Hot sun, warm hearts in India March 6, 2017

Posted in on March 6, 2017

March 17

The final day dawned pretty much like our other days in Rajasthan: clear, hot and sunny. The difference was that today we did not have to work.  Today was all about celebrating how far we had come with the project, about the connections we had made with the local villagers and about the memories we would be bringing back to Canada from working alongside such lovely people. Although we did not share a common language, we definitely made strong connections with the people of a village whose name we still didn’t know.

The villagers had been used to seeing us in our work clothes: old T-shirts, quick dry pants, older sneakers. Today we put on our finery. The women all dressed in their shalweer kameez and baggy harem pants. Mark and Dan put on their kurtas, while the rest of the men wore clean shirts and dress pants.

When we arrived at the work site, instead of heading down to the water-harvesting structure, we went up the hill to a large tent erected for the farewell ceremony. Behind the tent, cooks were mixing spices, stirring broth and making bread to feed the expected 300 guests.

Slowly the tent began to fill – women seated on one side, men on the other, with the Canadians, as usual, all intermingled. To start the ceremony, the villagers added to our attire. We all received a bindi mark on our foreheads, a garland of marigolds, and a thread bracelet.  The women were also given white pashminas, while the men received colourful turbans. Ours were hot pink, scarlet red and orange. The custom in Rajasthan is that male guests wear turbans when visiting.

Heera, the founder of Sahyog Sansthan, was there, as was our local project director, Brabha and his assistant Burha. The stonemasons, Chennai and Kalu-ji, were seated near the front. Their assistants, like Logar, who led the Rockstars to carry heavier and heavier rocks, was seated further back. Our favorite, Ram-ji, who we had nicknamed Thor for his rock-splitting skills, wasn’t to be found.

On the women’s side, most of the women had their faces covered by veils, but all were engaged in the celebration. The DWC volunteers had certainly made friends with these tough, resilient women. The DWC Rockstars also had great admiration for the strength of the women in a more literal sense. We will always remember a young slip of a thing lifting a huge rock onto her head, not once, but throughout the project.

As with any gathering in India, there were speeches. Each DWC volunteer introduced themselves as did many of the key villagers who had made the project possible. These were summarized by Heera or Brabha, either from Hindi into English or vice versa. In part, this was a commercial for Sahyog Sansthan to describe the benefits of a project for future prospective villages who may be thinking about building similar water-harvesting structures. In part, it was to demonstrate to the government officials present that Sahyog delivers results at a fraction of the cost of similar government project.

After the speeches we all ate, all 300 of us. Then we danced. The men took part in a traditional dance that was like a stylized sword dance, dancing in a huge circle under the scorching sun on the hillside, to the accompaniment of drums. The men also got sprayed with Holi colours. The women danced to a Bollywood soundtrack played over the loudspeakers in the tent. I think they had more fun.

We then walked over to the water-harvesting structure (the villagers and Sahyog always used this term, the DWC volunteers just called it a dam) for one last picture of everyone who worked on the project. It had been a remarkable two weeks. It was a very emotional goodbye; as we felt, we were leaving friends and family behind. Many tears were shed. It had been an amazing process and many of us want to return to see how lives have changed. That is the hope.

We headed back to our hotel in Bhinder. The mood was quite subdued as we all processed our experiences and thought of all the special moments that made up the project: that first meeting under the mango tree, learning to count in Hindi, sharing photos on iPhones, the villagers opening their homes to us to share chai, the kids at the school wearing all the DWC dark glasses looking like the Indian Blues Brothers, the “culture night” that turned into World War III, Ram-ji making sure that no one was struck by a falling rock, the young women picking up rocks that two DWC Rockstars (who shall go nameless) had decided was too heavy, and seeing a project from five years ago that had transformed the watershed and the lives in it.

Friends in Canada ask “You went to India to move rocks?” Yes. Would I do it again? You bet.

Andrew Tucker,

DWC volunteer, India, March 2017

Posted in on March 6, 2017