Grass-Cutting-Season

September 2015

Every year in September it’s officially “Grass-Cutting-Season” A beautiful and cheerful time up here in the Himalayas.

First of all, the women of the surrounding area gather for a grass-cutting-council. They organize who will help to cut whose grass on which land. The grass prices are extensively discussed and eventually settled.

haytree

Some may wonder why there is so much fuss about something as trivial as grass. Up here we are talking about a very valuable natural product. The mountain side is dry and barren during the winter months and every family has to make sure that there will be enough hay available for their cows, buffaloes and goats.

Soon after all the organizing part is clear, the ladies set themselves to work. In the steep hillside no machines can be used. Crouching on the ground to cut grass by hand with a sickle and then transport a huge bundle of it on the head is a very hard job. On top of it the women also climb high on trees to hang the grass there to dry. Nature turns into a big barn and whenever pasture is needed in the winter, they go back to the trees to take of the necessary amount.

Grasscutting

When I first saw women sometimes double my age carrying the heavy load on their head up the hill, I was torn between a feeling of pity and deepest admiration. Women here are amazingly strong in all senses! To be honest, most of the time I already struggle with my own body weight when I walk up the mountain; (don’t tell anyone!). My feeling of pity soon dissolved, as I realized that all of them, no matter how young or old, are really looking forward to the grass-cutting-season and indeed enjoy it a lot! It actually seems to be some kind of women’s circle, where they charge themselves with the energy of Mother Nature. It’s a time to teach, learn, chat, gossip, and exchange grass-cutting-stories not only during a well deserved Thermos chai break; stories about babies being born on the field, snakes and leopards. They are rightly proud of how high and good they can climb and of how much weight they are able to carry.

When they come back from a day of work, they look tired, but happy with a lot of hay in their beautiful black hair. When I meet them, they always ask me seriously, but half laughing (…an Indian thing…) to come along with them with my sickle. Before I didn’t get very much the Indian sense of humor and replied with excuses like not having land, cows, sickle, time or whatever. Now I just answer that I’ll be there in a minute with my tool; sometimes I say so ten times a day.

Grasstransport

I love to observe the women working in the fields. Sometimes even in the form of colorful spots through a curtain of rain. Instead of going home, they cover themselves with a piece of plastic to keep themselves dry and keep on cutting. But the same season also turns me sad somehow, as the landscape turns from green into brown and Grey again. I also found out that it somehow affects my mood.

It probably has to do with the general change which comes along with fall and the slowly inwards turning energies.

Mid September here marks also the beginning of the cold season. Last week the corresponding ritual took place: On the night in question, women light a big fire in front of their homes and feed it with some cannabis branches as an offering (by the way, the cutting of this “grass” happens in October) and share a cucumber as prasad (blessed food).

In their prayer they ask the coming winter not to be too much cold and cruel. From that moment on the cold season has been officially declared, accepted and who knows, maybe even invited. At least I don’t really understand how they do it; but every year right the next day after the ritual there is a major drop in temperature, frequently accompanied by cold rain.

IT’S LIKE MAGIC!

puja

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Maternity impressions from the Himalayas

January 2012

After living for some years in India – at least the way I do – the little everyday’s challenges become eventually part of your routine; it is like having to get used to live with some kind of entity you have to deal with – weather you like it or not. Mainly it is all about stopping to complain and accept the things which you cannot change anyway.

However it looks pretty different once you have to go through all these situations with a little baby, especially if you are an extremely unorganized person as I am. Imagine this situation: The baby wakes up crying in the middle of a pitch black night during the chilly Himalayan winter.  According to the smell, the situation quickly becomes clear:

She has to be changed IMMEDIATELY!

The “surprise” is evidently oozing from all possible sides and for some reason the flashlight is not where it is supposed to be, so I try to find the light switch while stumbling over all kind of items which are lying on the floor.  In India most of the activities take place on the floor and I had completely forgotten to pick up several baby items, probably because I was too tired for that and had left it for later.

The baby cries harder, Mum gets more nervous and is shaking from the coldness which fills the room, but finally manages to find the switch – just to realize that the power is gone!

Okay, then Plan B: Candles!

The next mission is to find candles and matches in the dark. Then, light the wood stove to bring some warmth in the room – I also do not have much of a talent for lighting fire; if I was a sadhu, I would probably starve or freeze to death due to my poor fire skills.

Lighting

Have you ever tried to change a cloth diaper under candle light? I can tell you that it is no fun at all with a struggling baby and a flickering, dim light. Of course, there is no warm water available either, as the boiler is electric, too.  Anyways, somehow I manage to handle the situation and just when I finish changing the bed sheets and open the door to transport them out of the room, a miracle occurs: The electricity is back!

An organized person would probably store an emergency box for those cases near the bed. For some reason I never managed to do that. Due to all this action, the baby is of course wide awake and giggling happily – Mum wants to cry, but smiles at the short night and the long day which lies ahead.

In my opion in the West we have many silly complements and gadgets for children nobody actually really needs; but not having them might show that you are not a good parent, so the house is full of stuff you’ll probably never use. But I have to say that unless you are an Indian goddess with at least six arms, some of them are very, very useful! Many times I wished I had one of those baby seats where baby can sit, watch and play, while mom does something useful in the house with both of her hands.

Having a Baby in India also made me realize further cultural differences, of which I was completely unaware up to then.  The village ladies were shocked when they saw me going for a walk with a three week old baby.

“What are you doing? Are you crazy to walk around outside with such a small child? It is gonna get a fever!”

Winter during daytime here is actually really pleasant and I was also lucky to have some good baby clothes which my family kindly had sent me from Germany. By the way: Back there, we have a saying which goes “There is nothing such as bad weather, there are only bad clothes”

And I even heard that people in Scandinavian counties put their babies to sleep outdoors during winter when temperatures are below zero, because it is considered to be good for baby’s health. Well, different countries, other ways. In India, the baby should not leave the house during at least the first few months of her life.

Something's watching...

I was also criticized because I did not paint the baby’s eyes black with kajal. They say that this looks cute and is good for the child as well. …looks cute?!? I don’t know, maybe it is a matter of taste. I can’t help it, but whenever I see an Indian baby with this typical make-up which is supposed to keep the “evil eye” away, it reminds me of a sad panda bear. And if it was indeed good for health, then why are there posters in the pediatrician’s waiting room asking the parents to please not turn their children into sad panda bears?

But I also had plenty of great advices from the village ladies. From time to time they would visit us in our house, normally exactly then when I was taking a well deserved afternoon nap. Then they would watch how I breastfed my child giving me all kind of tips. A really nice one was: “You have to drink a lot of milk! More milk you drink the more milk the baby gets!” 

When the babies get a little older, then people have the habit to stop you on the street and greet the little one on mommy’s arm by gently slapping the babies face or pinching the cheeks – baby usually does not like that very much.

Twice a month or so the governmental nurses come to the governmental school, which lies just in front of our house to do routine check ups and provide vaccination for the local kids of several ages. I think that the method for weight control is really funny: They hang the kids into some kind of cloth and then hook the bundle onto a butcher’s scale. Sometimes they would make the kids swing in it and they really love it! I always wondered though, why most of the local ladies who brought their children there were always carrying some kind of leafy stick in their hand. I first thought that they did so because of some superstition, like the evil eye. Later I found out that the plant is actually a stinging nettle, used to threaten or punish the children in case of misbehavior. I have touched those nettles accidentally and my skin burned for several hours! Not nice!

From the Western side I had to hear many times that we were spoiling our child too much, because we let her sleep with us in the same bed. I had the thought that maybe Western kids are actually more spoiled because they usually not only have their very own bed, but even their very own room! But seriously, what better than having your baby sleeping next to you? If you breastfeed, you just turn around and plug it directly onto the source and that’s it – no need to really wake or stand up, wander to another room, take the baby out of bed, etc…

And it also makes my favorite part of the day happen:

Opening my eyes in the morning to see first of all this beautiful, innocent, little person, who somehow managed to make her way into this crazy world right next to me….