Originally posted February 21st, 2014
Meetings, Bucket Showers, and Avoiding Eye-Contact with Monkeys
My shampoo bottle told me to “Lather, Rinse, Repeat.” I told it “shut up; you’re lucky I’m using you at all”.
This was my first bucket shower in India. And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t actually waste my time talking to my shampoo, but the sentiment was there. Taking a shower in Naddi had been an intimidating prospect since our arrival. The outhouse was in two parts; a room with an Indian-style toilet and no light, and then next to it, the shower room. Which is a concrete box with a small, grated window placed high on one wall, a rusty door, a shelf, and a cold-water tap. There’s no escaping the cold here when the weather is bad (which it often is in January and February) as none of the buildings are insulated and nowhere has heating. So while the fact that you can’t have a proper warm shower isn’t the biggest deal in the world, not being able to dry off in a temperate room is pretty upsetting. But finally we had a sunny day and I decided I had to take advantage of it.
I asked Reena to heat up some water for me. This is done by dropping an electric water heater with wires sticking out of it into a bucket of cold water and plugging it into the wall– she may not speak much English but she certainly made sure to get across that we were not to go near this. “Dangerous! You, no touch. NO TOUCH!” When it had boiled I let Reena take the heater out (I really didn’t want to get electrocuted my first week here) and carried my bucket to the shower room where they also provided me with a small pitcher. The following process involved filling this pitcher up half with hot water, then adding some cold and repeatedly pouring it over myself while trying to leave as little time between pours as possible. It was actually quite an enjoyable experience and better than many of the hurried showers I’ve had here since, trying to guess how much time I have until hot water vanishes. And for the past week we’ve been without running water at our intern house, so it’s been back to the bucket shower!
Other things I remember from my first week here… Lots of beautiful mountain views; something slightly different every day:
Cows casually roaming the streets, proving time and again that nothing fazes them and that they will not be rushed.
A thrilling number of adorable puppies running through town – they may be street dogs, but they’re energetic and friendly. The street dogs around here tend to look surprisingly healthy because the multitude of trash everywhere means they don’t go hungry. Often disturbing when you see animals trying to eat plastic or a horse eating out of a dumpster like it’s a trough, but I suppose there are some upsides to littering…?
And the most interesting of animals sightings: monkeys. There aren’t that many in Naddi itself, but even just a few minutes down the road in Dal Lake they start appearing (I think this is because it isn’t really a wooded area in Naddi) and I’ve seen them everywhere else in the region.
They’re fascinating to watch because their mannerisms are so unlike any other animal, and at the same time, they’re eerily aware of your presence. Which is not something they enjoy – monkeys get really mad when you stop to admire them. Apparently with the really large grey monkeys (there are also smaller ones like the ones pictured below) they throw fits if you try to take a picture and if you make eye contact for too long you run the risk of being attacked. I always feel just a little on edge when I’m near a group of monkeys here, but clearly it doesn’t stop me from taking pictures when I can. I just wait until they start fidgeting and making angry noises and then I hurry on my way.
And of course, I am here to work, so naturally some of my first week was dedicated to getting settled not only in India, but within EduCARE. There were meetings to discuss the philosophy of the organisation as a whole as well as its history. (For anyone who’s curious, it was started in 1994 as more of a charity-based group in Punjab by Mr B. – an Indian ex-fighter pilot – and then evolved into a social enterprise here in Naddi. As the homebase of Mr B., Naddi is the headquarters of EduCARE, but then there are also interns based in various other places throughout the region. There are a few just down the hill in Dal Lake, then 2 hours down into the valley in Rajol there’s a group which works with migrant camps and a group all the way in Punjab (a 6 hour trip from here and the only house I haven’t been to yet) which also work with migrant camps.)
We had meetings about our expectations and to discuss our interests; meetings defining what we would each be doing here; a meeting regarding gender sensitivity and a couple of weeks later one on cultural sensitivity.
I learned that my main project while I’m here is to start up a chicken coop in the community we call JDM (right next to Chenni). I’m the shortest-term intern here at the moment and the scale of this project is the most manageable. I’m also assisting one of the older interns on a few microfinance projects throughout JDM, including starting up homestays there.
We learned how to access old documents which would help us get started by researching what’s already been done, but of course this involved internet, something we had no access to in our homestays. So this meant we had to spend most days in a place called Bobs n’ Barley down the road – the hotel with the best wifi in Naddi (which is really not saying much). It’s quite expensive, often colder inside than out, and fairly bereft of atmosphere, but the food is good, as is the coffee, the people are lovely, and we didn’t have many alternatives.
It was overwhelming and confusing and exciting and, most importantly, we all helped each other to get through it.