Getting the Lay of the Land at Chirag

The Himalayas are indescribable. After a windy two-and-a-half hour car drive from the nearest train station (where with every turn up the slope, you never knew what car or bus would come hurdling at you), we arrived at Chirag, shaded by the lush trees of the mountain. After a nap and then a nice long sleep to get over our jet lag, we met the friendly staff members; learned about Chirag’s investment in agriculture, livelihoods, soil and water conservation, and health; and started our exploration of the area.

Unlike Philadelphia, where the nearest Wawa is less than a two minutes’ walk away, getting around the region is tough and takes a lot of time. After a simple lentil, rice and vegetable lunch, the four of us Penn interns, guided by Wendy, the intern from France, walked up to a mini-convenience store before heading up the 45-60 minute trail up to Sitla, a larger village. Hiking up the rocky path was our workout, especially at such an altitude, but the shortness of breath and sweat was so worth it. Green hills, sprinkled with perched houses and lined with terraces, partially obscured each other until they faded away into the distance.

At Sitla, we met a 15 year-old-girl, Neha, and her family as we walked to a convenience store that sold cheese (Caro was out to find some protein). Neha talked rapidly in Hindi to Aardra and invited us to see her village, pick fruits and visit an ashram the next day, to which we immediately agreed. All along our trail, Devrani, a black Labrador mutt followed us from Sitla to Chirag, and is staying with us tonight. She led us as we walked back, and every so often, she would lightly tread up to the cliff and look out to the hills as if they were hers. Queen Devrani. Apparently she follows all the interns around because she knows they come from Chirag.

Queen Devrani

Coming from an urban environment, I was ready to live a simple, rural life in the mountains. Little internet access, bucket showers, simple but filling meals – all I have adapted to, and I do not mind these differences at all. The only thing about the internship that I want to change is being able to communicate in Hindi. Granted, some English, expressions of gratitude and simple body language can transfer pockets of information, but I wanted to be able to have more in-depth conversations, and to be able to understand others’ conversations with their neighbors and friends during their everyday life. Up until now, every country I visited outside the U.S., I could understand and speak the language. Now, I must learn to stand patiently aside, catching intonations and names of locations or people, while letting everything else wash over my head, like a net that sweeps through the water but catches no fish. But I am slowly learning while I am here (thanks to Aardra who gives me mini-lessons all the time), and while I may never reach the level of fluency I wish I had, at the very least, I can make the attempt to show I care about communicating with them.


One thought on “Getting the Lay of the Land at Chirag

  1. Devrani has been presiding over the villages for years now – she’s such a little legend. Glad to see you’re enjoying yourself and learning the language! It will come naturally!

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About Eileen Wang

Hi everyone, my name is Eileen and I am a recent graduate from the University of Pennsylvania (C'16) where I majored in Health and Societies (global health), and minored in Anthropology. There, I traveled extensively, delving into the world of global health. The summer of 2014, I interned at Chirag (Central Himalayan Rural Action Group) in Simayal Village, Uttarakhand, India, where I worked on a maternal-child health project examining neonatal care practices in the area. The fall of 2014, I studied abroad on International Honors Program: Health and Community and traveled to Delhi, India; Cape Town, South Africa; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. I chronicled those experiences in my blog Check it out if you wish to learn more! The summer of 2015, I conducted independent thesis research in Shanghai, China, on the high rates of C-sections and, in particular, those on maternal request. From 2016-17 I am continuing those lines of research as part of a Fulbright Fellowship to China, in Harbin and then Hangzhou.