On our first exploratory visit to Besisahar, just a few weeks ago, we'd noticed some activity by the river. The monsoon was nearly over but heavy rain had fallen over several days causing devastation in districts further west. We could hear the river from our accommodation but the valley sides obscured the view and we wanted a look. The path to the steel pedestrian suspension bridge wove down the wooded slope. Our first crossing of the Marsyangdi river was awesome. After taking a few shots of the boiling torrent that lay below we moved on, but not before noticing a few small figures working on the banks upstream. Could they be crazy enough to be washing clothes in the fast flowing, silt loaded water or were they up to something else?
|Jude and Ann a fellow volunteer check the effects of recent |
rain from the safety of the bridge.
|Monsoon rains swell the Marsyangdi river|
|What is going on up river?|
Now a few weeks later we were back to stay in the town and were keen to find out more of what we had seen. The pictures tell the story for themselves. What we thought were people risking life and limb to wash clothes in the fast flowing waters were actually women dredging for sand. Families carry out the work on defined areas of bank, and do s throughout the year. The process involves them wading chest deep in water whilst pulling a scoop like tool along the river bed. Wet sand is carried to the shore in baskets where it is stacked and later reloaded to be carried several hundred meters up the banks. Here it will be reloaded, again by hand, onto tractors and trailers.
|Women carry baskets of sand to the stacks.|
|Women load and carry with a smile and dignity.|
|This 17 year old shows how it is done.|
|The final heave to lift the basket|
|Huge effort to make the lift|
|Carrying the sand is not enough lets help the children across slippery stones|
Like most of what we witness gender is no bar to this heavy work, which is difficult enough for men, but clearly not impossible for women.
Words fail when attempting to describe the physical and mental strength needed to perform this job, ‘harek din’, every day. Try carrying a bucket of wet sand a few hundred meters, without putting it down for rest. That should confirm wet sand is very heavy and a basket full must be in excess of 60kgs. The method of carrying, using a head strap, is seen throughout Nepal. Having arms free to help balance or use a stick must be one advantage of the method, but putting the weight down seems not to be an option since getting going again requires such effort. The final torture is wearing flip flops!
A trailer load of sand which takes 2 people, two and a half days to collect, is worth about 2500 rupees. That’s £15.60p. Another cog in our understanding the ‘context’ drops into place.
|Eager to make a fool of myself I give carrying a bag of rice |
Nepali style a go. The boys struggle to hold back laughter and the dog
rolls its eyes. A basket of sand would be well beyond me!