It rained this morning! It wasn’t a huge amount but it was the first rain since I arrived over six weeks ago. I was hoping to get enough rain to wash out the sewage drains a bit but that didn’t happen. It did tamp down the dust a bit and it changed the air quality considerably. I really enjoyed the light rain just before breakfast. What a pleasant way to start the day! There were two young children on the street with umbrellas and I had to laugh – what were the odds they needed them enough to carry them around? Guess it worked for them. I’m adding this at 1:00 as it began raining again – this time in earnest. The women in the ODAM workshop were outside working with the beautician (something they’ve done for almost a week) and all had to come inside. The cooks preparing their lunch had to rush everything in (and the food smelled very good) so there was quite a flurry of activity for a while. Now everyone is settled down to lunch and it is time for the volunteers to head to the mess for Jayama’s lunch but we’re hoping the rain slows a bit to do this. Once again adding a bit – as it is now the next day. The rain continued into the early evening and created quite a muddy bog of the main street of town. It did end up cleaning out the sewage drains very well (good wishing on my part) and it was a pleasant way to clean up everything and add some variety to life. Unfortunately I wore my white pants (which I love with my bright yellow churida) and ended up with quite a few mud spots which haven’t come out even after soaking. I don’t think the folks of Tiruchuli will be particularly critical of the mud stains until they disappear ;-)
Things seem a bit in transition with the volunteers right now. Kate and Ramsey will leave for a workshop in Delhi on Thursday and Mark will accompany them to Madurai and head back to the States. They’ll be returning on Sunday with three guests – two men who are childhood friends of Ramey’s and the wife of one. They are trained as EMTs and will be doing some health workshops at the KGBV school – and the girls really need some attention to some issues so this will be good. My understanding is they’ll be around for a short time and then all will head off to vacation together for a couple weeks, which will leave Kitu and I alone, as we will be when Kate and Ramsey head back to the states in early April.
Since Christa will be leaving next week we are conducting the final training with her. We have selected two women for the continuing master training program so held a morning workshop yesterday and will hold two more (Wednesday and Friday). The first was just to do more thorough one-on-one assembly instructions for the toys and the next two will completely cover the cell phone bag construction and will review a document Christa prepared with instructions for a multitude of projects she wants to share as a future resource. Hopefully this will be ample training for these two to begin working with me to train additional producers. Once we get that first order, we’ll need to begin production and I think we’ll be ready. I really hope that will come while I’m still here to coordinate so there’s a pattern to the process when they’re on their own. The initial focus is definitely on the elephant production because that’s what we know we can sell in Madurai, though they believe the cell phone bags will be marketable when they figure out international sales. I’m still concerned that we have not yet replaced the elephant stuffing for something lighter, which is something that must be done to make these items more appealing. We are dealing with the slow Indian process on this one – Elavarasu has told us he has a connection to someone who could provide foam from car seats but we keep reminding him that we need some to see if this will work and it continues to be delayed. The other delay is making any progress on getting recycled silk sari and I’m not sure if it will ever really happen. I know that when there are deadlines things suddenly are accomplished and perhaps Christa’s departure will be an adequate deadline to get this moving. I’ll know next week.
I mentioned having some health issues last week and am now getting over them so don’t feel too whiney discussing it on the blog. Basically I have been having lots of small issues like infections (particularly two nasty mosquito bites on my ankle and calf of the left leg) and the cold and feel like I’m rundown. The cure for everything here is injections of antibiotics but this scares the heck out of me. I really don’t like shots and have had an allergic reaction to penicillin so feel I can’t trust anything strong. I finally relented on Saturday and visited a woman doctor just this side of Arrapukati that Kate recommended (she was gracious enough to come along the first visit so I could figure out the process). The doctor was far more interested in talking with a foreigner than handling the issues but she did seem to take each complaint relatively seriously. She prescribed three days worth of antibiotic pills and told me to come back Monday evening. The cost of the ointment for the bites, medicine for the bladder infection, antibiotics, and the treatment for the cold was 200 rupies, which included her fee (this equates to less than $4.50 USD). Then when I returned yesterday evening as requested, she was unavailable and her husband (the other physician in the practice) began the process all over again – though I would say he was even more keen on visiting with me as a foreigner rather than treating me as a patient. The funniest part to me was that he asked me to show him the prescription sheet I’d received on the first visit – they maintain no patient file. Of course that hadn’t occurred to me so he called in the pharmacist who remembered very well what had been prescribed so there were no problems. He again offered me an antibiotic injection and I told him I preferred to have it in pill form if possible but I guess he felt three days was enough as he didn’t offer me any more. I do feel much better and believe the ointment I am using on my leg infections is making a difference. The cold symptoms are also subsiding and I feel the medicine really assisted drainage. I am continually told how difficult it is to maintain health in India and that I am lucky to be doing so well. I am used to full capacity so it’s rather annoying to be rundown. One other thing I have changed is that I am now adding an antisceptic to my water cistern. I decided that bathing with potentially nasty water was probably creating a lot of work for my immune system on my skin and that any open wound (read any one of my million mosquito bites) was too susceptible to compromise from the water. Hopefully this will help. Showering with potentially nasty water isn’t comforting anyway so though the water now has a slightly medicinal smell, I think it is worth the effort. The funniest part of my last doctor’s visit was that he told me that I was being bit so much by the mosquitoes because they DON’T like my blood. He says they love Indian blood so they bite, drink to satisfaction, and move on. With me, they bite, spit it out (and he was rather humorous as he illustrated this), and try again and again. And here I thought they loved my foreign blood ;-)
Sunday evening Christa, Stefan, Mark, Kitu, and I took the bus to Arrapukati just for a change of scenery. We visited the vegetable market again, which thrilled Stefan who is a serious photographer (takes black and white shots and works with them basically as one of a kind art prints). He and Christa loved the light in this place so much we thought we’d never get out. Mark has already taken so many photos of India that he is realizing he needs to be more selective as it will take ages to go through and process those he has already taken and he was less enthusiastic about filming than he has been to date. We found a vender selling Jack fruit so I had it my second time – but didn’t get to watch him pull the fruits from the interesting rind. Though we have had some good fruit lately (the venders in for the festival were a pleasant change), the fruit in Arrapukati that evening was disappointing so we didn’t buy any. It was rather like hitting the supermarket produce section late on Sunday evening with everything picked over. We helped Mark and Stefan pick out a couple fabrics to have tailors in Tiruchuli sew up shirts. Mark has two grown sons who can wear the same size as he does so that’s one of the gifts he’s taking back to them. The coolest thing about these tailored shirts is that they sew an inside pocket into the shirt and then cover the stitching with the usual men’s shirt outer pocket. The fabrics available for shirts are really fascinating – sequins and gaudy embroidery and colors run rampant and strange blends are typical so it is rather fun to try to find something which gives a taste of India but might still be wearable in the states. It was a pleasant outing but the bus ride back challenged me – the bus was too full and I got stuck in the men’s section in the back so was surrounded and squashed into a seat back to the point of pain and bruising. It was much better once things cleared a bit but afraid it sapped a good deal of my already depleted energy. Probably the worst part was I ended up losing my sunglasses during the crush and am not sure what it will take to get a decent pair. I hate being a party pooper.
I’m now finishing this post on Wednesday afternoon and added a bit about the continued rain on Tuesday. The rain was only one of the unusual occurrences on Tuesday – we also managed to get the little holy man I’ve mentioned before to come to the mess and tell our fortunes from palm reading. I convinced Christa that we had to set this up before she left and we had a bit of trouble getting the man to come in the morning, which would have allowed Kate to participate, so had to do it at 3:00. We were able to get Usha, the young woman who works on the soap and the briquette projects, to come and translate and since she rather enjoys things like this, I think she liked having her palm read as well. I used the flip video camera to capture Christa’s reading and two passersby stopped to converse with “TaTa” (or small grandfather) for a while so caught some interesting conversational video as well. The camera battery was acting strange (sure hope it’s not going out) so didn’t film Stefan’s or Usha’s reading and Stefan filmed mine. It was great fun and was pleasant to have a way to understand and communicate effectively with him. Afterwards he posed for some photos and Christa and Stefan set up a couple photos and one of the shots I took as they did this is probably the best picture I’ve taken here so far. Please check out the Picasa site to see the latest – I’m really proud of some of these. After the reading was complete we all headed to the KGBV school and Hostel so that Christa could say goodbye to the girls and introduce Stefan. She had discussed her plan to visit with Jayaraj and he arranged to have special treatment – the teachers stayed after and the girls were all inside the classroom waiting for us to arrive. They were a very attentive audience and it was a pleasant visit. They sang us a group song and were much more interested in doing this than they had been during the minister’s visit at the opening. We then had the gift of two students singing solos for us – very pleasant entertainment and more subdued than the usual Bollywood dance routines the girls try to imitate for us. Christa took some nice photos I hope to post soon. It almost made me cry and I’m not even leaving. We went from the KGBV school to the Hostel where Christa had worked with the girls teaching a toy sewing class on Saturdays for a couple months. She had photos of each girl printed and then presented them with these and a photo of herself with Punil Tarron and an individualized message on the back. They were all very pleased but I think the teachers were a bit sad they didn’t receive anything. It is very difficult to figure out appropriate things like this and I’ll have to give this some thought before it’s time for me to head out. We caught a late bus from Narrikudi to get back just in time for dinner and it was a very special day.
This morning (Wednesday) we had the second day of training of the “chosen ones” – and it was such a pleasure to work with them. It was my time to teach the cell phone bag and I started by teaching how to put a standard lining into an ordinary bag (without a flap) so they had the basic background and understanding needed. Then they pieced the bag with all the strips I’ve been cutting and using for the past order. This was a bit more challenging for Sathya than other things seem to be but Muthu Ganesh Vallamal (who I finally found out can go by Vallamal as her “sweet” name) really picked it up quickly. They were scheduled to train until 1:30 but ended up returning after lunch and staying till about 4:00 to finish the piecing and probably would have lined the darned bags if I’d have been willing to teach it to them this evening. However, I feel this is an awfully precise procedure and didn’t really believe they had the energy left at the end of the day to manage this so convinced them we’ll tackle it on Friday morning. I was so pleased they were so enthusiastic – this is a big deal for them to take additional time since they both have small children. I really believe we have made good choices for the project.
Hope the post wasn’t too confusing coming back and forth in time through the writing but I need to get things done when I can – and internet and power issues always seem to interfere with prompt posting. I appreciate anyone who actually makes it through these diatribes!