Who knew when we boarded the plane 2 weeks ago full of anticipation and excitement of the unknown what a truly rewarding and unforgettable experience we would have. We were welcomed into this amazing community with open arms, friendly greetings, smiling faces, and stares of curiosity. Over the 2 weeks we shared many laughs, communication breakdowns and breakthrough’s, cups of masala tea, rest times, lots and lots of photos, learned from each other, celebrated with each other, shared each others culture and built friendships that will last with us forever. Through everything we were able to work together hauling rocks, passing and lifting cement to build a dam that will help the community of Akola for years to come. We are forever grateful to everyone for making us feel so at home. We started our journey as strangers here and we are parting ways as friends and family looking forward to the next time we meet again. We will carry India in our hearts with us long after we have left this magical country. Thank you to my amazing, compassionate, hard working, funny, patient team. It was an absolute pleasure working with you and sharing this experience with; thank you for your commitment to this project and inspiring me. Thank you to Sahyog, the community of Akola, Mithu, Rajmahal Hotel, Parthvi, Jaiwana Havali, DWC, our friends and family for supporting us and everyone who made our experience in India so memorable.
Halloween in Akola was a great day. We hauled large stones in our rock taxi for 2. Very very large stones take four people. We have made many friends now and everyone sat quietly as we handed out stickers candy and trail mix. Our hosts supplied the chia tea.
Each member of our team has worked very hard. Jen, Ashley and Justin have really bonded with the kids. Duck duck goose, photos and card games of go fish keeps everyone; adults and kids laughing. Victor and Lonnie have left but our hosts still ask about them. Rebecca and Wray compete to carry the largest stones, Freda and her new friend Laxmi, both daadis, grandmas, never stop and without a doubt have carried the most rocks. Bill and I take turns with Parbhu on the rock taxi. We all have fun with our hosts on the ‘conga line’ passing ‘C’ment person to person sometimes as far as 50’. We have been so graciously been accepted by our hosts and have taken tea in many of the villagers homes.
The dam is almost done but our friendships will last forever.
The project has been moving along quickly. It is amazing to see the progress that has been made since we first started from no wall to a giant wall. Discussions are underway for an arranged marriage for Justin to one of the local girls named Dali. We headed to Miethu’s (the Boss) family’s house early this week to share lunch and meet his family. Great food, lots of laughs and photos.
Today we celebrated Halloween with the workers and children at the site sharing treats and small gifts with them. Everyone was quite excited to learn about Halloween and the traditions we have back home.
We are looking forward to our last day of work and then celebrating with everyone on the weekend.
It has been fun getting to know the workers, their families, and the children. We have all shared many laughs, cement throwing, learning new words, and we are sad to see our time here coming to an end. We will cherish the memories and friends we have made and hope that we will be back to visit again.
By 20:00 hours we were back in our lodgings in Bhinder after a full two days in Udaipur. (Udaipur was the setting for part of the movie the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.) Our ladies were keen on shopping - particularly for linens, custom made clothes, saris, table cloths, etc. Even I got involved by having two dress shirts made overnight for me. Goodness knows when or where I'll have an occasion to wear them! Also went to what might be called an emporium selling all the ornaments of elephants, the various gods of Hinduism, brass works, pottery, etc We hired tuk-tuks to take us through the chaotic traffic to all these various places. At the open air market, I purchased 100 grams each of five spices including cumin, chilli, coriander, etc all for the price of 140 Rupees or say $2 CDN. Of course, the tuk-tuk guy takes us to such a place because he has a "friend" who just happens to sell what we think we need.
We also went to the summer palace of the royalty which is located high in the mountain overlooking Udaipur. The view was obscured by fog. They would go there to escape the upto 45C summer heat of their lake level palace. It's not lived in today and is more of a wildlife educational centre but it gives a stunning view of Udapur and the lake far below. Of course the Raj did not have to walk up there or carry all the needed supplies up there. Neither did we .... We took a car!
Some other thoughts:
Weather has been great with virtually not even a cloud around. This is the dry season after the monsoons finished in late September. The website says Udaipur had a high of 35C but it didn't seem that near the lake. At the work site 10 Kms south of Bhinder, I guess that it might be in the low thirties, with afternoon breeze and very low humidity. Towels dry quickly but you sweat accordingly as well as overnight lows might be 20ish.
Our project continues to take shape. The locals worked at least one day while we were in Udaipur. This morning there were far fewer people at the site as the kids are off school for this and next week. No day care programs here! As well, the Diwali festival is Nov 3rd so they are putting up decorations .... Similar to our Christmas. However, as a consequence, today there were lots of kids at the worksite - both boys and girls. They were wonderful and seemed to have some directive to watch but stay out of the way. They were in awe when I showed the pictures I had taken seconds before on the iPad.
GI tract health: On my previous backing trip to India in 1968, I took the loose bowel problem in stride - big strides and often too. It was similar for our team on the Peru project in 2011. Many missed one or more days with it. However, here in Bhinder things have been fine. That success is due to both the hotel and our Indian team leader have been most aware of our need for sanitary food and water. They ensure we only eat non contaminated food. In addition, it's bottled water for drinking, teeth brushing, and anything else that goes near the mouth.
Finally, if you want to win the lottery, consider that you have already won the lottery just by being born in Canada! (And some other developed countries)
What a difference a picture makes. School children that arrive at the work site are almost fearful of us, initially we try to approach them they leave. Take a picture of them, turn the camera around to show them the picture and the ice (if there is such a thing in India) is broken and we’re not scary after all. The women, who are veiled, show them a picture of themselves and the veil isn’t quite so important and for the most part, isn’t used.
A land of opposites- the newer Mercedes on the street, side by side, with a four bicycle tired platform carrying up to 100 pounds and pulled by scantily dressed man. Just outside the air conditioned, high end fabric shop is a home built of a tarp and scrap lumber and buckets. We sit in a quiet courtyard and listen to the doves-watch the wrens and parakeets while just outside the gates the cows are sifting through the days accumulation of piled garbage for food. But it’s all wonderful, exciting and humbling. We who have so much don’t appear to be any happier than those who have so little.
We are a curiosity to the people of Bhinder, very few tourists here. A crowd of 30 noisy children can accumulate when we wander through the town, standing off until pictures are taken and then their limited English is practiced with us.
We were told that when making purchases we should barter. When a pair of sandals is $6.50, or a shirt is $5.00, how much cheaper do we expect to buy it for? The number of small stalls lining the street, a number selling the same articles, a single sale to a tourist, at a higher price than the residents would pay, must make their day, or week, a success.
The food can be spicy or really, really, spicy, varied and interesting- and what an adventure we are on. It should be mandatory for children, and some adults to experience this country and what little is needed in life. It would be really interesting to follow up on all who have taken part in a DWC project and see if the experience has changed the way they view and live their lives. I know it will certainly change mine.
Breakfast at 7:30am; toast, eggs and vegetable sliders. 20 minute drive out to work site. Bill, Russ, Justin and Victor having bets on how many times the driver will honk his horn during the trip to the site- Bill won 162 times!! (this is at other cars, trucks, bikes, cows, goats, sheep, people walking, buses, etc.) Progress on the water retention dam is going very well; villagers did a whole lot after we left yesterday. Today we carried rocks and pans of concrete mix until 11am then visited a local school with formal introductions, welcoming remarks, and recitals by students. Many parents came to watch and listen. Communication is difficult as English is not spoken here but we are having a great time with sign language, learning a few words and lots of laughter. The one teacher at this school has 2 rooms and 68 students ages 5 to 9 years. After the visit we were invited to a local home for tea and snacks. Another walk through the streets of Bhinder for shopping and mingling with the towns people who give us curious stares and many responsive smiles. The children crowd around us and are happy to practice their English words on us. Another enjoyable day in fascinating India.
We have finished day 2 of our Water harvesting project. There is a cutoff wall about 3m deep made with rock and mortar being constructed in a small valley. When finished it will be about 2m above the ground to hold back seasonal rain. The water will percolate into the ground and help sustain 5 nearby wells. Our work is happy cooperation between all of us passing rock and mortar to the tradesmen working below. Our communication is limited but we understand and there is lots of laughter. It is fun to be in India with such a hard working group.
Foundation Ceremony - laying the first brick
This evening we walked from our hotel, the ‘Rajmahal’ and were received like rock stars. The kids and adults alike were friendly and eager to speak English. We happened upon our site engineer at his home with his lovely 1 year old daughter. Many people welcomed us and made us feel very at home in Bhinder.
View of the Rajmahal Bhinder Hotel
India, October 2013
We have completed our first full day in India, and it has been incredibly rich thus far. We arrived last night from a hectic day of travel and were greeted into a beautiful, peaceful courtyard. The manager of the hotel is a beautiful young lady and a descendent of the maharaja who owned the building and a significant area of the surrounding area. They have worked very hard to modernize the building while retaining the essence of the original design.
Our first day of work went very well. We were greeted with a traditional greeting ceremony comprised of marigold wreaths, bindi's, introductions, speeches and chai. elected representatives from the local government were present as a show of support for the project, and educated us on the area and the importance of this underground reservoir which will raise the water table for 5 wells in the surrounding areas. Considering that husbandry and agriculture is the major source of income in the area, we felt very honoured to help.
Before the work began a ceremony was held at the location to bless the project. In addition to blessing the site, the ceremony was to bring together the various villages who would benefit from the project to encourage engagement. As this is a shared project with the local villages, they will be working along side us and will also be responsible for its success.
We met lots of people and worked side by side with them. They were kind enough to fashion a private bathroom tent for us ladies.... From which the locals seemed to get great amusement!