I haven’t told anyone about my birthday here, so it caught me by surprise when Gunja walked into my room with a gift last night! Gunja is the youngest daughter of my host-family, and the family member I hang out with the most. She is in her mid-twenties, and teaches at the R.O.S.E public school six days a week, and also does a lot of the family farming and household work.
Last night she handed me a pair of pretty silver anklets before I went to bed. It’s an unexpected gift with impeccable timing. She said I’ve been like a big sister to her and this is a token of her appreciation. It warmed my heart to hear that because quite frankly I’m scared of Kumaoni women! They are some of the toughest women I’ve ever met. They work side-by-side with the men on the farms, and raise cattle, and help in construction work, all the while running their household like well-oiled machines by cooking for the family and raising children.
This kind of toughness is required to survive here. And at the same time, women are only eligible for marriage if the family can cough up a dowry. This is the paradox that India is. Gunja has been engaged for over a year now, but cannot get married because her family doesn’t have enough money for the dowry. Dowry typically consists of some jewelry and a few animals for the groom’s farm. Gunja says it may take another two years before she can marry. Knowing how poor the family is, this kind of warmth and generosity is even more touching.
This morning, I celebrated my birthday by waking up very early to catch the sunrise and take some photos. I tagged along with my host-family’s eldest son, Jeetandra and his wife Chandra, to a Shiva temple up on top of a mountain. The view on the way to the temple was one of the most memorable sights I’ve seen so far. The mountains were so serene and green in the fresh morning light that I left like I was living in a painting! It’s a moment I will remember for a while.
And then the nightmare begins. I offered to sub in for Gunja to teach her class all by myself, because she has to tend to the dairy cows and clean the house. What a mistake that was! Believe me when I say the kids only look adorable in photos. In reality they are a terror to teach! They can smell fear and recognize immediately when an adult has no authority over them. So it went all downhill after that – my sanity that is. I have great respect for the patience teachers must have to do this day in and day out. To all my teacher-friends, kudos to you! After an exhausting afternoon, I;ve decided to take the rest of the day off. The power has gone out again, and this time it’s been out for most of the day, so there isn’t much I can do other than retire to the rooftop and watch the beautiful sunset and sip tea and write this blog.
On an unrelated topic, if India were to vote in the US elections, it’s clear who will win.