Saturday, March 5, 2011

Halfway Through!

It has been too long since I last posted a blog update and I think I’ve been busy but as I try to review what has been happening in order to write it up, I’m at something of a loss so maybe I’ve just been lay ;-)

On Tuesday I accompanied Christa and Stefan to Madurai as they were leaving Tiruchuli and we planned to take care of some business for the project as well.  We managed to be pretty productive but wasted a good deal of time with frustrations related to a driver with no English – and giving directions to so many locations created a good deal of aggravation and confusion.  At one point we actually lost the driver for about 45 minutes – though we kept communicating by phone.  We had people from the office and people from the hotel talking with him trying to get him back to us and it still took that long.  Hopefully my future trips will be scheduled with drivers that provide a more productive experience.  We visited an eye hospital so that Christa could arrange sun glasses – and it was interesting seeing how inexpensive prescription glasses are in India.  I have debated for a long time about trying to adjust to a pair of glasses (had problems with this after years of contacts) but the expense didn’t make sense.  Now I’m considering the possibility of picking up a pair here…  too many ways to spend my money saving money!  The hotel in Madurai was in a heavier tourist area than I had been to before so it was interesting seeing more foreigners around than I’m used to (though there were still not many).  The hotel seemed like a nice place and the price was good so perhaps I’ll stay there if I need any overnight stays in Madurai in the future.  We spent a considerable time with Ponchuli and Vichayan in the shop and it was productive as we came up with some firm commitments for the upcoming months.  We also detailed the method of payment which will help me plan better for the upcoming expenses.  Christa and Stefan also took advantage of the opportunity to shop for more souvenirs to take home.  They found quite a few very nice items they intend as gifts but then left the bag with them in the car and it came home with me to Tiruchuli. 

Fortunately another trip was arranged for Friday so that Elango (who is back from his month long workshop) would be able to come in and meet with the shopkeepers – something Christa really wanted to facilitate while she was around.  Ramsey and Usha came with us to town and we took care of some errands for their projects as well as meeting at the shop (and getting Christa’s bag back to her).  I had the chance to see the demonstration of a machine which may be purchased to pulverize charcoal for the briquette project – which was interesting to see some Indian business transaction processes, which seemed lengthy and unproductive to me but which established some more personal relationships among them I imagine.  It is nice to have Elango back as he seems enthusiastic about the project and how it fits into the ODAM Rural Crafts business being established for distributing the soap and briquettes.  Elango really seems to have a grasp of the future in this area and has productive ideas of how to get ODAM to establish solutions for upcoming issues.  I think he has the ideas but implementing them requires a great deal of effort here.  Though I am grateful for the opportunity to work on a meaningful project, I wonder if perhaps my efforts to empower local capacity should have been addressed to a wider audience to be more effective.  I hope the ODAM staff are as interested in devoting time in the future to these projects to see them through properly – but that is not something that Christa or I could really impact, though she worried about it a great deal.

The most amusing thing that happened this week was that we had a going away party for Christa and Stefan on Monday night, their last night here.  The volunteers met at the office with half a dozen of the male staff (females would not attend a function with alcohol) and there was a good amount of foolish dancing and singing  (I spared you photos or video of this particular entertainment) of individuals I haven’t had the opportunity to see letting their hair down like this.  Christa had her stuffed toy tiger, Puli Tarron, there and was acting like he had too much to drink as he tried to deal with leaving Tiruchuli.  As we walked back to our rooms later in the dark, she had him on her shoulder and at one point he fell on the street and we laughed about how inebriated he was.  However, the next morning he was missing and though everyone searched the streets (which had already been swept by the time he was missed), he could not be found.  Interestingly Christa found it amusing and a sign that he wanted to stay on in this community.  Others were far more upset by his disappearance, especially Jayama who had tears in her eyes when she learned he was misplaced (though admittedly she was already upset that Christa would be leaving as they had developed a nice relationship).  After we had run many errands in Madurai and were finished with the meeting at the shop, we headed toward a public toilet (I hesitate to spend too much of the blog detailing the intricacies of using public toilets in Madurai, suffice it to say it takes skill and an adventurous spirit – mixed with a healthy dose of desperation).  Stefan had not yet seen the Meenakshi temple up close so we were leaving the bags with him and Christa went digging in the bag for coins for the toilet fee and lo and behold found a small stowaway in her pack – Puli Tarron was safe and sound and would continue his journey with them.  Since he officially writes her blog (which is in German so I can’t fully appreciate it), she was intending to go in and explain he had left her and then have him write the next blog about how he was so drunk that he got into the wrong compartment of the pack but was still around.  I had the great job of going back to Tiruchuli and telling everyone he was safe and sound – with firm instructions from Christa that Jayama be told first.

I have to admit that I have been suffering with some real bouts of homesickness.  I think it confused me a great deal going around the final week of Christa’s stay as she said goodbye to everyone – and I mixed up the sadness of losing a business partner who had become a good friend with the goodbyes being extended to her and think somehow I was feeling ready to head out as well.  When I realized this was all going on somewhere in the back of my head, it hit me pretty hard that I’m not going home and it really made me miss being there.  I almost didn’t attend the Monday night party I mentioned earlier – felt a bit sad during dinner and when everyone headed off didn’t really feel in a party mood so went up to my wonderful balcony, sat down, cried my eyes out for ten minutes, and then realized how much I’d been feeling this bubbling up inside and getting it out was very helpful – so then I took off to join everyone for the party.  I can’t say this ended the melancholy mood, which still lingers even today as Kate and Ramsey will be leaving with their three friends who have spent the last week here (and have been very pleasant company) as they all head out for a ten day vacation in the Kerala area.  Kate and Ramsey will be back for about three weeks before they leave India until next December.  Kitu also mentioned she’s feeling some abandonment issues and I was somewhat relieved to know it’s not just me trying to integrate all of these partings.  I even fought with my husband, something I deeply regret but guess was inevitable – absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it plays havoc on the emotional front meantime.  In some ways this has made me take a serious look at my future goals as I consider my return to my “real” life.  Perhaps some of this is also taking place because I am now at the half-way point of my visit here.  I am just completing eight weeks here and have eight weeks remaining before I leave India.  I am amazed at how quickly I became used to the pace and rhythm here – and wonder just what I’ll accomplish in my remaining time.  Interestingly I had brought a small notebook from home with me that I just pulled out to use and found that the first twenty pages or so were notes from a workshop I took several years ago (five or six I think) and I enjoyed rereading some of my responses to the exercises.  One week we completed the following concept:  What would I do if it wasn’t too crazy?  And my first response was “travel the world – living extended periods in exotic places.”  So it took me a while but it appears I’m doing something I considered too crazy not that long ago.  I rather liked the perspective as I suffer this bout of homesickness.

One of the personal projects I’ve worked on this week was constructing a silk sleeping bag.  Christa had one she had purchased some time ago in Switzerland but which needed to be replaced so she had copied the concept and also made one for Kate and Ramsey about a month ago.  Basically it is a silk sleeping bag liner which can be used as a light cover to protect you from questionably clean sleeping surfaces.  After our visit to Rameshwaran, I could really appreciate the value of such a bag – hotel sheets washed in the local river aren’t very appealing.  Kate and Ramsey were very pleased at how convenient their bag was when traveling on the sleeper train so I decided to make one before my upcoming trip to Verkala.  Kitu had already expressed an interest in learning to sew so she had me purchase silk for her as well and she’s done most of the work on her sleeping bag and already finished the small bag to hold it.  The beauty of this project is that it folds up compactly and weighs very little in the backpack so is easy to take along, even if it isn’t needed everywhere.  I am excited that I have a convenient way to travel India now.  Unfortunately I wasn’t using my brain when purchasing the silk for this and went to Pothy’s and purchased yardage because that’s the way Christa had done it.  Afterwards Rusty pointed out it would have been far cheaper if I had purchased an inexpensive silk sari to make the bag – and the remnants would have been a good deal more interesting for later projects as well.  Disappointing but it showed the rut my mind was in thinking $25 wasn’t too much for such a bag when I probably could have made it for $8 or $9.  Oh well – another lesson in continually maintaining a more open and critical thinking process…

The only other things on my mind these days are the local animals.  On my way to the office alone for the party Monday night I had a dog viciously threaten me.  I have never had a dog lunge at me and I yelled back at him aggressively and he lunged again – scared the bejesus out of me.  This did not make me more afraid of the daytime dogs but reinforced a commitment not to walk alone after dark as the dogs seem to think they rule things more at night.  I also started hearing what I swore were the cries of a kitten the other day – but everyone else thought the sound was just a bird or the office cat.  I went looking over at the trash area next door to the back yard of the office where the sounds seemed to be coming from but then they stopped.  While I was in Madurai yesterday one of our short-term guests, Chandler (who has a big heart and has already bought chicken pieces for the office cat), followed the sound and saw two small kittens beneath a bush in that area – but it’s impossible to get there and probably they’re safer if we don’t disturb them.  I heard the cries today but didn’t see them in the same area so maybe the mother cat has moved them a little.  I’d feed her if I saw her but can’t imagine how I could leave anything out for her that the pigs or other roaming creatures in the area wouldn’t scarf up first.  I don’t imagine the office cat would greet other felines in his territory so it’s not very practical to try to tame them and encourage them to come here for future care.  Just a dilemma of being here such a short time – though even if I was here long term I couldn’t adopt every animal around.  I think this also made me miss my own cats even more (yes, again a symptom I’m homesick).

There’s not much more new to share.  I did a little consulting work on printing an image on boxes for the briquette project.  Ramsey had his friend Chandler cut out a couple of the logos as a stencil but I expressed the concern that the images were too large and ornate to effectively stencil.  They did use my suggestions to apply wax to better protect the cardboard stencil, and I came up with a pretty good method for them to try.  Unfortunately I was correct that the stencils were too complex but I ran a quick test for Ramsey with one of the silk screens I have here and he decided it would work better so at some point he’ll give me artwork and I’ll have one made at the silk screen store Christa identified in Madurai if I have something made.  I am now the confirmed printing queen of ODAM.  Ramsey has begun discussion about the creation of the ODAM Rural Crafts website which is being created so that we can incorporate the soft goods enterprise adequately.  I’ll be working on drafting something before his return so we can move ahead on that by the time the first order of elephants is produced with professional tags referencing the site (something I should be able to order before I leave for Verkala on Monday).

I may not post further on my blog until my return from Verkala on Thursday (10 March) – and you may be grateful as the little pity-party I’m likely to have as everyone leaves may be more than you can bear.  Hopefully I won’t dwell on this further on the blog but feel it would be inauthentic if I try to keep up an imaginary happy demeanor while dealing with the realities of being thousands of miles from my home, my friends, my family, and my life.  I think it’s only reasonable that I should miss them, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still grateful and excited to be here – it’s just a bit harder to keep that in mind as things become more commonplace and the novelty wears off.

Take care and enjoy being with those you love today!

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