Several days since I posted and many things have been going on. First, my cold is now gone but was very annoying while it lasted. As I typically do, I lost my voice about the time I started feeling better (which means sympathy at the wrong time) and his was particularly inconvenient as I had no voice on Thursday, which Christa and I decided would be the last day of the training. Perhaps this was good as we had a theory that the women sometimes paid better attention when only one of us was presenting information (not sure if this is true or simply appeared to be the case) so I remained an observer for the day. Initially we scheduled five days of training but realized that a good number of the women were there only for the free supplies and to visit with their friends and that they were taking a lot of our time and attention, which meant those who might seriously be considered for future work were not getting the training we intended. We decided to cut the last day of training and completely eliminate the lining portion of the cell phone bag since only those really working on the project would need such detailed instructions. Though Christa and I were very flexible throughout the training and really analyzed what was working and what wasn’t as we went along, we were surprised by how challenging training this group was. The best information we had though was watching Sathya in the training. With one on one instruction, she picked things up rapidly and adapted techniques to fit projects, showed innovation, and was always attentive. During the training, even she seemed distracted and she did not appear to learn new material well. She did, however, demonstrate to us a willingness to share the skills she already had and with further instruction on how to show someone a method without doing it for them, I believe she will be able to train others well. If the group training did not work well for someone we know is trainable, it was unfair of us to negatively judge the trainability of the group. The last day we decided to use as a final assessment so that we could realize analyze which women had the capacity to learn the skills necessary to produce products which could be marketed. Because we had focused so much on behavior and catching up those who needed extra attention the first three days, we felt there were some women we really hadn’t properly assessed. We had each woman create the head of the elephant since this was an excellent test of whether they could machine sew accurately and how well they picked up other skills like invisible sewing closures and stuffing the toy. Their homework from the class before was to demonstrate proficiency with hand sewing stitches we considered essential so between the head and this sample, we had an excellent measure of each woman’s skills. They were a bit sobered to learn that we were stopping at four days and they worked more diligently that morning than they had at any previous time. However, the afternoon went rather the same as earlier days with really peculiar attitudes being displayed by the end. Christa wanted to handle the afternoon and I stayed in the office working on the computer and only acted as a sounding board. She was so frustrated by the end of the day I’m not sure this was very kind to her but it was somewhat helpful to realize that the couple hours we could schedule in the afternoon really weren’t productive and we won’t pursue that in the future. With only one week left before Christa leaves, we decided how we wished to continue training while she is here and met with Jayaraj, Elavarasue and Seamay and came up with a workable plan to train the two best students from the workshop (Sathya being one) for three mornings next week and focus on the final skills. Then I will work with these two for my remaining months to assist them to learn to train the other women who are more likely to be producers of the products. Both Christa and I feel we met the goals needed for the project, even though we had to modify our initial plans quite a bit to take into account the actual skill level of the participants. My greatest pride was that Christa told me she considered us a great team – and I felt that was a tremendous compliment because there were times I was very concerned about working with someone with such a similar personality (which I recognize as challenging). I put aside my ego on this project more than I have ever done before and the results were gratifying, the experience was pleasant, and the results were successful. I feel I learned a LOT about teamwork on this project and hope that the participants could sense some of that as well.
Tuesday evening was Christa’s birthday and she had planned to purchase snacks and soft drinks to have people drop by the ODAM office in the evening to celebrate. The ODAM staff and volunteers were the main participants, which shows that others were not comfortable with coming to this type of party, but we had a great time and many of the friends Christa has made in the community demonstrated their appreciation for her time here during the entire day of her birthday, catching her on the streets or presenting her with special gifts throughout the day. I know the celebration was much more meaningful for her to have her boyfriend Stefan present, which was an unexpected pleasure. He had such an unpleasant journey to India initially but is now so happy and at home in Tiruchuli. This truly is a special place. Kitu arranged a baker to make a cake and it turned out very kitschy but tasted like every bakery cake I’ve ever had (once you peel off the nasty frosting) – which apparently made it the best cake anyone had ever had in India. Christa loved the Puli Tarron t-shirt everyone signed and also received a funny little vignette of a couple with deer in what appeared to be a field of rolling snowballs. She also got a lamp and clock combination item in the form of a ship which was amazingly kitschy but was from one of the ODAM drivers she has befriended – and was therefore very special to her. It was quite an expensive gift for someone on his salary and she was very grateful. Stefan and Christa had prepared a special dinner for the volunteers of spaghetti and shell pasta. It was very tasty and nice to have a little taste from home.
The big festival ended last night and we had several days of interesting events. There were interesting things happening on Wednesday night at a stage built for the event but I was too sick to participate. The other volunteers seemed to enjoy their time out. This was the day that two new temporary arrivals came in – Mark, who is a videographer capturing Ramsey and Kate’s projects, and Greer, a friend of Paul’s. Greer and Paul left this morning (Saturday) but Mark is around for another week or so. Mark was so excited to arrive in time for the festivities and has come in like I did – too excited to sleep much and running on enthusiasm. He seems very pleasant and has expressed to me how fortunate he feels to be here – which, of course, is a great thing in my book. Friday night (last night) was the BIG day and we visited the large festival in the evening, which was busier than usual but still pleasant. We had been told that the big events would be going on about 10:00 p.m. so had dinner and each went to their rooms to recharge cameras, batteries, or take in a quick nap. I met up with Christa and Stefan about 9:15 and we made our way through the incredibly crowded streets. The main street was wall to wall people – unbelievable for this tiny community. There were lots of small shops set up in front of the large ones mainly selling little plastic items for the kids, bangles (the necessary bracelets for every female), and really cool hand cut stamps which were made primarily to transfer on henna designs but there were several men there using them to then tattoo the designs into the arm. I’m really no judge of tattoo procedures (though I ought to be with my heavily tattooed youngest daughter) but the equipment seemed pretty small and it didn’t appear any ink was really put into area – just the stamp which looked like it was henna. However, those getting a tattoo were obviously in pain – some seemed surprised that it hurt and were pretty amusing to watch. It didn’t appear that there was any concern for changing out needles (YUCK!) so the whole process was rather nasty, but we spent a good amount of time looking at the stamps for possible future use. Most of the sidewalk venders had some and they were clustered under the temporary canopy so were very well lit and easy to shop. Christa found a peacock one in the afternoon that was very nice and then purchased a tiger (for Puli Tarron) which was initially offered for 300 rupies but which she ended up purchasing for 70. Normally there is no bargaining in Tiruchuli, the venders give us the same prices they do the locals and business as usual does not include haggling – but these venders were from out of town and selling to an out of town market so we had to shift gears a bit to do business. Though the vast majority of the crowd came in from other areas, primarily the rural communities around Tiruchuli, we met up with several local people we knew (or who knew us) and they all seemed so pleased to see us. Several of the young people participating in the training now going on at ODAM stopped me to introduce me to their families – which all seemed so honored and never appeared to speak English. They were so excited to prove I was a friend – though there isn’t a one of them that I could name. At times we met up with others from the volunteer group but for the most part we did our own thing. At one point we met up with the 81 year old man I mentioned in a post a week or two ago – and he had to guide us to the small temple to give us a blessing. He pushed his way through a small crowd into the interior area where he picked up some of the white blessing powder to apply to Stefan, Christa, and me. He placed the line across our forehead and then pinched a bit into each of our palms and told me (specifically) to eat some. Realize that this guy speaks absolutely NO English, though he talks to us quite a bit and tries hard to gesture – but I’m sure I shouldn’t eat this chalky stuff. No, he insists I must eat it and then indicates it will help my throat. The people around all act like this isn’t an abnormal thing so I take a pinch of the powder and put it on my tongue – like eating baby powder, blech! But it makes him so happy and we’re all pretty sure he said my throat would be well the next day – and it is better so guess chalk never hurt anyone ;-) It took us a while to do all the things this funny little man wanted us to – and he led us around for some time. He’s so happy and nice and there’s absolutely NO way to know what it is he’s trying to tell us and get us to do. There was something about moonu (three) and he kept telling us that it was very important but none of us could get any idea of what he meant (didn’t seem to be the three of us). Unfortunately during this entire time we didn’t run into any of the folks around with some English. Usually we don’t seem to be gawked at as much in Tiruchuli as the locals are quite used to foreigners coming through – but the visitors to the community were often quite taken with us and after a while it became difficult to take pictures because so many would beg you to photograph their children, families, etc. You try to be nice and fit into the festive atmosphere, but it is exhausting and some are not so gracious and it is easier to start saying no. I hated being so hard hearted but it just isn’t possible to make everyone happy and still participate in the festivities. One of the nice things was running into the other woman we will be training next week (Muthu Ganesh Vallimal) and her family and tell her that she has been selected for further training. We had tried to arrange one of the office staff with good English and Tamil to make the calls to her and Sathya on Friday so that payment could be properly conveyed but apparently that never happened. She was so pleased to hear she had been selected to continue and it was very nice to be able to deliver that news. I am posting a few photos from the event but have to admit they are pretty poor, as are the videos I shot. They just don’t capture the festival nature. Kate likened it to Mardi Gras without the alcohol or breasts… what could I possibly add to that?
I hate to minimize the religious aspects of the festival but don’t feel very qualified to describe most. There were many small processions in the street throughout the day Friday – many had drummers and some played the long wind instruments. Several included women (maybe men sometimes but I didn’t see any) who were carrying baskets with large flames in them. Considering how warm this was, that probably wasn’t very pleasant. We were told this was something the individuals promised the gods when praying for something – so they promised the gods they would perform this service if they got something, like they wanted a child, so once they conceived they would perform this act of supplication. There were also many people in trance in the streets, though I personally saw very little of this. The lights installed in the street between the temple and the main street seemed to be only for the processions between the temples – nothing else extraordinary was happening along this route as all activity was on the main street. We caught the end of the long parade of two silver bulls which were heavily decorated and pulled through the streets. Interestingly they attach fluorescent lights to these floats for visibility and then have a couple guys pushing along a generator behind which is wired to each of the floats. There is a large open area beside the smaller focus temple and it had a lot of families picnicking and napping (people were able to sleep anywhere during all this ruckus) and along the wall behind the street shops there was an area set up with over a dozen men (assuming barbers) lined up on the ground who would shave heads of anyone who wished. I didn’t see money change hands but it may have cost. We were told this could be a supplication for a prayer request granted or to show sincerity in a current request. There were a LOT of bald folks in the festival and many seemed to be getting their head shaved even as late as we were there. Some of these individuals place an intense yellow powder on their newly shaved head, and it is often done on the children. There was also a man going through a neighborhood who was being washed down at each house with a pail of water with turmeric added. Apparently he was acting for the gods and would then bless the households. We were told this, too, was a service promised to the gods for granting a prayer. The folks in trance were probably the most disconcerting – and there were quite a number around during the afternoon, though I personally did not see any during the night’s festivities.
There were two interesting Indian versions of a ferris wheel. Basically there were four small baskets welded to the turning frame and large numbers of people would sit in these baskets (sometimes five or six) and then the wheel was kept turning by a man pushing these by hand – WAY too much work. They were enjoyed a great deal by the crowd but really took a lot of work. I can’t imagine what they had to pay to ride these but they were worth it to the folks. There was also an inflatable slide set up for the children and it appeared to be a big hit, though seemed very out of place to me. This was definitely a family event and by the end of my time on the streets (about 11:00 p.m.), many children and even some adults were sleeping on the sides of the streets. It might have been fun to wander the streets in the early morning just to see everyone who crashed on the public streets, but I wasn’t up to that adventure.
Hopefully it will be a calm and relaxing weekend now – the power was out for quite a while this morning (I’m sure they’re in a deficit after last night) so wrote most of this blog hoping the computer battery would make it through. Now that power is back on I think I’ll stroll over to the office to see if I can upload the blog and some photos. Yesterday I spent some time cutting up one of the plastic banners (which are very useful and I hated to sacrifice one) in order to make three aprons for use at the biodiesel station. They need them to protect their clothes for both the briquette making and the soap making, which utilizes some chemicals that could hurt the women’s saris. These projects are moving in to a production phase very soon and they have hired the young woman who prepares tea in the office (and keeps very busy with small tasks to keep the place neat through the day). This is wonderful as she is a very nice woman with a sad past and working on this project will almost triple her daily wage. We had an older woman in our training who was so committed to being to trainings on time, who tried hard to do everything we asked, even with no real understanding of English and apparently no ability to write even in Tamil, and who really tried to master the skills. Unfortunately her sewing skills were not going to be adequate for producing items for the market and Christa and I agonized quite a while trying to find a suitable place for her on our project – but couldn’t. When we met with the ODAM guys about the results of our training, I made a special request that they do whatever is possible to find her a suitable job and recommended her as a hard and diligent worker. I’m sure Jayaraj will do what he can and we’re rather hoping the position in the office could become available for her. All we could do was try – but I have to tell you it was really difficult when she came up to me after the training to thank me – took my hands in both of hers, then kissed her hands and clasped my hands again. I almost cried knowing how much the training and potential job meant to her – and being unable to hire her broke my heart. I hope she gained something from the experience working with us – I know working with her was important to me.
Guess that’s enough for now. It’s been a busy week with the festival but I have to admit to being pretty boring trying to regain my health. I feel like I’m just rundown here – and am recognizing that the typical cure here of an antibiotic (which they inject anytime you see a doctor) may become necessary for me just to stay ahead of the myriad of small infections, colds, and health challenges I’m experiencing. I’m told this is India and what I should expect. Darn.