Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February 2011: Hard work and a cultural celebration

A bright, sunny day with temperatures in the high 20s. We arrived at the the site and started work right away. The engineer directs the overall building of the rock and mortar water retention structure so that it will be strong enough to withstand heavy monsoon water, and last many years.

This particular location is a slight constriction in the gully so that water and sediment will accumulate behind the structure, causing the entire up-slope side to fill in with rich fertile soil over one or two decades, eventually creating an oasis of arable land, as well as feeding the water table, as demonstrated in the 10-year old structures we saw yesterday. As you can see from the photo, the transformation fro unstable land to verdant farm is striking; notice the structure between each hill in the center of the photograph, and the sealer structure on the lower left.

Men generally pry up large metamorphic rocks out of the earth around the structure, breaking them in to smaller pieces to fill in the voids around the larger rocks that are placed in the wall. Women and men carry the smaller rocks to the structure, mix cement and sand to make mortar, carry water from the wet oasis 500 M away, while the engineer directs placement of materials.

The work is hot, and we are each learning to carry rock, water and pans of mortar on our heads, which is more efficient than carrying heavy objects with our hands in front of us, saving strain on our backs. We all immediately feel our backs assuming an upright posture, allowing fluid movement of legs, and yes, it is possible to look in front of you, while caring a pan of mortar on top of your head, without spilling a drop.

Cathy and John Greven left the group mid-day with Sharon and Kathy to meet adults at the community school who had vision difficulties. They had brought batches of new, donated reading glasses, separated by strength, then with an eye chart that had universal symbols, determined which eyeglasses were needed, and issued a pair to correct close-up vision. They also brought several eyeglasses that could be adjusted to correct myopia by increasing or decreasing diopter with a a simple liquid silicone syringe; once the refraction was correct, the syringe tube could be permanently clamped and removed. Several villagers had their vision corrected as a result, which proved to be emotional for everyone involved.

The volunteers that were at the water retention structure left the project at noon, and rendezvoused with the eyeglasses volunteers so they could see the results of the eyeglasses team. We then had lunch, prepared for the cultural evening and walked through the Bhinder streets looking for local treasures.

The cultural evening was amazing: we arrived at the village meeting place in total darkness, greeted by more than 100 hundred villagers, many wearing brown blankets to protect them from the chilly night air.

We removed our shoes and sat down on opened rice bags spread over the smooth concrete of the area, then the real fun began. The local amateur musicians, with a four stringed instrument, drums and hand cymbals, sang ancient songs, a man danced, several small groups of children sang, while between each of their presentations, the volunteers scrambled to sing songs for them, including "this land is your land, this land is my land".

Tea was served, many smiles were shared, and once again we were immersed in the World community, not Canadian or Indian, but part of the World community.

Cam Grant

DWC Team Leader

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