17 Jul Domkhar Barma, Ladakh: Is This Paradise?
Is this paradise? In Domkhar Barma in Ladakh, the stone paths smell of wild mint over the heavy drinkable stream. It’s the only thing heard at night, under the stars, seen when walking along a houses’ garden–carrots, peas, tomatoes, spinach, barley, chard– to the drop toilet. Waste is turned into fertilizer to make vegetables grow, a difficult task in a high altitude desert where the sky is blue 330 days a year and the air is always cool in the shade. Under a large white tarp, strung to the rusted fence posts, twelve children learn at the government middle school. After morning prayers and a quick song and dance, they study from books, or the internet, only truly used for learning, as a generator must be turned on to use it.
Over one year ago there were twice as many students here. Families with money choose to send their children to Leh, Jammu or as far as Delhi, big cities where mint is found in tea bags, vegetables in stores, and running water in bathrooms. The large cities threaten the Ladakhi culture as most youth will not want to return to the most isolated area of India, to a village with forty houses across the Pakistani line of control. English becomes a preferred language, as it is in places like Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh. English gives the greatest access to rights and opportunities, unless they want to farm, a skill that must be acquired in early adolescence.
So what should Operation Groundswell make of our experience living in the village with school children to help with their English and writing research reports and making movies in our language? Are we a threat to their culture? No. Our main goal this week is about sharing and embracing our cultures. The youngest child in the school can learn Dr. Seuss and one of our oldest participants can learn all the body parts in Ladakhi. We’re learning how to smile and eat locally behind unlocked doors. And we know that if a river needs to be redirected we, as members of the village, are expected to get our feet in the water and lift rocks. The young Domkharis are learning that they don’t have to move away to see the outside world. Young Canadians, Americans and Malaysians are eager to live among them and learn their customs while showing them ours. A little boy watches as a participant does his morning prayers in Hebrew, wearing Tefillin. Another participant brings a passion for yoga from the West and shares it with the kids every morning.
Our long lasting gift to the village is a dining hall for the school made from water bottles, a project being undertaken for the first time in India. The village’s gift to us is a week in paradise.