Sunday, February 19, 2012

More from Chandelao

We are finding the little Hindi we learned before we came here to be quite useful. Most people are really surprised that we know any at all, and we can carry on conversations in our fractured Hindi and their fractured English. Some of the locals speak quite a lot of English, but often with a very strong accent and with a lot of Hindi words thrown in. They are “fluently incomprehensible” as Lin puts it. The local language in Chandelao is Marwari. It is a bit like Hindi, but most of the useful words are different, so when the locals are speaking to each other it is completely meaningless to us. The English teacher in the school where Lin teaches speaks very little English, and the Hindi-English vocabulary book they use in the school is weirdly antiquated, with translations of English phrases like “Birds of a feather flock together” into their Hindi equivalents. We have adopted the phrase “I am not buttering you” from the electronics store keeper in Jodhpur, where Sandy spent time getting new converter/adapter boxes for his computer this week, after the hotel generator had a problem with crossed wires and blew out anything that was plugged in overnight. Telling Sandy he looks not a day over 48 was a “buttering” he could enjoy.

Marwari Cow with calf
Goat and cows and other animals
Over 80% of the population of India are farmers of one kind or another. Here in Chandelao, the majority of farmers look after animals – primarily goats. Every evening we meet mixed flocks of goats and sheep being brought home for the night. They seem to find plenty of dry desert vegetation to eat, and are often put into the fields to graze where sorghum has been grown and harvested. The goats provide rich milk and “mutton”, which is the only red meat in the local diet of non-vegetarians.
Cows are kept close to the house, and sometimes share the living space with their keepers. As the cows are holy animals, they are well looked after. You seldom see them grazing the fields and they are mostly fed chopped sorghum. The Marwari cows are rather beautiful, with white coats, droopy ears and big dark eyes with long lashes that look as if been made up with mascara. Many of these well-kept cows have calves at present so there is plenty of milk, butter and cheese. The cows also provide manure, which is carefully collected and used for many purposes – fertilizer, fuel, and an odor-free, insect-repelling plaster coating for walls and floors. We always have to remove our shoes before stepping onto the cow-dung coated part of the a courtyard.
There are street cows as well. They hang around the houses waiting for handouts, of which there are plenty. There is a saying here that “The first chapati is for the cow”, so every housewife at breakfast, lunch, and dinner provides a fresh chapati for the local cows, before she starts making them for her family. Of course, nobody eats beef, and, surprisingly, many people are unaware that cows are eaten in other parts of the world. One of Lin's fellow teachers declared that Texas must be “a very bad place” when he heard that they raise a lot of cattle for beef there. Lin agreed, but more politically with George W. in mind. When the street cows are too old to be useful, or are injured in traffic accidents, they are often taken to cow shelters, many of which are on the sides of major roads. There they end their days being fed high-quality grass purchased in 10-rupee bunches by passing motorists.
Stubborn water buffalo calf with happy keeper
The other animals we see quite a lot of are water buffalo, which are large, black and surly, with heavy horns. They are taken down to the lake in the evening by small boys with big sticks. They are cousins to the cows, so are not killed for meat, but they are regularly whacked on their rear ends. They also provide very tasty milk and yoghurt.
We also see domesticated sheep, camels, dogs and cats, but no pigs or chickens. Dogs are fed on table scraps and leftovers, so some are quite fat. There are a number of semi-wild dogs in the village who conduct choruses of barking and howling at odd hours of the night. The hotel has two dogs; Hazel – a very fat yellow Labrador, and Kitty – an affectionate dachshund.

As we are in the desert and it has not rained since September, there is dust everywhere. This means that all surfaces must be swept regularly. Sweeping is accomplished, usually by women, with various types of whisk made of grass or other plant material. Sweeping involves redistributing dust, and I am now watching one of the hotel cleaning ladies sweeping out a guest room. Clouds of dust are issuing from the door, and, as there is a slight breeze, it is blowing straight back in. Some surfaces are made of dust, but they are also regularly swept to remove any leaves or debris, and to leave a nice pattern of sweep marks. So, even though no dust is actually removed, it is prettily rearranged.

Sandy's Work
We are here to work after all, so a few words on progress so far. I have established a nice “office” in the hotel, on an outdoor porch with a small desk, a comfortable chair and a fine view of the hotel courtyard. I am mostly not too distracted by birds and other sights and sounds. So far I have rewritten and redesigned most of the hotel web site, and am working on getting the hotel listed, or listed correctly, on more travel web sites such as Expedia, Lonely Planet, Frommers and TripAdvisor. I am also trying to redesign the web site for the women's craft center, but that is turning out to be a bit more challenging. The greenhouse project is also making some progress. Last week I visited a local market garden near Jodhpur and was very impressed with how intensive and productive vegetable growing can be, even in this desert environment. With liberal application of cow and goat manure and plenty of well water, the farmer was producing 4 crops of high quality vegetables in succession from his land every year. We have also settled on a greenhouse design, and I have drawn up plans and operating instructions for a compost heap.

Teachers and students at Lin's school, with new whiteboard
Lin's Work
Dust and discomfort notwithstanding, I am enjoying my enthusiastic classes, and seeing a noticeable improvement in their English skills.
I have written and submitted a seed-grant proposal to FSD for supplies and materials for the school. It has not been difficult to justify providing for the needs I have identified. Thanks to a generous gift from a couple of Brits travelling through, I was able to try out a combination white-board/chalkboard that has been so successful with the teachers and kids that I plan to purchase 7 more, so that each class will have one. Since one of the young philanthropists was a wanna-be geography teacher, I am putting in an order for globes with Hindi or English writing, again one for each class. Apart from pens, pencils and notebooks, I will also be able to buy laminated maps and educational posters, and hope to start a small library collection of rhymes and stories for younger kids, and science and social studies readers for older ones. I am waiting for the go-ahead from FSD, so that I can get into town, and hopefully start using the new materials with classes before I leave in mid-March.
I attended a Saturday vocabulary/spelling-quiz contest between classes, that has the kids competing to spell a word in English starting with the last letter of the previous word, pronouncing it, and giving its meaning in Hindi, all at break-neck speed, which leaves me the listener quite breathless and not at all sure which word has been invoked. They certainly need to know a lot of words that start with “e”.

Lin's hands after mehndi treatment
Henna, Beads and Bells
As well as a colorant for hair, henna is used to decorate hands and feet for girls and young women, especially for weddings and special events. Of course, Lin couldn't resist an offer to have hers worked on, and now sports beautiful orange “mehndi” designs on the front and back of her hands, and on the sides and tops of her feet. The orange fingernails may not lose their hue for a couple of months, but the hand-art is fading, especially after she washes clothes in Tide. Mehndi usually lasts about ten days. To complete the picture she sported a red bindi stick-on spot between her eyebrows for a couple of days.
In addition, her two silk scarves now have a pretty hand-sewn bead trim, Rajasthani style, thanks to the work of a skilled fifteen year old, and she wears a Valentine's Day friendship bracelet of red wool with gold bells.

Lin with some chai-drinking friends
We have enjoyed visiting people's homes and offices and drinking a welcoming cup of masala chai, the spicy boiled tea that has added milk, sugar and cardamom, sometimes with other spices. It is an essential part of local hospitality. Chai is also served at breakfast, lunch and dinner at our hotel, and we seldom turn down a chance to drink it.

Rajasthan – the Jodhpur area in particular – is famous for desserts and sweets. Most of the desserts involve large quantities of milk, butter, sugar and flavorings in various combinations. There are many sweet shops with huge shallow pans of milk being boiled down to a thick or even solid consistency, and cauldrons of hot oil for frying. Most nights our hotel serves a different dessert which it buys from a Jodhpur “mithai” shop. Sandy's favorite so far is “lapsi” – a soft porridge-like concoction of cracked wheat, brown sugar, butter and cardamom, eaten with a teaspoon. Lin's favorite is carrot halva, grated carrot cooked with butter, sugar, and nuts. Another is squares of crushed sesame seeds with sugar, cardamom, pistachios and almonds. At the wedding we attended recently, we had gulab jamun – spongy balls of dried milk, deep fried until they are almost black, then soaked in rose-flavoured syrup until they are soggy and dripping with sugary goodness.

Here in Chandelao there are only a couple of cars, but quite a few motor cycles and mopeds. It is rare to see only one person on these vehicles, and if there is room the drivers will usually stop to take hitch hikers. It is not uncommon to see 3 or 4 people on a motor bike, including women in saris sitting side-saddle, and there was a great photo in the local newspaper of a motor bike with 3 passengers – two men and a large monkey all sitting astride.
There are also many tractors, some of which could be in a museum of agricultural history, often carrying 20 or more people in their trailers.
The most used piece of equipment on cars and buses is the horn. When you are overtaking you must blow the horn, otherwise the overtaken vehicle will sit in the middle of the road. Drivers also blow their horns when they see a friend, pass a temple, and to warn the dogs, cows, camel carts or people occupying the roadway. Jodhpur is a constant blare of car, truck and bus horns, so we are glad that we live out in the country.

1 comment:

  1. lost my last comment - 2 flowers on your amaryllis, Sandy (we have with no flowers! need advice!)
    Hope you can make us some of those sugary delights when you come home! With a cup of chai, of course.