Saturday, 7 May 2016

So I have now been living in Rangmahal for just over a month.

At first, there was a lot of adjustment as it is a totally different environment to what I am used to! I am from cloudy, grey, drizzly, fast-paced London and this is a world away from that! It is insanely hot, slow and lazy, the sun is always blaring and there is sand EVERYWHERE. I am sure when I arrive back home in London, I will open my backpack and sand is just going to pour endlessly out of it!

One thing that was a challenge at first was the toilet situation. At home I am used to pristine clean toilet bowls, sinks with luxurious soaps, a bathtub and an overhead shower (I am drooling at the thought of this kind of shower now!) In the village, the typical toilet is one that looks like this:

Our gorgeus toilet in the first house

As you can see, this is simply just a hole in the ground with two bricks either side. There was no door… only a wall that around the toilet, which came up to my elbow, so I was always nervous that someone would peek over the wall and see me squatting. I had several comical experiences as I do my business, coughing constantly as though I have been smoking for the last century to make people aware of my presence, awkwardly walking in on Dada Ji then running away and hiding in embarrassment, and also having a dog jump over the wall like HELLOOOOO. Toilet trips were interesting to say the least!

This set up made me wonder how hard it must be to be a woman in this village, particularly when on their period; it certainly would not be comfortable and if I was a woman here, I would be worried that someone would look over and see me, particularly as menstruation here is seen as disgusting and a taboo.

Here we also shower with bucket and water. As I have been to the Philippines several times, I am very used to it and rather enjoy this way of bathing. However, what I am not used to, is a cow eating its breakfast and defecating outside the shower room, and an old woman peeking into the shower as I pour sand water over myself. I had to laugh so many times when things like this happened! People here are extremely curious, particularly to the way that us foreigners do things!

Another difficulty I had at first was hand washing my clothes. It was definitely a struggle at first, especially with half the village coming to watch the foreigner wash their clothes like a local and laugh at how ridiculous and confused I look. Now, I can definitely say I am a pro hand washer!I had to fill up my bucket with a manual water pump (producing a concoction that is 90% sand and 10% water) and then attempt to wash my clothes by hand sitting in the typical squat position, which is waaaayyyyyy harder that it looks I honestly still do not know how people manage to sit like that for so long.

Actually, most women here experience severe pain in their legs, backs and arms from doing chores such as washing and cooking in this position. Even though they experience such pain, they seldom complain and simply carry on. At home, doing chores can require very little to no effort! It is even so simple for me that if I so wish, I can go to a laundrette or order a takeaway ….so I do nothing at all!

Whenever I was invited to peoples’ house for food, I would always be offered a master class in chapatti making. At first, my chapattis all looked like one of the teletubbies, but hey, as they say, practice makes perfect and I can make the roundest chapattis in the village(with the aid of a bowl to cut it out).

Food has been difficult for us; there are no grocery shops in the village and there are about 12 shops that sell roughly the same thing: biscuits and potato chips. To get food we have to travel to Suratgarh, the nearest city which is 7km away, but this requires potentially waiting for the hourly ‘regular’ bus for 3 hours. The result: a diet consisting of mostly daal, daal and more daal. I do not think I can look at another lentil again after this! However, the food we have made, and have been offered has been absolutely delicious! We have even managed to make hummus desert style which entails mashing the chickpeas for an hour with a dodgy fork.…so worth it and so good!

A huge problem we have been facing as of late is the lack of electricity and water. As it is harvesting season, the whole village has decided to turn off the electricity from 9am – 7pm. This has made living in 41 degree heat extremely difficult without the help of our electric fans! One weekend consisted of Iris and I lying in our beds the whole day just saying“ugh”….”its so hot” …”omg don’t you think its hot?!”…”I’m dying!” … “bring me cookies!”

Holi with the beautfiul girls in the village

On top of this, we cannot use our electric pump to fill up our water tank. We have experienced a few times with no water in our tank, so had to buy a whole pack of 10 one litre bottles to go about our day. ON TOP OF THIS, another village has been controlling the water supply and this is cut off for most of the day until 9pm when we can finally fill the tank. We hope to find a solution to this, particularly when it comes to May and, we have been repeatedly warned, it gets excruciatingly hot with temperatures apparently reaching50 degrees…yay!

Yes, it has been difficult at times, but also has been incredible. I have learned so much from the people here, with their warmth, kindness and openness. The village is BEAUTIFUL. We can walk up a large hill, which everyone calls the mound, and watch the sunset over the lush green farms and the sandy plains around us, or play “Kabadi”, a wrestling game, with the children. I have already been invited to, not one, but three weddings! And have indulged in the delicious food there, and joined in the dancing. I experienced Holi with the girls and ladies of the village, again, dancing and indulging in delicious food and tons of chai.

View from the mound

Living here has made me realise how fortunate I am at home with my plethora of CHOICES. I can choose to eat anything I so desire. I can choose to use the washing machine and laze about watching television as it washes. I can choose to leave my house with the light on in my room, if I so wished, for the whole day and not even think of having no electricity at the end of the day. I can choose to have a hot shower for 30 minutes without thinking about water running out.

It has all been a huge learning experience for me. I feel that I will be a gazillion times more patient; there is a lot to learn from the optimistic and laid-back attitude of the people in the village. I am enjoying this simple way of living, and I have even more appreciation for the comforts and the ease of doing everyday chores at home.

Ta for now!

Danielle Outen - United Kingdom
Microfinance / Women's empowerment Project Manager
Centre Administration Coordinator in Rang Mahal

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