Today was the Japanese students’ first full day of seva in Uttarakhand and the task of the day was getting rocks and sand from the riverbed up to the village of Batwadi Sonar in preparation for building them a community hall. Sand and rocks are some of the main raw materials used for building new houses and fortunately they are readily available in the riverbed. The only hard part is that they needed to be delivered about 500 meters up a very steep switchback trail to the construction site.
When the work began in the morning, each person went down the to river bed and took the biggest stone they could lift. Some took it on their head. Some had it strapped to their back with ropes as the porters normally carry rocks. Some just cradled it in their arms. Of course while lifting their stone it might initially feel ok and manageable. A few hundred steep meters later the weight of the stone seemed to have doubled. By the time the top was reached if you had to hold the stone for one more second your arms seemingly would have fallen off. After a few trips like this, most people were wiped out and it was clear they wouldn’t be able to continue in this way.
As each person arrived in the village, wiped out, the local villagers noticed their condition. Whether inspired by the efforts of the Japanese students or feeling they needed to come to their rescue, suddenly a small army of the village women made their way down to the river. Then a truly beautiful thing happened.
Despite no common language and two very different styles of working, there was an instant feeling of teamwork and joy. The students were impressed how the village women with seemingly no effort balanced stones on their head and climbed up a steep incline from the riverbed. At that point they handed off their stones to the students. There were constant smiles and laughter as the village women tried to say a few things in Japanese and the Japanese did the same in Hindi while they worked together.
Once the students took the stones from the village women, they divided themselves into teams and each time delivered the stones up a certain distance before passing them off to the next team. This continued until the stones eventually made it up to the top. They wanted to make a chain but it was just too far up the hill and not enough people.
When the Japanese students came back from their lunch break the village women had to attend to their normal daily work and it seemed for a minute the students would again be left to their labors. They went down to the riverbed and began to load sacks with sand to be carried up the village. And before they could begin really passing the bags up, more and more villagers began to show up to help. This time it was the young people of the village who all showed up to help as soon as they got home from school.
Many of them had to walk past the Japanese students to get home with their school books and uniforms on and upon seeing all the excitement they ran home to drop off their things and change to come back and help. Before long there was a human chain well over 100 strong, singing, laughing and chanting as they passed bags filled with sand higher and higher up the mountain. It was a truly beautiful celebration. Since the chain couldn’t make it all the way up the village, a big amount of bags would be passed up as far as the chain reached and then everyone would run up the hill further and repeat the process until everything made it to the top. Then the whole chain would go back down to the bottom and start the process over again. Each time the chain made it to the top, in the center of the village, a crowd had formed to share in the excitement. Small children and old people sat watching with huge smiles. The same women who had helped carry stones in the morning stopped to enjoy as they went out into the fields to cut grass and feed their buffaloes.
Finally the work ‘party’ came to an end as the sun began to set behind the surrounding mountains. Who ever though carry rocks and bags of sand all day up a mountain could be a celebration?
To party will continue again tomorrow….