How do you say “I’m Full!” in Kumauni?
Last week, our entire program did homestays in the villages surrounding Sonapani, along with field research for our internship projects. For the first time, our group was split up and sent in three different directions: Mauna, Kasiyalekh and Reetha Villages. My friends Kyle, Erin and I stayed with an older woman named Bina Raikwal in the Reetha Village area. On our first day, we were dropped off on the side of the road from Nathuwakhan, a larger, market village in the area, and pointed down a very steep, rocky path. With a healthy dose of trepidation, we carefully made our way down the slippery stones to Bina-Ji’s home.
As with most Kumauni homes, the lower portion of the house functions as a barn for the animals – goats and cows mostly – and the upper portion is the family’s living quarters. The walls and floors of the home are mud, which acts as a natural insulator during the cold winter months here in the foothills. The moment we arrived, Bina-Ji offered each of us a cup of fresh chai and a blanket to sit on. I have been greeted at every home with so much warmth and hospitality that, sometimes, it overwhelms me. Bina-Ji’s was one such moment. She was incredibly patient and kind as we stumbled through Hindi introductions and thanked her, profusely, for letting us stay in her home. I’ve found that humor and a smile are the best tools to use when language seems to be an insurmountable barrier and it seemed like Bina-Ji was of the same mind.
After we finished chatting and we were introduced to Anchan-Ji – Bina-Ji’s husband and the man of the house – we were escorted up a narrow, muddy path to an out building with two lovely rooms for us. Kyle’s room even had bird nests in it! After settling in for a few moments, Erin and I wandered back down to the main house to see if we could help Bina-Ji cook the chapatti for dinner. Unfortunately, one of the key components of Kumauni hospitality is not allowing guests to help with the cooking or the cleaning, especially not on your first night. So, we sat on the floor of the mud kitchen and watched as Bina-Ji rolled out chapattis at the speed of light. Our first meal was delicious and was easily some of the best food that I have had my entire time in India. Bina-Ji’s husband cooked us some delicious aloo with onions and spices, along with homemade apricot chutney that should be canned and sold all over the world. We all ate until we were stuffed and, then, we ate some more because Bina-Ji would not take no for an answer. No matter how often or insistently we cried “Bas! Enough! My stomach is small!” she kept filling our plates and we kept eating until our stomachs literally felt like they were about the burst. Then, with a smile from our host mother, we were sent off to bed with a wave of a hand.
This first night is just one example of the incredibly kindness that I have witnessed during my time here in Uttarakhand. People’s generosity and patience has shown me that, while there are many differences between my home and this place, there are also many similarities. Rather than focusing on the differences, my goal for these last weeks is to focus on the spaces of connection, of understanding and of simple acts of kindness. These are the moments that give me hope.