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May 31, 2007

just a few.

She is checking her cell phone. We are roaring down a road so packed and polluted with people and smog that the street corner a block away is invisible. Her little scooter weaves in and out of traffic; she doesn’t even seem to be guiding it, preoccupied with her latest text message. I am clenching her shoulders, a little scared but also entertained at the ridiculous places I seem to end up and the possibility of such an absurd death; if this is how my life is to end I expect a full campaign insisting on the end of scooter texting.


My $150 purse is touching the bathroom floor. I am touching the floor. There is a cockroach watching me. I feel guilty for owning $150 purse. The majority of India could live on this for half a year. I am a bad person. Using this toilet is my penance.


“What time is dinner?? I ask them. Neeru translates for Jogi and Jogi answers back. They keep talking. Jogi shakes her head and Neeru’s language suddenly boosts a few decibels. Jogi’s eyebrows raise, their voices both lower. They keep talking. They stop, shaking their heads.

“So what did you guys talk about?? I ask.

“Nothing,? she says. There is silence.
I still don’t know what time dinner is.

Posted by tvanderm at 10:38 PM | Comments (0)

Stream of consciousness.

In the dregs of Dastkar’s library I turned page after page until the tips of my fingers became black with dust. Belatedly discovering this treasure trove, I feverishly absorbed as much information as I could in my last few hours at the office this week; I was preparing for a trip to the Dastkar shop that works specifically with a women’s crafts group near Ranthambhore Reserve, in Rajasthan. The library shelves are full with annual reports, conference summaries from a gamut of social causes, and extra copies of educational media printed about crafts, bazaars, and even other NGO’s. For now I am appreciating the scenery of this train ride; I am headed to northern hill-station town Mussoorie following an invitation by friends. Thus far I have received multiple warnings to take care of myself and be wary of the cool weather. I remind these “Aunties? that if anything this will be closer to my natural habitat, noting it snowed for the last time two weeks before my departure to India.

There are some distinct mars in the landscapes we pass. Mingled amongst the trees and in the distance beyond green pastures and golden fields are tall, circular stacks that raise high into the skyline. Black fumes seem to respire from their coal-stained mouths. With .little productivity to be seen I wonder to what end the monsters compromise our air, land, and water.

Today I read in the Hindustan Times that a recent study from the U.S. found that really friendly people, or antagonistic ones, tend to sleep around more. It cracks me up to see this article comprises the input of news from the U.S.

On the way to the station I saw a dog chasing a monkey through the streets. This was almost as cool as when an elephant nonchalantly walked by my window as I checked my mail in a local internet café. Now if I can just find one to ride…

Embedding yourself in a foreign cultural system isn’t just about learning on the interpersonal microlevel. I find myself utterly confused about how economic and social systems work on a macro scale. I am totally clueless to how legislature actually comes to pass here. So often we rely on the government to regulate and protect us, but what if the basic premise of a governmental system is flawed? Also in the Hindustan Times was a picture of melting Mt. Everest. In just forty years the state of the world has been irrevocably compromised, beyond repair in our lifetimes. I actually am quietly terrified that we are destroying the planet and our futures. The people who have the resources to care don’t because they can easily navigate around the destruction. Can you really “be the change? and take private taxis everywhere? Can you “be the change? and eat at world-renowned luxury restaurants that import half of the foods found in the kitchen?

Additionally, I am confused about the reality of state-to-state relationships, the consequences of Western media on developing and malleable worlds, and the essential contributions of globalization to the state of humanity and the planet.

Any answers?


PS. THERE IS NOW CONFLICT IN RAJASTHAN. First the Punjab, now this! Updates to come.

Posted by tvanderm at 10:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2007

"A society for crafts and craftspeople"

Who knew that combing through crumbling dusty files that seem to have been untouched for years could be so beneficial or enlightening? This week I have managed to make the most of my time in Delhi, having left the troubles of the Punjab. Working with Dastkar, a society devoted to crafts and craftspeople, has provided a helpful transition into the NGO (non-governmental organization) sector. Their focus is “linking skills and markets, bringing cultures, communities and gender, creating earning and empowerment.? I rather like my new desk job. I am free to follow whichever leads or whims I am curious about, and have been taking meticulous notes regarding what I see as the development of a well-run, professional, and progressive organization. Initially I felt very silly walking into the office with my little two-page proposal as if it were some sort of badge of achievement. I can laugh now as I have learned so much, even in just one week. Microfinance, women’s empowerment, organizing the informal economy, and even the education of girls are not progressive ideas here. Dastkar has been working with them for 25 years as have many organizations they work with such as SEWA.

For the past few days I have been pouring over Dastkar’s files regarding SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association). The close relationship that developed between Dastkar and various sub-groups within the SEWA organization has provided me with insight into how NGO’s function not as separate entities, but also specialized units which may help and depend on one another. Furthermore, I have been privy to the internal miscommunications that occasionally arise between groups. The everyday focus of the Dastkar is pretty task-oriented so my goal is to try to find out how these operations fit into the structure and long-term goals of the organization.

I have made a couple different side trips this week. One to Dilli Haat, a space where craftspeople may sell their wares, as well as another to the local Crafts Museum, where I spent a few hours checking out old texts.

As of now I am in the process of planning field visits to Dastkar groups, specifically one located on the Ranthambhore Reserve in Rajastan. To my amazement the Dastkar group shop where local women vend their wares is even noted in my Lonely Planet! Apparently when the reserve was originally founded local peoples who were dependent upon the land for subsistence were suddenly faced with a resource crisis. Dastkar has helped ease this unfortunate consequence of land preservation by converting many individuals who were dependent on inconsistent agricultural production for economic support to craft production. The project has met with considerable success and was even featured on the BBC in 2002.

In other news I have been gifted a magic wireless internet card that works everywhere in India. !!!. Look forward to more regular updates.

Posted by tvanderm at 03:53 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2007

Peace out Punjab

And just in time. The Sikh conflict in North India has spread to the city I was staying in, an industrial town in southern Punjab, Ludhiana. There I spent some time at a girl's polytechnic institute, thinking this would provide a medium for me to get to know more self-employed women and learn a little about the skills they gain through education. I have since realized this was not a beneficial venture for my research. I met many future-homemakers and women who are more fortunate than most involved with the rural self-employed women's movement.

I had planned to move further north in Punjab to a small city near Amritsar on Wednesday. There I was to do a tour of five different cooperative groups who are the recipients of governmental microfinancial support. Needless to say, after hearing about the conflict within the Sikh community I, sadly, decided to cancel and/or delay the tour. Unable to gauge the severity of the situation and my own risk I am bowing to the age-old adage, better safe than sorry.

It is difficult for me to wrap my mind around the total conflict that is occuring in the Punjab. I know that there have been accusations that these eruptions of violence are actually closely related to the political situation in Punjab. An older friend told me that this whole conflict may be a ploy to divide the Sikhs, utilizing propoganda, so that they do not gain political power in Punjab, a similar tactic employed by the British in order to maitain India as a vassal state years ago. The papers say that the coflict has arisen within the Sikh community because one sect has unpardonably caused offense to the rest. The leader of the Dera Sacha Saudsa group has, according to the accusations, imitated in style and dress a former Sikh guru. Apparently this is bad news.

The complexities of this religious/political situation are semi-overwhelming. All I know is that now I am back in Delhi trying to get back on track with my research after this set-back. I have a priomising meeting with a cooperative craft group, Dastkar, on Monday. www.dastkar.org. Because my project is a comparative study that examines the many manifestations of the broader self-employed women's movement I really need to begin working with a larger organization that facilitates this as I've completed a lot of work with women who are working independently unaided by the support of larger group.

SEWA, Self Employed Women's Association at www.sewa.org, has been responsive since my arrival in India. Yet, they are focused in Gujarat and working with them would require me to travel to Ahmedabad. While I am incredibly excited to gain some insight into this phenomenal NGO I am slightly concerned that I will be dividing my time too much and will do an injustice to either group with short two-week stays at both of them, especially because they are in different provinces. Does anyone have any insight into this?

The Sant Nirankari Mission, www.nirankari.org, has done a fantastic job facilitating my research in any way I require. The initial few weeks of my project included touring their tailoring and embroidery centers. While I have moved on with my work I have continued to stay at their many bhawans, which are located across the country and the world. So don't worry about this seeming transience. I have had guidance the whole way through.

In other news, Sara and I are planning a weekend trip to Corbett Tiger Reserve. Upon telling my dad he sent me this...


hah! I think some of the affect was lost on me because I saw it in a 10 Rupee (about 25 cents) per-hour internet cafe. Every 5 seconds or so the stream would buffer and I would wait another 10 to see the continued image. Tiger is less scary suspended in air for a minutes and a half.

Wish us luck, send your advice.


Posted by tvanderm at 04:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2007

Poonam is a Seamstress

Although she has been separated from her alcoholic husband for nearly seven years, Poonam still wears bindi, the traditional circular Indian marker placed on the forehead that signals a woman is married. Her dress it neat, if not simple. Long jet-black hair, a quiet voice; Poonam is a seamstress. She charges less than $2 USD for about an hour and a half of work. Poonam considers herself lucky.

A mother of four, Poonam’s youngest daughter is in the 4th grade. This cheeky, polite child is doted upon by her soft-spoken mother. The first time I met her she was dressed in all the pomp and show that her mother has abandoned. The child’s dress was gold and red, layered with ruffled mesh and shining fabric flowers. It is only later that I am reminded of my first interview with Poonam; her youngest child is a product of marital rape.

As an economically immobile woman, Poonam is subjected to inescapable harsh judgment from her neighbors as well as the rest of society. As her earning has increased from the > $1.00 an hour wage she received for subcontracted seamstress work, she is able to dress and feed herself and the two children she still in her care after the marital split. Yet her neighbors, quick to judge any woman unattached to a man, shame her for the separation. She does not wear make-up for fear they will call her a whore. She dresses simply to buffer unwanted attention. The quiet details and modest embroideries upon her clothing are rare for a woman who makes her living in this field. Due to the dissolution of her marriage family from the divorce, and the segmentation of her parental family due to her father’s death and brother’s incompetence, Poonam does not have the safety net most women not only depend on, but are embedded in.

Poonam has held other positions. Once she worked in a factory for export products. Though the money was better than she makes now, the sexual solicitations from other male employees and corrupt bosses forced her to quit. Compromised by her physically and psychologically abusive husband, sexually harassed in the workplace and on the street Poonam states one thing clearly; men are not to be trusted. Young or old, she believes that all men are predators, and cannot believe they ever have good intentions. Her son, it seems, may be the one exception. He cares for his sister while Punam is away from the home, and works to supplement the family’s income. When enrolled in school as a child the boy showed an ingenious aptitude for his studies. The director of the school offered to take the boy and raise him, education paid and a chance to escape poverty. Now her son works as a security guard; Poonam regrets not giving him a better chance at life. In her mid-thirties, she takes care to help her young daughter to obtain an education that her brother never had.

It is now, as a teacher for the Sant Nirankari Mission’s Tailoring and Embroidery Center in Delhi that Poonam receives regular wages in addition to the stitching she does inside her home. It is only after working with the Mission that she was able to start a tiny boutique. A hired hand takes orders for designs throughout the day as she teaches; Poonam completes many of the projects at night. As a teacher at a school that charges > $1.00 USD per month, Poonam meets many young women with troubled lives. There is no age limit at the school. Widows, divorcees, and women from the lower castes are accepted without hesitancy into the one year program. Yet, for these young women the accepting arms of a caring teacher may not be enough to keep them enrolled. Domestic duties and the objection of families to the daughter’s exit of the private sphere contribute largely to the drop-out of many young girls, girls who lack any other type of livelihood.

With a million dollars Poonam would open more centers for disadvantaged women. She is my first interview.

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