Friday, August 5, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to all my friends and the city of Jodhpur was very difficult. I have gotten used to day-to-day life at Durag Niwas Guest House and my work with Sambhali Trust. There is so much that I have learned from this experience, and I am so incredibly thankful for everyone who has helped me. My friends and working are the obvious things that I will miss, but here a few small things that I will miss from my life in Jodhpur:

Masala Chai and the Times of India in the morning: is it weird that everyone was really excited about the paper? This paper had everything: national news, international news, bollywood gossip, and best of all the Speaking Tree. The Speaking Tree was this small paragraph in the middle of the paper that was usually life advice, but it was really good, and I even cut out a few to remember. The paper also had an NGO spotlight, which was interesting to read.

Taking the city bus: this was an experience all on its own. It was never clear how much the bus cost, somewhere between 5-7 rupees, depending on the mood of the bus collector. It was always somewhat of a fight, which was made difficult by the fact that I didn’t speak Hindi and they didn’t speak English. One of them even yelled at me saying: “No English! Only Marwari!” Marwari is the Rajsathani language, which I understand even less than Hindi.

Being in the kitchen: Some of my best memories of my stay are in the kitchen. It is where I went when I was bored or when I just wanted to speak to Mukta or Raj (the women of the house and my friends). I loved watching these women cook, asking them tons of questions about food and Indian culture. I also loved to help Papu and Ashuk make chapattis. It took me a couple tries to learn, and I still have not perfected making them round, but nonetheless it was a great experience.

Sitting in the Rain: By July, monsoon season had picked up, and this meant random rains here and there. Warm rain is the best thing I have ever experienced, and it was fun to sit in the rain or just watch from under the canopy. Of course, rain is also followed by sporadic power-outages, which often spelled out sitting in the complete dark watching the rain. It was great fun.

Visiting National Handloom and Fresh and Green: My life would have been very different if I didn’t have these two stores in Jodhpur (a super store and grocery store respectively). Whether it was to go and get my mango or kulfi fix, or to see strange products like health sandwich (cream, cabage, onions, between a hotdog bun), Paneer dog (hot dog bun with cheese cubes and spices), Indian snacks, knick knacks, and to experience the confusing packing method (take item to packing station, get receipt from packing station, go to paying station on first floor, pay and get receipt stamped, go to pickup station, wait for packages that have not been sent down yet, get package and get receipt stamped for third time). It was a great place to people watch as well, and to get anything that you really needed.

Lightning storms: I have never experienced thunderstorms like that in Jodhpur. The sky would often be lit up for a good 4-5 seconds, which might not seem too long until you actually experience it. It was often too far to hear the thunder, so we would just experience watching the sky crack open with electricity. It was amazing to watch. The best view was from the roof of Durag Niwas, which was one of my favorite hang out spots on its own, but the best during lightning storms.

Dancing with the girls: My first Saturday with Sambhali Trust, the girls insisted that I dance with them. They showed me their dancing, and wanted me to dance as well. It was a lot of fun, and this continued throughout the weeks of my stay. It was even more fun in July because another volunteer, Marta, started teaching Bollywood stay dance that she learned in London. To watch everyone dance and enjoy all aspects of it was incredibly fun. All the girls were so keen on having everyone included and dancing, and they would never just let you watch their steps, you also had to follow and show some of your dance moves as well. It was a good way to spend Saturdays.

I hope that I can return soon, but for now I wish everyone in Jodhpur and Sambhali Trust all the best!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

week 5

For the past week the girls of Sambhali have been learning self-defense at the park next door. This isn’t just any type of self-defense, they are learning how to use bamboo sticks! I have to say, my first sight of some girls and women holding bamboo sticks awkwardly, the women in Sari’s was a bit funny. I can say though, after one week, all of them got the hang of it, and they just kick ass. Our teacher is a Mr. Singh, who can be a bit grumpy, but is usually very helpful. After the first two days the girls were complaining about the blisters they had on their hands from spinning the bamboo sticks, but by the end of the week they were twirling these things with skill. Some of the girls were especially good, and picked up hitting, twirling, and spinning the sticks pretty fast.
I have to say, I don’t think learning the art of the bamboo stick is actually going to be applicable in their daily lives, but what is actually empowering for them is to know that they have the skill to do so. The girls felt stronger at the end of the week, and there was a definite change from them being timid and shy about using bamboo sticks at the beginning of the week, to them knowing exactly what they were supposed to do by the end.
Self-defense at 7am is early for most of us, but all the girls actually had to get up a lot earlier than 7am. The reality is that the 3-4 hours that the girls and women spend at Sambhali is the only time they have for themselves. The rest of their time is spent doing housework and helping other female members of their family with housework. They wake up in the morning and help make chapattis and food, they clean, wash clothes, wash dishes and sweep their homes. So when we had self-defense at 7:30am…the girls had to get up much earlier just to finish their chores before coming to school.
Most households in Jodhpur consist of extended family (from the father’s side). So there are grandparents, aunts and uncles at every household. There is an average of 8-14 people in each home, and each nuclear family lives in one room. I went to visit some of the girls in their homes, and I really enjoyed myself. They were so excited to show me around and introduce me to their family. All of them insisted on me either having a cold drink or snacks, they were absolutely lovely. It was great to get to see their homes, I got a better view into their lives and their everyday reality, plus I got to spend more time with them!

Here are pictures.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Some stuff

Here are some things that I found interesting or funny about my time in Jodhpur:
Mangos: Its mango season in Jodhpur, and I could not be happier. They are ridiculously cheap, 1 kg usually goes for about 50 rupees, that is 3 mangos for $1! They are so freaking delicious! There is also this type of mango that is small and green, and they way you eat this mango is by squeezing it slowly until the flesh is all pulpy. Then you make a hole at the bottom and suck all the pulp and juice out! Once all of it is gone, you take out the pit and finish it off. Its always funny seeing little toddlers holding their little green mangos.
No Plastic Bags in India! Yeah, the US should be ashamed. Trash is usually thrown out on the street, cows eat parts of it and the rest is burned. Because plastic bags are bad for cow, they have become illegal. Instead they use bags made of old saris. They are really pretty and they make shopping a lot more exciting. Instead, sari bags are used, made out of old saris. They make shopping exciting.
So many cows-as expected. And they really are everywhere. Big ones, little ones, brown ones, white ones, black and white ones. Burning cow poop is considered good and a way to ward off bad things. About once every two weeks, they take some dried dung from the street and burn it. Its actually quiet great, and its fun to talk to people at the guest house about traditions and customs like this.
Temples: Visiting Temples are really fun. I have had a lot of fun going to Temple either by myself or with family members. People are very nice, and they always insist that you get involved. It’s very relaxing to sit there and listen to the women and men singing and clapping. The women sit in the front and lead the singing and the men sit in the back. And usually when you visit temple you get a little sweet treat-this also might be the reason I go. This is the Ganesh Temple

Toast: There are a lot of different kinds of street food in Jodhpur, the most common probably being Pani Purri. But there is one that I honestly don’t get…Toast. There are piles and piles of toast just stacked, and people love to get them. I have not tried them, so I can’t say how they taste.

Shopkeeper books: all shopkeepers have a customer book, where their customers have filled in reviews. They are actually fun to read, and without fail every shopkeeper will pull theirs out to show you! Even some rickshaw drivers have them.
Water drinking method: Whenever people use water bottles here, they just use the “waterfall” method, not touching their lips to the bottle. And without doubt, most places have a water tank or water fountain with an attached tin cup that everyone uses through the “waterfall” method. Its really hard, and I always spill water on myself, but I eventually got the hang of it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Week 3

Three days ago I went to Setrawa to see the empowerment center and school that Sambhali runs in the village. It was my first time driving in the highways of India-and that was an experience. Cars are constantly getting into the opposite lane to pass slower cars, trucks, busses, or rickshaw (which happen to be full of people). The scenery was beautiful; the Thar Desert dotted with trees. You could not go more than 10 minutes without seeing an awesome animal, just walking around minding its own business. I saw camels (one hump-if you are curious), gazelles, goats and baby goats, cows, and PEACOCKS!! I felt like the most ridiculous tourist trying to take pictures of the peacock, I’m good at embarrassing myself.

Setrawa is a village of 3000 and it was amazing to be able to be there and experience the atmosphere and people. During the day, Sambhali runs a school for young children there who are not enrolled in school. These kids are such a joy to watch. They get bathed once they get to school at around 11am, and once all of them are clean and fresh, they have prayer and singing. I got to see them pray and sing their English and Hindi songs. They close their eyes and sing with such conviction, all of them are so excited and well behaved. After they stood up one at a time to introduce themselves, in such perfect English! I just wanted to take them all with me-they were absolutely adorable.

In the afternoon, girls who are already enrolled in school come for extra tutoring and practice. It’s incredible that they are putting an extra effort to come and practice even more. Their time at Sambhali is also usually the only time these girls get to have fun and play. The age range is between 9-15, and all of them usually help out at home doing chores when they are not at school. Their English is amazing, and when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, the most common answer is “police woman.”

I also got to see Govind, the founder of the organization, and Sambhali Trust give out a few loans to older women in the community. Sambhali has started micro-finance in the village, and most women take out loans to buy cows, goats, sewing machines, or grinding machines. An American that came with us to Setrawa is doing research on women’s empowerment and micro-finance, and it was interesting to watch what happened and get her insight on how Sambhali differs compared to other organizations.

We ended our day at the home of Govind’s cousin, on the outskirts of the village. Their home consisted of four stone rooms. There were 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, and room where the goats were kept. It was incredible to see this type of life-style, which is considered comfortable for the desert. To see people being able to utilize everything and waste so little (or basically nothing), really puts life into perspective. It’s overstated and completely cliché, but seeing this family and the simple life they lead made me think about what happiness, satisfaction, and the concept of “enough.” I know the feeling is common and stereotypical, but I don’t think its significance and what it means should be downplayed.

My Friend Raj looking great before a family party!

Govind's Cousin's wife making masala chai for us in her kitchen.


The Micro-finance group!

The kids!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Week 1

It has already been more than a week, and everyday I am learning something more about India, Jodhpur, and the Sambhali Trust. So why am I working with the Sambhali Trust, and in all places in Jodhpur?

A while back, in August, I got an email from the GPP minor that talked about the Sambhali Trust. I had been looking for practice options and organizations to work with, and the more I read about the Trust the more I liked them. I’ll keep it simple, the Trust was established by Govind Rathore (my boss) in 2007, working almost exclusively with Dalit (lower caste/untouchable) women and girls. By teaching them Hindi, English, Math, sewing, arts and crafts, and other workshops, they hope to not only educate the girls and give them a means for employment, but to also empower them and increase their self confidence and belief in themselves. Based on the interests of various volunteers throughout the year, they have offered different workshops like photography, nutrition, health, sexual health, etc. Throughout the 5 years, they have grown tremendously, now they have 2 centers in Jodhpur, a boutique where graduates sell their work, a number of centers in the village of Setrawa, and micro-finance.

Jodhpur is located in the Rajasthan region of India, a region that is known for its cuisine (sweets) heat (its in the Thar Desert), and is also one of the more conservative and traditional regions of India. Women usually wear the tradition Indian clothing, and many married women cover their face and hair with thin veils in front of their husbands as a sign of respect. Though love marriages are increasing, arranged marriages are still common as well. Rajasthan is also one of the remaining regions where caste still plays a huge role, especially in the villages.
Govind tells me that the centers in the village of Setrawa are still not fully accepted. Not only are they working with women, but they are also working with Dalits, and many of the higher caste men are stubborn to accept this.

My daily life here revolves around the school and family. Since I live where I also work, I have become pretty comfortable with the staff and family. I usually get up by 8am, after breakfast and some reading, I go upstairs to the classrooms. The girls get to the school by 11, so I try to do some research and administration work (like writing proposal responses, looking for ways to find more volunteers, email responses). Between 11-3 I am with the girls. I’m technically only working with 4 girls in English, between 12-12:45 (Nitu, Nitu, Jasoda, and Momtaj), but I love spending time with all of them. They are so incredibly open and accepting, always asking questions, always helping each other out. They spend a lot of time on their sewing, and you can always find at least 2 girls sewing in the corner. I’m getting much better with communicating with them, and Tamanna, the sewing teacher, has been a great help in filling me in on the stories behind different girls, and what type of activities she thinks would benefit them. Each girl here has a story, many come from homes where their fathers or husbands suffer from alcoholism, and many come from violent homes. They deal with what Govind calls the triple curse: caste, gender, and class.
But, what I feel is important is that they are very positive. They are always laughing, and acting silly. One of the girls did awesome henna work on my hands the other day, and we all had so much fun watching her work.
After the girls leave at 3, I go back to doing administration work. Then, I might go to Fresh and Green (the grocery store) to buy mangos (which are INCREDIBLE here), or National Handloom (a kind of mall) for some Kulfi(Indian ice-cream). Next week I will be going to the other center as well at 3pm, they were on vacation this week.
After 7pm I end up hanging out in the kitchen, talking to Mukta (Govind’s wife), her sister-in-law, or the 3 boys that work here. I watch them cook, ask A LOT of questions, and just watch the family interaction-it’s very lovely. Dinner usually consists of 2 vegetarian dishes, maybe some soup, and chapatti. I have become slightly obsessed with chapatti, which I can only describe as a round, wheat, lavash-like bread, but much tastier.

Well, this is a much longer post than I intended initially-Sorry! Hopefully I can write a bit more about my adventures in the city (Sundays are adventure days, because they are off), and on Govind’s insight (he has so much knowledge on NGOs in India, empowerment work, and Indian culture and history!)

Here are some pictures ☺

Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Few Days

I finally made it to Jodhpur! Internet connection is not very reliable, I finally found a little plug USB that I can use, its in one of the classrooms and I won't have steady access to it, but that's almost nice. It has only been 3 days, and I already feel very comfortable and at home here. This is all because of the amazing host family. Technically I am staying at the Durag Niwas Guest House, but Govind Rathore and his wife Mookta, run the Guest House and the Sambhali Trust, which is also located here. They also live here with Govind’s brothers and the rest of his family, so I'm just going to consider them my host family.
The guest house has blue interiors and everyone gathers is this central outdoor living room area, and the rest of the guest house circles it. There are many beautifully colored curtains that align the guest house. I’m pretty lucky, I get my one room (bubble gum pink-no joke), and delicious food.
Yesterday was my first full day in Jodhpur, and one other volunteer, Corinne from England, showed me around the city and helped me get a SIM card and phone. Everyone here has cell phones-Rickshaw drivers, street corner sellers, storeowners, its actually quiet amazing. The city is amazing, there is so much activity, so many motorcycles and rickshaws and cars winding in and out of each other’s way. I even saw the Jodhpur elephant! Jodhpur has a lot of historical places that I hope I can visit on my days off, there is a fort, an old palace, and the market.
In the afternoon I finally met the girls! It was very exciting; they were all so curious and smiling. We sat down and I introduced myself to them, and got to know them a bit. The level of English is very varied, some girls are very fluent and others barely speak a word. They all thought that I was Indian, and they kept on saying they expected me to speak in Hindi. Sharzy was hard for them to pronounce, so they gave me a new name: Shogoon. It was very nice, and I learned a couple of Hindi phrases and words. They showed me their sewing and some of their work. The Trust provides a number of services, but the main ones are math, Hindi, English, sewing, and a number of workshops based on the volunteer’s capacity and experience. I will mostly be working with three girls who have a hard time with English. I want to interact with the girls a bit more and see what kind of self-esteem workshops/activities I can provide them with. I really want to organize something where they can learn a bit more about their rights as women and Dalits.
I have already learned so much, and I’m excited to get to know the girls more. They smile so much, and they are so sharp and keen. I’m nervous about what I can do, I’m jotting down ideas and reading a bit, Govind’s aim for the organization is sustainability, self-sufficiency, and stability. I think I just need to interact with the girls a bit more to get ideas, and let them inspire me.
Hopefully I can load pictures soon, it all relies on the Internet connection, which I’m hoping I can access more often, now that I found it.