Monday, February 14, 2005

sending some love from a'bad

so it's valentine's day & the amount of love here is endless... but i do miss all of you. so i send y'all virtual hugs & a wink or two.
i wander about a'bad in a constant state of wonder & i'm hoping that i don't appear to be too much of a space cadet but i'm actually quite busy & surprisingly filling up my cute lil day planner (one of which i've lost already-so please forgive me if i forget your birthday this year!!!!) with various appointments & social obligations.
i spend my days basically playing with a lot of kids & hearing the chant "photo paro photo paro" as i attempt to digitally document the various projects for manav sadhna. i'm starting to be known as "camerawali" so i may haveta give the camera a rest for a wee bit.
ellie & i have been visiting the balwadis for some time now & are now going to be responsible for getting to them & communicating with the teachers on our own! i'm a bit scared that my gujarati isn't quite up to the task but we'll give it a go & if we get lost in the tekra there is always someone that can show us the way back to manav sadhna. we've managed to organize our reporting system & also held a meeting/brainstorming session with the teachers asking them for their input on how the balwadis could be improved. the idea is for the balwadi to improve the entire family's standard of living (a lot like even start!) & there is much work to be done combating the problems they face. we've seen how alcoholism affects the tekra firsthand last week when a drunk man stumbled into one of the balwadis yelling & screaming at us & scaring the 3-5 yr old kids off right before we fed them lunch. i'm certain that a few of those kids missed their one meal of the day due to that incident.
the communal harmony project continues to be entertaining...we've had several meeting now & the kids sound wonderful singing & making music together & although the girls are a bit shy when it comes to the drama games i reckon they will gain confidence in time. we finally picked the 8 kids from the moslem school the other day & will begin working with them this week...they are very very excited to be a part of the project & incredibly talented as well. this friday we will take the hindu children into a moslem part of a'bad to witness a bit of the mohurrum rituals. next month, the two groups will meet & we are planning all sorts of activities to encourage open & provoking conversations between them as well as just allowing the kids to get to know each other & have fun.
there has been no shortage of projects to help with at the ashram. some days i help ellie with her english class, or go off with manish & mahesh to help with the non-formal street schools (but i basically serve as a distraction there!), or hang out practicing gujarati/english translation on the sunny porch with the earn&learn project kids making wedding invitations. & every day brings a new surprise. today gandhi's grandson came with a man named nipun mehta who runs an organization called charity focus. here is his blog: will hear more about what he's doing with manav sadhna tomorrow.
on a more social note, the other night we danced ras garba at a friend's cousin's wedding & then another night were taken to a sanskruti mela celebrating spring where we heard a desert symphony & watched all sorts of traditional dance & ate fresh dhokla (yum) & another night we had hannah & mansoor over for a homecooked meal...
speaking of food, i've developed an obsession with kulfi & indian chinese food. i will not be getting skinny here. at all.
oh! & i've reconnected with my family here which has been rather intense & much needed. my cousin yunus has introduced me to my mother's half-sister & half-brother's extended families. i was very moved by the way they welcomed me. i need to go back after mohurrum to visit them.going to see them also exposed me to a deeply moslem part of a'bad that i hadn't experienced yet. the old town is full of gorgeous islamic architecture & my eyes are i am also sending healing thoughts to my fakru kaka in mumbai who is recovering from an eye operation. send him some love too!
okay, enough for now. will send a poem soon.loveish

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

ofoto link!

whatta amazing place

i've finally landed at manav sadhna & it's beyond words how truly amazing this place is. if you haven't had a chance to check out their website yet, i urge you to do so: here feels like coming full circle. feels like coming home. being here/working here/ learning here/playing here is a mixture of what i loved about my work at ASPIRE (Communities in Schools) and the Dougherty Arts Center, my peace & justice courses in college, my activist tendencies, my tumultuous family history, my idealism & my need for real-world practical solutions. i've only been here a week & yet i already feel this intense connection with the people here (they told me it was one big family & they weren't joking) there has been no shortage of introductions & i'm going through a strange brain freeze on remembering & pronouncing all of these names but my gujarati is coming back in jagged spurts mixed with a touch of espanol when i'm nervous & a bit of hindi when i'm confused...and really i should call what i'm speaking gujlish because everyone seems to pepper their conversations with a lil english. at the moment i am working on a few projects at of them is a lot like even start actually! here the pre-k education/nutrition centers are called balwadis.a link to a better description of them: & i have been recruited to help monitor these rather new centers. so every morning after pratna (a peace prayer/meeting) we wander to the slums (the tekra) to visit the various balwadis. we take a small path into the tekra from behind our house that winds past a field where all the kids fly their kites, & instead of road rage during our "commute" there is a certain zen to waiting for the various goats & stray dogs & cows to slowly move outta our way. the gullies (alleyways) to the balwadis are a labyrnith that we will eventually be able to master after a few months (i hope! or someone should send me a gps!) but right now we have a wonderful guide named suhag to take us to the balwadis & help us communicate with the teachers. this morning (just as we have done every morning this week) we watched the children sing & do their exercises & played some games with them. they are very cute & very curious about us & sometimes scared of us too. they immediately greet us with a "namaste" & there is a chorus of "tata tata" when we leave. hopefully they will become used to our visits & we can establish more long lasting connections with them. they are obviously in need of personal attention & care & these balwadis are a wonderful way for them to get used to going to school & being hygenic & eating nutritiously. there is an emphasis placed on cleanliness as well as extention of gandhi's safai ethic. which is something i never really considered before but jayeshbhai's father (ishwar patel) is known as "mr. toilet" & with his NGO (the environmental sanitation institute) has been fighting the very humble fight of getting proper sanitation to the slums & villages in order to cut down on the water bourne diseases in india. we toured the new facility where they will train others on building low cost water efficient toilets as well as smokeless chullas (stoves) to cut down on smoke pollution. sorry if i'm rambling but i have learned soo much about this NGO that i want to share & i'm not being as concise & eloquent as i should be because i'm always composing in the moment at whatever internet cafe i happen to be at. so please forgive me. the other project i'm working on involves communal harmony. i've joined a new EKTA project here is a link to explain better what the manav sadhna EKTA project is: that was started by an indicorp fellow named shivana and a local volunteer named jignesh. we're only just getting started with a few songs & only working with the hindu kids now & i'll know more once we've picked the kids from the moslem community & the play has been worked the by, i can't tell you how wonderful it was to have my birthday here. at pratna i was intoduced to the lovely ritual of lighting a candle & creating light on your birthday instead of extinguishing it. in india it is traditional to give gifts/sweets to others on your birthday so i spent the day handing out chocolates to kiddos & adults alike. it was saturday & so the ashram was having a "saturday special" where the ashram kids get to just enjoy being kids & playing & so i played with them all day & handed out bananas & cadbury eclairs & over 200 children sang happy birthday to me in the cutest voices ever. it was a real priviledge to be able to spend my birthday here. i feel totally blessed.i should go for now...i'll write more later as the internet cafe here is broadband & quite close to the ashram itself. ellie (a cutiepie 19 yr old college student who is doing an independent study here & living with me in the manav sadhna guesthouse) has been incredibly patient as i've downloaded a bazillion photos & tried to finish this note up...look out for the ofoto invite i'm about to send ya too.hope all is well in your world. please keep sending me news of what's going on in your lives & i promise to write more personal emails & replies soon.happy republic day to all the indians out there!loveish