What struck me here was the mud. Not just the quantity of mud, but the effect that it has on their lives each day. They have placed planks of wood from roof to roof and walk these planks to cross the street. They know where the mud is deepest and avoid this. And it is everywhere. It is difficult to navigate the mud on the motorbike, so at a number of points I walk. The mud is so soft. It is like custard and my foot sinks straight in. The ladies excitedly point the best way for me to go, and I am eager to follow their instructions and get through this sticky, seemingly porous lake of black mud.
On returning to Nagwa, I am struck by how much the water has dried out in this open area at the mouth of the Assi river. There is no shade and no protection. Even though originally under many feet of water, much of the surface is now cracked and dry. However, almost every shack has been destroyed along this stretch of the river. The dampness under the surface, the piles of trash and wet building materials remain as further evidence of the flooding.
Before Saturday’s distribution at Samne Ghat, we have the opportunity to visit some local areas where the floodwater has receded. Walking down a lane towards the Ganges, we are met by abandoned vendor carts still mired in the mud. A dead dog lies at the front entrance to a house. The shop owners next door are sweeping and shoveling the mud from their tiny shop into the mud outside. People are returning to their lives. Further along, bamboo sticks and a few flapping pieces of cloth mark what remains of a shanty town. Many of the haphazard shacks built along the road are still empty, but the slum dwellers from here are gradually returning to what remains of their world, rebuilding their lives from this rubble.
The distribution at Samne Ghat is a flashback to the first few days of our team’s distribution. We round a building and face dirty muddy floodwaters filling the alleyway. Some buildings are now above the waterline and the residents encourage us through. As we approach a second gate, the food is moved into smaller sacks and taken by some local community members. A woman shows us the watermark on her house, at approximately 7ft. We pass houses where the water is still at door handle height. Another woman sits on her steps to the second floor, her wooden bed still immersed in the water on her ground floor. The water outside her house over my knees. We round 2 more corners with the water becoming dirtier, muddier and deeper the further we walk. Then we are told to stop. The community members continue onwards into the water, raising the bags onto their heads. The water continues to deepen as we watch them disappear round the corner with the water at chest height.
In retrospect, the first two weeks we are now calling Phase 1 of the Varanasi Flood Relief efforts. The experiences and memories have made a great impact on us. The people we meet continue to be an inspiration, their gratitude and light a beacon despite their many hardships.