Lately I’ve been losing track of time a bit so am not being as diligent with my blog posts as I might like. I apologize and hope the extra long posts make up for the delays.
My big news is that Veera has finished editing my TEDx talk (thank you so much Veera!) and it is now available for viewing on Youtube. I can honestly say I have not yet watched it – and the parts I saw while it downloaded slowly were disappointing to me but you must understand I was trying very hard to speak slowly and clearly and I aimed to keep the English understandable. This is certainly not like my usual speech pattern but it was more appropriate for the audience. I do really like the outfit that Suganthi helped me choose for this event and I have not yet had another occasion to wear it so at least you can see how fashionable I am! Check it out - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szWF3_yXM2k. ODAM had also posted a short address I gave along with the other volunteers as the month long course began for the Youth Leadership and Personality Development Programme at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDIcFNJaQ4A.
It was a great week. The last official day of training set up so far with Sathya and Muthu (her short or “sweet” name) was Friday morning (yesterday as I write this) and it went very well. They were very enthusiastic about learning to make a lined bag with a flap which we are making in limited numbers for the Madurai market. I consider the lining process a very persnickety and precise operation and was rather hesitant to show them and they did have some difficulties but I think they got the main idea. I have been doing it for so long that it isn’t easy for me to know which parts are hard for others so I learned a bit about teaching this process during the lesson so hopefully I’ll do it better in the future. Christa was also anxious to learn to make the cell phone bag as her sewing experience is stronger in making toys but not something like the bag. She was so sweet after thanking me for teaching her different sewing things during our work together. It has been a good working relationship as well as a nice friendship that I hope will continue in the future. Christa met with Jayaraj and Elavarasu as part of her winding down before leaving ODAM and they have some strong plans for the project in the future and see it set up as an enterprise quicker than I had anticipated. They are discussing renting a space for the women to sew from and to store the necessary items within a month – much quicker than I would have estimated. There is some pressure to get a firm order/contract from Ponchulli when we got to Madurai on Tuesday to move forward so keep your fingers crossed. It is looking likely that the business could become fully operational before I leave, which would be a wonderful opportunity for me to see that my work will really continue after my departure. Another thing we learned was that a portion of the profit from the soft goods enterprise will be set aside for mothers with children who have had to leave their abusive situations and find themselves as social outcasts. I am so pleased that this project will e able to do so much good – providing income and social assistance. I have also told Jayaraj and Elavarsu that I would like to help draft some web pages for them which better elaborate on the wonderful advocacy they do in this community, which I think they do not clarify enough. Hopefully this will help occupy my time once the women are rolling as the primary workforce.
Mark, who was here for a week working up a video of Ramsey and Kate’s organization, Design Innovations, left with Kate and Ramsey on Wednesday so it’s been just the four of us volunteers for a couple days. Kate and Ramsey will return with three others on Sunday evening so we’re not down to nothing yet – but it does affect our day to day activities when the group is smaller. Kitu, Christa, Stefan and I have decided to go to the cinema this evening for the movie – though we don’t even know what is playing. Hopefully it is a Tamil film as it was dreadfully boring watching an American film (the Fantastic Four) dubbed in Tamil. Hopefully this movie will not end as tragically as the last one. I swear if we had left five minutes early (which isn’t hard to picture after a three hour movie), we would have believed it was a romance – only the last five minutes became this fast-paced and violently sad ending. It is great fun sitting in the theater with the bats flying about and watching the lizards cross the screen during the movie. If only there was popcorn!
I have now played extensively with the two silkscreens we purchased in Madurai last time and can get beautiful prints with the textile medium available here in the larger screen of a dancing woman but the smaller elephant screen is not clear enough and the prints are hit and miss with no really outstanding ones. Several folks in the office have placed orders for tshirts with the dancing woman silkscreened on but to date I have made only two for Christa. It’s not a bad image, but the large rectangular size doesn’t work well into any of the projects I can anticipate for the business. Yesterday I played with the stamps that Christa bought during the festival from the henna and tattoo folks. She had picked up an ornate peacock stamp that is an ideal size for a focal image on a cell phone bag which might make these bags more distinct and less readily copied on the market. I played quite a while yesterday afternoon with the stamp and got consistently adequate images – some of the fabrics available in our waste material were very easy to use with the technique. I feel like I’ve set up a small printing operation at ODAM and think that the students for the month long class must think I’m crazy as they pass by many of my experimental projects. They don’t realize that I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas to change the products and spend hours planning how the concept could be made cheap and simple for the business enterprise. They’d really think I was crazy if they knew that. Christa and I will try to find a source in Madurai for some other stamps – which ought to be plentiful in the temple area though I haven’t noted them yet. I still want a small elephant image as Ponchulli insists that is what will sell best. The peacock image is also popular so I think it is a reasonable one to start with. I’m hoping today to make up a cell phone bag with the new concept to have ready for our visit on Tuesday. Perhaps this version will better suit Ponchulli’s concerns with the bag being copied so that we can find a better market for this product as well. I’m afraid this product will better market to an international audience, which we have not yet connected to. Unfortunately it is not a simple matter to set up something like Paypal here and shipping and mailing are difficult as well. I’m hoping the ODAM Rural Crafts soap product breaks the ground here so that the soft goods can be marketed easily afterwards and believe that this will be a much better opportunity once established. I know that I would be much more eager to purchase a product that I knew was assisting marginalized women in India.
Last night Kitu made firm reservations for us to take a train to the community of Varkala in the state of Kerala. The info on Wikipedia is about as much as I know about this place so far. We plan to take a night train from Virudhangar a week from Monday (the 7th?) and then spending one night in a hotel and heading back on a night train Wednesday night to arrive back on Thursday morning. It will be the first work days I have missed, though there’s no firm schedule here but I am sure I can schedule anything with the project around this time. I’m looking forward to another trip – Salem and Rameshwaran were both fascinating places and my understanding is the area we are heading is green and lush and beautiful – so how can we go wrong? I’m looking forward to a busy day in Madurai this coming Tuesday (March 1) as I’m taking a car in to run several errands for the project with Christa and then dropping her and Stefan off as they plan to stay there a couple days before departing for their two month jaunt around India. Hopefully we can make the connections with the gentleman about foam for a lighter weight replacement for the elephant stuffing and take care of some other business as well. I originally purchased only black colorant for these experiments and am considering buying the metallic gold (which requires a separate binder) as well to add a bit of bling to the bags. We’ll see how I feel about that after creating this first bag where I am looking at putting some of the glitter glue or colorful embroidery on the stamp to give the item some special touch. One item I am seriously considering is purchasing silk yardage to make a “sleeping bag” of silk. Christa has one that she uses in her travels and it is basically like a sleeping bag liner so you can sleep in your own clean environment anywhere and have a comfortable covering which breathes as only silk can. The beds in the hotel we stayed at in Ramesharam were not particularly inviting and she was able to feel clean in her bag while there. The bag would be really useful on the train as well. Ramsey and Kate had Christa purchase silk and make a bag for them when she decided to remake a second for herself (or Stefan) and they found it useful. I am not certain how much use I would get out of this later – a lot if I travel outside the U.S. but I don’t think it would be useful in my usual life. Kitu wants to learn how to use a treadle machine (I think we’re talking about basic sewing lessons here) so wants me to buy the silk for her on this trip to Madurai so she can make a bag. Her enthusiasm is making me seriously consider going ahead and investing the $22 USD to purchase the silk. I guess if I bought a color I liked and never used the bag, I could then remake it into something else later…
Thursday evening I went to the KGBV school for the first actual lesson in two weeks since I’d missed one week when I had my cold and Tuesday’s visit was occupied by the occasion of saying goodbye to Christa and Stefan. I had managed to pull more photos from the internet – this time focusing on the people of China – and even had some short dance clips from ethnic minority dances around China. The girls loved them but seemed to get hung up on seeing more – there was no meaningful discussion of the similarities and differences in the other cultures as there had been with the last couple. I think the videos were too engrossing and will probably not spend time looking for and copying such videos in the future though they seemed like a good idea at the time. It is very difficult to find good websites with photos of the people of an area and it has occupied more of my time than I feel was productive so I think the cultural lessons need to be modified a bit not to incorporate so many of the external sources. The girls always want me to show photos of America – and I have issues with this. In one way I am not certain how I could create a photo essay of “America” since there are so many various views and I would want it to deal more with culture than landscape or architecture. In another way I don’t want to feed this obsession with America as a rich country where people have everything. It is somehow important to me to convey to the people I meet here that many people have more physical possessions in American than India, but that they also have more responsibilities and take less time to enjoy those belongings. I think that the quality of life here often surpasses that in America as the people can enjoy their families and appreciate what they have. Another facet of Indian life that I think provides them with more inner peace is that they live in the moment – not worrying so much about yesterday or tomorrow. I also found this trait very frustrating when working with the trainings so cannot say this is an ideal mindset but I would like to try to find a happy middle ground – at least for myself. If I could change anything about the Indian culture it would be to allow more individual freedom within the marriage system so that women with abusive spouses or dowry problems could have safe and viable options to improve their lives and that does not exist now. If women and children could be provided a more secure future and not face ostracism from their families and societies, I would say that these people have the best of all worlds. This isn’t something I can broach with the KGBV girls in a productive way and I find that difficult. The advocacy and assistance that ODAM provides for women and families in difficult circumstances is admirable but touches only a small percentage of the problems and I wish I had the training, experience, or just-plain-guts to do more in this area. At the same time, their strong family ties, which unfortunately makes breaking free from bad situations impossible, is one of the enviable things about these people in every other way. The old cook now comes up as soon as I pull out the computer and unabashedly participates in the viewing. I don’t imagine she understands anything I say but I think the girls comment enough in Tamil and English that she can readily ask what the image if needed. She has asked the last couple of visits for me to show family photos, and the girls also ask each time so I ended showing about five of the photos I have on the computer. I swear they would all look at my family photos more than I do!
Well, enough pontificating – I will not solve the world’s problems, India’s problems, or likely even my own problems today so will go on about my business and hope you will enjoy doing the same. Thank you for taking the time to read today’s post and take care.