Sustainable Development in Northern India
I currently live near the town of Dolbaha in the Indian state called Punjab. The house is lovely, but needs a lot of work. We are about a 15 minute walk into town (10 if you walk fast). I really enjoy this walk. Half of it is on quiet, rural roads where people greet you with a smile, and cows, water buffalo and goats graze lazily along the road, glancing casually your way but for the most part peaceably ignoring you. Dogs may run around, but none are aggressive. Parrots and parakeets will fly around squawking at times, and if you are lucky you will see a big, brilliantly blue peacock with his mate (sometimes entire flocks of them!). The second half of the walk is alongside a busier road, but still relaxed. I love walking by the elderly couple selling peanuts and a super delicious juice made fresh in front of you from sugar cane, ginger and lemon in water.
The house is one story with a flat roof that is great for lounging in the sun. Our house has three bedrooms, one communal dining room and a kitchen. The toilet and shower are apart from the house. You have to walk outside to use them, but they are nearby and the path is both lit and paved, so the inconvenience really is minimal. The house is yet to be painted, which is fun because we can choose any color or different colors. Electricity can go in and out all day but you get used to it.
Today I got up at 9:30 am. Actually, not 100% true. I WOKE up at 5 am! The temple nearby plays music V E R Y loudly in the wee morning hours before sunrise. As I grumpily got out of bed to search for my earplugs I thought about a book I once read that said the Mayan’s once believed that if a sacrifice was not made before the new morning, the sun would not rise (I’m not sure this is entirely accurate, but it got stuck in my head!). I began thinking, seriously guys, the sun is coming up, the day will begin anew; you don’t need to BLAST Bollywood tunes. Someone said that people ring bells to wake the Gods, as they can be very lazy. So maybe that is what the temple is doing. I have visited it once, so next time perhaps I will ask. Until then, I grudgingly co-exist with the morning rituals.
The only other intern in the house was already outside working on the garden today. We were supposed to work on it together all morning. I hurried outside and grabbed a spade. He was digging ditches for water canals in a circular fashion. We divided the circle into four parts and I begin plowing the earth. It’s rocky and hard and with a small spade you have to work on your hands and knees. I was soon muddy, sweating, tired and had blisters on my hand. But nothing really beats working on the land. That’s why I came and I love it, so I can’t complain. It’s neat to see the progress and to imagine what it will look like in a few months, or in a year. Roberto, my housemate and co-intern, and I mapped out a plan for the landscaping: peas and green beans will be grown vertically up the walls, rhododendron will be planted in the two corners near the house and along the fence line, we’ll plant one tree in the middle of the plot and more along the fence in the back, and we’ll build 4 chambers for our “vermicompost” system. Nice! Now to get the trees and seeds!
We finished around noon and I went in to cut up some veggies and fruit for lunch. The local liaison office and logistics coordinator arrived late morning from our other center near Dharamshala. He came by to sort some issues we had with plumbing and our phone line and internet (which were not working). He agreed to help us visit some local nurseries to get some seedling fruit trees, and to also look for (ideally organic) seeds we could plant. If the seeds are not organic we must plant seed them over and over again for two years until they are. I mentioned that on a previous walk I had seen a local migrant community working in a tree nursery. We decided to all walk there after lunch.
It turns out the nursery is run/owned by the government. Its purpose is to cultivate native plant and tree species for reforestation efforts! We are excited by this news as Roberto had recently arrived to work in forestry and wildlife management, and is presently developing his own project to research and create informational and promotional pamphlets for the local community and tourists on the two wildlife sanctuaries in our area. He was also interested in reforestation efforts. We talked a bit (with Gulshan translating) with the foreman. He runs many nurseries for the government. The migrant family/community stays there to tend the plants. There were about 5 or 6 huts in all. I hope to get to know this community more and develop some projects with them. The friendly foreman was nice enough to give us four trees for our backyard: two guava and two local wood varieties! We should have guava growing in about a year, so I should be able to eat at least one fruit before I complete my fellowship.
On our way home Gulshan bought some Indian sweets made by a local farmer. I made some chai (spiced milk tea) and we sat around chatting and eating sweets and cookies and drinking our tea. It’s my favorite part of the day! Then a woman and her son stopped by asking to speak with Gulshan. I invited them for chai and we sat around chatting about village life, our home and the work we are doing, etc. She is the daughter of our landlady, it turns out, and wife to a local police officer. I had a bit of a scare with a strange man opening our gate in the evening and trying to come into our home, so she gave us some advice and told me the community was aware and that anyone would help if he came back. The man was not aggressive, just a bit strange, and had left when Roberto calmly escorted him out, so the danger is not high by any means. But it’s nice to know you live in a community that cares for one another.
I love this home and the place I am living and working! Sure, there are challenges, but a good attitude puts that to right easily. I gathered wood in the late afternoon and will cook some chana masala (spiced or curried chickpeas), heat up some more chai and sit around the fire with my housemate and two more interns who are arriving this evening. It’s been a great day and will surely be a lovely evening !