Nicole Farkouh

Nicole Farkouh (Collective Campaign for Peace – COCAP): Nicole graduated from Smith College with a BA in Cultural Anthropology. She also has a Master of Education from the University of New Orleans. Nicole’s professional background is in education. She has worked as a teacher, administrator, and consultant, mainly with middle school students with special needs. She is also a certified community mediator and has studied a complementary model of mediation based on Non-Violent Communication. She has studied abroad in India, lived and taught in Mexico. At the time of her fellowship, she was studying for a Master of Public Policy degree at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. After her fellowship, Nicole wrote: "More than anything, this summer I received a new level of understanding /appreciation for the complexity involved in “development” and “human rights” work…. Particularly being a foreign body trying to work in a new culture."


20 Aug

As I’ve jostled along on various bus rides I’ve seen Nepali’s sleeping and tried to understand how it was possible. After a few days with Parmila’s and Arjun-dai’s families I think I figured it out – Nepalis are just exhausted! Though these families are relatively wealthy – defined by their status as land owners – they are subsistence farmers and thus condemned to a life of backbreaking work I had never before had the opportunity to comprehend.

It seems that all the work they do revolves around food. Not only do these families grow, harvest, store, prepare, eat, and clean up after, food for themselves, but also do the same twice a day for their animals! When you live in a place with no running water or electricity and all of your work is manually done this is no small task. The amount of time and energy spent gathering and preparing food for their 2 water buffalos, 2 ox, 1 cow, and many goats totally blew me away. They actually prepared hot meals cooked over an open fire pit for their animals 2 times a day.

women transplanting rice in Parimla's family's paddy

women transplanting rice in Parimla’s family’s paddy


In the few days I was in Harriya I helped to transplant rice, harvest corn (and the corn stalks), carry a doko (a basket that hangs off the head and down the back) filled with animal feed, along with all the traditional domestic chores, and become utterly exhausted after doing maybe 1/10 of the work done by the others. Not surprisingly, Parmila’s mom during the afternoons would occasionally nod off while sitting up and in the middle a conversation.Parmila’s mother making buttermilk from the buffalo milk brought to the kitchen by her husband early that morning

What I’ve come to understand about Nepal is that land equals wealth. However, the “land = wealth” equation doesn’t add up the way we might think. Land doesn’t provide an opportunity for real estate and development or for industrial-sized farms. Rather, in largely subsistence farmed Nepal, the “land” part of the equation ironically condemns the people to a life of backbreaking work.

As hard as they work, the families of Parmila and Arjun-dai are the lucky ones – and the wealthy ones. They own land and livestock, have a water pump on their property and do not have to carry it to their house in large jugs, and are able to afford to buy firewood, kerosene, and matches to provide a little light in the evening by which they can do their work. They keep the majority of what they produce and give some portion to others who labor on their land as payment. As exhausted as they are, I can’t even begin to imagine the lives of those without any of these luxuries.

It has been so easy for me to romanticize what I’ve been seeing all over Nepal and particularly in Harriya. Cows and buffalos peacefully munching on grass, gorgeous green rice paddies, inky-black star-filled skies unpolluted by light… but now when I see any of those images they come paired with another. A body repeatedly staggering from a field to a stable with load after load of vegetation balanced on her head so large you can only see legs sticking out below are covered in a skirt… a man dripping with sweat slogging through mud for hours as he urges a pair of oxen in concentric squares plowing a field… women hunched over all day in the hot sun for weeks at a time carefully placing each stalk of rice into the recently plowed mud…. A mother not able to appreciate the beauty of the stars because she is squatting over a fire pit in the pitch black stirring a pot of rice and corn mush to feed her family before collapsing onto a wooden palate covered in a straw mat to sleep for a few hours before starting all over again…

My trip to Harriya was wonderful. I met beautiful and generous people, ate delicious food made from local & seasonal ingredients, laughed a lot, and got to watch fireflies dance against a background of stars like I’ve never seen. But most importantly my time in Harriya allowed me to understand to a new extent what an incredible set of gifts we are provided by development and what it means when people say “Nepal is a really poor country.”

Posted By Nicole Farkouh

Posted Aug 20th, 2007

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