National Geographic : 1993 Sep
turns hitting the ground with their staffs, rat tling things, or giggling at me punching and cursing the sheep, which rubbed themselves against my cot without cease. Each shepherd has slightly different calls, variations on a theme. There are morning calls to move out, a call to bring the sheep to water, and so on. Each man knows his own sheep and vice versa, and his particular flock will disentangle itself from the larger flock and move out behind him in the morning. As the sky lightens, we gather at the fires for tea. Nakki motions to ask if I've cleaned my teeth, handing me a stick of acacia for the job. Chew and spit, chew and spit for half an hour, to the rhythm of dough being slapped into shape. Every morning the same-piping hot millet roti, a type of flat bread, with a delicious soup of buttermilk, spices, and salt, cooked in ghee. At night, the same. Fresh goat milk, of course, and the inevitable tea, drunk as an aperitif, so strong and sweet it is like an injection of amphetamine. Phagu clips the goats and winds the hair into skeins to sell for ready cash in town. After breakfast he sends the shepherds off with their flocks and instructions. The camels are let go for feed ing under the charge of the camel wallah, or caretaker. Around midday we load up to go. I leave half my luggage behind, with a trustworthy villager, to retrieve later. As I take my place in the line of women, children, and camels setting off into nowhere, some ancient part of my spirit stirs in recognition and says, "This was what our species was built for." The procession moves along like a train on its tracks, halting only at its destination-a withered valley beside a dam reservoir in which water buffalo defecate and people wash themselves or their clothes or their bicycles. Our drinking supply. Day Six I tried to take a bucket bath yes terday, but the children followed to watch. Sacrificing cleanliness to modesty, I kept my pants on. Today I learn how to do it by watching Nakki. She sits outside the tarp, rubs her hair with ghee, then fills a basin with water and a little but termilk. She takes off her blouse but keeps her skirt on throughout. Then Jaivi pours the mixture through her mother's hair and over her back. Nakki washes the upper part of her body and her legs and feet, then squats over the basin to wash beneath her skirt. After her bath she combs out long gray curls that turn into ringlets in the sun. She must have been a beauty in her youth, what there had been of it. I thought she was in her mid-70s. She was 48, just six years older than I. Hatti, her ten-year-old daughter, plays with a green plastic doll that she has dressed in bits of rag. She drags it around in a leather clog with upturned toe -a chariot traveling across con tinents, worlds perhaps. Dried bits of camel droppings tied in scraps of plastic bag are the doll's precious gems. Hatti is the most loved (and the most spoiled) of children. She orders everyone about, hand raised in a fist, chin out, flounc ing her skirts imperiously. Her older sisters plait and decorate her hair, encouraging her already overdeveloped vanity. And at night, when the older boys come in, the first thing they ask for is Hatti, who leaps onto their Beauty is a briefpain in the neckfor a young woman whose new tattoos includecustomary symbols of prosperityand well-being. Rabariwomen display such decorationson their legs, arms, andfaces as well. They also wear much of theirfamily's wealth, passing down valuable jewelry from mother to daughter.Fora wedding, a guest has put on herfinest silver (above).