Catching the Bus

Bus stop–one measure of my Hindi progress is how many of the water conservation slogans painted on it I can read.

Sometimes research is like waiting for a bus in the Himalayas. You wait and wait and wait, and 6 buses go by in the other direction, and 2 go by in your direction but they’re school buses full of kids in blazers and ties, and just when you’ve decided to start walking the 3 km down to the highway (or, you’re already at the highway and you’ve decided to get a sandwich at the roadside cart), 3 buses in a row come around the bend and you’re running and waving and hoisting yourself up and the conductor’s yelling jaldi karo! and the door is slamming and you’re on your way.

It’s been like that lately. I’d been in a bit of a funk–frustrated that most people I’ve met just tell me that wool work is over, and faced with the interminable task of fluffing 5 kg of wool by hand. Then last week by chance I met an organic apple farmer from Chamba who told me he could help me out with contacts for my work. Two days after we met I called him up just to touch base and hopefully schedule a meeting sometime within the week. “Where are you staying? Is there a bus to Dhraman?” “Yes.” “OK, call me when you get there.” “Oh, you mean…today? Now?” “Yes, within the hour.” So all of a sudden, instead of a slow day working out some sampling statistics (and fluffing wool), I found myself touring the state government wool scouring and packing facility, photographing piles of striped and checked blankets, and staggering under the weight of luanchari as his aunt dressed me up in Gaddi finery.

After that whirlwind, I fell sick for a few days (people have been blaming it on the fact that I put my hands in cold water while washing wool, but I think it was more likely the 3 actual, very crowded buses that I rode while catching the metaphorical bus). Just as I was surfacing from that, —jaldi karo!—I met folks from the Centre for Pastoralism, who let me tag along on their meeting with the leaders of a local herders’ group, one of whom is a weaver who I’ve cold-called a few times over the past couple months to no avail. She showed me a picture of all the wool she is processing at her home right now, and told me that her household processes 30-50 kgs of wool. 30-50 kgs! Wool work is NOT over.

As I’m nearing the half-way mark of my grant (and the accompanying midterm report), it’s exciting to have things suddenly start coming together. I’m looking forward to another pastoralists’ meeting next week, including figuring out how we can collaborate on a field project with art and design students coming from Bangalore in February. And hey, I’m almost through fluffing one kg of wool, and ready to take it to the mill! Which means yet another bus ride…jaldi karo!

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