Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thinking Weaving Eating Heating

As November passes quickly, I figured out what they do at one of Avani's (NGO) remote weaving centers, found my balance in the words of Osho, the profound talker, welcomed a new volunteer, wolfed down a special meal in secret, and witnessed the local office heating method.
When Purunda, our weaving expert said he was headed to Sukna, a weaving center about 2 km from the nearest road, I begged him to let me come and scrambled to pack my bag with a toothbrush and a few books, including a new comic in Hindi that I am nowhere near understanding. After a packed jeep ride filled with the popular smell of lemon aftershave, we hopped out and descended down a trail, past a few homes and trellassed vegetable plots, meanwhile Purunda's radio blared the India-England cricket game. I guess the got a few hundred points and won. For more on cricket, watch "Lagaan" which I can't seem find a copy of.
At Sukna we were greeted with rice, which my already upset stomach happly accepted. I watched the spinners that afternoon as they transfered treads, dyed naturally back at my center, to spindles for easy loading onto the weaving looms, meanwhile Purunda examined the fabrics being woven. That evening we walked out to watch the sun set on a full Himalayan panorama, collecting acorns on the way back for a fire. I tried to talk to a tree as Osho had suggested. We ate yams, big mistake, and my night's slumber was frequently interrupted by freezing trips to the outhouse - higher altitute means lower temperature. After sleeping all morning, thus cancelling a temple visit, I helped sort scrap fibers, learning the difference between silk and wool threads and honing cross-legged sitting technique on the ground (or at least a tolerance numb feet). The next morning, our last, I sat in the sun with Purunda, reading the thinker, Osho, on Taoism and leaning left and right, to eventually come back to the center. Envy crept up on me as I watched Purunda sit idly, but content, in the sunshine, happy with his own thoughts or inner peace, or whatever held him in his seat, while I sought the distraction of texts.
Back at the main center, three foreign visitors had come and gone, and a new volunteer had come to stay for her three month tenure. Trying to help Jessica settle in, a recent textile graduate from southern England, I felt very established here in my habits and interactions, even if my stomach remained unsettled. I was even invited to an evening meal of chicken, cooked up in the machine shop, keeping the veg kitchen clean.
The official auditors, stealing my red pen for their two day visit, brought the rain with them, which caused the temperature to drop drastically. While my ground-breaking heater-radiator design goes unbuilt in our workshop, the office was heated with a pan full of coals and an open window to ventilate. The auditors took a break from work to watch an Indian war movie, peering through a smoky room into a smoky battlefield of explosions and gunfire.
Films have increased in interest tenfold since I discovered subtitles available for download online. Reading subtitles trumps reading body language like a full house to a pair of queens, I say, as I read reviews of the gambling James Bond's newest film I am unable to watch... yet. It's only a 60 km hike, or 100 km jeep ride, to the nearest movie theater and my feet are starting to itch.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Arrows from a local Ramlila

As time flies by, I maintain the laid-back working atmosphere that every volunteer should aim for. I have survived the ten night Diwali epic staged in our town, listened to Obama's acceptance speech through an international phone call, welcomed the long-awaited return of Avani's director and wife, and just today ate half of a lemon, sprinkled with chili salt while we tried to change the motor on a solar-powered machine.

Kailas collects silk cocoons, originally uploaded by wanders.

Following the celebration of Diwali, a local troupe set up a stage, collected a few locals to act and began performing a section of the Ramayana from 8-12 pm (no daylight savings in India) every night for ten consecutive nights. I only sat through four evenings of mainly songs accompanied by two hand drums and a hand pressed accordion type keyboard - once I only watched from the cold grass slope, cracking and eating peanuts for an hour before returning to my room. The last night I went, I met an energetic fellow who ranted about Obama and Khali (an Indian wrester in the WWE) and eventually declared he himself was both Napoleon and Bruce Lee, and a robot, to top it off. I am slowly learning the Indian sense of humor.

Ramlila Performance, originally uploaded by wanders.

The high point of my stay here occurred when Obama claimed his victory, and in the morning that was an American evening of epic proportions, I made them turn on a small black and white television for news about the election, to no avail. As I tried to get my tiny slow laptop to stream radio reports about chad counting my big brother came to the rescue and I was summoned to the office to take his call. I stood outside on the plastic phone, staring at a clear Himalayan morning as he told me the news, announced McCain's concession to me and eventually, after some patient conversation about St Louis county and how my unsent absentee ballot had not prevented Obama's victory there, Jess held his computer mic up to CNN and I listened to a pride-instilling acceptance speech, giving my fellow workers thumbs ups as they walked by. Elated all day, I learned important Hindi words like "election" and "president" but was unable to properly rant about the wonderful opportunity to turn a new leaf on domestic and international policy. I simply said that maybe now I'd be able to get a job and health care when I got home.
Rajnish and Reshmi, the founders of this organization, returned from almost two months away, which included presenting products at a French fair-trade craft exposition, and I received a boost in motivation. I learned a bit about the history of the work here and jumped headlong into projects for community radio permission, to find funding for a digital camera to produce local videocasts (ideas?), and figure out how to make crayons and/or chalk with natural dyes and local beeswax/soapstone.
Less from a logistics perspective, I was sitting reading an old New Yorker, which duly arrived in my Halloween package three days after the holiday along with some candy tastefully familiar to my tongue, and an old man walked up, sat down and began conversing with me in English. Having had numerous boring conversations about how many siblings I had and how much money I made, etc, my gut urged me to return to my article. I decided to be respectful, however, rather than reclusive, and ended up learning about his military service (he knew "one percent Chinese"), the strange diet of foreigners visiting the Indian beaches of Goa ("fish and bread"), and after being recruited to work for the local government, he offered me guava and lemons from his home if I stopped by sometime.
I have almost completed a small pine needle cutting machine, more done to learn what tools we have access to (lots of metal chisels and hammering) than for its usefulness. I am learning slowly that sharing my ambitious projects with Chanchal, the head of the mechanical workshop, gets the ball rolling much faster, as compared to my futile attempts at securing things such as machine part catalogs, etc. Plans are in full swing to build a test heater for the office, using an old car radiator to distribute heat, maybe even incorporating a home-brewed stirling engine fan - Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway) has come up with a stirling engine car that can run off anything combustible for ThinkCity. Google it. I didn't. I'm still reading last month's magazines.