Sustainability / SELF-RELIANCE
Halima has seven children and lives with her husband in a small village on the River Basha. Women here plant and weed, help with the harvest, clean and mill grain, pick and process fruit and nuts, as well as care for children and look after the household.
However, this is a society in transition. The need for cash to pay for a greater variety of goods from the outside world is changing life for Halima and others.
The pattern of frugal consumption, careful conservation and minimal waste – living with respect for the limits and integrity of local ecosystems – is under increasing threat. The effect on women has been the most obvious. They are being relegated to a hidden and private domain where their work is not diminished, but their power and voices are.
This society needs both men and women to survive. But as men are lured into the towns and cities, the high pastures are being neglected, or wastefully used and abandoned. This leaves women with more work but fewer resources because ancient taboos bar them from the pastures. Yet they are still expected to maintain the subsistence economy and the traditional way of life for their families.
Meanwhile, Halima and her daughters do the weeding, irrigating and the other tasks involved in farming and running the household. Many men are leaving for the plains to get cash, working as porters for expeditions or joining the army. Women are the main farmers, using techniques and technology that have not changed much over the centuries.
Halima and her mother-in-law work on the roof to clean, dry and store seed for next season’s planting. Red and green chilies are strung on thread and hung around windows to dry in the sun. Apricot and walnut trees, which supply the villagers with fruit and nuts as well as firewood and fodder for the animals, are carefully tended.
The cupboards are filled with dried apricots, mulberries, spinach and cabbage. In the storeroom bags made from the hides of mountain goats are filled with flour – barley, bean, wheat and buckwheat. Small loaves of unleavened bread are the mainstay of the village diet, along with Tibetan-style buttery salt tea.
This is the time for storytelling, songs and crafts. Halima also prepares the goat and dzo hair and sheep’s wool to weave. When the snow is deep and they can’t go outside Hamid and the other men weave. Sturdy charra to cover the floor, the colours of the earth; qar, a warm woollen blanket; soft bal-gosse for adults and children to wear as baggy trousers and loose-fitting tunics. Halima unravels old sweaters, winding the wool into balls on the outstretched arms of patient children and knits them into new ones for the family.
(c/o [email protected]) is a geographer
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