A day trip to Garam Chesma (Hot Springs). 1992.

“Not really in the mood to write about this now, but will attempt to capture some of this dream-like day.

6am. Getting up. Very cold now, in the valley, that early!

Pulled into a gaggling jeep full of black and neon colour dresses, cowrie head dresses, button-shiney eyes, excitement and flurry. Much laughing. Felt very special in such fine company!!

Crazy driver. Stopping and starting to pick up more and more excited Kalash ladies.

Spoke briefly to Ingineer (the school teacher) and he said that Margaret Lechat had summoned them all to Garam Chesma.

I suddenly got excited about meeting this woman and got a feeling it could be important in some way. Kalash women, from all the valleys, meeting with Margaret….perhaps some form of discussion, to do with health/education…something constructive. Kalash women on the move, en mass..and I was with them on this extraordinary adventure.

Yay!

The jeep thundered on through Iun and Chitral. ‘Tyre punch’ (puncture) repair and then onwards.

Very impressive pass through to Garam Chesma…..and what company!

Singing and dancing all the way, all in full tribal finery. On the back of a pick-up.

Quite a show for the solemn Muslims. Some loved it, others looked at us with such distaste it felt like they were throwing stones.

We arrived at quite a smart, tourist hotel. We were met there by a fat, jolly Pakistani gentleman who I grew to like very much. We walked around….and there was the hot pool….an actual swimming pool.

I think Shringiree was as surprised as I was. We had driven for 4-5 hours along hot, dusty roads so that 20 strong Kalash women could go for a swim!!!

a) they cannot swim (having grown up on a river and its pools) and the water was too deep to stand even…so the water had to be slowly emptied to waist height.

b) their interest in getting wet/swimming was not great.

One strident voice rose above the others. Margaret Lechat….the famous Miss.Maggie.

She may not be a Christian missionary (indeed I understand her to be strongly against religion full-stop), but she certainly came across rather like one!

“Very bossy” quote my Pakistani friend later.

Tea was served. The Kalash do not really seem to like biscuits.

It was explained that they were all going to wash in the pool.

To my silent amazement, no-one wanted to!

“Naye wazim.”

Still Maggie fussed…

“Then why did you come? Why did you come? Baya…ask them…why did you come?..”

Then Shringiree appeared back, having gone off browsing in the woods behind. She had found some kind of special resin that the women use on their hair.

Suddenly half the women disappeared into the forest!

Orders were given to empty the pool to waist height.

Eventually the remaining girls bathed and there was organised a great buffet in the hotel.

How odd to see these wonderful people in such surroundings. Somehow ‘our’ teacups, forks and knives made them look clumsy and stupid.

And I hated that…(and ate with my hands!)

Buffet….meet the princess (local dignitary), tea, then back to the jeep for 5 hours back to Krakal.

It was like a kind of dream and I felt I was completely with them. One of them. Adopted.

“Ma baba co…ma englaisie baba co…” (My sister why? My English? sister why?) sang the driver all the way home. Rather too much. Perhaps I should have spoken out, with Maggie. But she barely showed me passing respect, I felt me being there was an annoyance and this was her gift to her friends. So I had kept pretty quiet and just observed!

A day of comedy and laughing, based on the tragic foundation that the last thing they had wanted was a swim.

As for Miss. Maggie Lechat?

I found myself rather fond of her. I think her heart is in the right place, but like the Brownie’s ‘Brown Owl’, matron, she is not really in touch with what her ‘children’ want , or need.

She is a wonderful, pioneering charater, who has found a family, and is doing a lot of small things to help out, but from what I have just experienced her ‘funds’? are mis-distributed and she has become a bit of a joke….a brave joke none the less.

I feel the Kalash needs are not ‘outings to Garam Chesma’ but..

a) a good sex education (the rumour of AIDS here is a frightening and recent development..)

b) some kind of regular meeting of women (the protectors of the Kalash culture), open to men, including other interested/relevant parties, to discuss their grievances and needs as they feel necessary.

c) A place to do it in.

They are some of the most astute people (2014.???) I have ever encountered and I think that due to their climatic conditions (i.e. being almost completely shut off for 3 months of the year!) their traditional culture is in no danger.

Give them electricity and dependence is born. The weather and geography will ensure that that is not possible, so problems will arise as their old culture is forgotten, converted or’ traded in’….when it fails.

Give them appliances and when the power becomes unavailable they will feel vulnerable and lost.

And the most amazing thing……

they know this.

I, for one, would like to know what the Kalash people would like to see and to help them achieve their goals. Also to be able to allowed to explain the dangers of some aspects of ‘advance’ …the dangers of the plastic moulded shoes, pesticides etc.

I love these people I have met here and would like to see the best for them.”

 

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