November 19, 2014

Days in Dimapur

The highlight of this year was undoubtedly the week I spent working with an awesome team on a project in Dimapur, Nagaland and the two weeks of work that followed in Delhi.

In my research of architecture NGOs I came across one that definitely interested me. I decided that I would definitely plan to work with them sometime in my future. I found myself on their website many times while at work in Sri Lanka, but was never really sure how and when it would work out. One day, after much thought and prayer, I wrote to them asking to be part of a project, despite being a project for which I would have to cut short my stay in Sri Lanka by two weeks. 

It all worked out perfectly. In a few weeks, plans were all sorted and all tickets booked. I packed up, left Sri Lanka, reached home, unpacked, packed again and was off to Nagaland. I met the team in the departure lounge in Kolkata. Such a diverse group of people. We had traveled from a variety of countries- Canada, America, Germany, South Africa and Sri Lanka. We had different qualifications and different levels of experience, but were all there for one goal- to volunteer our time and abilities to design the Acts campus.

Nagaland was the furtherest East I have ever been. Despite being mostly a hilly state, our project site was in Dimapur which was a flat area at the foothills. I knew little about the Naga people and had mostly heard that they ate everything that moved- from dogs to frogs to beetles. I was a bit unsure how I would find vegetarian food. 

We were hosted by a lovely couple who took care of us for the week in their beautiful house. It was quite the opposite of the simple accommodation I expected. We were treated to multiple course meals (which included tasting the Raja mirchi- the world's hottest chilli!), a large air conditioned office for our work space and a swimming pool for afternoon chill time! 

We visited the site of the project early that week. 70 acres of agriculture land banking the Chathe River with the ranges of hills in the distant. We had to drive through the river to access the site. We planned out the site, dividing the land up into the various zones for the institute.

Working on this project was such an enriching experience. I have never been part of an architectural project that was Christ-centred. We shared personal testimonies and we spent a lot of time in worship and prayer for the project. We discussed design strategies over mealtimes and in the pool and spent late hours rendering site plans over mint green tea.

One of the mornings, we visited the village close to our site. It was really nice spending time with the local families. It was a small community and we joined them for a worship in the strangest, most interesting church building designs I have ever seen. A strangely proportioned aluminium and paper mache dove. Nagaland is a predominantly Christian state (90%) and it was nice to see the area dotted with churches.

In between our work days, we discussed the progress with the project founders. We sorted out the designs into phases and worked out massing options for the residential complexes. We incorporated some local architectural ideas into the building designs and overall tried to make them as economically and environmentally suitable. Our strengths and weakness were balanced out so well in the team and by the end of the week, the design reached quite a admirable stage.

On the last day before we flew to Delhi, we visited a market in Dimapur. We had been unable to spend much time touring Nagaland because of the purpose that we were there for. It was suggested that visiting the local market would be the perfect way to summarize Naga culture. 

The first thing that definitely caught my attention were the creepy crawlies! There were so many women selling worms and grubs and beetles in buckets and they were all alive. There was even a big sack full of frogs with all their legs tied up so that they wouldn't escape.

The whole marketplace was divided into zones- vegetables, dried food, meat (lots and lots of meat!), textiles, utensils and tools, etc. The colours and textures and smells were all quite a lot to take in. People weaving their way in and out of the stalls carrying home bags of greens and baskets of rice and dried fish and a pig or two for the week. Quite a fun way to bring the week to a close

It was quite an exciting week in Dimapur. I loved the people I met and the work I was able to be a part of. New food, new culture and lots of new experiences. 

Part 2 - Two weeks of work in Delhi.

(We came across many coffin stores. This one by far had the best name and slogan- 
" 'Coffin? 'Yes, coffin!' - Last help for you and me! " How much we laughed!)

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