What have you been drinking?

I stepped outside of our room to brush my and teeth and wash my face with very cold water, and of course to relieve myself stepping gingerly to avoid the black hole of the squat toilet. The stars were incredible as the moon continued to wane. There was a stillness outside, standing in the middle of the road. Something you might find elsewhere in the middle of the night, but it was only 10:30pm.

Today I found myself walking high along a mountain side from one water source to another with these little bottles that I tucked snug against my body for 24-48 hours, or rather until they turn black proving contamination which I expected both would. I was with two health workers from the area as well as a guy from Aarohi’s team and we were out to collect water samples. We were to take samples from 4 different villages during my stay to get an idea of the current drinking water situation. Visiting the different water sources involved walking most of the day on various paths and through people’s farms. At one point we stopped and sat beside the path to have a snack of oranges that were picked from Depki’s house. While we ate oranges I enjoyed the view and listened on and off to my companions speaking in Kumoani. Staring at my surroundings, I tried to take it all in, reflecting on my tendency to romanticize such experiences when they have yet to happen. In the moment however, it all seems quite natural and simple. I wonder what it is about our western minds that is so fascinated with the poor, the village life, the “field.” While this is a larger question that requires a great deal of self and cultural reflection, I think a constant scrutiny of one’s intentions is essential to staying grounded and genuine in any work, especially that in the field of “development.” For now, I know that my presence is not really needed to take this samples, but I do think that I have helped accelerate the process and have indirectly caused others to focus on the task rather than continuously putting it off. The government has reportedly been around lately handing out testing kits as well as purification technologies, and even provided training on how to use them.  The village heads however are doing nothing with these foreign objects which makes me wonder about their motivation to work towards safe drinking water in their respective villages. So will it be any different with Aarohi’s project? It’s hard to know, but I think that the more constant presence and credibility that Aarohi has built up here has a much better chance of making the message stick than government initiatives which come in, drop things off and move onto the next village in need.

On our way down the mountain we stopped at the house of a Dai (a traditional birth attendant) who I had met earlier on the rode. The others decided that I must eat something despite our snack of oranges. So we sat and chatted while food was being made for yours truly. I felt a little ridiculous but it felt wrong to just refuse the generous offer. So I sat and listened, occasionally speaking in broken Hindi or with Depki in her broken English. There was a toddler in front of me in what we would call a playpen; really it was just a large woven basket with walls too high for this little one to go anywhere, and she wasn’t particularly happy about it. When I first saw her I crouched down to say hi and she started crying. I was a bit disappointed but quickly took into account that I may be the first non-Indian face she’s seen and that’s pretty intimidating. While we were hanging out, the family told us that their water source was also used by several other families so we decided we should test it. It wasn’t a Naula but rather a tank with a tap, perhaps part of the government Swajal project. I took the sample, stuck it in my elastic band with the others, and then noticed that the toilet stall was directly adjoined to the wall of the water tank. I suppose it was done for ease of having a water flow, which in some logic is hygienic, but here we were testing for contamination from human feces and the toilet is next to the water source. As I went back to sit down and await my lunch, which surely included this water, I reasoned with myself that the drinking water came from above while the affluent from the toilet went down below, hopefully into a septic tank. Even if this was the case, the affluent from the toilet would be leaching into the entire water supply below this point. I then was served a delicious lunch which inevitably made me sick…

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