Dinner and Dung at Dusk

Nightfall is my favorite part of the day during my stays in the town of Vishma. The temperature drops quickly (from a miserable 110° to a pleasant-by-comparison 87°) and I can relax on my cot on the roof of my host family’s home. As the sun sets around 7:30pm, hundreds of fruit bats the size of crows fly overhead to feast in mango trees. I am slurping my own mango while I wait for my host mother to finish cooking dinner over an outdoor stove fueled by cow dung and paper trash.

My bed on the roof of my host family's home.
My bed on the roof of my host family’s home.

Every other week, I spend a few days in rural Rajasthan, traveling around the region with my two project partners to conduct household interviews. This week, the purpose of these household interviews is to contribute to a qualitative impact evaluation of existing environmental projects and schemes (such as solar panel installation and erosion fencing) provided by environmental NGOs and the Indian government in Rajasthan.

My host family is one of few households in the town to have reliable electricity, and the lack of light pollution makes the moon and stars magnificently bright. My host mother’s five-year-old granddaughter, visiting for the weekend from Udaipur, is proud to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to me, a song she learned at her English preschool.


Dinner is simple—but delicious. We sit on the floor surrounding a big pot of sticky rice sprinkled with salt. My host mother makes roti, Indian bread, from scratch, and it is cooked in ghee, or Indian butter. The daal, made from lentils or spinach, is loaded with garlic and stains my fingers yellow because of the added turmeric. A type of watery buttermilk is served, and it is not as thick as the mango lassis I have in the city.

Dinner: dal, roti and rice
Dinner: daal, roti and rice

After dinner, I take a cold bucket bath in the basement shower that doubles as a pen for goats during the night. Because I am sleeping outside, I spray myself with mosquito repellent to prevent malaria and wrap my hair and ears in a sheer scarf to avoid fly bites.

Although I’m staying on the outskirts of a small farming community, the night is anything but peaceful. I wake up frequently during the night because of howling stray dogs, bleating cows, wedding festivities lasting well into the night and the howling wind. The sun rises at around 5:30am, but I am usually awake before that because of clashing pots and pans, farmers herding their livestock to the community well and crying babies on the neighboring roof.

For breakfast, we have parathas, which is a layered bread stuffed with potatoes and garlic. If there is leftover rice from the night before, we have a bowl of batata poha, a fluffy smashed rice mixed with vegetables and nuts, dyed yellow with turmeric powder and spiced with coriander. After our boiling, creamy and sugary chai, we leave around 7:15am to begin another day in the field.