Friday, January 21, 2011


The trip to Madurai yesterday was very successful.  We met with Ponchelli and her husband, Vichyan, who continued to show great support for the project.  They chose three of the prototypes we had created and asked for ten of each and then for prototypes of a couple more ideas presented to them.  Their feedback was very helpful – especially their desire to have items made with handwork as these will not be readily copied by everyone within the market and will therefore have more salability for them.  They offered a large bag of remnant material that we could collect on our next trip in with a car as her brother and sister-in-law are both tailors and she wants us to have good quality scraps with which to work.  Of more interest to me personally was the offer of Vichyan to arrange purchase of used sari remnants – apparently the full length of silk saris which have had their ornamental borders removed.  This would be about six meters of silk for 100 Rupies (~$2.25 USD).   I believe this is the type of waste which I have found “spun” into a yarn which is very colorful (I’ve found only at the Houston Quilt Show and on Ebay).  Both Christa and I lighted up with this – as we’re both greedy fabric collectors ;-)  We discussed that purchases of this sort could be made and we could split the pieces two or three ways (depending on who wanted it) with ODAM supplies since they need some larger pieces for items like linings but six meters is too large and this would increase the steady availability of a range of quality fabrics and colors.  She and I could purchase the other portions we wanted to increase the variety of the fabric we wish to bring home for future use.  I feel a bit greedy getting excited about such a find but this fabric works perfectly for the recycling aspect of our project and allows materials for a very good end product, making it more readily marketable.  When I told my husband, he immediately understood my interest and said I need to figure out how to bring home a second suitcase ;-)

Our last visit to the shopkeepers we stopped at the ultimate craft store for the area – an interesting place with some of the materials I wanted.  One of the paint products there that I was considering purchasing we were told needed to be mixed and they offered two day classes on it so I knew it wasn’t what I as looking for at the time.  However, as we walked to the bus stand we found the street vendor selling silk screens to make kolams and decided attempting to silk screen the Ganesh design onto fabric would be good.  We went back to the craft store to purchase the paint, and to introduce our local project coordinator to the store so she could make future purchases, and when we asked to see the paint this time, the shop owner pulled out much nicer silk screens since that’s what the paint is for (am I good or am I good?).  The screens themselves were nice but the wooden mountings were unprotected and wouldn’t last long without something like duct tape to protect them.  I’ve asked about duct tape but so far haven’t found that it’s available here.  Of course, the biggest impediment to locating a product like that is knowing the right way to ask for it so it very well could be found and I just haven’t called it the right thing yet.  The screens had some nice designs which could be usable in the future and they were reasonably priced (the most expensive was 180 Rupies or $4) but we aren’t sure yet how they’ll be used in the projects so will not purchase the screens until we are sure they’re needed.  I’d still prefer to find a source to make screens from our own artwork but Christa isn’t that enthusiastic about that and it’s probably just my desire to have projects more my own creations.  Now that I have the paint and appropriate binder I can see how silk screened images could be incorporated into something for the project.  Ponchulli was reasonably enthusiastic about the possibility so we’ll see what I can come up with.  It’s nice that some of my skills may come in handy.  When I asked last week about the silk screen Elango found it rather humorous that I was considering them as apparently Jayaraj at some point had looked into opening a print shop or something similar and this would have been a product he’d have made.  Maybe there is some connection here ;-)

After the market visit, we picked up one of the very cool kitchen knives that Rusty wanted.  The driver, a young man with better English than he lets on, helped me to choose a good one – they all looked pretty beat up (everything not plastic here does) but he found one he insisted was better wood.  Getting this thing home will be more of a challenge than any quantity of fabric but for 60 Rupies ($1.35) I guess I can make Rusty happy ;-)  I’m posting a photo to the photo site so you can see this marvelous creation.  The stand where we purchased this (outside the temple shops as it would be cheaper) had some other very cool kitchen utensils that I know would be of great conversational interest (like the lethal looking coconut extractor/grinder) but their weight and shape really make them impossible to transport home.  I felt like such a tourist… which in some ways I am, but I’d rather not be a “cultural voyeur” while working here.

We then stopped on Pothy’s, the giant clothing store (and one of the few air conditioned buildings in town which wasn’t as notable when we were there in the morning but which was a great relief when we arrived there ~5:00).   I wanted to purchase a sari which I could use for future events while here at ODAM and perhaps at some point on my return to the States so didn’t want a super fancy one for this use and elected not to go to the floor with the silk saris (better for my pocketbook and to keep me more appropriate).  One entire floor of the store is covered with racks of hanging saris in an incredibly diverse array of styles.  Their marketing strategy is a bit different than America – cheaper at the front with more expensive toward the back.  I think the usual U.S. strategy is to hide the bargains making you walk through the expensive items to convince you that’s what you really want/need.  At the back of the racks were the gaudily sequined variety and that wasn’t what I wanted so I actually had to point to the sari a customer happened to be wearing as an example of what I was looking for – at which point the salespeople direct me to one area along the wall (the entire outer circle of the floor is stocked to the ceiling with shelves of saris so you could wander the circumference of the room for hours unsuccessfully if you didn’t have such guidance).  I walked up to the counter which had a half dozen saris folded up in bags and immediately fell in love with the colors of one and was perfectly happy to have taken it and the price was incredibly reasonable (430 Rupies – just under $10) – a five minute selection.  The young man with us (driver again) insisted that I look at many more so the salesperson obliged.  Though there were other lovely color combinations, I still favored the one I first chose but there was a different fabric  in that color that was a bit more textured and interesting (and the driver said of a better quality) – same price so I made the switch.  Christa moved a couple feet down the counter and found a similar style but with a less ornate border which was very attractive and which she felt could be utilized in projects when she returns to Switzerland so she chose her second sari for 360 Rupies.  We did all of this in less than ten minutes – who would have guessed.  If time permits this evening we will go by the tailors to have her measure us for the blouse underneath – which will add another 50 Rupies to the expense – still under $11 total for my new outfit! 

Tomorrow (Sunday) is another celebration – the opening of the new portion of the KGBV girl’s school.  I’m not really certain if the building is actually completed (looked about the same when I was by last Thursday as it did when I first saw it Monday almost two weeks ago) but “The Minister” is going to attend the festivities so this is apparently a big deal.  Kate and Ramsey said that odds are good this will be a long drawn out event mostly spent waiting for the minister’s arrival and Kate just didn’t feel up to wearing her sari and Christa will be in Madurai conducting a training she’d arranged before the opening was announced so it’s not to be a sari event – good thing since I’d have to rush a blouse if that was the case (not likely).  I’ll wear one of the nice outfits Suganthi helped me purchase in Chennai and it will be fine I’m sure.  I’ll let you know how it goes after – though have to admit the lack of enthusiasm of the more knowledgeable volunteers makes me a bit nervous about this.

Last night after we returned from Madurai the volunteer group all got together with a few of the ODAM staff in and out to watch a movie.  When Kate, Ramsey, and Paul were in Madurai this past week for meetings they stopped at a street vendor and purchased a couple bootlegged movies.  The regular movies (DVD format in a case) are 20 rupies and more current movies are 30 rupies (all less than $1).  For example, the purchased the movie about establishing Facebook which is still showing in lower end American movie theaters.  They purchased two Tamil movies, too.  The training the other day utilized the organization’s projection equipment and since the computer, projector and screen were still set up in the training room, this seemed like the perfect time for a Friday evening movie night.  One of the staff bought beers – a short bottle of “super strong beer”.  I smelled one and knew it wasn’t something I needed (really not a beer drinker) but everyone else seemed to reasonably enjoy them.  We made it through almost two hours of Robo, which only I had seen before, and the DVD locked up (not permanently) and it was 11:00 p.m. after a long day so we opted to call it a night and head back to our rooms.  This morning Kate and Ramsey told us they’d finished the movie in their apartment.  It was a nice way to spend a quiet evening.  I am so very grateful that the other foreigners here are so open and friendly – what a huge relief it is to feel part of a community so far from home.

Guess that’s about all I have time to pull together for now.  I need to get to the office to post this, check emails, and see if the potential plans for the volunteers to take a bus to Arrapukkuti for the afternoon are any more firm.  Knowing tomorrow has the opening event,  I opted to take it easy this morning and work from my sunny and pleasant room rather than going to the somewhat dark, mosquito filled office.  Pulling together my upcoming TedX talk (now a week away) and still need to spend more time with it.  Next week ought to be busy hopefully beginning to train a couple of the women interested in working on the project as we begin production for the shops – but will decide more about that Monday as we meet to consider the best options.

Take care!


  1. Maybe we should be talking about a shipping trunk!

  2. How wonderful! Everything! I can't wait to catch up on your adventure! TEDX?

    OK, I went to post and I guess i was going to write a blog once upon a time! Oh well, I guess it is how it works for commenting!