Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hampi Boulders

Chaco heel hook, originally uploaded by wanders.

rock climbing til the new year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Coast to Rock

Fed up with the hardships of my volunteering, to simplify my reasons, I left Avani, finishing a three month tenure, and flew, first time since I arrived in Spain six months earlier, to Goa, a tourist hotspot with beaches and parties, that are reported to have been shut down due to safety concerns. After a twenty hour bus ride and a very short plane trip, I arrived at the beach just as the sun was setting over the water, meanwhile tourists flew through the air hanging from parachutes pulled by boats. I didn't explore the night life, going to bed around 8pm, but did appreciate some fine coffee in the morning, and watched the locals pulling in their nets with some modest catches.

colva beach, goa, originally uploaded by wanders.

I then departed for Hampi, a famous rock climbing destination, surviving another long bus ride, but not before I wandered through town, got a pizza, and watched Transporter 3 (first Indian cinema experience - intermissions?). Arriving in Hampi, I met a few foreigners, found out that a once-every-twelve-years festival was going on, making it a crowded place. I eventually discovered the rock climbers, and have been hanging out in "the heart of nature" at a fine guest house, which pampers us with pancakes, beers, and a goat-roast for Christmas - the non-exclusive occasion is supposed to be referred to as "Goat Day". I got to the top of egg boulder and have a few more problems to work on before I go back to the beach from here, returning to Delhi early January 1st to meet my first visitor, my dear mother.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Beeswax Crayon Wedding Dance

I can now admit to having seen an Indian meeting, a hand-made pit loom for weaving, a full Kumaoni music and dance "talent show," the entire Hindu wedding ceremony, and finally an American film in Hindi.
In an attempt to bring the community back together, I organized a meeting to discuss "programming" with the man in charge of community events. This turned into a large circle of chairs and many participants, destroying any chance I had of actually controlling the input. The first issue of giving the children something to do errupted into an enthusiastic rumble of game ideas and an impromptu hopskotch demonstration. I let things go their way, trying to steer us towards the idea of a "talent show" and that was a meeting - the dinner bell rang.
Meanwhile, I continued with my small projects, completing a comic book cover for the first issue of Kumaoni-man and nearly burning down the dying room when my beeswax ignited, ending my all natural crayon tests and filling everything with smoke. A trip to Dharamghar to see the looms was extremely slow, but after sunset, we wandered downhill, to a few humble homes, only to view a spectacular ancient looking pit loom made from crooked branches held together sparsely with string and nails - the artisan sits in a pit and weaves thread through the intricate set-up by hand. Turned out it was barely two years old. After a slow night, interrupted by some animal scratching at the ceiling, a cold morning made warm chai all the more tasty, along with some rhoti and chickpeas very kindly whipped up for us over a propane stove. The staff were extremely kind despite some grumbling about conditions, particularly the salary for the night watchman - new understanding is that the organization's finances are stretched thin to provide income for as many people as possible, though it may be meager.
Returning a day later, the 4th day of the month meant all the leaders came to our center for a meeting and that night we had our "talent show," which was more a series of stories (it took 10 minutes for me to tell the joke "what's worse than finding a worm in your apple?"). After the stories came Kumaoni singing, with drumming and harpsichord and invitations to dance - I kicked it with 5-year-old Comu, learning a few (Kumaoni?) dance moves along the way.
Last weekend I finally witnessed the full wedding tradition with my friend Nermal, starting at 10 am, and pushing on through til after dinner - we retired at 8pm, though I think the music and dancing continued. Highlights included the bands, one in the local, Kumaoni tradition, with a few drummers, flaunting women's dresses, while the band explained to be from the plains' tradition boasted two clarinets, drums and a three-man horn section, though only one euphonium (ie small tuba) actually worked. The trumpet never made a peep, and the other (broken) euphonium blasted the only note it could play from time to time. The hills' band seemed more about impressing people, with their non-mnusical members and marching band-esque outfits of bright blue and red. The music was awful, but full of cheer and got the crowd moving, the lead clarinetist full of energy and smiles despite the drunks repeatedly bumping into him.
After hoisting up the groom, we trekked from Nermal's town to the bride's home, an hour or so along the road and creek, the groom now riding donkey-back, stopping in her town for tea and snacks. We arrived at her house, nearly 100-strong, only to face her hundred guests, packing us all into a small three-family estate. I had never thought of a seat at a wedding as a luxury before. The bride came out of her house after an hour of groom preparation (reading in Sanskrit) and wowed us all with her beauty. They put flower wreaths around eachother's necks and we broke for lunch, sitting on the ground in a circle, while servers scooped for us from buckets of rice, veggies, paneer (Indian cheese!) and some too-sour chutney. Back to the wedding rites, I failed to get any kind of detailed explanation of what was being recited and performed with some water and fruit and spice and... The two families then pulled out large metal trunks and exchanged fruit baskets, shawls, Timberland shoes, and finally a gold chain, back and forth, pausing for the camera-man mid-hand off, smiling uncomfortably, meanwhile two camcorders rolled, capturing video for a later highlight clip. As this concluded and they moved on to another ritual, the bride and groom now seated side by side rather than across from eachother, Nermal and I headed out, hoping to hike back before dark.
Back at the groom's home, we waited for the wedding troupe to return, then ate an even finer buffet dinner to the sounds of clarinets tooting and drums banging.
That night we again crossed the creek to return to Nermal's house, calling it an early night.
On my uphill bike ride back to Avani, I stopped and bought "Viaje a Darjeeling" (Darjeeling Limited) and after teaching my first computer class, I watched a familiar film in an unfamiliar tongue, with unaligned subtitles. Newest goal is to get a sweater vest knit for me, all the rave out here, though the yarn available has a bit of a sparkle to it, so I may be too shy to wear it back in the states.
As I scramble to finish a few projects in the next weeks before the year ends, I hope to complete some testing for our solar water heater and at least get one stove-heater built for the office here.
So, what's worse? Answer: finding half a worm.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shiva's Cave to Hope

After a late night wedding viewing, the directing duo - the director and his wife - returned to motivate, inspire, and employ various techniques to bump productivity out here, accompanied by an old, long-winded, engineer. I ate the freshest chicken of my life with a few shop workers, celebrated Thanksgiving with the meager supplies available (flour, eggs, water), then recently trekked out to Patal Bhuwneshwar, a famous Hindu cave that supposedly connects underground to Tibet.
Direj (who's name means 'patience' I recently discovered) works in the dying department, using tumeric, indigo, rust, and other natural pigments to color the fabric produced here. He invited myself and Jessica, our British volunteer, out to his young sister's wedding last week, and we were reluctantly accompanied by other Avani workers, hesitant because they claimed it was too cold to go to a wedding... After waiting in the nearby temple for half an hour, the wedding band arrived, having driven in decorated cars and vans from the groom's village 100 km away, carrying around 100 of his guests, and a team of male dancers dressed as women. We drank tea at the temple, watched the dancers and then headed off to Direj's village for the ceremony. After a lot of standing around at the road, we stumbled in the dark to his house, which was prepared to host the 200 or so guests. Waiting and waiting ensued, during which the numerous stories of my misadventures were told and I was requested to call someone a "mutt" in Hindi - my most recent entertaining skill. Since the congregation was all male ("the wedding will be 10% women" they said), Jessica and I went up to the attic to meet the bride, who looked terrified but smiled when we told her she looked beautiful, decked out in brilliantly colored clothes and an ornate nose ring (traditional name?). After the groom was carried in on a hoisted chair, we all went to eat, and stuffed ourselves with amazing spiced vegetable dishes and the most incredible chutney I have ever had. We left around 11 pm, waddling back downhill along the road, nursing engorged bellies. Turns out Direj ended up with leftovers and I recently managed to get a jar of chutney from his mother.
The directing duo returned to get things moving, and I finally realized how much of my own initiative will be required to get things done, hearing that with coaxing/vigilance, the machine shop productivity can jump to five times the normal pace. The solar hot water heaters made here must be certified so that they can sell to the government, and I had numerous conversations with a 60-year-old mechanical engineer Delhi-ite about what was required, every time entering some philosophical discussion of anything I wasn't interested in, at one point causing me to scowl for 10 minutes straight at the old fellow, who would not stop talking and interrupting. Later he asked me about the hostility, I tried to explain his rudeness, only to be interrupted again with "Now we're trying to retaliate. You really need respect and patience..." blah blah. Cultural differences come out in many situations, but I managed to glean a bit of useful advice from him, and following the travesty of Mumbai, we (he) had a long discussion about the history of terrorism in India.
After they left, I enjoyed a 'non-veg' meal with a few guys from the shop, personally purchasing the meat from the town up the hill. I ordered one kilo of chicken from a man in a shack with no shoes - he pulled a chicken out of its cage, killed it on the spot and I watched him strip and prepare the meat on a huge tree stump, as he squatted on the floor. I was amazed, walking away with a bag of warm meat, later to eat the freshest non-veg dish of my life, doused in local spices, a mere two hours later.
Following a Thanksgiving breakfast feast, with yours truly cooking up pancakes to be covered in local honey, we had a modest, but delicious curry for dinner, and I even managed to wrangle a Brit into celebrating someone else's holiday - we said thanks for the local chocolate cream filled cookies and chai.
For a break following the burden of the directors, with their oversight and wailing child, we went to a famous cave nearby, which supposedly housed Shiva, the Hindu god, during his adventures. There are numerous stories about dogs entering the cave and coming out in faraway places, and I was instructed to bring my passport, since the cave also had a path to America. We walked 8 km from the roadhead, since no jeep passed by to give us a ride, surrounded by "jungal" (Hindi for forest) and magnificent views of the Himalayan peaks. Jitu, a young solar technician (fixes solar panels) told us numerous stories about fighting monkeys and seeing tigers as we walked. Sure, Jitu. When we arrived, Jessica and I forewent a cave tour for a potato pancake breakfast, stomachs growling, and when we finally went down to look, we discovered an absurd 10X markup for foreigners. Unhappy with our treatment and the prospect of paying a fee that we doubted went towards anything at the temple, we waited for our guides to return from their tour, meanwhile spotting some gorgeous bright green parakeets, then headed back up the road. We did get a jeep this time, cramming 15 people into an nine-seater, stopped at the road junction for some tea, and returned in time for lunch. After some rice I resumed reading "The Celestine Prophecy" which preaches of the interconnectedness of the world's energy and wondered if positive energy from here could put some hope into citizens of Mumbai.