I was given a new name – Sahadev to use during my stay at Jonapur, the village in Nepal where we were targeting to reach for the last two days. My friends were given names such as Madhukar Resham – something that matches with their initials. We all became part of the Chaudhury’s of Nepal, a far cry from what we really were. That was how the initiation to the Nepali village culture happened.“Mero nama Sahadev Chaudhuri ho “ – it was amusing. We had reached Jonapur around noon on Wednesday, after a long and moderately stressful journey on a Bus with our BuildOn Trek Coordinator Nick and other BuildOn associates. December is a very cold season in this part of the world, and Nepal was no exception. Heavy fog accompanied us most of the way to the village. We were to spend 3 days here, at Jonapur village.
During our journey we came across some crocodiles as we were crossing the bridge over Bawai River. It was around ten in the morning, and the view of a fog- shrouded Bawai river as we bumped across the bridge immediately beckoned us for a little break. It was then that we saw a couple of crocodiles lazily resting between the water and patches of land down below. We also saw a few fish in the water of the barrage, including a huge one that should be close to a meter long. There were a few migratory birds around and the chill in the air felt enjoyable while we stretched ourselves for a few minutes. Afterwards we drove around Bhardiya National Park , distant villages, green plantations and golden yellow mustard fields, a couple of more bridges and few towns and ultimately reached Jonapur at noon.
We received a small welcoming at Jonapur. Local villagers, some families and BuildOn local team members were there to greet us and make us feel at home in their village. They spoke about their happiness in having us as guests of the village and thanked us and our organization for supporting their initiative. We had a BuildOn interpreter to help us understand their conversation and interpret their thoughts to us. It was lunch time and we were hungry. The main languages spoken by the villagers were Nepali and Tharo, while some of them understood and spoke Hindi which we could also communicate with. Communication and the interchange of ideas was working.
Steaming hot rice, with dal and a vegetable curry was ready. It was fresh and tasty and we dug in immediately. After lunch, we went ahead with a small visit to the ground where the school was to be built, a leisurely stroll through the village. Jonapur is a typical Nepali village, with thatched huts, mud floors and walls, potholed roads and dirt lanes, fields of golden yellow mustard and green crops and trees lining the village farms. Narrow lanes lead us around mounds of hay, grazing cows, grunting pigs and cackling hens. We also visited a small mill that was used to crush rice and clean wheat grains. The village consisted of 260 families, and we did not find even one family who is not a Chaudhury. They mostly shared the same lineage , or parental roots a couple of hundred years back when a few families came and settled around here. SInce they have stayed here. Only two people, we found out later, had moved out of Jonapur. One of them was studying, the other on temporary work. Children with wide open eyes greeted us at most turns of the village and to them we were something of a celebrity. A leisurely few minutes of walk brought us to the ground, which have been demarcated for the work to proceed from the next day. The ambience of the village enveloped us.
Later in the afternoon we had a chat with the local medic, the midwife and the traditional healer. It seemed that both the medic and the ancient healer had faith in each other and cross reference their patients as and when needed. The medic informed that the closest medical treatment center was at Dhangadi, and few medicines were available anywhere near the village. The traditional healer inherited his knowledge through his family-tree, a family of healers down the ages. But business is down for him as the new generation has moved away from his magic and mantras, over to medicine and science. The midwife delivers an average of 10 babies a year and most of the babies around the village still seemed to be delivered by her. Later in the evening our team split up into pairs of two, and each went with their host’s family, to set up accommodation for the next three days in their homes.
For the next two days, we started our day with morning Yoga at around 6.30 am, with a Yoga guru who was also a commissioned BuildOn Team member and the whole community whole-heartedly participated. The fog still spread out its shroud during the morning hours but the energy in the village was palpable. After breakfast, we donned our workmen’s clothes and went out to the grounds. The trenches were being dug and the iron rods were being re-barred to form the structure to hold the concrete in. The digging-in had to be done as per the plan, which marked on the ground with lime, and the depth needed to go to one metre. The iron rods needed to be bent correctly and accurately to the size specified by a couple of skilled labourers who were also assisting. The Jafza team started to join the villagers in both these activities. Hands became muddy, dresses dirty and sweat trickled even in the cold weather. We were not really accustomed to this kind of manual labour but the team gave their best efforts. The villagers were overjoyed with our participation and thus started to work with more vigor.
Afternoon of Day 2: The villagers had planned a local inauguration event where in they had invited the Deputy General of Police, some dignitaries and guests to attend. We were given an overwhelming welcome as we joined them, with garlands and drums and music as we moved in with a procession of colourfully attired local artists. The School committee ceremoniously opened the school building efforts, the village community thanked the Jafza team profusely for our support and said that Jafza had made it possible to achieve their dream for their community. Now the children will have a school closer to home and education will enlighten the rural lives. This initiative will help not only the children but also the community as a whole, wherein adult education and other development programs can also flourish under the school’s initiatives. Intertwined with the speeches, the local community presented their traditional customs and dances, colourful and bold, mixed with the pride and gaiety of their culture. The beatings of the drums, the swaying of the men and women to the local tune mesmerized everyone. And it reminded me of an Old Satyajit Ray film – Ganashatru. It was a wonderful afternoon. We felt honored and their warm hospitality humbled us. The Jafza team also spoke about their feelings, compassion and togetherness.
Evenings were spent with our own host families, understanding the workings of the micro village family. In the confines of the villager’s huts, learning about their concerns and wishes, their practices and their day to day lives, their history and their hardships. It enriched us and made us appreciate more of our blessed life in Dubai, oblivious to the pain and suffering of the world around us. It also felt wonderful to give back to society in whichever way we could.
The final afternoon, we also had a discussion with the Women of the village – to try and understand their issues and concerns. Initially hesitant and apprehensive at first , the womenfolk of the village slowly warmed up opened towards us. They spoke of their hard labour, issue with female health and medical support, obstacles to education, poverty. The younger girls were asked about what they would like to be when they grew up and a few of them said teachers, doctors and community helpers. The others were too afraid to dream. The women said they are neutral towards having boy and girl child ( which came as a very pleasant surprise to me) and also said they do not approve of, or demand Dowry in any marriage ( one of the biggest social evils in India). Some of them have never travelled out of their village, and only 2 have travelled to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. They asked us about our countries and practices, and enjoyed when our Emirati friends demonstrated an Arab traditional welcoming between friends. They clapped and laughed when their noses touched and their cheeks brushed. When I told them that The Burj Khalifa, Dubai is around 800 meters in height they were awestruck.
The last evening, our team took up an initiative of cooking for our hosts instead. So we arranged to buy foodstuff needed for a gala meal of ghee-rice and chicken korma. The team cooked, on earthen pits and wooden logs and the food turned out to be lip-smacking. It was time for all of us to eat and be merry. Music flowed and a few of us started swaying to the beat under the moon light. After three days it was finally time to take leave. And it brought new Challenges on our way.