News from Hindu Kush, Nepal

The following newsletter has been written by Maureen Lines.

January 2017 ON THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE

Unique, beautiful, absolute paradise. These are some of the expressions used to describe the Kalash valleys. When I first came here in 1980, I probably used the same ones. In those days there was no electricity, no running water, no latrines, no bazaars, only hair raising jeep tracks (they still are!), no hotels or guest houses. I knew every water channel and mountain path in Birir. There were no walls, no hedges or fences to bar our way. A few plank bridges enabled us to cross over the river. In those early days I played the role of the ‘barefoot doctor’ and treated the ailing and the sick.

At that time there was plenty of protein although less in Birir than in the other two valleys. In Tak Dira’s house, where I stayed, there was always yoghurt, cheese, milk, walnuts and beans (no eggs as chickens were taboo in Kalash society). Rice, which has now become a staple food for those better off than most, was then a luxury and we only had it when I brought it in from Chitral. Meat was rare and mostly consumed by men and only at weddings, funerals or festival time. Then much later on, I moved across the river. In those days, Grubinasa had only two houses in the middle of fertile land between the river and the hills. Now Grubinasa is a village of some fifteen houses. Everywhere in Birir there are fences and walls. I would no longer be able to travel freely around the valley. The same is happening here now which happened in Britain in the 19th century. There is no open common land any more, and people are protecting their property from any possible encroachment. Along with that is, like everywhere else, population explosion. Also, when the eldest son marries, he soon tries to leave the extended family and build his own house.

With this also comes deforestation and climate change….. Goats have always been the main stay of Kalash economy along with agriculture. Due to deforestation, more movement, disease among the goat population has increased. People’s herds have dwindled, Less land, less crops, less livestock, lack of income and problems began to multiply. In the nineties, foreign tourists found us and several summers we had something like between three thousand and five thousand western tourists. This brought income. People built small guest houses and tourists often befriended me and would give me money to buy medicine. I used to think, that tucked away in these mountains, the Kalash culture would survive, along with the people themselves. The signs are full of foreboding…..globalization and climate change will affect the people adversely. Since 2010, we have witnessed terrible floods. Almost half of Bumburet has been completely washed away. Child mortality has improved enormously due to better sanitation, more awareness and better access to doctors. This, however, has had a blowback effect. With the population increase, it has become obvious, that the land can no longer sustain so many people. With both pastoral and agro livelihoods in danger, the youth have to find employment, so good education is a must.

THE SCHOOL

I have been asked a number of times, why I had decided to build a girls’ high school. I had moved with my friend and  her husband and four children. The eldest daughter, was moaning about the local primary school which was only about a hundred meters distant. Where was she going to continue her education? This bright twelve year old had a point. There was no Middle or High School for girls in the valley.

 ‘Why you don’t build one?” ‘Me?” ‘Impossible!” “ why not?” So the idea was born, but it was to take another six years before our dream would become a reality.

The building has now been completed except for the electricity. A new hydro-electric power station has been built, but the people of the valley do not like to have to pay monthly bills! They can’t afford to. I am hoping we can use solar panels for the school. We also need a programme of teacher training, as the ability of the present incumbents leaves something to be desired.

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