Friday, January 14, 2011

Pongal Celebration

Probably ought to pull out a short blog posting today – there was no power this morning and I was afraid I’d run down the computer battery if I composed at my usual time and now I’m pretty busy so you shouldn’t be as inundated today as my previous posts ;-)

The big four day south Indian celebration, Pongal, started today and Tiruchuli is much busier than usual.  The children have a school holiday and many have come from smaller neighboring places to buy festival supplies like sugar cane and the rice powders to create kolam (finally know the correct spelling – pronounced like column).  I’m sure there are other specialties but those are the things most obvious on the streets – it was surprising to head to work this morning and note the large stands of sugar cane – about six feet high then topped off with the green leaves and bundled together.  I have no idea how folks buy them – I only saw one woman carrying several smaller pieces (like a dozen about 18-24” long) so am not sure if they cut them as you buy.  The shopkeepers are so busy with the business that there’s no way I would try to purchase anything today as I take so much time to communicate my needs and would be able to wait I’m sure.

Yesterday had several ups and downs with our project – great ideas flowing and growing and then casual meetings with a couple folks who brought a bit of reality to the vision and brought it down a couple notches.  It was somewhat disappointing but recognizing our limitations is much more sensible than taking on too much and accomplishing nothing.  I realized that I probably have unrealistic expectations since it’s been a long time since I had such a limited time to work on a big project and this one allows no extra time in the event it runs behind (which reportedly happens on all projects undertaken here and is better to be anticipated).  We also decided to shift the immediate focus to include Christa and I creating some sample projects to present to the shops in Madurai which Christa has already connected for feedback and to test for practical sales potential.  We’ll still focus on creating the training structure for the women we originally discussed, though we had originally anticipated they would create the products, even initially.  I think it’s a good change but suddenly there’s a big rush to create the prototypes.  Unfortunately the sewing machines available here in the office at ODAM are nonfunctional – all machines in town are treadle machines of the brand “Usha” which are much like the old Singer featherweights) but the tailors (at least a dozen and perhaps more like twenty) all use them successfully so hopefully these can be adequately repaired so we can use them.  Fortunately the project ideas we wish to provide the women involve a lot of handwork so we can begin with that portion.  Sure makes me miss my wonderful sewing room, supplies, and equipment, which make such tasks so much simpler – but this is more a reality check of what will be required from the potential participants.

With the celebration we have been invited for a special breakfast tomorrow (Saturday morning) and may head to the nearby ashram (at the edge of the village) after – if not, sometime later.  Last time the volunteers went there it was very peaceful and quiet and a woman working there gave them a very large bundle of peacock feathers from the resident birds – and they’re huge – so long that if I have any I’m not sure they could fit into a suitcase to return home (but of course I’ll find a way if I end up with any in the future!).  Then in the afternoon we have been invited to go a short ways out of town to a Ganesh temple for some celebration.   Another thing I would really like to see is the kolam competition – I’m sure the designs will be far more complex than we would use in our project but I’d love to see these intricate designs executed as I have no idea the time or effort required – they’re certainly beyond my capacity.  Should be a nice busy holiday.  I’m not certain if anything will come up for Sunday or Monday.  Doesn’t look like we volunteers will be going to Madurai for the bull fights as we’d considered – apparently there are concerns for our safety and it’s probably best not to worry others. 

This afternoon Christa plans to go with a driver to the nearby town (larger than Tiruchuli but smaller than Madurai) of Arrapukati (probably spelled completely wrong but simpler to just keep going with this) as there is a repairman there.  If there is room in the vehicle I will accompany them and have the opportunity to see another place.  If not, guess more handwork will get done ;-)

There’s a tree growing up between the buildings below my balcony and I learned yesterday that it is a papaya – something that has become very significant for my husband Rusty lately.  I also learned that there are parrots here, though they’re hard to see in the trees as their green camouflages them well.  Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to hear their conversations and see them flying around at some point.  I had expressed an interest in the mehndi  and was informed that a bush/tree right out back in the office is henna.  There was also discussion that perhaps someone would be crushing the leaves today to make the henna mix and that would be fascinating if I’m around.  Elango said he’d help me get some seeds when it’s time to take for Caleta to grow.  The plant looks pretty ordinary green and I would never have imagined crushing the leaves would provide that red dye.

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