Monday, February 28, 2011

February 2011: Our Arrival and first thoughts

Marcia and I went for a walk up the narrow streets in the early morning hours and were struck by the serenity of the city. Dogs wandered down the streets, now empty of cars, inhabited by individuals standing in silent meditation, street sweepers with long brooms and cows chewing on the vegetable matter tossed out onto the streets from the night before. Much earlier, at 4am and hourly afterward until first light, drums, gongs and voices joined in early morning prayers; a strangely comforting sound that permeated every part of the psyche. A sharp contrast to the night before, were celebrations at various parts of the lake sent beautiful fireworks into the night sky, beneath a full moon.

After our breakfast on the rooftop terrace, then bags taken to the sidewalk, Heera Lal Sharma and Dr. Paliwal met us at the Jawana Haveli and transported us to the Sahyog project field office where he showed us the various community based water conservation sites, both completed and planned. The farming community is a strong partner in all decisions regarding their welfare and are preparing for our arrival tomorrow.

The landscape is very arid, with much evidence of over-grazing by goats and sheep, but where there are fields enclosed by rock walls or fences of thorny cactus, there are small crops of wheat, barley, mustard seed, canola and poppies grown under government supervision for the harvesting of opium for drug companies to use as the main ingredient in pain reduction medication.
A more detailed overview of the economic and humanistic reasons for our host partner Sahyog's choice of this area for community development was given by Heera and Dr. Paliwal within the enclosed garden of the Rajmahal Bhinder, our home away from home for the next two weeks. Ample cups of masala chai were drank while they explained how mutual cooperation between farmers in food production, irrigation and development loans are slowly moving the farming families into self-sufficiency. Farming families that are participating in this project are now able to irrigate their crops and have potable water, rather than relying on 27 days of rain, then quickly tilling the soil by hand, borrowing money for seed, planting and harvesting before the land returns to sun baked concrete again as summer temperatures of 40 C return. The walls Sahyog is assisting farming families to build, supports rapid self-sufficiency by teaching conservation agricultural practices resulting in the ability to grow two or more crops in a season, and access to credit at 12%, rather than the exorbitant rates of 36-60% by the private money lenders.

We piled into a van at 7pm, wound our way through, had 8pm dinner at a large establishment in the middle of the arid landscape, that could only be described as a playing field of irrigated turf, with a large platform at one end and a narrow eating area on one side; we were the only guests beneath a dark star-filled sky, eating wonderful fragrant vegetarian curries, dhals, side dishes of spinach and potatoes, amply spiced with cumin and served with basmati rice and roti bread. It was nice to finally turn into bed at the Bhinder Rajmahal.

Cam Grant
DWC Team Leader

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