Sunday, February 06, 2005


Bright Lights, Big City

My absence has been long, has it not? You’ll have to forgive me as last weekend I worked on Saturday and was taken on a tour of nearby Buddhist and Hindu temples on Sunday. Unfortunately, neither of these places of had any sort of Internet connection, even though it probably would have made them even more popular.

The big news since I last posted is that my volunteer time has finished! I know I’m shocked about it because my time went very, very quickly. Indeed, I felt like I’ve barely posted about what I was doing in Rajgarh, and now it’s finished! So I’ll try to give a bit of a quick overview, even though I’d like to note that I don’t think I’ll have a clear sense of what the trip meant until after I’ve returned to the US. My placements were definitely the highlight of my time there. Although I wasn’t helping in a necessarily critical situation, I had a great time with my girlies. Despite a fairly major language barrier, I was able to teach my students 3 new projects: fingerless gloves, purses, and hats. I was also able to show them a variety of different stitch patterns, so that they can liven up their future projects. I was also teach many of the students some knitting terms and abbreviations in English and help them to be able to read English patterns – this part also had a reciprocal effect, in that I also picked up many Hindi knitting words. Although my students may not have fully understood some of the useful math concepts I was trying to show them and may not remember everything in the long run, many of them did quickly pick up what I was demonstrating and then went on to show them to their classmates. This is how I know they absorbed it, because I saw them teaching it. This is gratifying in that I know in accomplished what I was sent to Rajgarh to do and that the skills I taught will be transmitted through many of the knitters in the town. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if I went back to the area in a year or two and saw many random women carrying handmade purses. These skills may not be used for a business venture necessarily but they have expanded these women’s repertoire so that they can create more lovely items for themselves and their families. They will help them to express their creativity better and they will be useful to many of them who may lead work heavy lives.

The downside to the trip was that I felt that I didn’t get as much personal support from the staff as I would have liked, especially as the only volunteer, and many of the excursions were not particularly enriching. I have informed the staff here in detail and also discussed these issues in my evaluation so that hopefully, the program can be improved upon in the future. Despite all of this, living in that beautiful corner of the world has really filled me with a lovely peaceful feeling. I will always remember the experience of walking up the nearby hills and looking out over the amazing vistas, lifting my dupatta shawl over my head to blow in the lovely breeze. My didi (sister) students said that they will remember me whenever they knit any designs into their projects, and I feel the same about them. I’ll always remember their persistent questions about my marital state, their laughter at my Hindi, their dedication to their craft and absolutely fabulous creations.

I returned to Delhi on Thursday night and after being in such remote conditions, I was absolutely thrilled to be back in a city, even if it is dirty, polluted, has death defying traffic and extreme poverty. I was just so excited to feel the city energy, hear the constant car horns and, most of all, be around lots of other people. This has been especially pertained to the group of volunteers that stayed in Delhi, who are a great group of folks. They’re about half Brit and half American, which in and of itself provides an interesting cultural living experience. It’s been great to hear all of their experiences, see their photos, go to tourist stops and shopping with them, and really just have others to talk to. Indeed, speaking with them in some ways has helped me to process my own experience.

My plan for the rest of the trip is as follows: I will leave tomorrow morning to go to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. From there, I will go on to Varanasi, which is like Jerusalem or Mecca for Hindus. It’s the holiest place in the world for them, and those who die there are freed from the cycle of reincarnations. There are a variety of cremation spots and a multitude of temples lining the Ganges River there, in addition to some great silks. It should be amazing. From there, I’ll see if it’s feasible to go to this town called Khajuraho and see a complex of intricately-carved temples, the most famous of which illustrate the Kama Sutra. Then, I will return to Delhi to meet up with one of the other volunteers and her boyfriend, and we will go on to Jaipur and Udaipur in the desert state of Rajastan. I may go on to a city called Jesilmer (sp?) where at the end of the month, they will be having their annual Desert Festival, which features contests in Rajastani traditions like turban tying and moustaches. Back to Delhi and off to visit Ilona in Paris! The time does certainly go quickly. But I’m very excited for the next phase of my trip, see some great sites and maybe purchase a few souvenirs and crafts. I feel really rejuvenated and I hope that you all are feeling the same.


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