I awoke at five-thirty, the earliest I’ve risen this week, to find my family already up and starting their day’s work. There is an unspoken routine established in this quiet house in upper Likir. First we wash and change, then we drink ja khante–butter tea with salt–and snack on homemade khambir bread. Stomachs full, Amale and I feed and milk the cows, a task that I have yet to grasp and am determined to master. With the fresh milk we make more butter tea, which Ladakhis seem to have an inexhaustible supply of. At the insistence of my family’s shouts of, “don-le, don-le! Solja don-le!” I’m constantly trying to choke down another cup. I honestly don’t mind the tea, but fifteen cups of day for a lactose-intolerant American is not the greatest idea.
Abi-le then brings the cows up to pasture and returns with handfuls of greens for the sheep. For breakfast, Amale and I make phaba, which is a warm ball of doughy barley flour that sticks to your ribs and fuels you throughout the morning’s work. In my house, the field work is slightly neglected in favor of the construction of the house. The fields go un-weeded while the walls are constructed by young Indian men. While they work inside, Amale and I pick rocks off the mountainside, or sift dirt, which are mixed with water and slapped on the walls. The rooms are filled with giant dirt piles, and while my family sleeps on the roof each night, I stay in the only inhabitable room of the house–complete with a dead television, keyboards, and other electronic items.
While I never knew Likir before this week, the quiet village seems as though it has rapidly changed in recent years. The children travel two hours by bus to Leh for schooling Monday through Friday, the men work outside the home, and the women are left alone with all of the work.
The children return bright-eyed, having seen the wonders of modernized Leh, talking of opening businesses, becoming Western doctors, and living in the city. All the while I wonder, who will grow food for Ladakh?