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An Abode of Saints

Posted in 2010 Summer Public Service Program, Sarah by kashmircorps on June 27, 2010

I woke up to the layering of adaans across the land. The many masajids shared dua’s over the loud speaker before and after the call to prayer. I jumped out of bed, anxious to partake in my first full day in Srinagar.  After fajr, I couldn’t go back to sleep, perhaps due to my warped sleep schedule. I ended up cleaning my room, rearranging my clothes and writing; it was a productive morning. The rest of the fellows woke up around 10AM. Thankfully, they had food because I haven’t had a chance to buy groceries due to the strikes. Most businesses have been shutdown in response to the recent murders of young boys protesting occupation.

The fellows in KashmirCorps are amazing and their work is vastly diverse. Aya is working on media workshops for students and filing several radio and print stories. Tabir is creating evaluation measures for Kashmir Education Initiative’s scholarship program. Belal is working with MercyCorps on their agribusiness project with local farmers. Farheen will be working with HELP foundation on a project focusing on women’s mental health. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Jasim just yet but look forward to it. I will be working with INTACH, a historic preservation non-profit on a project focusing on revitalizing a section of Jhelum River and it’s surrounding area, much of which has high historical value.

High up on the Pari Mahal, "Fairy's Abode," you experience breathtaking sights of Srinagar's Dal Lake

Hafsa, our program coordinator, came over to the hotel around 10:30 AM with the driver. We jumped into the SUV to go see Pari Mahal, or Fairies Abode, a terraced garden atop a hill, overlooking Dal Lake. It was built by Dara-Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the mid-seventeenth century. Our hotel sits in front of Dal Lake so our drive up to the gardens was breathtaking. We saw the lake to our left, sprinkled with shikaras (row boats), the cascading mountains in front of us and the city to the right of us. After going through a security checkpoint where we had to get out of the car and have our bags searched, we got to the gardens. The view from Pari Mahal left me speechless. In the distance you could see the city with Dal Lake connecting civilization with the never-ending green mountains. I kept taking pictures, hoping to capture the beauty but these images didn’t do the experience justice.

After our journey to the hills, Hafsa, Aya and I went to go meet with my team at INTACH. Mr. Beg, the director, was so kind and hospitable. Saima, an architect, gave me a brief overview of what she expects of me during my internship. INTACH would like to give the government a proposal on how to revitalize the riverfront along Jhelum River, with a focus on conservation. I will be doing a site visit tomorrow, as long as there is no strike. I was so inspired by Mr. Beg and Saima. There love of the land was apparent and for them, the art of design was a means to a greater end of helping Srinagar rise, both its people and environment.

After my INTACH meeting, we met up with the founder of the HELP foundation, the luminous, Nighat Auntie.  She gave us an overview of all of her work, creating a home for mentally disabled children, widows, and schools. Her team also talked about their work in villages, providing grants for job training and scholarship. Our fellow, Farheen, will be working with the HELP staff to come up with case studies of women affected by the conflict and how HELP provided assistance in their lives to get them back on their feet. I am looking forward to Farheen’s project. I may accompany her to one of her visits in the village to talk with the women.

Meeting the INTACH and HELP staff was truly inspiring. I am so excited to continue meeting the organizations KashmirCorps partners with and get plugged into their amazing work. There is so much love, soul and compassion behind the hearts of these individuals.

After our long day, I finally got a full meal! Chicken Makani. It was delish. It seemed like Srinagar was coming alive again at night. Aya, Tabir and I went shopping around our hotel. Kashmir is known for its paisley designs, woolen textiles, paper mache, shawl weaving embroidery, chain-stitching, crewel work, carpets and metal work. I am learning the art of bargaining. Luckily, I speak urdu so I have been able to have some creditability with the store merchants when I ask for a price reduction. Bargaining is really the only way things work around here. It is expected that the price is always negotiable on a given good. I brought down the price of a unique necklace from 350 rupees to 220 rupees. To me, this sounded good but who knows if I am actually getting charged a good price. I am still learning how much things should really cost and when someone is taking me for a ride. So far, so good.  =)

Sarah currently works at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, a think-tank doing research on water infrastructure, transportation and land use issues. She graduated in 2006 with a BS from the University of Southern California in public policy and in 2008 from UC Irvine with a masters in urban planning. While in Kashmir, she will be interning with INTACH, a historic preservation non-profit on a project focusing on the revitalization of the Jhelum riverfront.

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