Saturday, November 8, 2008

Grade Nine Activity Week: Khaas Kudoan

Woodstock is just returning back to campus after Activity Week, a week where all students and staff take a break from classes and go off on different adventures around northern India. Some are service trips, some are treks and outdoor adventures, and others are tourism in major cities. I was placed on a grade nine village trip to Khaas Kudoan, which is near Mussoorie, but it takes almost two hours to get there. We arrived on Sunday and hiked 6km into the village. The village has only about 17 families living in it, but nearly 250 people (those are some huge families!). We set up tents on the outskirts of the village. Each day we had a different activity, usually away from the village but then each night we would go visit the village families and ask them questions. The villagers only know very very basic english, so we had to rely on Hindi speaking students to translate. We learned some very cool things in these conversations. The village is Hindu and predominantly vegetarian. They raise nearly 100% of the food that they eat (they buy salt and sometimes buy oil). (They fed us all week and it was very tasty!) It is typical to have 20 or more family members living in one house. They have phones and mobiles and usually one lightbulb per room, but they have no tap water or water storage. They walk about 10min up the hillside everytime they need water and fill their container from a spring.
The group I was with consisted of 15 students and 2 other chaperones. The kids were absolutely phenomenal. Hands down the best group of high school students I have ever spent a week with. I had known a few of them from my classes, but most of them were new faces. I pulled out some camp counselor tricks, and soon the whole group was obsessed with riddles and mini-mysteries. I have never played such a rowdy game of "Who's in the Middle" in my life. It was fabulous.

View of our camp from the village.

Day 1: After all the kids were sick from the van ride and then incredibly drowsy from motion sickness meds, we hiked into the village, set up camp, and crashed for the afternoon.

Village kids helping us carry our tents...they loved it. On the rights, those are chili peppers drying on the roofs of the houses.

Day 2: We woke up early and hiked to the very top of the mountain (it took about 3 hours to get there). It was very steep and there is little vegetation on the hillsides, so we were hot and exhausted. At the top, there is the temple that the villagers go to on special occasions. We had lunch and then hiked down.

The Woodstock kids on the top of the mountain in front of the temple.

Day 3 and 4: We visited three different village schools. The Woodstock students had to teach the village kids, which turned out to be a good challenge for them and very entertaining for the chaperones. I was almost in hysterics watching some of the woodstock kids struggling with teaching the letter "F" for about a half hour. They couldn't get the village kids to stop saying "yef."

Day 5: We spent the day in Khaas Kudoan. First we learned how to plow and "cow surf" (which is another form of plowing where you stand on a board and hold onto the cow's tail...very fun.) Then we pulled out an invasive plant from the hillside and then learned how to make bamboo baskets. In the evening, I took a few students with me to go cook pasta for dinner. It was an incredible cultural interaction, as villagers were also cooking in the room. They had never seen pasta before and we were equally intrigued watching them make roti (flat bread). They were pretty wide-eyed when I started stabbing the tomato puree cans with my leatherman to open them (and of course I was wearing my headlamp too)...I'm pretty sure they thought I was crazy.

Day 6: We hiked down to the bottom of the mountain to spend the day at the river. The hike was pretty treacherous (and adventurous!) - lots of "landslide" areas and jumping over rapids. In the evening, we learned some more dances from the villagers.

Day 7: We packed up and hiked back out. Now I am gearing up for my last week at Woodstock :(

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