Rural village drive-by

Gaon ke log

Several weeks ago, we took a weekend out of town to stay at a fort hotel in Rajasthan. Along the way, we passed fields of sarson (mustard) and atta (wheat) and channa (chickpea). The five hour trip took us over back country roads through rural India.

Domestic scenes and courtyards like the one above (nothing spectacular — the taxi didn’t stop) were common.

It’s really beautiful out there. Simple and and poor and beautiful.

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Delhi winter: Keep the home (and street) fires burning

Not exactly a warm hearth

Delhi winters are cold. Maybe not by U.S. standards, but here only the very rich (and not even most of them) can retreat to insulated buildings and central heating. Hence, if it’s 38 degrees outside, it’s pretty close to 38 inside.

The middle class survives on electric space heaters. The poor and laboring classes make due with nightly fires of wood, scrap and garbage. The extremely impoverished huddle together under blankets.

Here, some chowkidars and drivers sit around a burning piece of chipboard in posh Hauz Khas village in December.

Obviously, it’s not exactly chilly in Delhi anymore. But, as usual, I’m behind on posting photos.

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Gandhiji’s talisman

I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test:

Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.

— M. K. Gandhi

From a wall in Gandhi Smriti in Delhi, now a museum and the grounds of the leader’s assassination.

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Now that might be sustainable fishing

Old man and the sea

This old man was fresh from his dinghy, which bobbed at anchor in the Puerto Lopez bay. As much as I think widespread fishing remains unsustainable, I’m supportive of small-scale local catches, particularly since the lives of so many poor depend on the sea.

The trick — and what I intend to devote graduate school study to — is finding that appropriate balance between commerce and conserving the planet’s cardiovascular system (i.e., the oceans).

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Graduation day

Rite of passage: Finishing elementary school

Arutam’s school caters to a handful of village children, staffed both by Domingo Vargas, one of the older Shuar brothers, as well as volunteers. At the end of the semester, the school celebrated a graduation of sorts before a holiday. Parents and children attended, and Domingo read aloud the accomplishments of each child.

Edgar, above, who will next year attend the government school, was cause for particular celebration. Education levels are abysmal in parts of rural Ecuador, like much of the rest of the developing world. His graduation and chance at higher education is a big deal. Such an accomplishment has replaced old Shuar rights of passage, and it is a happy occasion worthy of donning traditional clothing.

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One-horse burg in the Oriente

Who needs a car?

Most “villages” in the Oriente are little more than a scattering of houses alongside the main road. Few people here have much in the way of major possessions. Large consumer goods — like cars — are almost nonexistant.

But horses, those beasts of burden, are a little more plentiful. Transportation, labor and investment, with four legs.

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Shuar warriors

Warrior pose

During the three weeks I volunteered in the Ecuadorian Amazon, or “en la selva,” I lived in a Shuar community caught between traditional practices and modernization. Meet our volunteer director, Enrique Vargas, a 23-year-old who is studied in traditional ways, drips machismo and wants, in male Shuar fashion, multiple wives.

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Village markets, small economies

Waiting for dad to buy dinner

Wednesdays are market days in Bhuriakop. That means a few merchants set up shop in the misty valley and locals stock up as much as they can.

Usually there’s a vegetable vendor or two, a clothing man, a spice wallah and a few other sundries. Otherwise, shopping takes place in larger towns which are half an hour or more by jeep.

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Dung flats

Dirty work, but someone's got to do it

An overhead of the muddy yard of a poor farming family in Siliguri. Their primary occupation: collecting dung from their cattle.

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Up with the sun, up with the cattle

Good day, cows

Village life in the deserts of Rajasthan.

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