Wednesday, November 5, 2008

URMUL and Jaisalmer

Namaste Family and Friends,
Sorry I haven't written for some time. Here's an update:
Diwali with my family in Jaipur was amazing. On Oct. 27, the day before Bare Diwali (the biggest celebration day) Akshara did henna on my hand and at night Papa-ji took me to the Old City to see all the lights! Diwali is the festival of lights, so everyone decorates their homes with lights and the buisnesses and buildings in the Old City are full of lights and elaborate light displays. The days leading up to Diwali were filled with house cleaning, buying new clothes, and making special foods and sweets. On the day of Bare Diwali (Oct. 28) we had a special breakfast and lunch and in the afternoon Akshara, Rachel and I made a rungoli design on the floor in front of the house (which is the tradition to make the door beautiful for Sita to return). Then we all put on our holiday best clothes (Rachel and I wore saris!) and we lite 75 diya candles. These candles were placed around the house, at at the Ganesh temple and Shiva temple near our house. Then we went back home and had family puja (prayer). Its hard to know how to put this experience into words. It was beautiful, humbling, mysterious, comfortable and touching. Everyone did aarti and all of us got the holy red and yellow strings tied on our wrists. Then after puja, we had a family dinner and then went around visiting family members in the apartment complex. Everyone visits each other and offers sweets and namkeen. Rachel and I got sooooo full of sweets and sugar! After all the family and friend visits it was fireworks time!!! Neighbors and family members all gathered downstairs in front of the apartment to set off fireworks- fire rains, fire spinning things, sparklers, fire crackers, and lots more. It was beautiful! Then we went up on the roof to watch all the fireworks around the city. There were state fair size fireworks being shot off EVERYWHERE around us from people's homes! We went to bed around one in the morning, but the fireworks and celebrations carried on long after that. I'll post photos soon.

On the 30th, Erik and I left early in the morning for our journey to Jaisalmer to our new NGO. We first went with our driver, Mungal Singh, to his house, met his family and had chai and sweets with his brother. Then, we were on the road. 10 hours later we reached Pokran, which is about 100 km from Jaisalmer, but is the site of the NGO's training center. The NGO we are working with is called URMUL and their main project is reviving artisan weaving tradition in the desert. They do this by providing looms and cotton for weavers and then creating a market (both nationally and internationally) for them to sell their products. URMUL has three or four offices that work on the following development initiatives: birth registration, child rights and education, girl education, women's empowerment and self-help groups, horticulture and agriculture, water security, natural disaster risk reduction, Dalit advocacy and empowerment, and female foeticide. After two days of all staff training (where all of URMUL staff met to discuss their various projects) we left Pokran for Jaisalmer with Vimla-ji and Maga Ram. We are in Jaisalmer for about 10 days with them visiting small villages to discuss issues surrounding female foeticide. (Female foeticide is the intentional abortion of female fetus because of the overwhelming preference for boy children in India. This used to take the form of female infanticide, but with the introduction of the ultrasound to India in the mid 80s, this took on the form of female foeticide. This has resulted in a large drop in female sex ratio. In Rajasthan it is 906/1000-this means for every 1000 men there re 906 women. But in Jaisalmer it is as low at 800/1000, and in some states of India it is in the 700s. ) I will offer more information on this topic and our field studies soon. Feel free to ask questions as well.

We are living at the URMUL office in Jaisalmer and daily making trips to villages. Yesterday we visited Vimla-ji's village and stayed overnight with her family. It was a wonderful experience and her 5 children (4 girls and 1 boy-Vimla is happy to have girls and is the main worker on the female foeticide program with URMUL) were a delight to be with.

Now I'm at an internet cafe and responding to emails and updating this blog.

AND, I AM SOOOOOOOOO HAPPY AND PROUD THAT OBAMA WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OBAMA/BIDEN!!!! Barack Hussein Obama is MY PRESIDENT, OUR PRESIDENT!!!

Also, I want to thank everyone who has sent their love, comments, and support. There are many: Nate, Mom, Dad, Noah, Tio Tim, Courtney, Kate, EC, Pablo, Travis, Sherah, Colby, Carol Frohl, Sherri, Caryn, Melissa, Ruth G., Danilo, Ryan, Carrie, Kala, Lucreshia, Elizabeth, Kathy Singh...

Love to all. Hooray on this very happy and historical day.
Much love and hugs from the desert of India.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Hi! I was thinking of you today in light of yesterday's incredible outcome so I searched for your blog. Wow - what a great experience you are having! congrats - your cultural insights continue to be a gift to us all! And CONGRATS to all on the election of BO!
All the best and big HUGS!
love, Carol Frohl.