August 10, 2008

It seems that the past week has been rather busy. Last weekend I went to Agra with six other people who are staying in the guest house. We took an overnight train, which was a pretty good experience since the car was air-conditioned. Once we arrived we had breakfast in a nice hotel and were greeted by a tour guide. Our group started by going to the Taj Mahal, which I found to be absolutely amazing. Of course I've seen it in so many pictures, but to see it up close is a truly breathtaking experience. The symmetry and elegant artwork is unbelievable. Next we went to a marble shop and had the opportunity to see how the designs are carved into the marble. They showed us beautiful marble tables and statues (which were all very pricey). We also got a tour of Agra fort and went to a famous Sufi shrine. That same night we all took the overnight train back to Lucknow.

On Tuesday I went to a village with a group of Italian tourists. The tourists were on a program where they get a tour of "real India" in which they stay in lower cost accommodations and go out into villages in different parts of the country to see how people are living. Part of the tour is arranged through SEWA, which is how I was able to come along. SEWA runs a school in a village for girls from the surrounding areas. The children are taken to from their families and live at the school because they would otherwise receive no education. Most of the parents are illiterate and, according to our guide, do not understand the value of education for girls. We sat in the class room with the children and observed some of their maths lesson. It was good to see that the girls are learning these skills, but at the same time it must be very difficult for them to be separated from the families. We then went into one of the villages and saw rice fields, straw homes and several cows, and had a chance to talk to some of the people who were living there. The Italians taught the children a couple of traditional Italian songs, which was nice to see. We then came back to SEWA, shared a wonderful lunch and went on a tour of each step of the chikan making process.

Last night I went to a Dastarkhawn, or an evening of Lucknowi cuisine and culture. It was held at Iqbal Manzil Palace, where a prince lives. When we came there was a small mina bazaar with jewelry and perfume then we sat on the floor of one of the palace bedrooms and listened to a Qawwali performance. The meal was held on a long, low table so that everyone was sitting on the ground while eating. The food was very good, although I don't think it was quite worth the 1300 rupees it cost for the evening.

Posted by gcline at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

Agra and a Village-Ginger

It seems that the past week has been rather busy. Last weekend I went to Agra with six other people who are staying in the guest house. We took an overnight train, which was a pretty good experience since the car was air-conditioned. Once we arrived we had breakfast in a nice hotel and were greeted by a tour guide. Our group started by going to the Taj Mahal, which I found to be absolutely amazing. Of course I've seen it in so many pictures, but to see it up close is a truly breathtaking experience. The symmetry and elegant artwork is unbelievable. Next we went to a marble shop and had the opportunity to see how the designs are carved into the marble. They showed us beautiful marble tables and statues (which were all very pricey). We also got a tour of Agra fort and went to a famous Sufi shrine. That same night we all took the overnight train back to Lucknow.

On Tuesday I went to a village with a group of Italian tourists. The tourists were on a program where they get a tour of "real India" in which they stay in lower cost accommodations and go out into villages in different parts of the country to see how people are living. Part of the tour is arranged through SEWA, which is how I was able to come along. SEWA runs a school in a village for girls from the surrounding areas. The children are taken to from their families and live at the school because they would otherwise receive no education. Most of the parents are illiterate and, according to our guide, do not understand the value of education for girls. We sat in the class room with the children and observed some of their maths lesson. It was good to see that the girls are learning these skills, but at the same time it must be very difficult for them to be separated from the families. We then went into one of the villages and saw rice fields, straw homes and several cows, and had a chance to talk to some of the people who were living there. The Italians taught the children a couple of traditional Italian songs, which was nice to see. We then came back to SEWA, shared a wonderful lunch and went on a tour of each step of the chikan making process.

Last night I went to a Dastarkhawn, or an evening of Lucknowi cuisine and culture. It was held at Iqbal Manzil Palace, where a prince lives. When we came there was a small mina bazaar with jewelry and perfume then we sat on the floor of one of the palace bedrooms and listened to a Qawwali performance. The meal was held on a long, low table so that everyone was sitting on the ground while eating. The food was very good, although I don't think it was quite worth the 1300 rupees it cost for the evening.

Posted by gcline at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2008

Book-makers, Brides-to-be , and Beggars-Ginger

The book project at the school is progressing quite nicely. Most of the students have glued the cloth covers onto the cardboard pieces, bound the two sides together with binding tape, and sewn the pages into the books. I bought some other decorations to go on the covers once the stories have been copied into the books.

There are three classes that we are working with, so varying levels of English proficiency are represented. Some of the stories have developed beautifully, while others still need significant help. Beth, Tiffani and I are now beginning to go through each student's work to correct grammar and spelling. The biggest problem is that because there are so many kids, it is hard to find the time to work individually with each one. In fact, it can get very chaotic in the class room, especially when there are two classes being taught right next to one another, as was the case on Friday. I was working with the over 30 students that make up classes 6, 7, and 8, and another teacher was teaching younger kids in the same room. All of the kids were constantly asking me to check their work, producing a chorus of "Ma'am! Ma'am! Ma'amji!" Everyone was trying to get my attention at once, either to ask how to spell a word, to request scissors, or to show me their progress so far.

Another problem is that a lot of kids have been showing up who had not come to school in the past, so I have had to keep creating and buying new folders and catching the new students up to speed. We now have nearly 40 folders, one for each kid. It is important to save all drafts and drawing to keep a record of progress and the writing process.

. . .

The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop reading my "Teach Yourself Hindi" book when I heard someone saying, "excuse me, excuse me." When I finally realized that the voice was seeking my own attention, I turned around and saw a group of two men and one woman, all in their mid-twenties. One of the men asked me, "what do you think is better, love marriage or arranged marriage?" I didn't quite know what to say so I replied, "Well I don't really know much about that." The man continued to ask, "Do you think it's better to have a big arranged family wedding, or to run away and get married?" Again, I didn't know how to respond so I asked him to give me more details about the situation. It turned out that he was engaged to the woman in the group and they were having a disagreement about how they should proceed with the wedding. The woman wanted a traditional Hindu wedding with all family strings attached, while the man wanted to go away and have a more simple "love marriage." They asked me to join their table, so I did and we had an interesting conversation about Indian culture. They then asked me to go to lunch with them, so I did, and we continued the discussion over matar paneer and naan. They were all very nice and we exchanged phone numbers and are planning to get together again before I return to the states.

We had a lot of food left over after the meal and they gave it to me and insisted I bring it to my friends. I carried the bag with me down the street in search of a cycle rickshaw when I saw one of the usual beggars, an elderly toothless man, sitting barefoot in the street with an empty bowl, asking for "khana" or food. I usually don't give money to beggars because of the rumors of scams and mafia connections. Additionally, the sheer number of them can be over whelming. I walked past the man at first, then realized that I had a bag of good food in my hand, so I turned around and gave it to him. I felt incredibly heartened by his reaction. The look on his face was one of shock, joy, and gratefulness all at once. He thanked me and gave a gesture of respect, shaving away some of my fears that all beggars seek money for illicit means. I assure you that look he gave me made my whole week, and I plan to start saving any leftover food to give to people on the street, as there is always an abundance of those in need.

Posted by gcline at 05:22 AM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2008

The Costs of Care-Ginger

Last week I did five more interviews at SEWA, so I now have a total of 15 done. Most of the women have been saying the same things about the difficulties of obtaining health care. Many of them put their children's health before their own, as they cannot afford look after both. They need eyeglasses and basic medicines, but often cannot even think about getting such things when they have to worry about food and rent.

I interviewed one woman, Rabia who had a truly tragic story. She told me that she was married 16 years ago to man who married her only because he was after her father's truck. Her husband had several extramarital affairs and even plotted to kill her. He tried to set her on fire, so she escaped and has not seen him since. She never had children of her own, but has an adopted daughter that was given to her when the girl's biological mother was very ill. Since coming to work for SEWA, Rabia has earned the ability to support herself and her daughter financially. She also said that she has gained much more confidence, and stopped wearing the burqa that she had felt compelled to hide behind. One year ago, Rabia was in a serious accident when she fell from a cycle rickshaw and fractured her spine. She spent several months in the hospital and now wears a back brace. The extended hospital stay was exorbitantly expensive, but her brother helped her pay for it. After five months in a private nursing home, Rabia was able to move to a government hospital and receive care free of charge because she has health insurance as a staff member of SEWA.

Unfortunately, most SEWA artisans are not staff members but are self-employed and thus do not qualify for government health insurance. I spoke to Runa Banerjee, the CEO of SEWA, who told me that it's sad not to have the women covered because they end up spending what little they earn on health care anyway. Runa estimates that in order to set up a proper insurance policy for all 7,000 SEWA artisans, SEWA would need to raise 87,000 USD. It's incredibly difficult for NGOs like SEWA to raise these kinds of funds. This would be for a policy that costs 500 rupees per artisan per year, which is only about 12 USD, but is still far too expensive for the workers. SEWA would be able to pay some of the cost, and the artisans themselves some, but there is still large outstanding cost that needs to come from somewhere.

I've also returned to the elementary school a couple of times. The first time we did an activity where I had the kids say their names and an English word that they like that begins with the same letter. As an example, I said "My name is Ginger and I like giraffes." I wrote the sentence in English and in Hindi (which I have finally learned to read, albeit slowly) on a piece of paper and drew a picture to go along with it. The kids used colored pencils to draw their own pictures, and many of them are quite artistic! It was nice to see them work together, helping out those who could not think of any English words that fit with the task. One boy, Vikram, was having trouble and other students shouted out, "vampire! van! vegetables!"

The second time I went to the school I went with Beth, a woman who is staying in my guest house. Beth was a teacher in the US for ten years and is now working on getting a grant to teach in India. She is currently working on a book making project with the same class I have been visiting. Yesterday the class worked both on writing their stories as well as binding the books. They picked out colorful cloth to put on the covers and worked on sewing the pages together. Beth's goal was to make sure the stories had beginnings, middles, and ends, rather than just strings of sentences. Most of them had been writings things like, "My best friend's name is Mounisha. She is very beautiful. Her favorite colour is red." So, as an example, Beth wrote a short story about the time one of our house mates rescued some puppies from drowning in the monsoon. After the example, several of the children started to think of events that had happened to them and their friends that they could write about.

The principal of the school also showed us that she had been teaching the girls how to do embroidery. She said the reason was that they could have a skill that might benefit them after they graduate from the school. Unfortunately, they can only teach the children through the 8th grade, so many of them will not have the opportunity to have a high school education. Most come from poor families who cannot afford to pay the fees to send them to a more advanced school. Many of the kids are extremely bright and it would be an awful shame for them to miss out on the chance to receive a secondary education. I want very badly to do what I can to help these children and the women of SEWA, but it seems that the real obstacle to improvement is in so many ways lack of money, something that I am not in a good position to help with.

On Tuesday I plan to go back to the school and help out more with the stories and perhaps do a brief grammar lesson. I also have several more Hindi grammar lessons to learn myself!

Posted by gcline at 07:57 AM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2008

Winding Down- Lainie

Since then I have been finishing up some of my duties with Dastkar- organizing photos and writing- and now I am getting ready for me next project. I want to thank CSAS and Dastkar for giving me an incredible month in India. I, of course, had my ups and downs, but the outcome of it all has put me on top of the world. The extraordinary combination of the two organizations offered me so many unthinkable opportunities to grow as a student, artist, humanitarian, and citizen of the world. I know approach life differently, focusing on what really matters. I put life into perspective not just in the life that I am used to, but in a greater scheme of the world. I appreciate what I have and understand what I need and what is extraneous. I want to commit myself to fulfilling the basic needs of others who have, by birth place and unfortunate social order, not been given enough opportunities to live with securities that everyone deserves. I don’t complain about the heat because I know that it is only temporary for me, when it is a lifestyle for others. I demand to be charged a fair price for services before hand and overpay in the end because I am able to help that little bit (and not feel like I am being taken advantage of). I have learned to find stillness within myself even when the world around me is hungry and tired. This month flew by and felt like an eternity. I am so pleased with the results and will avidly seek other similar opportunities to continue this high on life adventure that I have come to enjoy and flourish in.

Posted by lkkokas at 07:50 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2008

One Last Hurrah-Lainie

14 June-18 June
Three Days to remember, actually more like 5.

After a crazy day starting with an early morning arrival in Delhi, I left for Ranthambhore. The preceding days set the pace for my travels in Ranthambhore- slow, fast, slow, run like hell!
The train from Dharamsala was all but calm. It started with torrential downpour as we wound through the mountains and ended with our questionably drunk bus driver honking more like a train than a bus. The long drawn out sound was hard on the ears and the entire body because it was accompanied with a sudden halt that either slid me off of my declining seat or flung me into the air.
We rushed back to the house in North Delhi allotting me just enough time to shower and pact before the next excursion. As I was about to leave the house to start my hectic day my Auntie was outraged that I was going alone and insisted that someone accompany me. At this point all I could think was how my day included a trip to an East Delhi village (I now know it to also be a slum), then South Delhi to stop at Dastkar and lastly the train station in central Delhi, so I had to leave. Auntie sent me with someone from her work and we were off. Dennis spoke no English and was especially shy.
When we got off the metro in Seelampur I noticed the differences…I was not in ‘Delhi’ anymore, the Delhi that I am accustomed to. There were very few women on the streets and those that were wore burkas. I was terrified. Eyes pierced my skin like never before. Instead of smiles I felt sneers. Our auto finally arrived in the middle of a street because it was too narrow to continue. The auto driver pointed me in the right direction, Dennis followed. I almost turned around, but something made me press on. Half way down the street I found Mohammad. He greeted me a with a welcoming smile and I felt safe. That’s the thing about India- one second you think you may be killed and the next someone wants you to marry their brother.
My train to Ranthambhore was lovely. I was of course a bit nervous because of the warnings that Kavita Auntie and Punnu gave me, but I was ready. I sat by a group of fat business men, a young man from Mumbai and a British girl. Sajan, Marie and I had a great time. We talked about our travels and compared our countries. The journey was relaxing and then I jumped off the train into darkness. The shadows of the train station only highlighted the fear in my eyes. Beatles in the millions blackened the sidewalk with their shells and guts. If anything, they added to the melodrama of this moment in time. I had no idea where to go or who to look for, so, naturally, I pretended that I did. Thankfully I went in the right direction and thankfully someone from Dastkar was there with my name on a sign. Then we drove to paradise.

16 July 08 (journal excerpt) Dev Vilas Hotel:
This hotel is amazing. Before going to bed every night I am asked my morning agenda including when I would like a wake-up call and what time I will be having breakfast. Two minutes after my wake-up call tea is delivered to my room for my enjoyment while dressing. At breakfast I am asked what I would like to eat, which is always accompanied by fresh fruit and juice. I have at least 3 people waiting on me while eating. Anything that I want, I am served, as long as I ask. It is crazy. My breakfast table sits just inside the window, with the view of a little bird family sitting in a little tree. After breakfast I am picked up and then I go to work. Upon returning home my room has been made up, AC is on and I am asked when I would like dinner. Dinner includes chipati, rice, pasta, paneer, dal, and 2 veggie dishes...incredible. Last night I had ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert, I wasn’t feeling too great, so it really helped. Then my bed is turned down for me and it starts again the next day.

Day 1 of 3: Dastkar Ranthambhore
• Interview of Dastkar Ranthambhore Executive Director, Ujwala
o Discussed goals and objectives for my stay
o History and current story of Dast. Ranth.
• Photographs of women while working
• Picnic with Ujwala and her friends
When Ujwala asked me if I wanted to go on a picnic, I never expected it to be like this. We drove for about an hour deep into the jungle. Ranthambhore is known for their national park, so we drove to the periphery of the reserve where we went swimming in crocodile infested waters. Well, that’s what the joke was. The locals that were swimming when we arrived said the water was safe. Either way, I was nervous.

Day 2 of 3:
• Visits to local villages to visit artisans
o Black Potters
o Leather workers
• Feeding of pet elephant in hotel
Pawan Kali, the resident elephant, is 65 years old and was the dowry of the hotel owner, an elephant!! I fed it chipati and bananas. It was a good reminder of how small I am, even though I am in a country where I often feel like a female giant.

Day 3 of 3:
• Photography of product
• 1st motorcycle ride to visit the Dastkari store in town


Now here I am, on a train back to Delhi. I will hopefully make it there. My main concern is that this is not my train…

I was dropped at the station with plenty of time to spare. I saw my train number, waited at the platform and then noticed a scuffle after an announcement. A man that I was standing near knew I was going to Delhi and directed me to another platform. I listened for more announcements heard Delhi and the platform number and switched...crossing the tracks with my bag (another 1st). When the train finally came, about an hour late, I kept explaining to people that I was in B coach, but they kept directing me to D. Finally, after stating my case for the 5th time, I got on. As the train pulled away a conductor looked at my ticket and told me that I missed my train. I knew that was impossible, so I was quickly irritated. Then I met the conductor who I will forever be thankful for. There are some people who save you. They may or may not understand it, but he was one. I sit here and watch him sip his coffee, silently praising him for not kicking me off of the train. I cannot think about where I would be sitting now or what I would be doing if it weren’t for his kindness. I just hope to God that I get back to Delhi and not somewhere else in India.

The ride actually ended up being quite pleasant. The dull murmur of fans in the !GASP! non-A/C coach soothed my nerves and the scent of outdoors relaxed me. Half way through the trip a young boy sat two seats down from me. You could tell that he was very curious about where I came from and what I was like. At the age of 9, curiosity always gets the best of you. Whenever I looked over at him his stare quickly shifted from me, forward. So, I said “Hello”. For the next two hours we chatted and played games. The time that I had originally set aside to catch up on my sleep from an early awakening, was much better spent sharing cultures with this little boy.

During our conversation we spoke mainly about our favorite everythings. It seemed like the most suitable conversation for us to have and allowed us both to understand one another. His English was by no means perfect but we communicated just fine with the help of some others around who he would run to for a quick vocabulary check whenever he stumbled over his words. His favorite colour is red, favorite sport is cricket, favorite super hero- superman, favorite country-China, favourite subject- English, etc., etc. I forgot how much fun it can be to talk about your favorite things (Julie Andrews was on to something). Mid way through another little body plopped itself down, right next to me. No wiggle room, practically on my lap- Desh’s sister, Ria. At 7 years she was quite energetic and appropriately, playful. She liked asking me about my favourite foods. Mainly whether or not I like sweets and which ones. At one point I told them that I had never played cricket, nor had I ever seen a match. Their jaws dropped. The thought of a life without cricket seemed to unfathomable and cruel. Following the startling news I decided to teach them colors in Spanish. It was fun because we both already new them in English and Hindi, so I thought it best to teach them something new. We only got past about 3 colors before they were running around asking their family if they new what the words meant, but it was great fun.

Their mother, who didn’t speak English, was visibly grateful that I was entertaining her children during the long ride to Delhi. She kept giving me fruit and sending loving smiles my way. When I told Ria that I did not want any mango, coconut or papaya, she begged and pleaded. It proved to me that children on the street who beg, beg like all other children and that the annoying yet irresistible sound of a child’s voice pleading is hard to ignore. I had to be firm. Dhiarria (sp?) on a train is NOT ideal. So instead, we played games. She sang and I followed her hand motions. I could not understand her songs, but she tried her best to explain them to me. I felt like a little girl again, laughing my butt off as she tickled my stomach at the end of each song.

Although the other train would have been more comfortable, this was an experience that I will carry in my pocket along with tunes of hand games running through my mind. I ended up making it back to Delhi, a little late, but content, until I felt the killer heat and pollution.

Posted by lkkokas at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)

Living and Learning in Lucknow-Ginger

With a few more days under my belt, I feel I am staring to get adjusted to this place. I love the chaos of the streets. It never really seems to be silent here, at least not for more than a minute or so. There is never ending stream of trains passing or horns blowing, people talking, dogs barking. The city seems truly alive, a feeling that I especially appreciate at night. The streets are never empty, as many people sleep, gather, and light fires to cook along the sides. The middle of roads are often claimed by cows and stray dogs who have an equal command of the space as do the humans speeding by them. There is always a plethora of smells, not always pleasant, but always interesting to accompany what meets the eye.

Last Tuesday I returned to the elementary school, alone this time. As soon as I arrived I was greeted outside by one of the students who cheerfully exclaimed, "good morning, ma'am!" I'm not used to being called "ma'am," but in India that seems to be the norm. Once in the classroom I had the students work on a project of coloring and labeling a map of the US. I had them repeat the names of the states after me and I wrote them on the board for them to copy. It can be difficult to give clear directions since so many of the kids do not have very developed English skills. I think they did like the activity overall though, and I greatly enjoyed working with them. I am stilling planning my next lesson for this coming Tuesday.

For the past few days I have been going to SEWA, first to learn more about the organization, and secondly to begin conducting interviews. SEWA was formed in the early 1980s as a way for women to gain skills and a means of self employment without a middleman. SEWA trains artisans in making chikan, an embroidery native to Lucknow. The women then sell the products back to SEWA for a fair price, or to independent buyers of their own choosing. The idea is that the women can still do all of their normal duties at home, such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children while also earning income by doing some stitching on the side. This way, women have financial leverage within the family. This can serve to mitigate the pervasiveness of male domination that is a cultural norm in much of India, especially amongst the poor.

On Friday I interviewed three women about their health. The reason for this is that because the workers are poor, many of them have barriers to receiving proper care in times of need. I am aiming to determine what aspects of health are most problematic, and what potential solutions are out there. In India, only 3% of the population is insured for health care. Government hospitals exist and provide medicines and treatments at low costs, but are not always of high quality and come with the price of long waiting times. Private doctors can be very expensive, but can often deliver results in a far more timely fashion.

The women I interviewed make between 1000 and 1200 rupees per month, which is roughly 25 US dollars. Their husbands made an average of twice that amount, and all had at least 3-5 children. So far it seems that the women would love to have insurance, but can only afford to pay about 15-25 rupees per month towards the policy. The next step is to do more interviews and contact insurance companies to see how much it would cost to keep them insured. The other option is for SEWA itself to act as the insurer, collecting fees and reimbursing workers for their health care expenditures. SEWA originally tried to manage its own hospital, but this proved prohibitively expensive. Beyond having insurance, there are other things SEWA could do to improve the health of the artisans, and I am trying to gather what types of projects are most needed through interviews. Hopefully I will get some more done tomorrow, and will give an update when I have more information.

Posted by gcline at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2008

First Week in Lucknow-Ginger

I arrived here in Lucknow City, India on Wednesday. Since then, I have begun to get a feel for the city and how to navigate on my own. The first major difference between here and the states that jumped out at me was the traffic. Instead of just cars, there are cows, dogs, bicycles, motorcycles, and rickshaws that compete for space on the streets. On my first day in the city, I went for what seemed like a truly hair-raising ride on an auto rickshaw from my guest house to the shopping district of Hazratganj.

My first endeavor was to buy a cellphone, which proved more difficult that I had originally anticipated. In order to get one, I needed signed copies of every page of my passport, passport photos, and a signed letter from my landlord certifying that I was indeed staying in his house. I went into the photo shop in Hazratganj dressed as an American, feeling out of place and overheated in my western attire. An hour later, I came back to pick up my passport photos dressed as a much more comfortable Indian. It turns out that I happened upon the store run by the women of SEWA-Lucknow, the very organization for whom I came to work. I bought a pink chikan suit and some other articles from nearby FabIndia.

Over the next couple of days I got to know some of the other guests in the house. Most of them are here to study Urdu, and a couple of them are doing medical research. I went with them to various coffee shops around Lucknow that provide pleasant, air conditioned places to study. Raj and Naheed, the husband and wife with whom I am staying also took me around to see the mall, golf course, and old European college of Lucknow. While at the mall, Naheed insisted in taking me to McDonald's, which was definitely an interesting experience. There was no line, but rather people pushing their way to the counter, waving money. What I found most notable was that in contrast to the American McDonald's menu, the Indian menu had a substantial vegetarian section, with a significantly smaller "non-vegetarian" section that was limited to chicken and fish. As a vegetarian myself, I found this pleasing. The veggie burger was pretty good, I must admit.

Upon my arrival I was very anxious to begin my internship with SEWA, but I found the process to be a bit slower than I had anticipated. I had some trouble contacting the CEO of the organization, as well as getting transportation to the facility. I spent a few hours reading over my files about SEWA, going over interviews that had been done in the past. Most of the workers there seemed to most desire eyeglasses and help with family planning. Naheed has agreed to translate for me as I conduct a few more needs assessments. I will go to SEWA tomorrow to begin this process.

In the mean time I had the opportunity to teach at an elementary school in a rather poor area of Lucknow, which is right near the Urdu language institute where many of my house mates are studying. At U of M, I regularly tutor school children in Detroit through my involvement with the Detroit Partnership, but I had never been given a whole class in front of which to stand up and teach, for two and half hours no less. Thankfully, I was not alone. Tiffani, a beginner Urdu student and aspiring teacher from Washington DC had worked out a plan the previous week. We (mainly Tiffani) taught the kids about where we lived in the US, went over question words (who, what, where, when, why, how), favorite songs, movies, and colors. Many of the children spoke virtually no English, so it was often difficult to convey the information. Tiffani knew a few words of Hindi, but I sadly knew hardly any at all. I think the kids really did enjoy our company, though, and they even asked us for our autographs at the end of the day.

I plan to go back to the school on Tuesday to teach another lesson, but for just one hour next time. I am nervous to go myself, especially with the language barrier. I plan to teach them about US geography and will hopefully learn a few more Hindi words before I return. I am hoping that Beth, a former teacher and Urdu student staying in the house will be able to help me put together a lesson plan. I will update more in the coming days, hopefully after making much progress with SEWA and the school!

Posted by gcline at 12:00 AM | Comments (2)

July 12, 2008

The exhaust gets exhausting... Lainie

Between the smog, dust and sewage, Delhi can be hard to swallow. This weekend I managed to escape. Right now I am sitting in the mountains, surrounded by trees(gasp!). Dhararmsala is the home to the Dalai Lama and, accordingly, a lot of Buddhist Monks. The bus ride here was frightening to say the least. There were times when I thought we were going to flop on our side..and sometimes down a mountain. I was happy, very happy to arrive safe and sound. It has been raining here the entire time, but the fresh air makes up for it all. It is amazing..food is really inexpensive, but material goods are. It is obvious that the tourist community here, that is trying to 'escape life and find themselves' is catered to, but I guess the food industry just doesnt take advantage? I havent figured that out yet. I went to the monastery today, met monks and families and took lots of pictures. The light wasnt great, but the smiles were. When I offered to send the pictures to some of the monks surprisingly (an conveniently) they gave me their email address instead of a local address. It is the digital age my friends...the monastery was full of monks on cells, handing out their email. All in all, it was quite a spiritual experience. The trip started by a sudden decision to leave Delhi. The bus was leaving in an hour and I was an hour away. All I brought was the clothes on my back, my journal and camera...It was not a choice to travel so humbly, but instead out of necesity. And it was perfect. I feel so liberated and spontaneous.

A step back to Delhi..

Before my venture into the wild I was working on various assignments with Dastkar. They have given me some great opportunites to show what I can do as well as given me a platform to showcase my work. Last week I worked with the Dastkari master tailor. After snooping through Dastkar's scrap fabribs, embroidery and other textiles, i designed a couple bags suitable for the Indian and American markets. The bags were very different from the samples that Dastkar currently holds, but were well recieved. The bags will be used as samples to show the products Dastkar can produce using the materials of the crafts people they support. The challenge was as follows: The tailor speaks no english, except colors, which I know in Hindi, haha. We managed.

Even though designing the bags was great, the day after, Thursday, was even better. My collegue, Geeta, and I visited remote sites (not even on my Delhi map!) on the outskirts of Delhi where Dastkar has producers. Words cannot describe this experience. Geeta was even speechless by the end of the day. Our first stop was to a craft group who uses scrap fabrics that are donated to them to make bags, blankets, pillow covers, etc. It is mainly patchwork using simple shapes, to make traditional designs. Unfortunately I was unable to take many photos because of the politcal situation in this area. THe governement is trying to clear this entire town because it is unauthorized and therefore illegal. Tragic and common. Most likely after relocating these people they will have no where to go. So, they will live somewhere else, illegally. I dont understand why there isnt a better solution.

Craft Group #2: This particular group uses waste products as well- mainly textiles and newspapers. The inspiring part of this one is, however, that the woman who opened this group, started an orphanage at the same time. So, on this piece of land, where the road ends, after traveling in swampy, trash filled mud streets you reach a haven for women and children. The women come to the center to collect matierals to take home and work on. This was they are able to take care of their own children and earn money of their own, which for many of them is put into their PERSONAL bank accounts. In addition, they learn various skills, as do the children at this orphanage. Children are allowed to stay there until the age of 18 and other children from the village visit the locale to learn how to make crafts. In the orphanage the children learn how to make cratfs which can support them once they leave, should they decide that is what they would like to do. So, by giving these underprivalged children a creative outlet, they also are giving them a skill. If they want to work in addition to going to school, they are not allowed to until age 16 because they must instead focus on their studies. The supervisors for the entire project are young adults who grew up in the orphanage. The few that I met were so very poised and driven. I could see in the sincerity of their eyes the effects this place had on them.

#3: Imagine: Wheel thrown pots, 8 feet tall, and perfectly round. Our final destination was to a master craftsman's home. He has won awards from the Indian government for his talent and has sold his pieces all over the world. The pictures speak more than these words ever will.

And this is where I ended before escaping to a greener place.

Still to come: Ranthambhore, Rajastan- Home to a world renowned tiger reserve and Dastkari craft group.

Posted by lkkokas at 06:10 AM | Comments (1)