ah, i made it. i’m finally back to the hotel in bed, under the warmth of my kantha blanket, listening to my ipod. relaxation at last! i realize how quickly my time here has passed and yet very slowly at certain points. this will probably be my final personal post in india.
i feel that in the past few days we have hit our stride. i have become more accustomed to the whirlwind of each day. however, somethings never get easier. the overwhelming number of people who ask you everyday for money, food, and favors on every journey outside the hotel is daunting. A group of women, that reside in the backpacker neighborhood, walk around with a child in their arms ask you to buy them formula for the 2-3 year old. we encounter this scam daily. it might sound severe but these women persistently follow you for blocks while grabbing your arm. i find it odd that the children still need formula at their age and the bottles are always empty. there is such an incredible amount of poverty that you become numb. i hate that these situations are normal to me.
i do find it easy to forget that the women of anchal live in severe poverty too. when they stroll into new light, they are clean, well dressed and smiling. i remind myself that they live in squatter settlements, a shack under a bridge, or a small closet size concrete room, probably with three to five other people. i feel overwhelmed at the living conditions and their situations. now they are relying on me.
today was a very special workshop with the women. i am feeling more and more acceptance everyday. the sex workers are making beautiful inspiring work and i feel that some of them have true design talent. arati told urmi that she feels so lucky to be learning all these things from us. until that transition it was hard to realize whether we were making a real impact with our workshops. not understanding the language has become unbearable. i can only do my best to read body language and imagine success through smiles.
it is truly unfortunate i can not listen to the women discuss the project. urmi and the new light staff are always extremely busy running in a million directions, leaving translators few and far between. for example, today in the “large” room at new light, which resembles most americans living rooms, there was the anchal workshop with 25 women, kids taking naps on mats, and a teachers workshop for all the new light staff taught by a fellow american, jenna. ahhh! o yes and there were a new group of volunteers that appeared for orientation, 3 women ready to meet with urmi, and 5 anchal children running around. it was insane! i can barely do this justice when describing the level of volume and bodies crammed into this small space! wow…in moments like this you realize just how unpredictable working in india can be. just when devon and i think that we are organized and have a clear plan for the workshop, we arrive to find the kids still eating lunch and the room packed with people. it is impossible to try and control the situation. our “schedule” no longer exists and our plan of attack shifts again. adaptibility…..
i continue to feel the need to speak bengali. i know a total of five words, two of which are very and good (khoob bhalo). i used this phrase many many times today, trying my best to express the excitement of seeing such amazing work. i am extremely impressed by the raw talent and creativity the women share when they translate images into textile collage and stitch. it became the joke among the women and myself to repeat the only phrase i knew. bhalo bhalo bhalo. haha. i’m sure i was mispronouncing it severely and with some blend of an american spanish pronunciation. who thinks about learning bengali growing up? there were great moments of laughter with the women about my lack of bengali vocabulary. it was great to laugh together. it is important to me and to anchal’s vision to create personal connections by communicating through words of encouragement. they all start a project with hesitance and fear but it is evident to devon and i that they have amazing talents. constant encouragement and praise seems essential. i am so proud of the progress the women have made and feel that today they too recognized their skills.
i can not believe i leave in three days. we are finally making a break through with the women and building valuable relationships. i am definitely ready for the comforts of home but i am already plotting my return. i believe it is critical to continue educational workshops that expand the women’s creativity as well as looking beyond to savings accounts, entrepreneurship, and scholarship. it is more than a new income but an alternative lifestyle. it is too bad devon and i are both drowning in student loans and will be facing the “real world” in a few months. how will we continue? i worry about anchal’s future and can only hope and pray that funding will come.
we visited shantiniketan today – headquarters of bengali kantha, among many other things. it was a four-hour journey by car (1-way), made quite pleasant by stops at roadside stalls where we drank chai out of tiny ceramic cups and ate treats shaped like sausages!
once in shantiniketan we prowled around the university campus (began by rabindranath tagore) and finally made our way to shops and stalls selling kantha. the stitching was beautifully done, though we both feel it suits the western market best in small doses. the intricate patterning and needlework becomes very intense very quickly. we didn’t come across any kantha quilts, though. we figured since the kantha quilt is made by and for the poor it’s not made for semi-wealthy tourists. we see this as a missed opportunity – one will we happily seize.
we spent today on a boat exploring the sundarbans (and looking for tigers which we didn’t see) with lili’s class. the 5+ hours on the water gave us a good opportunity to chat with other students about anchal and our trip. one-two students may be interested in interning for us during their time here 🙂 we’re grateful for the new insight. we’ll hold a workshop with the group on tuesday 1/12 to brainstorm new composition ideas, potential products and marketing strategies.