Lots of fun travel
Monday afternoon in Nongkrem Arnold and his niece Da-i took me to the river nearby to wash clothes. It is a popular washing spot, so there is a small dam to create a nice deep spot, with washing platforms that are situated just behind the dam. Women and girls arrived with large bundles of laundry tied into a Jain-kershah or in a basket. They were clearly more organized that we who rarely (or in my case never) wash clothes in the river. Working together, they rinsed, soaped, scrubbed, and rinsed again a big blanket. Here, the standard method of washing by hand seems to be wet, apply bar soap thoroughly to both sides, scrub with a brush to suds up the garment, scrub in together with your knuckles, (unless it's huge), then rinse. Small items are pre-soaked in a bucket with soap water.
I had such mixed feelings about this. It was a lovely warm day, and it was fun to be out sharing a communal experience. It was nice to think about how this practice has probably gone on for centuries, in some fashion, even if they didn't have much fabric or pre-made soap. But it was also very sad, as I thought about how it was killing the river. Other places I've been the river water is crystal clear and stunningly beautiful as it tumbled over rocks and waterfalls. Here, and other places people live, it has no chance. And at first I was comforted somewhat that we were using a natural soap, so it would bio-degrade more readily. But then I saw that most of the women there came with packets of detergent they used as their pre-soak, then added bar soap to the mix. The quantity of soap far exceeded what would be needed or used in the US. And all of it was flowing down stream.
In the end, I was glad for the chance to go. I've watched people washing clothes in rivers and streams during all of my visits, and never have actually done in, or been close enough to really watch. And I've washed clothes outside while here. Most homes has a washing platform outside, with a tank of water nearby, a spigot to fill a bucket or wash basin, and with soap and scrub brushes they go through the same procedures as seen at the river. And probably that water ends up in a river. I know that in Shillong, people do have what they call "sanitation tanks"—but I'm not sure what that means exactly. Perhaps a settling tank before water is released? I have seen any signs that the tanks are pumped out.
Anyhow, Monday evening Arnold took me to visit some local Unitarian families. We visited one family that had recently had two babies, sister and a sister-in-law. It was so sweet to hold two little bundles of joy. And just like me, those babies were really bundled up in clothes made for winter living without heat, thick-fuzzy outer wear, warm hats and little mittens, and then nestled in a big fuzzy blanket. They were clearly so loved and well cared for. We also visited a family with 7 little kids. The mother's father had just died. Arnold told me that he had been sick enough, that they didn't think he would even make it to the wedding. And yet, he had lived all these years. They survived in a house with two rooms, plus a small kitchen—as far as I could see. The walls were dirty concrete, but the floor was swept and the kids as clean as kids are at the end of a day of play!
We went home and I thought we were done. But then we went over to his neighbors to pray for a safe journey tomorrow, as he was taking them to all meet their son-in-laws family. It had been over a year since they got married, and he still hadn't taken them. Apparently he is almost mute—he can talk, but doesn't choose to most of the time. And feeling shy, he had avoided this family duty. So in the end, here they were, finally ready to go.
Tuesday was the Sunday School picnic for one zone of Nongkrem. Riana organized it, and they all arrived on a bus blaring music, dancing in the aisles and on their seats. It was one of the old busses from my first stay here. I don't see so many of them anymore, and I loved all the decorations and messages painted around and in the bus. This one is Darihun's mother's bus, and looked polished clean and so nice. It was a fun ride, and I got up and tried to dance a bit with Riana—but I couldn't stand fully without bumping my head. So I didn't last long. We rode through crowded Shillong, and when the bus stopped in traffic, the nearby people often danced a bit or nodded their heads to the music. The music was an mix of English, Hindi and Khasi lyrics. The kids seemed to sing along to all of them.
The weather was nice and sunny, after some fog in the morning, and we went to a park just near Orchid Lake Resort. A picnic here means bringing big pots and firewood and cooking the same food that is eaten at home only more quantity and variety. The boys were in charge of cooking. First they made tea and biscuits were passed around. Next they cooked dinner—rice, chicken, beef, pork, potatoes with some vegetables, there were also sliced tomatoes. After walking around to take pictures, going for a boat ride, and chatting some, the food was ready. Then we had more dancing around the picnic pavilion, which by the way had no tables—every thing was done at ground level, and really beside the pavilion rather than in it. Maybe it's just used if it rains?
And as it turned dark, everyone packed up, the big pots were carried back up the steep hill, and we all loaded into the bus. There was some delay—maybe more pots to carry? But we hung out in and around the bus for almost an hour, the kids dancing inside, older kids and adults dancing outside, and tourists from Mizoram (or some other state), taking lots of pictures of the colorful bus.
When we reached back home, Da-i and I were happy to sit by the charcoal fire and warm ourselves. With a little dinner, we were off to bed.
The following morning I arose to full fog and couldn't see the nice view at all. I packed up, since Darihun was fetching me for a day in Kharang and then I was headed back to Shillong. While at the picnic, Yari had finally lined up a plan to retrieve my luggage. I spent a leisurely morning soaking in the sunshine, petting the sweet puppy Brown, and enjoying a nice breakfast. Darihun arrived and we had tea in the sunshine before heading off to Kharang in a taxi. Only at the end of the day did I learn that this was her younger brother driving us.
We had a good visit in Kharang. Sitting outside the church, in front of the Kharang School—which is Khasi instruction, we discussed the partnership and future of Friendship school. They conceived of this English language school for their children, so the entry into class 6 wouldn't be so rugged for them. We shared ideas and hopes. And hopefully I left them feeling more enthusiastic. It's been a hard road, because they really want government funding, and the bar keeps being raised.
While talking, we enjoyed tea and some rice breads that Darihun had brought along.
Afterwards we went to Darihun's inlaws house for lunch. They live just down the lane from the church, in a lovely setting with views of the rolling hills. We had a great meal with red rice, and many tasty options including mushrooms, turumbi (not sure on the spelling) (the fermented beans), potatoes, greens, chicken and fish.
Then we were off to Smit for tea at Darihun's and the addition of her sister and daughter, as we headed to Shillong.
As we arrived in Shillong, Yari called to tell me my suitcase had finally arrived in Shillong too. So we made a plan to stop there, and as the women shopped, Darihun's brother would take me up to Lawsohtun. He said he knew how to get there, but not the right house. But when we got to Laban he started asking me which way to turn. I kept making guesses. I'd done it a few times now, but it was dark and hard to see what was what. Right near her house I guessed wrong and we came to steps. We backed up and I called Bari. She gave the directions, which were simply to take the other way, and down we went onto the shoulder of the mountain that is home.
It was funny to look at what I had packed so long ago. Some of it seemed not useful. But it was great to see more socks and underwear—because traveling around, it's hard to have enough to wash things and let them dry. With the thick dew, it's usually more than one day. And those things I really like to change daily!
It was great to see the family, and I just wanted to snuggle in for a few days. But Helpme was encouraging me to come to the funeral in Nongtalang, and I'm so very glad I did. Arunima, who had cared for me so nicely when in 2011 I fell violently ill at the Jingiaseng-Bah (the Annual Meeting)—her mother had died suddenly and still young.
So I left Shillong on a taxi headed for Jowai at 8am Thursday. I had the momentary realization that this was my first time alone since my arrival. And then it turned out Bari knew they guys in the back. And as we talked, it turned out they worked at the same college as several Unitarians, including Sowat, Rupaia, and others. So it didn't feel lonely at all.
Helpme and I had a quick cup of tea and headed off with his wife Neini. It was nice to get to know her better on this trip to Nongtalang. And she was good company as Helpme ran around with preparations for the funeral.
I got a brief time to sit with Arunima before hand, and she was so happy to see me. She had heard I was here, and had wanted to see me, but her mother had been so ill. She told me she had died of Tuberculosis of the brain. She was a nurse and only in her early 60's. It all seemed so sad. As is the custom, she was laid out in the front room of the house, and Arunima with some close family sat nearby on the ground. The room was full of people who had greeted her. They would sit for a little while, perhaps drink some tea, then move to another room in the house or outside. Neini and I cycled through, and then had lunch, and I thought of all the food preparation Bari had had to arrange last time I was here with the untimely deaths in Nangroi's family. We met up with Dorismum (Bah Josing's daughter and Ma Rose's wife). We all sat together after visiting a very nice public toilet located down a very steep set of stone stairs with an amazing view of Bangladesh below us! There was great wailing from the room before the casket was moved outside for the funeral. The church is under construction, so it was all held outside, under tarps for shade.
The service had many tributes to her life and many wreaths we laid on her casket. We then walked to the graveyard, close to a thousand strong i would guess, and there was another brief committal service which most of us couldn't hear, as the hillside was quite steep and we dotted it, sitting in clumps on grass or tree roots. I wondered if the Polang brothers, who had founded Unitarianism in this area, and corresponded with Sunderland, had been buried in this same site. It was lovely, with forest around, and old monolith stones in clumps nearby in spots below.
We all returned, and some had their lunch at this point, others had more tea and biscuits. I got a chance to visit with some others I knew, found the people from Puriang, to hand them Hashen's gifts to her family. And then we were off.
My next stop was Padu, for trekking. I actually ended up staying with the Padu family I knew (Emily Grace's family)—but they had moved closer to the Jowai road, to the town called Amlarem. They have a lovely big house, and Emily's aunt Botym was very helpful in caring for me. She was a delight! She has finished her MA and is looking for work.
We woke early the next day so that we could go see a nearby waterfall. It's a popular tourist spot, and since it was Republic Day, they anticipated it would be crowded. At 8 in the morning, there was hardly anyone there—and it was lovely. Steep stone steps led us down to the park entrance. The waterfall has a small cave behind it, and we climbed under to take some pictures and enjoy the view. Above the falls, the water was dammed and we had a boat ride up and down the river. The little 3 year old boy with us had so much fun playing with the water. There was a camping site there, complete with tents you can rent. It was the first time I saw formal camping in India. It made me smile.
Then we went home for tea, packed lunch (in leaves!), and headed off to Padu for our big adventure. We met Ohiwot and Tohman, Unitarian friends, and headed down into the valley far below Padu to see 3 Living Root Bridges.
It was an amazing trip! Two thirds of the way down, we met with one bridge. Then we kept heading down, on a very steep trail to reach the second bridge. Tohman said that his grandmother's father had made it, and we reconed it was over 100 years old. A triangle had been engineered into the root structure above to help support it, and I marveled at the wisdom of the bridge's maker. These bridges are very sturdy in general, and have flat stones woven in with the roots along the foot Path. We bushwhacked and scrabbled on the river rocked downstream for an hour, stopping to enjoy a waterfall at one point, and scaling a bit of cliff to bypass a pool at another point, before we came to the final Root Bridge. It was located by the pools that are the common bathing spot for the village. It was had for me to imagine hiking down so far and climbing back up, to take a bath. But this place, living so close to nature still, teaches patience. This Bridge was a double-side-by-side. One half was apparently a wire Bridge at one point, and the roots has been intertwined leaving just a few remnants peaking out. Climbing up the steep stone-step path back to Padu took me us over an hour. I'm sure that those who do it regularly make it up quickly. But my guides were patient and just kept marveling at my strength for someone "50+". I paused just before we reached back to the village and sat for a few minutes soaking in the jungle valley, with the steep hill below us, and up the other side.
Upon reaching the top we headed to Ohiwot's house for tea. I learned he had a bakery, the bread and biscuits and cake were all tasty. And I learned he has 7 children in his mid-30's. People still have big families here, and sometimes spread out families. There are 12 years between Emily Grace and her little brother who accompanied us on this trip. But we can't linger here—we just learn that we are supposed to be at the Sunday School picnic!
(We knew it was happening today, but didn't know we were expected). So we jumped into our cars and headed down the road.
Saturday was spent in Jowai visiting. Highlights were spending some time with Sowat, his wife and youngest daughter. And dinner at Helpme's house with Neini and his youngest daughter. The church kindly put me up at the GHM GuestHouse.
I had a lot of fun Sunday morning watching the Jowai Sunday school perform a skit on the Diet of Torda. It was fun to think of our Unitarian connections around the world, as I watching these kids whose lives are so different from my own embrace a story of Religious freedom from so long ago and far away.
In the afternoon Helpme, another church member, and I headed back to Shillong to the Laban church for Bah Lin (Pearlgreene Marbaniang)'s First death anniversary service. I really like this tradition they follow here, which is so unfamiliar to our culture. But this time it made me even more glad, since I wasn't able to attend the funeral, and PG was a good friend for many years. He was a part of my 2001 Theology class, we shared laughter when he tried to teach me enough Khasi to lead a song at a General Assembly—since he didn't sing well . . . and my Khasi pronounciation is terrible! We often talked about writing a theology book for this unique tradition, but family and life kept us busy. But about the same age, I've skirted death several times, and yet here am, saying a final good-bye to him. It was a good event, Darihun offered a good, poetic prayer, and Helpme offered the sermon (which from what I could understand, was a powerful tribute). Derrick was the moderator, and Nangroi accepted the gift of a printed book made by the family with excerpts of his writings.
There was a big reception afterwards, and it was so good to see so many friends from the Laban church I had known all those years ago when it was my home church.
The evening ended with a quiet evening at Kong Sngithiang's house. We had fun sharing food and memories. She taught me some Khasi remedies from long ago, and we talked about the loss of culture that she is seeing here.