Monday, October 27, 2014

Friday Oct 24th: Final Thoughts and a Bittersweet Goodbye

With Bob feeling under the weather and out for the count with a head cold the rest of us set off to sightsee the Chittoorgarh Fort. It is located a few kilometers south of Bhilwara and is the largest fort in India. It was once the capital of Mewar and is now a World Heritage Site. It is definitely quite grand and a site to behold. 

We gathered once again for dinner in the palace courtyard. The mood was joyful but certainly tinged with a hint of sadness as it is our final dinner at the palace and amongst our new friends. The princess had a beautiful cake brought in to celebrate the final day of Diwali and some final rounds of fire crackers were lit off. 

Given that it's our final day together as a DWC group we decided to leave you with some parting reflections from each of us. Tomorrow we're off to Delhi.

It is a bitter sweet morning excited to see Delhi but sad to leave my new friends and family. These past weeks were truly eye-opening. The people we were here to help, unknowingly, were helping me find myself. I am leaving with a better sense of family, the true meaning of friendship and giving of oneself without expecting anything in return. I am truly blessed to have also met 5 wonderful team mates who will be my friends forever. Looking forward to our next adventure with DWC.

Coming to India has been my first visit to a developing country. It has been an amazing experience to be involved in a project such as this. As a part of the program we have been able to immerse ourselves into the local culture while contributing to something that will benefit a community. While the work has been challenging, it has provided us with a unique insight into the daily lives of the villagers. Despite the additional hardships that they face, they have all warmly embraced us and allowed us all to feel welcome. It is an experience that I shall never forget and I am glad to have shared it with such supportive, like-minded people. I shall leave India with many new friends from across the globe.

I could not have asked for a better team and a better project. A huge thanks to Bob for taking the lead in my absence the first week and thank you Anya for the daily communications and updates. It was a challenge to lead from home but it worked out just fine, all because of the wonderful team. After arriving to the project site it was clear how big of an impact the dam will have on the villages in the area. Our host partner did a fantastic job in organizing the project and what a pleasure to work side by side with the locals. It amazes me how strong both the men and women are and could feel the excitement among the villagers. They clearly understand the long term benefit from all the work.

I can't say enough about our team. So much to appreciate from all the hard work to being flexible, respectful and caring. I hope I get to travel and experience new places with each of the team members again.

My biggest lesson: No matter where you come from, country, religion or culture, anything can be accomplished as a common community.

This was my first DWC experience and first time in India. It has been a great experience seeing how our efforts will impact the community. I felt warmly welcomed and enjoyed the time with the villagers with whom we were building. We worked hard but still had time to visit with the local villagers and learn about their daily lives. I have really enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers and forming connections with them. I would encourage others to participate in an experience such as this.

This has been an awesome experience, it has lived up to and surpassed all my expectations. It always surprises me the commonality of the people we meet on DWC trips, we all want a better life for ourselves and the generation that follows us. The key word is always sustainability. In our small way we are adding to the quality of life of those not as fortunate as we. It's never too late to get involved.

Although this was my second volunteer opportunity with DWC the experience was no less profound. To be able to work cooperatively alongside and bond with people despite language barriers and cultural differences is truly extraordinary. I have no doubt that the work we have done will make a significant and positive impact for the villagers of Kosafala. I leave this trip with an incredible sense of gratitude and a love for India and the people we've bonded with. It has truly been an experience of a lifetime.

DWC Team
Udaipur, India: October 2014

Thursday Oct 23rd: Happy Diwali!

Being in India is an experience in and of itself. However, being in India and having the opportunity to participate in Diwali celebrations is simply priceless. Diwali, the festival of lights, in many ways can be compared to our version of Christmas. The royal family spent the day decorating the palace with lights, garlands of marigolds, flowers and gold bows. Excitement filled the air.

With half of the group feeling a little under the weather we were all thankful to have the day off work. Not to mention it was scorching hot with no breeze to be found. We had a relatively low key day and took a wander through Bhinder just after dusk to take in the sights and wish people a happy Diwali. We also eagerly anticipated the much talked about fireworks display that was lined up for later in the evening.

And what a show it was! We thought that we were going to be the highlight of the night after purchasing some fireworks in Udaipur. Boy, were we wrong. Let me tell you, the royal family knows how to throw a party and put on a fireworks display like no other. If any of us have hearing left by morning it'll be a miracle.

Short and sweet for today but wishing you all a happy Diwali!

Anya Malda
DWC Participant
Udaipur, India: October 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wednesday Oct 22nd: "Chalo!" aka "Let's Go!"

So today was a morning much like all the rest in the sense that it started with Bob's yoga class and a full on spicy breakfast. We knew that today was going to involve a ceremony, however, when we showed up at the job site the villagers were ready and waiting for a full on party! So much for squeezing in an hour and a half of work before the festivities Tommy ;)

Over night our little shaded area had expanded five fold. It was complete with a backdrop, canopy and a large sound system. With Bollywood tunes filling the air we went and inspected the wall. Once again the villagers had been hard at work after we left yesterday, both on the wall and setting up the ceremony area. While the structure may not yet be complete (as it will take approximately another two weeks before it is finished) it stands at an impressive height of 1.75 meters above ground. We took advantage of the photo op and mingled a bit with the villagers.

With the music cranked it didn't take long for some of the girls, Kim included, to start bustin' a move. There's no question that they love their music and their dancing. Arguably even more impressive was their artistic talent and steady hand at creating henna. Denise, Kim and I were all treated to our own henna hand, each with their own artistic expression.

We were told yesterday that the official ceremony would start at 10:00am. Keeping consistent with Indian Standard Time, things really didn't get underway until about 11:45am. You'd think that we'd be somewhat more accustomed to this by now.

The President, the King and a PhD student were only a few of the many dignitaries present at the ceremony today. Villagers from far and wide came to join in the festivities. There must have been over 300 men, women and children in attendance.


Once officially underway representatives from the village, Sahyog and our team addressed the crowd and spoke about the importance of the work that was being done through the self-help groups and the positive impact that the water harvesting structure would have on the village. One of the things the villagers kept commenting on was our hard work ethic as a group, funny because at times we felt like we were struggling to keep up with them. We were honoured when we were officially welcomed into the brotherhood of the village, complete with traditional wraps for us ladies and turbans for the guys.

Our team also had the opportunity to present the local school teacher with enough books, pencils, sharpeners and erasers for each of the school children. We had also purchased some sporting equipment for the school kids. Between 61 students we are sure that each and every piece will be put to good use.

After our legs had gone numb and our backs began to ache (honestly, that squat position on the hard ground is impossible after about 30 minutes) the ceremony finally ended. We were more than just a little relieved. The large gathering then headed over to one of the villagers homes for a community lunch. You'd think that with such a large amount of people to cater for and then serve, a certain amount of chaos would ensue. However, the organization and the systems that the locals have in place are so interesting, impressive and effective that there was no problem. The men were the ones who were not only cooking but also serving everyone. I'm telling you, I could get used to some of these customs and traditions.

It was a sad farewell as we left the dinner party. There were many waves, photos, and attempts to try and keep us there. After forming such a strong bond with so many of the villagers it's hard to imagine that we won't be working alongside them again. It makes it even more difficult to say goodbye when you know that in all likelihood this may very well be the last time we see them. We left with a feeling of sadness but also a strong sense of happiness knowing how much the village will benefit from the water harvesting structure.

Anya Malda
DWC Participant 
Udaipur, India: October 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tuesday Oct 21st: Pump it Up!

With today being the last full working day on the project there was widespread enthusiasm amongst the team to make it a productive one. Despite being a man down, with Bob showing some signs of succumbing to the local cuisine, the team put in a solid days work. Perhaps it was a case of the team following Bob's solid work ethic that he had displayed throughout the first week during his role as stand in team leader.

Tommy's enthusiasm was infectious on the work site as his cries of "Pump it up" were even being copied by the local villagers. They may not have quite known what it meant, although they matched Tommy's enthusiasm with the same grit and determination that they have displayed each and every day. Kim took the opportunity to learn a new skill as she ferried water on her head from the nearby well to the wall. Both Denise and Anya were on mortar duty today and as the wall grew higher they had to lift the pans higher and higher.

It was a productive day of work, although there was still the opportunity to take breaks for chai tea and for Tommy to participate in a playful game with some of the girls from the village. There is still some doubt over who won, if there was a winner at all.

We also took a brief excursion during the working day to visit a nearby well that has been previously developed through Sahyog's projects. The well is 15 meters deep and is used to provide water to nearby farming land and while it was funded through multiple sources, the adjoining farmers contributed 40% of the costs. The on site visit to the well helped to reveal the extent of Sahyog's projects within the local area as well as reaffirm that outcomes are reached through empowerment, collaboration and consultation.

We left the job site at around 1pm after a solid day of work under the hot Indian sun. When we returned to the palace we found that Bob was thankfully feeling much better.

Following lunch the team decided to wander the streets of Bhindar and take in what the town has to offer. We were again the subject of much curiosity with many of the locals keen to greet us as we walked past. We even found some familiar faces from Sahyog down at the local material shop. They informed us that they would visit the palace at 5.30pm with shirts for the men to try on for the upcoming celebration. This was in addition to a local sari maker coming to the palace to conduct a fitting for the ladies.

We learned that today is 'Money day' in the Indian calendar. In the lead up to Diwali this day is a traditional day to purchase gold and/or silver, as it is believed that if you purchase it today it will have doubled in value by this time next year. As Diwali approaches a number of townsfolk have been busily preparing by decorating their homes or businesses with themed items or with lights. It is very much their version of putting up lights for Christmas. We had a guided tour of the streets of Bhindar prior to dinner. Amongst the various lights and artwork that adorns the pavement outside many shops and homes, there is the sound of firecrackers being set off throughout the streets.

The countdown to Diwali is on and it is sure to be a party that our team will remember! Of Course we'll join in any way we can.

David Hood 
DWC Participant 
Udaipur, India: October 2014

Monday Oct 20th: First day for some

Not surprisingly, we returned to the job site this morning to find that an incredible amount of work had been done over the weekend. The entire length of the wall (27 meters) is now about 0.75 meters above ground. Not only that but the backside of the wall has been reinforced significantly. Where mounds of dirt had sat throughout the past week was now an intricate placement of rock and dirt that will provide extra strength for the wall when the monsoon rains fall. The locals had surely been busy while we enjoyed the sights and sounds of Udaipur.

The vibe at the worksite seemed to be a little more relaxed today. A brief ceremony was held in order to officially welcome Tommy and Denise as new members of the team and they jumped straight into the action. Tommy was keen to cart some heavy rocks and Denise was tossing pans full or mortar with the villagers in no time. We learned that today would only be a half day of work for everyone because a funeral celebration/food exchange was going to be held in the afternoon at a neighbouring village. It being quite a hot day again, none of us were overly disappointed. Well, all of us except Tommy perhaps. Although he was pleased that he was recruited rather quickly to using the stretcher and carrying the big rocks.

It was only a matter of time before the Australian in India was roped into playing cricket, as a group of children from the local village started a game next to the break area at the work site. Although on a rock strewn pitch, the local village children proved their superiority and Dave wasn't able to uphold the lofty Australian standards of cricket.

Heera came to visit this afternoon at the palace and while the group watched a presentation on the previous water structures that Sahyog had assisted with, I had a chai tea making lesson with the princess. It's safe to say that if I can find tea powder back home I'll be making chai tea from now on! Heera informed us that a celebration will be held this coming Wednesday with over 200 participants. Essentially everyone who is impacted in some way by the creation of our water harvesting structure has been invited to partake. Put your party hats on!

With this in mind we set out to find a small gift we could bring for the 60+ children who are expected to be in attendance. We settled on purchasing a pencil, eraser, sharpener and notebook each for the kids. Hopefully it'll be something they can all put to good use.

Anya Malda
DWC Participant 
Udaipur, India: Oct 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 19th: The ride of your life!

The adventure through the city of Udaipur continued today and our first mission was simple, to find crackers/fireworks. With the celebrations of Diwali only days away we wanted to be prepared, as well as show the locals that we want to be a part of the party. Despite Sunday being a quieter day on the streets, we made our way down the narrow, congested streets. Fast feet, quick reflexes and a little bit of guesswork are essential when it comes to navigating the Udaipur streets on foot.

After finding the right store and making a careful selection of crackers that are sure to impress, we set off in search of Celebration Mall. To aid the process we approached a couple of Tuk Tuk drivers to help us get to our destination. Without certainty that the drivers had fully understood our request we boarded and held on. With nothing more than a canvas skin for protection and open sides for an easy dismount, the Tuk-Tuk offers you the ride of your life. The experience is unlike any other as the wind rushes through your hair, you feel every minor bump in the road and you hold your breath at every close shave as you persistently duck and weave through chaotic traffic. The leather handles that hang from the roof frame provide nothing more than superficial comfort as the driver searches for any gap that appears big enough in the traffic, even if it happens to be on the opposite side of the road. However, the grins on the faces of the passengers (well, not all of them) is proof that this is a ride not to miss.

When we arrived at the mall, it stood out much like an oasis would amongst the less developed suburbs of Udaipur. In a land full of contrasts this was yet another example of have and have nots. Inside the mall was a wide variety of western shopping options. The opportunity to boost the local economy was quickly seized by a few members of the group and it looks like a few of us will be taking home some extra luggage.

Our Tuk-Tuk drivers had waited patiently for us while we had been in the mall, there was some doubt that they would still be there when we emerged. Their perseverance paid off as we asked them to take us to a restaurant of their choice. Following another white knuckle ride we arrived at a little place that we suspected belonged to some friends of our drivers. Once again it was a fantastic meal and we were pleased that the chefs had chosen to cater to our preferred level of spice (low)

Our final instruction for our Tuk-Tuk drivers was to take us back to the city palace as it was time for ice cream and some final browsing in the local market. There was one last visit to the tailor for Anya to pick up her jacket, after another fit it received the official thumbs up and the only question was how much room will she have in her bags for the journey home. We also received our delivery of crackers/fireworks prior to departing the hotel, we will surely be doing our part to celebrate Diwali.

The afternoon ended with a visit to the Sahyog office in one of the newer areas of Udaipur. We met with Heera and then proceeded on to his home for some tea. Heera's wife had prepared some light snacks for us all and we filled the afternoon with good conversation about Sahyog and their programs within the community.

We departed Udaipur and drove back to Bhindar where Tommy and Denise could finally be welcomed to the Palace with the traditional bindi and lei. It was only a week later than the rest of the team; however, they were both happy to finally be here and soak up the atmosphere and hospitality at the palace. We indulged in some outdoor dining and many of the team readily took the opportunity to have an early night following a busy and thoroughly enjoyable weekend in Udaipur.

Now, as I sit writing the daily blog, I have the dulcet tones of the royal family echoing throughout the palace courtyard as they partake in some late night karaoke. The group has been invited to participate later in the week. I think we had better start warming up our vocal chords.

David Hood
DWC Participant
Udaipur, India: October 2014

October 18th: They're finally here!

Tommy and Denise finally arrived safe and sound. If we weren't in India where cows are sacred we probably would have killed the fattened calf and thrown a feast. Everyone was so excited, but no one more so than those two. We spent some time getting (re)acquainted and learning about some of the details surrounding their Visa troubles. Funny that the moment they arrived, the frustration surrounding those troubles was all instantly cut in half for all of us.

We hit the ground running today playing the role of tourists. We wandered up to the City Palace and with the help of a local tour guide took in the beauty of the grounds, courtyards and ornate detail of the glass inlays, etc. The enormous structure and elaborate decorations were a stark contrast to the buildings and surrounds that we had become accustomed to in Bhindar. Another difference between the two places is that the city of Udaipur caters so well for western tourists. An abundance of tour guides are waiting at the entrance to the City Palace ready to escort the next group through the palace, many of them are at least bilingual. Our guide had clearly had a lot of practice and had even worked some humour into his routine. The ladies in the group were invited to see a picture of the queen, which was actually a mirror (hee scored points there) and Dave was told that he looked like James Bond. He was a smooth operator indeed.

And just like many other aspects of life in Udaipur, there are connections everywhere. When you finish with one business person, they will often refer you on to a friend and their business. The end of the tour was no different as our guide brought us to his friends shop and we were treated to an in-depth lesson on how pashmina garments are made. We also took a boat ride around Lake Pichola and had 'tea' at the Jagmandir Island Palace. We met the owner of the tailor shop (from last night) at the island palace and learnt that he also runs a tour company. As we have come to know, it pays to diversify in India. It was indeed another day full of amazing sights, sounds and tastes.

Just as we have discovered during our time in Bhindar, there is a high level of curiosity that surrounds us wherever we go. While we meandered through the streets of Udaipur, the locals are ever so keen on finding out which country we're all from. It was fun the first few times, but it became even more entertaining when we started picking random countries. The trick was checking if the local actually knew the location of our random country. For instance, I was suddenly from Iceland, Dave from Cote d'Ivoire and Bob from Djibouti. Not surprisingly, the last two always elicited the best responses. 

Prior to dinner Dave and I headed back to the tailor's for a fitting (the owner had returned from running his tour). Dave's three shirts fit perfectly and with some minor adjustments my jacket should be ready tomorrow. We had dinner at Ambrai Restaurant located lakeside, under the open sky, and with an unobstructed view of the City Palace. It's stunning when it's all lit up. Dinner was delish too.

We left the restaurant and were on a mission to head back to Govinda's Cafeteria for some more of the "best ice cream in Udaipur." The disappointment on our faces when we realized that the entire market place was shutdown and each store locked up tighter than a drum was undeniable. Apparently preparation for holy day begins at sundown. Here's hoping Govinda's shop is open tomorrow, as it will be another day of sight seeing, bargaining and wandering this amazingly diverse city. So at some point in the day, we'll want some good ice cream!

Anya Malda 
DWC Participant 
Udaipur, India: October 2014

October 17th: "Meh, why not? We're in India!"

It's hard to believe we've been here for a full week already. As mentioned in earlier blogs, despite the language barrier, we're managing to make friends and get the work done.

Today was a day like many others this week in the sense that we arrived at the job site and work was already well underway. However, a couple of new tools were added to assist in the job namely, a long string for levelling and a square. We were wondering how they managed to get these stone walls so straight. And there you have it folks, simplicity at it's finest.

There was a little excitement later in the morning with the arrival of the local "doctor." Yesterday he introduced himself as Dilpat and stated that he is a physiotherapist who works in a private clinic in Bhinder. He came out yesterday as word of our arrival has clearly spread. He indicated that his dream is to go to America to study there. Crossing our fingers that neither Kim nor I return home married - ha! It turns out that the Dilpat is also the medicine man who visits the surrounding villages and treats some of the more common ailments. Unfortunately one of the young kids was sick. Sick with what exactly is still a bit of a mystery but she was given an injection of some type of medication that apparently aids in the treatment of malaria, typhoid, and just about any other common illness.

Close to finishing time we were invited to an impromptu visit to the home of one of the local villagers for chai and corn. We couldn't refuse the offer and we're happy we didn't. Three generations (12 members in total) living on the same property. The entire family was so warm and hospitable. Their home was atop this knoll overlooking the rolling countryside. You'd pay huge dollars back home for a property with that kind of a view. After photos and some pleasant chitchat we headed back to the hotel for lunch and to pack for our weekend trip to Udaipur.

Over the course of the week, there have been many moments when we'd look at one another in our group and raise an eyebrow or two based on some observation made. However, even the most skeptical among of have come to shrug our shoulders and respond with a "Meh, why not? We're in India!" I think it's become our new motto.

We spent this evening wandering the streets and trying our hand at negotiating. It became very clear that Bob has done this once or twice before. The rest of us are going to follow his lead from now on. We purchased a few standard items before stumbling across one of the local tailor shops. Not sure how David and I faired in terms of our negotiation skills but man are we going to look good in our custom fit clothing! The night was topped off with drinks and good laughs. Looking forward to the arrival of Denise and Tommy tomorrow morning.

Anya Malda
DWC Participant
Udaipur, India: October 2014

October 16th: Gotta Love the Spices!

Good news!  Tommy and Denise have received their visas and are expected in India this coming Saturday.  We're so excited and wish them safe travels.

Bob has taken to leading us in a short yoga class each morning.  We find it's a great way to start the day and quite fitting considering we're in India and all.  Work on our water harvesting structure continued as usual today.  Not much to report other than that the camaraderie amongst our crew continues to build.  Although, at times it does feel like some of the villagers are giggling at us rather than with us.

This afternoon we visited the local temple and the Sahyog Sansthan office for chai, served to us by the chai walla.  We again spent the afternoon lounging in the palace courtyard, only this time rather than the expert aesthetician paying us a visit, Kim called in the best goldsmith in town.  Now that's shopping!

We ended the day with Dave and I having a spice eating contest at dinner.  Who can tolerate the most spice?  We'll find out!

Just a brief entry today but more to come. 

Anya Malda
DWC Participant 
Udaipur, India: October 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 15th: The work gets harder but the rewards are greater

It's Wednesday night and still no word from our fearless leader and the rest of the team in the States regarding their visas. We're feeling badly for them and wish that they were here. Furthermore we feel bad as they're missing out on all of these wonderful experiences. We're crossing our fingers that they'll be here by the weekend.

Rest assured however, as the (hard) work continues. We may be small in number, but we are mighty! Teamwork continued in earnest today and significant progress is being made. When we started on the first day, the trench was approximately 3 meters deep and by the time we departed today the rock foundation was about half a meter from ground level. The work seems to get more and more difficult. Today Bob and David were heaving huge boulders with a number of the local men. If the Ministry of Labour showed up on site, they'd surely have a heyday. Men in flip-flops were rolling boulders UP hill no less. Another hot day and another honest days worth of work. We should all sleep like logs tonight.

After work we headed to a 'historic temple' as a friend of one of our host partners was throwing a celebration. We learned that the celebration was in honour of his friend purchasing a bus and starting a touring company. We arrived at the temple and were greeted warmly by the community. They were eager to serve us food and have us partake in the celebrations. David, Kim and Bob were brave and enjoyed the lunch and sweets that were provided. I won't lie, if my gluten allergy wasn't enough to deter me from partaking, the paper plates with full on advertisements for Purina Dog Chow would have done it - ha! I'll let you know tomorrow if I'm the only one from our crew who heads off to work.

We came back to our hotel to find that the princess had brought in an aesthetician to provide services to her mother and aunt. She was kind enough to ask if Kim and I would like anything done. We both jumped at the opportunity. I'll only say this, it's the best $3 manicure I've ever received and will likely be the only time that I ever tip 150% for a spa service.

Before dinner we were able to join the Royal children on a visit to their family farm about 10 minutes drive from Bhindar. What a polar opposite from the chaos of this small city. The peace and tranquility of the countryside left us all feeling perfectly zen.

A peaceful end to the day was welcome as we all reflected upon a few aspects of the trip that have caught up with us today. Since our arrival we have been so warmly welcomed and treated to fantastic hospitality as any guest would be in this part of the world. However, we have noticed that we regularly draw a lot of attention. This has been highlighted during our brief excursion alone through the streets of Bhindar as well as our visit to the temple today. We gained a few followers as we moved through the temple and then drew a crowd while we sat and ate. The interest was so high that we were being photographed by complete strangers, although Bob and David made the most of it by posing for anyone who wanted a photo with them. It allows you too see the world through a different perspective when you realize that you are the minority for once.

Plus, the language barrier can still be an obstacle to overcome on the job site. Despite knowing a few basic words in Hindi, there is only so much that you can communicate through body and sign language. We are slowly getting used to the subtle differences in hand gestures and the common words. Although there are still moments when good intentions are lost in translation, it is these minor misunderstandings that show how far our worlds are apart. It will take a little more time to prove our abilities to the hard working and experienced villagers this just adds to our volunteering journey in a developing county.

Anya Malda and Dave Hood
DWC Volunteer Participants
Udaipur, India: October 2014

PS. Thanks to Dave for co-authoring today's blog. I may just pass the torch ;)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 14th: Day 2 of hard work by villagers & volunteers!

We woke to another beautiful morning here in Bhinder so Bob and I took the opportunity to squeeze in some light yoga before breakfast.

The mattresses here aren't exactly what you'd call pillow top. Following a "non-spicy" breakfast we headed off to the job site.

You know that saying, "actions speak louder than words"? This absolutely rang true when we arrived at the job site. Not only were the villagers already hard at work, but they had reconstructed our shade covering to 'better suit our needs'. It is now complete with a double cot and blankets.

As if that wasn't bad enough, when we went to start work on the water structure it was very apparent that after our departure yesterday they all worked their tails off. Overnight the work had progressed significantly. We were beginning to feel as though we might be slowing down progress rather than boosting it. However, we are quick to remind ourselves that it's simply their eagerness to please that's shining through.

We must have proved some of our abilities yesterday though, because today was filled with a few more challenges in terms of work. For example, David graduated to carrying the large boulders by using the handmade "stretcher," or horizontal ladder as it has come to be known. This is a step up considering that yesterday David and Bob were barely permitted to lift more than one stone at a time. I also was able to try something new, carrying water on my head! While I've got the balance bit down, I think it's going to take a few more days to boost my confidence enough to attempt it hands free.

We continue to marvel at the ingenuity and hard work displayed by the villagers. They have a system for all aspects of the project. Sand is mixed with cement and water in free standing piles before it is transported via big bowls to the masons waiting down in the trench. They lay the foundation as rocks are passed down by other workers. Even the collection of smaller rocks and bigger boulders has a process. They work together like a well oiled machine. Sometimes we feel like the extra parts that they're trying to make use of - ha! Okay, to be fair, it is only day two and we're still finding our groove.

It was super hot today and we quickly realized that we were spoiled yesterday with a refreshing breeze. Unsurprisingly, we all jumped at the opportunity to leave the job site a little early in order to visit the village primary school. They have 61 students to just the one teacher... unfathomable. The kids were so excited to see us, all save except one little one who started crying at the sight of Kim. The older children introduced themselves in English and then a few of them sang us some traditional welcome songs in Hindi.

We toured the teacher's office and the classroom before heading back to the palace for a nice refreshing cold shower.

We spent the afternoon recharging our batteries (not just our electronics but our bodies as well) and continued to get to know one another a little better over a light lunch and good conversation.

Anya Malda
DWC Volunteer Participant
Udaipur, India: October 2014 

October 13th: A warm welcome to the job site

Wow, what a day! There are so many things to share that I'm not even sure where to start. We all woke feeling relatively rested and eager to start the day. Sunda picked us up in his jeep and we headed off to the job site with a sense of something comparable to the nerves one would experience on the first day of school.

We were greeted by a group of about 30 villagers and a hoard of children, complete with a full ceremony of drums, and an exchange of bindis, bracelets, and traditional sweets. The respected leaders of the village welcomed us and Heera reiterated the goals of the self-help community; liberty, equality and fraternity. It was interesting to see the stark contrast; here we were sitting in the middle of an open field being formally welcomed through traditional ceremony and from time to time we'd be interrupted by the occasional unique ring tones from cell phones. The modern world rearing it's ugly head. Apparently 10:30am is an auspicious time in India and we marked this moment this morning by laying the foundational stones of our water basin, complete with an Indian rupee, symbolic string, and traditional sugar cane sweets. It was an exciting moment to be a part of.

Without further delay work began in earnest. I have to say, everything was so organized. The systems for mixing mortar, moving rocks, and carrying water were quite impressive. It was very obvious that this was not the first water harvesting project the community has worked on. Despite the fact that our Hindi is a little rusty, we were able to manage with universal hand signals and followed the direction of those in charge. It is difficult work. Lifting heavy stone and mortar under the midday sun proved to be somewhat challenging for us volunteers. Clearly we were no match for the locals. To see women who appeared to be much older than us and much more frail transporting massive rocks or cauldrons of water on their heads was beyond impressive. It felt like it kind of put us to shame.

We worked steadily throughout the day, making sure to take water breaks and pace ourselves. We finished at 2pm after which we were served fire roasted corn and sweet chai tea. It was delicious!

 It was very apparent that the villagers wanted us to feel welcomed and sharing food and drink was an important way to express this. We were invited to stay for a dinner celebration, but for those among us with weaker stomachs, we decided it was probably best to skip the meal. However, we did agree to join them after dinner for the party.

We headed back to the village tonight for a cultural celebration of song and dance. Kim and I showed up in sandals; Kim even dressed up for the occasion and was wearing this beautiful dress. Poor decision on both our parts. Who knew the party would be held in the out door temple and we'd be forced to take our shoes off and sit on the ground - duh! There was no specific wrap up time for the festivities, apparently the locals party till they drop. Us foreigners lasted an hour and a half before our bums were numb and our legs fell asleep. Hopefully, we can build up our tolerance for sitting in the lotus position and we're curious to see how many of the villagers show up to work on time tomorrow morning.

As a side note, happy thanksgiving to our Canadian family and friends!! Nothing like a volunteer to a developing country to make you feel beyond grateful. We are truly so richly blessed.

Anya Malda
DWC Volunteer Participant
Udaipur, India: October 2014

PS. Sorry for the limited photos. I didn't bring my cell phone to the job site. I will today!

PSS. Kelly, why aren't you here?! The spelling, grammar, and humour in this blog is lacking...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 12th: Project orientation & exploring Bhinder

Suffering from a bit of jet lag, we were all awake during the wee hours of the morning. It definitely ensured that we were all at breakfast on time. Well, save and except for David who's survival skills were put to the test first thing this morning. As Kim, Bob, and I sat enjoying our morning coffee and chai tea, unbeknownst to us David was fighting for his life as he was locked in his room. As it turns out Bob "inadvertently" locked the door to their room on the way out to breakfast not realizing that he was leaving behind a teammate. Unfortunately this will mean some slight deductions in "team leader points" for Bob. ;) No doubt Tommy will be pleased to hear this. Thankfully David is quite resourceful and his cries for help were answered by hotel reception.

Heera and his trusty driver picked us up from the hotel at 10:00am and we made the hour and a half drive out to the rural village of Bhinder. It being Holy Day today, traffic was surprisingly light, though somehow no less death defying. Driving through the countryside we were able to see some of the current crops; maise, sorghum, and soy beans.

The four of us were welcomed by the lovely Barthvi, who is the 20th generation owner and operator of the Rajmahal Bhindar Hotel. We were not welcomed as guests but as family, complete with marigold leis and bindis.

The hotel is adorned with marble flooring and detailed architecture. It's not difficult to imagine its opulence and grand celebrations it has held over the four hundred and some odd years of its existence.

This afternoon we met with Heera and five other gentlemen involved in the development of the water irrigation project we will be working on. We reviewed the work to be done and outlined a general work itinerary for the week ahead. In summary, the intention of the project revolves around the better usage of the monsoon rain water that typically falls during the months of July and August. The focus is on engaging the local community people in the development of harvesting, retaining, and more effective usage of the water. The plan is to start early morning and end early afternoon so as to avoid working under the hottest hours of the day.

After our meeting, we meandered through the narrow winding streets of Bhinder. The locals were friendly and seemingly intrigued by our presence. It's strange how when you subtract the "safety" of a car you suddenly need to be a million times more alert to the motorbikes, cars, cows, and people. Add in the element of cow dung and you feel like you're in a state of constant high alert.

We ended our day with a candlelight dinner in the palace courtyard. The food is delicious and is in no way lacking in flavour or spice. We've been informed that the chef has toned down the spice and made it 'average' for us. I hate to think of what the level of spiciness is for the locals. It's fair to say the food has a bit of a "bite" and I think we're all silently hoping that it doesn't bite back. To be continued...

Anya Malda
DWC Volunteer Participant
Udaipur, India: October 2014 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

October 11th: Our first day in Udaipur

Hello everyone!

I'm happy to report that we've arrived safely at the Jaiwana Haveli Hotel, Udaipur, India. Well, four of us have anyway. Four of our Californian friends have been experiencing some frustrations in obtaining their visas and the unfortunate result is that one had to postpone her DWC trip for another time and the remaining three won't be able to join us until later next week. Ironically, this includes our fearless team leader, Tommy. Leaving the rest of us to do double duty I see, well played my friends, well played. Jokes aside, we hope you guys are able to get things sorted out and join us soon!

Just a heads up to all of you back home who might be taking in our daily blogs over your morning coffee, I'm not exactly what you'd call a gifted writer so feel free to set your judgements aside. Having said that, I'll do my best to report on our daily experiences without boring you too badly.

Today was a great day. After what at times felt like seemingly endless hours of travel Bob, Kim, and I met up in Delhi airport and embarked on the final leg of our journey together. Upon landing at Udaipur airport we were met by our driver, Jamil, who with skill and ease, zigzagged along single lane streets, narrowly missing overloaded motorbikes, trucks, cars, and more than the odd cow or two.

After enjoying breakfast with a view from our rooftop terrace we wandered the streets a little, taking in the local vibe. However, the moment our rooms were ready the three of us were all too happy to catch a few hours of shuteye and recharge our batteries. The three of us regrouped this afternoon, some of us more energetically than others, and met with Mr. Heera our host partner. He welcomed us warmly and arrangements for travel to Bhinder tomorrow morning were made. As we were flying in over Udaipur the floods from the heavy monsoon rains last month were very evident.

It's cool to think that we're going to be assisting in building irrigation systems that will aid in collecting the water and put it good use.

Following our meeting Bob, Kim, and I headed off to tour the Monsoon Palace and take in its infamous sunset. The Palace is situated upon a high hill and overlooks the city of Udaipur. We were able to wander around, learn some some of the history, much of which did not stick due to lack of sleep. But thankfully the view and sunset did not disappoint.

Arriving back at the Jaiwana Haveli Hotel, we were excited to meet up with our Australian teammate, David. Despite exhaustion the four of us enjoyed our first authentic Indian meal together. The conversation was full and lively and the energy and excitement palpable. We even captured a "group selfie," the first of many to come I'm sure.

There's no question that we've all been eagerly anticipating this trip and are excited about this experience with DWC. For some of us this is our first time on such a volunteer trip and for others we're repeat DWCers. There's no question that this is going to be a dynamic team and a memorable experience for all of us.

Tommy, Denise, and Chris, looking forward to your safe arrivals! Until then, rest assured that Bob's holding down the fort.

Anya Malda
DWC Volunteer Participant
Udaipur, India: October 2014