The stuffing finally arrived this morning (Thursday). We apparently ran into issues that the product shipped out in large boxes which weighed relatively little so the shippers could put more boxes paying better onto the transportation so these boxes were set back a couple times. They finally made it to Madurai and Elango had them picked up last night. Both the colored and the white cotton waste are very soft, clean, and already well shredded so are very suitable for toy stuffing. I have had many nightmares about the possibility of waiting this long to receive poor quality materials which could not be used or which would require extensive preparation on our end – but my pessimism was fortunately ignored and what we have received will be very good for our use. That said, it should be noted that we had three additional unplanned days of work without stuffing available. This allowed the women time to each sew a complete pair of boy and girl dolls. Now that stuffing has arrived they can be completed and I will take them to the Madurai shop on Saturday for feedback and a hopeful order. The priority is still preparing the existing order for elephants but with only two days, I don’t think I can make an adequate delivery this week. I am feeling much better about our progress now.
I am sure that everyone is tired of hearing about the sewing project details but I am constantly impressed by the promise that Sathya and Muthu have demonstrated. When creating the first doll legs, Muthu did not curve the bottom for feet and had big square rather ugly feet. When I told her they did not look good, she fiddled with them a little and devised a very nice, relatively simple way to construct an attractive foot which looked much better than the original curved tube I had planned. Both women generally try hard to please. The first four dolls they created all had closed eye faces embroidered on so I asked them to create faces with open eyes this morning on two additional dolls. I intended to sew one of them up as an additional sample for the Madurai shop (which I would have to construct after the women leave at 5:00 in the evenings not to disturb production). Both sewed attractive enough faces, which was a relief, but one was placed way too high on the head to be useful and the other was too high and too small for the head size. They do not want to use patterns but show some inconsistency in repeating previous mastery, something I find confusing. I believe it is a good thing that each face have its own individual character so resist creating a process which provides consistency, like stenciling or silk screening a face on the fabric for them to embroider, but somehow we need to overcome this problem. Somehow they find it difficult to refer back to a successful design to create the next one. Interesting work I do here.
One very exciting part of my Verkala trip a few weeks ago could not be covered on the blog because it involved a special surprise for my husband. I can now share that I purchased a drum for him from one of the many venders circulating the sidewalk of town. I had been eyeing them the first day and I knew that Rusty would love one as he has long desired a drum. Getting a large drum home was the main concern but I decided it would be worth purchasing one and mailing it if I could get a good price. The next morning at breakfast the seller came by who had the most interesting large drum I had seen so we began bartering. I really wasn’t prepared to purchase it that morning and had only 2000 rupies on me. His small drums started at 2000 and the mid-sized ones (the most appropriate to send) were 4000 – but everything there was subject to a great deal of bartering. I told him I wanted the mid-sized drum but had only 2000 rupies on me. He was so clever, he told me he’d be glad to accept electronic devices… like I would trade my video camera for a drum! I told him I didn’t have anything more to trade but this limited my ability later to video him playing the drum, which I would have liked. He told me the usual story about how important the first sale of the morning is and how a good sale brings luck for the rest of the day’s sales. After continually disappointing him that I would not buy the chosen drum if he could not sell it for 2000 rupies, he finally decided he would sell it for that price, but only on the condition that neither Kitu nor I disclosed the final price. I’m not sure if that is because the price was too high or too low! We set the drum under the table and continued our meal and five minutes later a second drum seller came up, saw the drum beneath me and exclaimed that I had not purchased from him. The first thing he asked was how much I paid, which we dutifully kept to ourselves. He was a very nice young man and as Kitu had been having discussions in Hindi with many of the sellers about their jobs, lives, conditions, etc., he told her how he had not had a sale all week and with the season closing down was feeling quite disheartened. I felt terrible (probably what I was supposed to feel) but there wasn’t all that much I could do about it. Unfortunately as he was talking with us, a third drum seller came by, passed us and started discussions with a couple at the next table in the restaurant – so the drum seller missed a possible sale because he was talking with us. I was rather relieved that the couple did not end up purchasing but it was surprising how complicated it was to feel I was distributing my sales equitably. The entire walk back to the hotel carrying the drum everyone had to comment on it and all of the shopkeepers and venders asked how much I had paid. I will never understand the reasons behind this secrecy but it was rather amusing. When I left for the train station later that day, I had the drum in a bag to keep the questions to a minimum – and still one of the train passengers in our compartment asked the price. I think it was an excellent drum and it is made of wood from the jack fruit tree, which I find so fascinating. I mailed it from Tiruchuli on March 16 after working really hard to create a sturdy enough box for it with crummy cardboard and duct tape (I think the only roll in India , brought here by Ramsey) – something I didn’t do as well as I would have liked. It cost an additional 1000 rupies to mail it and when I asked at the post office how long it would take to arrive in America, they said one month. When Kitu exclaimed that was such a long time, the man shrugged and said, “OK, one week” as though that would make it happen… anything to get the foreigners to quit bugging them. Rusty received it just under two weeks later and I have to say it was one of the toughest secrets I have kept for a long time. I am told the cardboard box was coming apart anywhere the duct tape was not securing it, so I’m grateful the drum arrived safely. I think it had quite an adventure on its own and hope my return to Texas is less traumatic.
Speaking of my return, it is now one and a half weeks until I leave Tiruchuli. I am very anxious to get home and excited about beginning my new life there, whatever it will be, but am starting to feel nostalgic about leaving certain aspects of life here. So far the list I have compiled of things I know I will miss includes:
- Daily interactions with people – here I walk the short distance between my apartment and the office a couple times a day and say hello to little children, old women, shopkeepers, and everyone else from all walks of life. I avoid mean dogs, make note of the trash pickup days, am aware of festival activities, pass cows, goat herds, chickens and every other sort of livestock that can be kept in town, and the only livelihoods I avoid noting are when passing the butcher shops. At home I go from inside my house (in the country with no neighbors) to inside my car to inside my work… and interactions are therefore limited to the same people in the same circumstances. Perhaps my only exposure to a variety of strangers is going to WalMart – and that certainly does not create friendly exchanges. Here I never know who or what I will run into just in my short journeys back and forth through town.
- Holding automatic celebrity status – no matter where I go in the area, I stand out as a foreigner and a white person and somehow command a certain amount of notoriety or respect, and always generate crowd interest. It will be very strange to return to my anonymous lifestyle in America where I blend in and have to do something exception to be noticed.
- Having people concerned about my well being – ODAM provides a wonderful cook, Jayama, who ensures that I eat well (probably more than I would otherwise) and makes sure I have things I like or need. She buys fresh flowers for my hair every day. The office staff ensure that anything I need is arranged for me, usually as quickly as possible. I know that if I have a health issue, they are immediately concerned and involved in ensuring my best care. Even strangers on the street seem to take extra measures to ensure the crazy foreigner isn’t run over by the sometimes chaotic street traffic. At home it is usually only family and friends who take any note of what I might need or want. I will miss the extra attention and giving of so many friendly people in Tiruchuli.
- The sense that I make a difference – which is evident in my life every day here. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to improve my surroundings in meaningful ways. I believe that I work toward serving others in whatever capacity I can wherever I am but that the service I can perform here is more impactful than what I did in Texas. Perhaps this is just my perception and I can take this feeling of accomplishing things for others to my future work in America – I hope so.
- The fun I have trying to understand a culture that is always providing me with surprises – just when I think I fit in and know what I’m doing, Tiruchuli throws me a curve and I find out that I have no idea what is going on around me. It is even fun reading the newspaper in an attempt to better comprehend how things work here. Even understanding the upcoming national election provides a great deal of amusement for me.
- Reminders that there are important things in life and that they usually aren’t things. The people here often have so little but seem so happy. They also live at a different pace than the usual frenetic one I maintain. Though there are times it seems nothing gets done here, no one worries about it or gets upset because of delays; there is no road rage. Problems deal more with interpersonal relationships and providing necessities than frustrations with coworkers and planning meaningless purchases. There is a sense that there is more sharing and cooperation, though this is quite possibly just my view as an outsider to the community.
I have been the only international volunteer here for a week and admit it has been a little lonely but less problematic than I originally anticipated. Finding ways to amuse myself in the evenings has been an issue since my arrival. The light in my apartment is not sufficient to sew or read by at night so the computer is primary entertainment. I brought a few movies along but resisted watching them often, though other volunteers do this regularly. Somehow I feel like reading a lot of fiction or watching many American films is some sort of escapism – something I don’t really feel the need for while I’m already “escaping” to this life adventure I am on. Since these are the normal off-work activities for the other volunteers, I have needed to find different recreational activities and admit that I have relied a great deal on the meal conversations with the others. Without those discussions, which range from highly inspirational to completely foolish and fun-filled, I do feel a certain lack of interesting diversions. Somehow in moving items off of my primary computer to the small notebook and assortment of flash drives a couple weeks ago I decided to delete the few movies I had, thinking I had no more use for them. I am now rather regretting that and last night was reduced to watching a quilt art workshop video. Though I usually enjoy such workshops, and do not take the time to view the videos, it is a bit frustrating to have the creative juices jumpstarted and then no way to make something. Soon this will not be a problem as I will have to spend at least a couple days packing (at least I intend to drag it out just to keep myself busy). My upcoming trip to Madurai is also something exciting to look forward to and preparing the list of things I hope to do and to buy is a productive diversion. Basically I think I am just anxious to get home and get busy on my upcoming job search and related life changes. It appears a good possibility that Rusty and I will be moving from our home of thirteen years to relocate in the Houston area to better position him for the job he has taken during my absence. I feel this is a good opportunity for us and is perhaps a good way (the only way?) to really push us to address the items we have hoarded away so easily because we have had space. I think my initial time home will be spent starting to clear out the clutter of my life, something India has definitely helped me identify and wish to address. However, I still have some issues with the idea of getting rid of my all-important “stuff”. As you can probably tell by this paragraph, my head is all over the place right now and I apologize if following my train of thought is confusing – imagine what it is like on this end!
As I approach the end of my time here, I recognize I have truly been fortunate to end up working with ODAM and placed in such a friendly, helpful environment – not just Tiruchuli but India in general. There are so many places in the world where Americans are reviled and unsafe and it has been an amazing experience to be welcomed and appreciated here. I hope that everyone’s international experience can compare with mine. It has been truly inspirational to me and I am anxious to see how much I have been changed by it when I return to my “normal” life.