So far I am not sleeping very long – go to bed at a reasonable time and fall asleep pretty readily – but then wake up every hour and by 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. lay there wide awake. My first morning here I made all attempts to go back to sleep with no success. This morning (my second) I gave up after two hours and got up to do laundry, which was somewhat more complicated this first time because I had to create the lines and had my travel clothes so had more than would be typical. There were two places clotheslines had hung in my apartment but one broke as I looked at it and the other cord was so disgusting I couldn’t imagine hanging clean clothes on it. The cement walls (interior and exterior) make it impossible to hang nails or anything so using the bars on the windows and cutouts from my front deck are the only options. A ball of plastic covered clothesline appears to be one of the most useful items I brought with me. I don’t believe previous volunteers in the room were necessarily unclean, it just gets dirty really quickly and cleaning doesn’t seem to make as much difference as it should. Yesterday morning I swept before I showered and then put on my socks and then footies over them to wear inside (shoes outside only). By the time I was preparing to leave and took the footies off, my dark colored socks were covered in dust – through the footies and immediately after my best sweeping attempt. There’s one large switchplate in my room which has toggle switches for the two electric lights in the room and the one in the bathroom, the fan, two unknowns, and a toggle switch to the one electrical outlet that is also on this switch. It was so grimy that I hated to turn lights off or on but I didn’t bring anything like rags to clean with (they were packed but removed in one of my attempts to reduce what I was bringing to a reasonable amount). During my cleaning bout this morning I took a small cotton cosmetic square I’d brought and made a pretty reasonable difference before the 2-inch piece of cotton gave out. I know that some shop must offer something I can use for rags but I tried to ask at two yesterday and wasn’t able to explain well enough with their broken English and my nonexistent Tamil. Fortunately folks in the village are used to the crazy foreigners so they are pretty patient. Hopefully I can convince one of the other volunteers to accompany me on another shopping expedition today. Another possibility would be to ask the cook to write in Tamil what I want. Her English is pretty good and she has towels in the room that could be cut down if that’s all I can find so I can describe with those examples. Note for future travel – clothesline and rags are critical. My stock of safety pins have also been helpful – but then I use them all the time for stuff at home too so probably rely on them more than the average person. My dad fixes with coat hangers, my husband with duct tape, and my master tool is the safety pin.
In order to “shower” and do laundry, folks use large plastic tubs and then dip into the bathroom cistern with a large cup with a handle (rather like a large measuring cup). The tub I inherited with the room had a lot of hard water build up and the top was cracking so yesterday I purchased a new one during my visit to main street shops. I need a new cup as well but didn’t see them and had already frustrated the shopkeepers enough with my rag request. I also hit a store with Sophia, the German woman leaving tomorrow, to shop for bindhis which she was purchasing for small gifts and which I needed a supply of as I’m wearing them daily. This was apparently optional but the other female volunteers all wear them so it seemed the appropriate thing to do. Every once in a while I accidentally brush against it and think I have something on me but have managed to catch myself before removing it and am sure I’ll get used to having something glued between my eyes. This happens to be an area I have pretty deep frown lines so I’ve been trying to decide if I should center the bindhi between the frown lines or over my nose ;-)
I am still reviewing the existing ODAM projects to see where I might best fit in. Christa has been working with the sewing program and has an approach I’m not as enthusiastic as I’d like to be. The sewing machines are also REALLY difficult to use. They are ancient and the humidity and dust play havoc with them. However, they’re the same USHAs that the local tailors all use with no issues. I need to learn how to use a treadle machine but have always wanted to so that’s a cool challenge. I was rather hoping to find an existing local textile craft which could be built into a fair market opportunity but have not had any luck so far (I have, however, only just begun). In my opinion it would be more meaningful to introduce projects which could be of interest for export. I like Christa’s attempt to recycle waste items as there appears to be very little comprehension that he plastic waste they’re piling everywhere (there don’t appear to be any formal dumps) will NEVER disappear. They are addicted to plastic items and it is all so poorly made that it breaks quickly and is tossed out the door where I guess it will pile up forever. If I can incorporate the recycling concept into a project, I would love it, but I feel it is important for the final product to be something not only income generating but a meaningful connection between the women and girls creating it and the world. The most amazing artwork I’ve seen here are the kolams painted on the sidewalks and they take great pride in these beautiful graphics. Of course I immediately translate these designs to quilting and fiber art but I actually do believe it could be possible to create these designs in fabric (have a couple ideas) and they would better represent the lifestyle here and would tap into their present creativity. Pillows, wall hangings, or bags made with these designs certainly seem more interesting to sell somewhere like Whole Foods than the ever-present wallet made from juice containers which are produced in every developing country these days. I’d rather try to find a good niche for a more local product. I also need to investigate if the fabric sources that Christa has accumulated (mostly local tailors’ scraps) will work. I don’t believe they’ll work well for what I’m envisioning so I may start looking into donations of mill ends from Chennai. That presents problems too since storage of very much fabric would be difficult, particularly during the rainy season where mildew would be inevitable. (As an aside, I am SO grateful that my trip originally planned for early November had to wait until now so I could miss the entire rainy season as the stories are not pretty.) I think I can still find a way to work with Christa on the project by locating more fabric sources and beginning research on entering the fair market as a seller. That will also aid the soap industry ODAM is trying to work on once they get the formula right to begin production. So far their focus has apparently been more on product development so developing markets for all these potential items seems a good direction for me.
I apologize if I’m not covering any great details of my day – my posting yesterday was late in the day and I’m creating this one during my early morning excess time (laundry can only take so long) so I can post it online when I get to the office. I think I’ll try to maintain this morning writing schedule as we don’t have breakfast until 8:30 and I imagine this will always be good free time. We don’t have dinner until 7:30 so by the time we’ve finished visiting and take care of errands like shopping or arranging tailoring, there’s not that much evening left and I’m pooped (which might change once I start sleeping a full night). I should also mention that about 4:15 each morning the local mosque starts playing music over the loudspeakers, by 5:15-5:30 it is replaced by the call to morning prayer and then the music returns. It seems easier to just wake early rather than trying to sleep through that. I think I find the road sounds less irritating. It’s also cooler and very relaxing up in my “loft” in the morning and so far writing these postings has felt somewhat like journaling, a nice way to begin the day.
Today is my son’s birthday – or at least it will be tonight at some point when it becomes the 12th in Texas. Happy birthday Bradon! Guess this is the first of several occasions I’ll be missing.