March 2016 Bhaktapur Knitting Ladies - Second account of distributing a truck of food in the earthquake zone.
Mr Toran picked me up at 9 in the morning. He looked a bit worried. It was hard to organise giving away so much money and there were different approaches — we had been discussing it for 36 hours. We only really, on the bigger scale of events had a tiny drop of money — I cannot imagine how hard it actually must be for the government, who have billions of unspent donations that were sent in the aftermath of the earthquake last year— they would have to have one hell of a system in place — maybe that's why they are taking so long to help their hopeless people?
We decided that a large portion of the donated money should be spent on a truck of food. Giving out cash sums to some of his group was simply not fair, we should share a truck full of food and give to everyone — that way we can give to all his knitters who were suffering since the quake. I had already taken half of the money we had thus far raised and divided it equally between three families. Each of these families, from vastly different backgrounds and in very different situations have already received a good fat envelope of cash that should help them on their way. These families were all connected with another friend, and he had agreed to give them cash, so with Mr Toran and his 130 families I just went along with what he thought was best.
He took me on his bike back to his HQ, and we sat in his office and drank chai and calculated for at least an hour the best way to spend the money and on what.
He made a lot of phone calls. He had been making a lot of calls to the wool distributors and getting numbers of families confirmed. We decided that although we had only counted 95 families, that we would buy enough to distribute to 130 families.
Our final maths.
Rice 130 bails @ 1700
Dal 520 kilos @ 148
Oil 260 ltd @ 115
Salt 130 pks @ 18
This means each person could receive
1 bail of rice
4 kg of dal
2 litres of oil
1 packet of salt
The truck cost 7000 Rs for the day
Plus a few hundred rupees extra for the lads who helped to load up at the wholesale food place. They also ended up having to assist us to pour out and weigh the dal into 4kg bags...that was a lot of weighing and bagging and sorting out!
So, after a lot more calculations, checking, counting money, phone calls, wondering why the food wholesaler who is closed would not open, Mr Toran went off to arrange the truck. I checked over a sample of socks, a knitted tie, and a sample of a headband and took photos of the ladies in the thread cutting room and of the man downstairs on the knitting machine. I sewed up a hole in my trousers. Then we all had a cup of tea and a huge plate of dal bat, that Mr Toran shovelled into his mouth with his cupped fingers at a great speed and so much of it! And then his little kids ate huge amounts too! I was surprised!
After all that, we finally left and Pranisha, Mr Toran's youngest girl, was told she would be coming too. We walked straight into a road blockage, due to resurfacing —there was a huge pile of stones piled up in the way — no one cared. So, we walked out and got a taxi to the food wholesaler and met our hired truck there. The food wholesaler was exactly like you would expect, but instead of one big room it was set out in a house with rooms piled high with rice bails and narrow corridors between them.
Strong boys helped to load up and our little helper, Pranisha, who was going to be 10 just the very next day, stood up in the truck and did not get in the way.
She liked jumping on the rice sacks and wanted to be in the spotlight. She was a good girl. Her father came out carrying a huge sack, there were lots of sacks and boxes to get on board. He commanded her to get off the truck and out of the way, but her mother insisted she was safer up there than down on the road and wise enough not to get in the way. Mr Toran slumped the sack of rice onto the truck and carried on! Four or five stocky men worked hard lumping the food onto the truck.
Pranisha watched with sparkling eyes and sat up on a pile of rice bails, legs dangling.
Next, we had to go to another storeroom down the road. We climbed up into the truck, me, Pranisha and Bhawani, Mr Torans wife. The truck driver smiled in a way that only the Nepalese know how — their eyes disappear like the characters in the Mr Men series. He would be another Mr Happy — or perhaps another Mr Strong. They know real hardship these folks and smile in the face of it — Mr In The Moment.
The first time I met Bhawani was 9 years ago, I was sniffing around down a small alleyway in Katmandu and came across a tiny shop bulging with knitted hats and gloves. Amidst the bundles of colourful knits sat a group of women chatting and knitting. Outside the door two dogs barked constantly from the neighbour’s tin roof and Bhawani was shouting at them to stop, whilst her tiny baby nestled in her lap and her older toddler ran riot. I stepped in, removing my shoes and Bhawani welcomed me in, motioned for me to sit down amongst them. I was happy since I was about 6 months pregnant and feeling like a sit down! Bhawani's toddler was causing havoc, so she plonked her baby in my lap and swiftly grabbed her toddler by the arm and calmly dragged her outside, to the amusement of all the other ladies in the room.
She left the toddler to cry and shout with the neighbour's dogs and came back in, sat straight back down and picked up her knitting needles. It became clear that no one spoke much English, but no one cared. They were busy discussing how to make the new sample, they were preoccupied and pleased that someone else was looking after the baby, who was now soundly asleep in my lap.
I sat there and took it all in. I liked the way Bhawani, who was clearly in charge, was patiently helping the other ladies to understand the new sample they were making. It was with affection that she worked with the ladies around her. I had a good feeling.
After drinking the chai that arrived, I slowly started to ask the price of things. With my calculator and hardly any language she typed in the amounts and I realised she was giving me competitive prices.
Since then we have worked together, and her husband Mr Toran, who speaks good English. The baby has grown into the very capable nine-year-old girl, Pranisha.
We followed the food wholesaler to the next go down, full of lentils, and we found ourselves weighing and repackaging the bails of lentils into 4 kilo bags. This was quite a production line, with Pranisha puffing out all the plastic bags ready for the lentils and then helping her Dad to pack the bags back into the sacks ready for loading onto the truck. It was a big job and everyone there got stuck in. My job was to tie up the bags, I could hardly keep up the production line! We were quite literally spilling lentils all over the stairway of a housing block, but no one seemed to care, they just stepped over us and nodded with approval!
Finally, we were ready to depart to Bhaktapur and back in the truck with "Mr In The Moment" — we were on our merry way.
We spent the rest of the day distributing the food to four different locations. At each destination we were greeted by a wool distributor. Mr Toran gives large quantities of wool out to several women in Bhaktapur. They in turn weigh out smaller quantities as orders come in and distribute to the women in their neighbourhood who knit.
It was these wool distributors who had been on the phone earlier and they met us on various street corners, with their lists all sorted out and the ladies gathered with their families and took the food. As it was handled off the truck, they were ticked off the list. Who was up there handling all the food? Pranisha of course. There she was, counting 2 litres of cooking oil and one bag of salt for each family, so present it made me want to weep! Bhawani's younger brother Rohan, and their trusted worker Ashok, man handled the heavy rice sacks. They were really working hard.
The people gathered so calmly, they looked so happy and I took photos and smiled a lot. I was merely a bystander, shocked that there seemed to be little change in the area, shocked at the terrible living conditions so many were still enduring — the piles of rubble — the propped-up houses. One vantage point I climbed up to take a photo was deemed too dangerous a place to stand.
"No, don't stand there, it is too dangerous that building behind you can fall down".
It was lovely to see the old friendly faces in the crowd, Anita, Puri Soni. "Hello Mam, Namaste and Thank you Mam!" They smiled and laughed together. I was happy to see the young girl who had been heavily pregnant six months ago when I was last there. She smiled and said she had had a boy. Everyone was busy, collecting their food and humping it back down the alleyway towards their homes, through the rubble, their menfolk helping. Some said as they nodded with approval "We can eat for a month with this much food". It felt good but it felt so inadequate too. I vowed to come back and wondered how I would be able to work my schedule to get back and talk to them all again properly. I started plotting a 5am start for the day I was flying back to India very soon so would have to pack things in. It was worth it!
On the way home, Pranisha was very sleepy, but this time my shoulder was too bony so fall asleep on as we were squashed into the truck. She said she had such a happy day. What a hard-working sterling effort that whole family had gone to. I marvelled at their stamina and enthusiasm. They had made it all happen.
When I did return to Bhaktapur two days later, on the day of my flight, 25 knitting ladies all gathered again and told me that nothing much had changed for them. Each one of them, told pretty much the same story. Their home was destroyed or partly damaged, they had nowhere to live and were in the temporary shelters or living in massively compromised corners of their homes. None of them are holding out any hope of receiving aid from the government. After a big breakfast of our donated rice and dal, which we joked that I was back there to eat myself, we went off to look at some of the fallen houses, some of the temporary shelters. It was later really, as I have thought more about it this week,
So, there we have it, the logistics of distributing food to 130 families. I hope you approve of how I have spent the money thus far donated! Thanks to all those who have made this possible. Our knitting ladies in Bhaktapur are incredibly grateful and such lovely warm people.