the ultimate boss: ghani khan

Imagine for a moment, the simple life that the majority of our world’s population lives by. Thatched roofs, no running water, no real bathroom, and numerous people (children, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties), all living in a small shared space (with a few mice too!) This was how we lived this past week. Whilst this was quite a change to the city life I was used to, we were still incredibly spoilt. We were enveloped by the family’s warmth and kinship, enjoyed delicious home cooked meals with food grown from the farm, and were extremely well looked after.

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The family were so inclusive, that they took us along to an intimate pre-wedding ceremony of a relative!

Central to the curriculum resources we are building for Better World Education are short videos we call empathy challenges. Videos that showcase the lives of people, challenge stereotypes, highlight the interconnectedness between us, the challenges we face and how as people we can and do overcome them.  Our first video was based on an organic farmer residing in the village of Kirigavalu in rural Karnataka, and we were here to spend a few days with him and his family to understand and capture his story.

Ghani, hard at work

Our host was an incredible man, by the name Ghani Khan. A simple guy, who reminded us of Bruce Lee: tough, wise and great on screen. Every morning we’d wake up at 5, to the sounds of roosters crowing and chants emanating from the mosque just down the road, and soon after head out to the farm. On our first morning, Ghani gave us the full tour and it was quite something! We quickly learnt of his passion for biodiversity and conservation as he walked us through his fields where he grows over 750 varieties of rice! We tasted 1 or 2 mangoes out of the 100 odd varieties of mangoes he grows (who even knew so many varieties of rice or mango existed?!) We saw guava trees, star fruit, custard apple, tomatoes, bees, beans, insulin, pepper, vanilla, chickens, cows,  goats, paper trees to name few of the countless assortment of crops and livestock he has.
Whilst he receives some help from his family, Ghani works incredibly hard and more or less single handedly driving everything on his farm. What a boss.

One of Ghani’s goats posing for us

His coolness didn’t stop at that though. Whilst most villagers are moving from rural areas to the city, Ghani despite securing a degree, chose to come back to his home to farm. It’s not an easy choice or life to live though. In fact it’s pretty tough. There are numerous challenges farmers face: droughts, crop failure, middlemen demanding lower and lower prices, changing government policies. So much so that in his small district, over 30 odd farmers committed suicide, just in the last month. Ghani isn’t the kind of guy who sits around though, ever year  he co-organises the Mandhya Seed Festival, to strengthen farmer support networks, inspire farmers and show them the value and importance of farming.

Odi modelling Ghani's art - he painted three of these in time I attempted to paint one!
Odi modelling Ghani’s art – he painted three of these in time I attempted to paint one!

Living with Ghani’s family was an eye opening experience. He lives in a joint family consisting of 3 brothers, their wives, children, parents, aunties and uncles who are all under the same roof. Their family is very closely knit, and all marriages were more or less between first cousins. Everyone in the family, and the entire village, is of Islam faith and it was inspiring to see their commitment the children had to learning Arabic and connecting with their religion. They also all loved their meat. Our group, a bunch of foreigners who were vegetarian, and used to the comforts of city life couldn’t have been more different in many ways and at first we certainly felt like outsiders. Yet it was beautiful to see how human connection enables on to quickly surpasses these differences. We played ball and handgames with the children, laughed over attempts at speaking Hindi and Arabic, connected over art, Mehendi, stories, and began to forge beautiful connections with the family.

Two of our favourite kids that we bonded with!
Two of our favourite kids that we bonded with!

All in all it was a challenging and incredible experience that has left me with a deeper appreciation for farmers and the lives they lead. A deeper appreciation for the food on my plate and all the effort and energy needed to get it there. And a deeper appreciation for the beauty of human connection!

The mosque at sunset
The mosque at sunset
Rajani and I with Ghani himself



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