildings and carefully carved marble temples. Everyone spent time in the busy tourist and local markets and visiting the city palace. People are attracted to this beautiful sight because it is surrounded by a large lake, unfortunately summer time in Rajasthan brings drought and the lake is currently dried up, enabling you to walk right up to the palace doors!

On the drive to Udaipur we took a detour and visited Jaisamand lake. Built in 1685 it is the second largest artificial lake in Asia covering 36 sqkm. Even though we are coming from a background with large pristine alpine lakes we were all surprised and taken aback by the vast beauty. On top of two hills lay old palaces adorned with carved elephants. The lake provides a large part of irrigation and life style for a magnitude of villages that live around the outskirts and surrounding land.

Over the course of the last week about half of our team got sick at different times because of the constant sun or perhaps the food ( some call it Dehli Belly....!). Needless to say there have been some sore tummies but everyone is in full recovery and ready to go back to work for the coming week. After the busy city and sweaty jeep ride back to Bhinder, everyone was relieved to be back 'home', we really do love it here at the palace.

With love from two very sweaty team leaders,
Ciara and Stuart

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blessed and welcomed: Meeting the Villagers on the Project

May 13, 2009

Today was the first work day on the project site. The village we are working in is about a 15 minute drive outside the town of Bhinder. There are three sites that we are split up working at, all reasonably close and are various sizes. We are currently working on the first stage of building a retaining wall surrounding the edges of fields which will prevent soil erosion. This erosion is causing the water to run through the ditches causes the well water to become filled with silt.

When we arrived we were greeted with a welcome meeting where all members involved, DWC volunteers and villagers alike, were given red Bindis and chai to bless the new beginning. I think that everyone is overwhelmed by the kindness of the villagers and the shy smiles of all the beautiful children. Today, we were moving rocks and sand from various areas while a local mason built the walls around the fields. The females of our group all learnt to carry rocks on their heads with the guidance of the local women and the help of an Indoni ( a pillow - ring wrapped in fabric placed on top of the head). We have two more days of work left this week before we spend an entire weekend in Udaipur.

With love from a palace in the desert,
Team Leaders
Ciara and Stuart

Arrival in India: Delhi, Mt. Abu and Bhinder

May 12, 2009

We arrived safe here to the Rajmahal Bhinder Palace two nights ago and completed our first on the project today. After a long couple of flights we arrived in Delhi at 12.30 am with no problems or hassles with customs or our luggage. We spent the next day exploring the hectic city of Dehli with the help of Developing World Connections friend Paul Singh, who showed us the Red Fort and some of the local markets. We then took an 12 hour overnight train to Udaipur, which turned out to be such a fantastic experience. It was so refreshing to watch the lights and villages fly by from the open doors of the train with the cool night air helping us forget the heat and the grime of a day navigating Dehli.

Awoken to the sounds and smells of fresh chai we then met Heera ( the project supervisor) for a quick visit before we boarded another cramped public bus to Mt. Abu. Situated in the middle of a desert, the town of Mt. Abu attracts many international and domestic tourists for the cooler climate and stunning views of the surrounding landscapes. The group spend the few days here riding horses and motorcycles, seeing the various viewpoints, sunsets and magnificent Jain temples in the area. The ride back to Udaipur was interesting to say the least: a bus full of overexcited families all talking in animated voices pummeling down mountain roads with a cascading horn that was blown at every turn. The outcome was complete chaos, people getting sick out windows and crawling all over the floor, some of our very own joined in but everyone lived to tell the tale. We then travelled to the town of Bhinder by bus where we met all the project coordinators and settled into our new home at the palace.

Erected 500 years ago, the palace has been passed down through the generations and is in beautiful condition complete with colourful murals, steep staircases and resident bats! It is safe to say that everyone is in love with this place and feel at home amoung the spicy food, sweaty foreheads and stunning terraces.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

INDIA: The Project

Host Partner: Sayhog Sansthan
The Project: Water Harvesting Structure
The Total Cost: 1.5 lakh Indian Rupees
Contribution by Host Partner: 50% materials, scientific and project expertise.
Contribution by Villagers and Beneficiaries: 50% labour, tools and expertise.

10 -12 km outside of Bhinder lies a tribal village of 50-60 famlies named Vaniyatalai. Just outside of the main village portion was where the water harvesting structure was to be built. A trench of 4 feet wide and approx. 30 feet long, was dug across a small dry tributary. For the first week we dug out the trench by hand, using pick axes, and small shovels/hoes. The men mostly dug, while the women filled their Tdagari with sand and dirt. The Tdagari balanced precariously on their heads, the women walked up the small incline to dump the sand and back down to fill it once more. The sand was strategically placed in order to eventually extend the structure and contain the water once the monsoon rains arrived.

This is the second year of drought and once the structure is complete at the end of April, it will hold the water back just long enough to percolate some into parched land and recharge the water table and 5 open wells in and around the village. By the end of the first week, the trench had been dug 1.5 m below the surface to the bedrock. It was now time to lay the foundation stone. With ceremony and blessings, we took part in the laying of the first stone, and cement mixing begun!

The second week on the Project found us mixing cement and hauling stones. The women mixed cement – 60 Tdagari of sand + 1 bag of cement and 20 pails of water. First the dry is mixed and then into a circle with a small well for water, and then the 20 pails of water. Then the dry cement is scooped into the well and from there it sits for 10 – 15 minutes. Eventually, one or two women scoop the cement with a large hoe, another lifts the Tdagari onto the heads of the women who balance it and walk it to the trench. All of us foreign women slopped cement down the back of ourselves more than once!

While the women were doing this, the men moved rocks, big rocks, huge rocks that took two – three men to carry, and 60 kg bags of dry cement. They work very safe here, carefully stepping and moving rocks. They are incredibly resourceful and reasonably fast and making tools and implements to assist them in the labour. After several hours of work we headed up to the village for traditional breakfast of milk and maize and later to another's home for chai. It was hot and by the second week we were better acclimatized, still taking breaks in the shade and consuming lots of water, but move slightly faster, and felt a bit fresher at the end of the day.

There was little English spoken by the people, however through hand gestures and pointing, we were able to converse and share our lives. Amongst the women, we chatted about husbands and children, sisters and mothers. Amongst the men, they spoke about the work, the tools and materials and amount of harvest, rain and flora of the area. A great commraderie was established by the end of the third project day, and by the very last day, tears were shed, and ache in our hearts appeared. I think each one of us would like to return someday, to see the project and hear news of the families, and share space once again.

INDIA: Location and Culture

The Location and Culture:

In the southeast corner of Rajasthan, lies the town of Bhinder, home to some 30, 000 people. The town is made up of a mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Tribal people and in the center of town is a 600 year old palace. The palace has been converted into a historic hotel with 25 rooms, each with a western style bathroom. It is here the group of 8 stayed and traveled from each morning to the project site. Most days we came back for lunch, a short rest, and then there was free time or travel to visit different families homes. We were welcomed into the villagers homes and they appeared to be so excited, we saw hand made mills stones, the freezer, the dairy owner, we played with children and Trudie did a bit of sewing. Jeff played Tic-Tac-Toe with some school boys and Erin and I held hands with our new found women friends.

We saw the village school that has 127 students up until the 8th class. Across the dirt road is a preschool with 20 children under 5. We visited completed Sayhog projects like the Climate Change project, the Biodiversity project, and several other villages that have been self-sufficient since Sayhog assisted them with water harvesting structures, better breeds of animals, and expertise. We heard about the success of this particular village since 2005 and witnessed the difference in the landscape from where there is water and where there is little. The children appear healthier, the community so proud and because of the philosophy of Sayhog, each community is invested in their own success. Sahyog started working with this village in 2001 and they have been self sufficient since 2005. They talked about the creation and success of self help groups. (SHG’s) How each member contributes a certain amount, as decided by the group, and then if and when they need a loan, then they borrow from themselves with a much lower interest rate – 10-20% instead of from other private lenders at 60-70%. There were some fabulous photos taken and more chai was drunk. Heera Lal, Sayhog Secretary, was an excellent tour guide and project manager. From this village we went back to Bhinder. On the way, the small car Pablo was riding in had a flat tire, and so we didn't get back to the hotel until 7 pm with 30 minutes to wash up, everyone was beat but the show must go on and so a group of tribal and farmer men came to the hotel and preformed puja, ate and then sang many songs to Shiva and danced. This is was one of the most fabulous evenings during the two weeks. To see them sing and dance, and enjoy themselves it was a beautiful evening.

The food was amazing! The town of Bhinder friendly and safe. The Villagers we worked with were friendly and curious and generous. It has been an amazing experience, full of meaningful connections with the people, an education, and an opportunity for sharing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

India March 30,2009

India March 30/2009

Just to let everyone know that the India trip is turning out to be a big success but not without some challenges along the way. The internet line has been cut, which means access has been impossible, but we are keeping in touch by phone.
Trudie says ;
We spent a great morning touring the City Palace and wandering the streets in the "touristy" section of Udaipur. It is very quiet here or so it seems and we've have found it all very, very pleasant and not at all the frantic India we expected. Our hotel overlooks what remains of the great lake (severe droughts have taken their toll on the lake) and the summer palace in the centre.. Our hotel room has windows on two sides overlooking what remains of the lake and Lake Palace Hotel. We traded a TV for the view room which was a brilliant decision on our part! The food at the hotel has been absolutely wonderful!
Last night we had an amazing dinner on the roof watching the sunset and enjoying the cool breeze from the lake. And we definitely need a cool breeze now and then.
The weather here is hot, hot, HOT! Most days hit 36+C and the nights cool down to 20C. I'm taking advantage of the fan in our cool hotel room to do a bit of correspondence and avoid the heat of the afternoon. A bit later today I'm heading down to the nearby ghat (steps leading down to the lake) for some photos (I hope) of the washing ladies and then a few of us are taking a boat ride on the lake to catch sunset with the rosy light hitting the City Palace. Today is New Year's Day here in India so there will processions and celebrations tonight and tomorrow. Lucky us to be here for the festivities.