The Bengaluru Service Jam

This weekend, we got thoroughly out of our comfortable rut and participated in something new and crazy: The Bengaluru Service Jam. Bengaluru was one of over 80 cities around the world forming teams to spend an intense weekend exploring big issues using a design-based approach. Nope, we had no idea what that meant, either. We also had no idea how many people would attend, how old they’d be, or what kind of problems we’d tackle. Melissa thought, “Ooo. We’ll be improving social services in Bangalore.” Tom thought, “I’ve been saying that we need to do something new and exciting on the weekends; it’s about time I powered through my ennui.” It’s probably for the best that we knew nothing – with a little more knowledge, we might have skipped it and really missed out on a fascinating experience.

It turns out that a “Service Jam” is a bonzai event, where in 48 hours the group identifiesWhat's a Jam a need and designs a service to address that need. Many of the participants, especially the organizers and facilitators, were specialists in service design, a particular type of design focusing on designing not necessarily products to fill the need, but an entire service experience. The idea is to anticipate the many touchpoints where our clients would come in contact with our service and make sure that everything happens with an eye on fulfilling the objective.

We ended up in separate groups addressing the same question: How might we teach the masses about consent? We got to spend the whole weekend talking to some really smart and interesting people about a topic that we both are passionate about. We learned a lot about the realities of the issues of sexual consent, sexual assault, and all kinds of related issues here in India, beyond the assumptions in the headlines. For example, did you know that people will actually adjust a woman’s bra strap “for her” if it is showing? NEITHER DID WE!

Melissa was in a group, The Scary Heroic Rollercoasters, with a diverse group of peopleJam 4 with vastly differing ideas about what “consent” was referring to, from sexual consent to wedding consent to intellectual properties consent. After an at times touchy process to come to consensus, including the intellectual properties voice dropping out, The Scary Heroic Rollercoasters finally came to focus on sexual assault and designed an app that would help a woman (or man, in rare cases) deal with the moment of assault, from call for help from others in the bar, to locating counselling, to calling the police.

It was interesting that while Melissa’s group started with divergent ideas about what Jam 2consent refers to then focused on a single aspect, Tom’s group, The Pill Hard to Swallow, kind of went the opposite direction. They started out focused on sexual consent on Friday evening, but then on Saturday morning decided that one of the problems is that the answer “no” means nothing in India, whether it’s a sexual context or at a meal with friends. The Pill Hard to Swallow ended up designing a card game not unlike Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, matching people to aggressor behaviors. Players decide how to react to those behaviors then wrote possible consequences for that response. The idea was to help people add various was to say “no” to their vocabulary and to start training people to take “no” for an answer.

The process to get there was at times super fun and super scary. We played chaoticJam 5 games to narrow the topics, stepped back frequently to make sure we were asking the right questions, and we even went out on the street to test our questions on random people. By the end, we were Jam 3able to put together presentations that were shared in the group and uploaded to the Global Service Jam’s website (though we’re having a hard time finding it – we’ll share that link if we ever locate it).

The organizers and facilitators were great. The folks running the Jam were smart, enthusiastic women who continually challenged us to stop acting and do something. That was their big idea – do it first, test it, and then figure out what the results of those tests mean. It was hard for both of us, since we’re thinkers first and doers second, but it was fun. It forced us to put aside our need to think through every possible outcome and how to account for it. We did something, then adjusted based on what actually came out of it.

After a very full weekend from 6pm Friday until 5pm on Sunday (with breaks to go home and sleep), we were exhausted, but pretty proud of ourselves. There are so many exciting things to do in this city – we need to keep getting out there to do new things!

Before We Forget, Part 2

Continuing with our previous blog on the normal life of India that seems strange at first, here are more of the things that jumped out for us when we were new.

It’s always my turn: It’s always your turn too. It’s also his turn and her turn and everyone else’s turn. It seems like the concept of patiently waiting for your turn is just not part of the culture. This shows up in conversation when people happily talk over each other, neither taking nor intending to give offense. It shows up in traffic when people just edge into any open space without concern for anyone else’s desire to be in the space. It shows up at the elevator when everyone enters when the doors open without regard for who was waiting first.

The children have the biggest eyes and brightest smiles: There is something so heart warming when you happen upon a group of children, their eyes light up as they yell, “hello!” and “how are you?” and “what’s your name?” Then when you try to engage them, they seem baffled, since those phrases pretty much tap their English skills.

Poverty and affluence live right next door to each other: There are probably affluent enclaves that we don’t visit where one can forget the extreme poverty that impacts people in this city. That’s not what we see, though. We see the big houses with impressive gates right next to groups of tented tarps where families are living. We see expensive western malls with small children selling pencils and balloons outside, gesturing for something to eat. We see fancy apartment buildings next to dirt roads where people live without plumbing. From what we see, it’s impossible to ignore the poverty that surrounds us everywhere we go.

Just because someone is speaking English doesn’t mean you can understand them: Some people do not speak English at all, but most speak some and many are entirely proficient. Yet even those who are fluent are sometimes difficult to understand. English is spoken both very quickly and very softly, and the emphasis on a word is often not where we would put it. Speaking on the phone with stores or delivery people can be very difficult and probably very frustrating for them as they wonder why can’t we understand what they’re saying when they are saying it in perfect English!

A tremendous number of people work in each store: It is not unusual for the number of workers to outnumber the shoppers. Some of those workers will simply be in the way while you’re trying to get down aisles, as they stand about and chat. Others will follow you, offering assistance that you don’t want while standing closely enough that it’s difficult to see the things for which you are shopping. As soon as one leaves (after you explain that you’re just looking and would prefer to shop alone), another one takes their place.

We are photographed all the time: We’ve written about this elsewhere, but it’s worth including here too. For most people here in Bengaluru, we are walking, talking flamingos and they can’t wait to snap a picture. Usually we are asked to pose for “selfies,” but then end up posing while someone else takes a picture. We are not celebrities for whom the paparazzi are a necessary evil to boost our careers. We do not have stylists ensuring that we are always photo-ready. We generally dislike being photographed. And yet we smile when asked and try to not to get snippy with the 5th request in an hour. It’s hard to imagine what people do with all these pictures.

Communication modes are different: Here in India, there is no voicemail. When you want to reach someone, you either just keep calling or you send a text. If it’s someone you know, you message them using What’sApp. Because of all this texting, it’s frequently used for advertising. We don’t even know how we ended up on some of these lists, but we delete 10+ spam text messages each day.

And yet, for all of these strange things, this feels more like home every day,

 

Chapter 13: Hiking Utari Betta

After our trip to beautiful, clean, green Kerala, we made a pact to get out of the city into nature at least once each month. For November, we chose a hike with the Bangalore Mountaineering Club to Utari Betta. We couldn’t find it on the map so had no idea where we were actually going, but trusted that we’ve have a nice day out. We were not disappointed.

We left home at 6:15 in the morning to get to the downtown pick-up spot in plenty of time to meet our group: an Indian family of four, a 20-something British couple newly relocated to Bengaluru, an Indian woman recently returned after 13 years in the US, an Indian couple new to hiking, and our leader, Bhavani.

The day started with a 2 1/2 hour drive to our trailhead, although it was broken up by a stop at a roadside restaurant where we enjoyed delicious masala dosas and vada, and where Bhavani purchased the vegetable biryani that we would carry in our packs to have for lunch later.

This hike was described on the website as “easy” and we were concerned that we 20171112_102305wouldn’t actually get much exercise, but that was not the case. While we did not hike quickly, we did hike steadily upward for quite a while over massive granite stones. In some places steps had been cut into the rock, in others weDSCF0620 had to scramble a bit. There were occasional stretches through areas with dense foliage, but we were in the sun for most of the day. The youngest child moved slowly all the way up, so her parents did too, but she was a trooper, and they all made it, thanks to Bhavani stepping in to cheerfully keep things moving when needed.

Our first stopping point was a lovely temple to Shiva, newly whitewashed and festooned with lights for a recent festival. We walked around, relaxed in the much needed shade, and admired the views.

 

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It turns out that Utari Betta is also called Huthridurga and is one of 9 “durgas” or hilltop forts in the region. This one was built by Kempegowda in the 16th century. While most of it is gone, there are still visible walls and archways along the way which were really cool to see. Bhavani pointed out Savandurga, visible in the mist across the valley, which is one of the largest monolith hills in Asia.

 

 

Our next stop was described as a cave, but was really a giant rock that one could crawlDSCF0621 under and then climb between huge boulders to another spectacular view. Melissa elected not to crawl, but Tom said it was totally worth it.

From there, we returned to an open flat area for our biryani lunch. As we were finishing up, we encountered another large busload of people from BMC that were trailing us. We had always been pleased with our small, friendly group, but were even more so after encountering the boisterousness of the other group later in our hike. A group yelling, “Woo!” from the hilltops kind of ruins the peace of being out in nature.

 

We then leisurely descended, made our way back to the bus, and dozed on the way home, happy with our outing. We’ll look into other hiking groups as well, but will likely return to do more with BMC.

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Happy group at the end of a lovely day.

 

Grover ZampaVineyards

Grover Zampa Vineyards is about 40 minutes north of us toward the Nandi Hills. The drive there is lovely, as the city falls away and you gradually find yourself surrounded by the farms and greenery that our neighborhood used to be. And of course being at a winery gives us one less thing to miss from Oregon.

We’ve gone twice in the last couple months and look forward to going again soon. The first time was when we had a happy visit from our brother-in-law Michael. The three of us started the day with breakfast at the Mavalli Tiffin Room (yum!) and a stroll through20171022_154327 Lalbagh Botanical Garden before heading out for a lovely afternoon. We arrived a little late for lunch, but were still so full from breakfast that we didn’t mind. Our 15-member tour group was first told about the history of the winery. Launched in 1988, it was the first winery in India – this is an incredibly new industry here – and the current winemaker is the granddaughter of the founder. We then walked through the entire process of winemaking, from the crush pad to fermentation tanks to bottling and labeling. Our guide, Vipin, is so knowledgeable. We’ve been on many similar tours, but still learned some new things. The tour ended in the cellar where Vipin first told us about the 27 wines they make from the 6 different grapes that they grow. As a new industry, the stores that sell wine don’t know much about it and don’t keep it in optimal conditions (e.g. Not Just Wine and Cheese near us keeps their wine on the upper floor with no air conditioning and many of the bottles standing upright). We were pleased to taste properly stored wine. It’s really good! Sadly, on that visit in October, we were told that a couple of their high end wines wouldn’t be released until November so we’ve have to return. Darn!

When we returned, we went with a big group of Tom’s colleagues. Ten of us headed out for the 10:30 am tour and tasting, followed by lunch. On this visit, the winery was very active and the machinery noise frequently drowned out Vipin’s explanations of things. Added to this, our tour group had 25 people, so it was difficult to see and hear everything. No matter! The tasting was still very enjoyable. And the lunch to follow (vegetable biryani with raita and gulab juman for dessert) was tasty. Unfortunately, the wines we were interested in have been delayed so we’ll have to go again next month. Looks like we’re going to be Grover regulars 🙂

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Before We Forget

The longer we live here in Bengaluru, the more normal it becomes. Things that used to make us stop and stare no longer get a moment’s consideration. Things that baffled us are simply the way things are. So now, while we still remember what it was like to see these things for the first time, we want to capture some of them here in no particular order.

Garbage is everywhere: The ever present garbage is probably the single most shocking thing here. We grew up in an age of litter prevention in the United States, where “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” signs were everywhere and the EPA was newly formed to make the world better. It is shocking here to see every sidewalk lined with wrappers and debris; sometimes big, broken bags of garbage will be sitting there by the sidewalk. Anywhere that there is a break in the sidewalk (and there are many), garbage will be stuffed into the opening below. Any empty lot is heaped with garbage. Nearly every body of water has garbage floating in it, causing a stench that now makes us instinctively hold our breath any time we approach water.

Animals are everywhere: This big, bustling city filled with cars and motorbikes and pedestrians, with IT facilities and shiny hotels, is also filled with what we think of as barnyard animals. Cows are everywhere; they stroll on sidewalks, snack on the weeds of highway medians, and sometimes just casually lie down in the road completely undisturbed by the cars around them. Can you imagine a cow walking down Broadway in Portland or New York? Can you imagine the uproar after it pooped on the sidewalk with no one scurrying behind to clean it up? And it’s not just cows. There are goats, chickens, pigs, and dogs all over the place. Goats, chickens, and pigs generally seem to have nearby owners, but the dogs are very clearly on their own. And there are monkeys, cleverly scavenging not just outdoors, but also inside the homes of people who leave windows or doors unlocked (although their adorable, little old man faces make us forgive them their transgressions).

Traffic is crazy: There are probably many rules for driving in Bengaluru, but the only obvious one has to do with never allowing an empty space to go unfilled. The lane lines on the road are mere decoration, ignored as vehicles swirl like water around any obstacle that appears (cows, bicycles, pedestrians, cars driving the wrong way down the road) despite signs that declare “Observe Lane Discipline”. There is no road rage, or even apparent tension on the faces of the drivers, as they maneuver their vehicles toward their destinations. When we were new here, we held hands and frequently flinched in the back seat of the taxi. Now we calmly chat or look at our phones, as relaxed as our drivers.

Everything goes on a motorbike: Family of five? Load up and head out. Long PVC pipes for a plumbing project? Your passenger can hold on. Several bags of groceries? A couple can go at your feet, your passengers can hold on to one or two each, and strap the rest on however you can. Many people don’t wear helmets, and many who do wear them unstrapped or little plastic cricket helmets, and in the case of the families, the father driving often is helmeted, the mom occasionally, and the kids never.

People carry things on their heads: Everything from bags of groceries to big bundles of sticks to cinder blocks to furniture are carried on people’s heads. Sometimes they use a single hand to steady the load and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they create a pad on their head under the load and sometimes they don’t. We saw a man in the train station, balancing multiple suitcases on his head.

Electrical lines loop through the trees: There are some electrical poles, but more often electrical lines are woven through the branches of trees, with big coils of lines dangling at random intervals, often dangling most of the way to the ground.

Electricity outages are common: Perhaps there’s a relationship with the former, but electricity outages happen multiple times a day. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it – sometimes it cuts out while we’re using the electric kettle to heat water for morning coffee, sometimes it cuts out while trying to heat leftovers in the microwave for lunch, and sometimes it leaves us sitting in the dark in the evening. Luckily, our building has an effective back-up generator that kicks in quickly, usually in 10-60 seconds. It doesn’t, however, power everything. Hardwired things like lights, fans, and elevators (whew!) come back on board quickly, while anything plugged in like refrigerators, ovens, and air conditioners wait until power is fully restored.

Electric outlets have to be tricked: Most outlets have 5 holes, while many plugs have only 2 prongs. The top center hole where the missing ground prong would go has to have something in it before the holes below will open. So we have to stick something in the outlet in order to plug anything in, usually a plastic pencil. At least the outlets also have switches so we can turn off the power to the outlets before sticking anything inside.

TVs, not toilets: In every sector of the city, even the most impoverished, you can see Dish TV in action. Those same homes that have televisions connected to satellites via looping wires may not have indoor plumbing, or actual toilets of any kind. It is normal to see men urinating by the sides of the road, on the sides of buildings. People of all genders and ages just relieve themselves in open fields. Work is being done on this issue, for reasons of hygiene and the safety of women, but there is much work yet to be done.

Women dress like beautiful butterflies: At least 80% of the women in Bengaluru wear some form of traditional dress in beautiful, bright colors. Dupatta (big long scarves) are draped over the fronts of women’s bodies, trailing behind them to their calves. Women who clean our building dress far fancier for work than I do for a special party. Being dressed doesn’t just include clothing – it also means gold earrings, necklaces, bangles halfway up the forearm, and jingling anklets. In contrast, about 80% of the men wear western dress, and look painfully drab in comparison.

Men are casually affectionate: Male friends here commonly walk with entwined fingers or linked elbows or arms flung around each other’s shoulders. Fathers walk holding hands with their adolescent or teen-age sons. Groups of men will sit close together or benches, practically cuddling as they happily chat. It’s really nice to see the ease of physical contact.

There are no clothes dryers here: Clothes are washed in machines on the utility balcony and then hung on the line to dry. It means we do laundry many times each week and have adjusted to crunchy towels and wrinkled everything. The upside? Gorgeous, brightly colored sarees billow from the balconies in the morning.

Our stove is an independent unit: The stove sits on top of the counter with its two burners connected to a gas tank under the counter. When turning on the stove, we have to turn on the gas and then use a hand igniter to light the burner. We’re told the gas tank should last us 6 months.

Melissa’s Musings: Malleswaram

Today I had the pleasure of another Five Oceans/Bluefoot tour (the first was to a Bengaluru slum).  Five Oceans is a social club that generously offered two-month memberships to teachers and parents at Tom’s school. I had assumed that I would get as much as possible out of the trial membership and then let it go, but their offerings are so varied and so consistently good that I will definitely continue. They also have a strong relationship with Bluefoot Tours which introduces cultural activities that I really value. India is a fascinating place, but as a foreigner, it’s so easy to look at the ornate, bustling, baffling surface and miss all of the context that provides the richness. With Kaveri as guide, our small tour explored an old neighborhood of Bengaluru, and got to hear the stories that explained its origins and continued life.

Malleswaram clearly has ancient origins dating back to the earliest days of this city (we’ll get to that), but also a more recent creation story. In the late 19th century, Bengaluru was hit by the plague, driving many residents to look for new homes further from the city center. At that time, Malleswaram (also spelled Malleshwaram) became the first planned suburb of Bangalore with streets actually arranged on a grid. It has lovely tree-lined streets with broad, functional sidewalks. It has a residential feel with thriving business all around.

In the 1930’s, Shri Sagar (also called Central Tiffin Room or CTR) opened its doors in img-20171011-wa00001774711298.jpgthe  heart of Malleswaram. It’s just a little younger than the Mavalli Tiffin Room, and just as delicious. This is where we started our day with strong, milky South Indian filter coffee, masala dosas filled with tasty potatoes, kharabath which is almost like a spicy risotto made out of semolina (ok, that’s kind of a stretch, but trust me when I say it’s wonderful), idli which are like flat steamed dumplings made of rice and dal, and vada which is a savory lentil donut. Yum.

From there we walked to the first of three temples on today’s tour. The Sri Venugopala Krishnaswamy Temple is devoted to Krishna, with the stories of his life in detailed, painted carvings on the walls facing the sidewalk. Kaveri walked us along the wall, telling us the stories of this avatar of Vishnu the Sustainer, who has come to earth nine times in nine different guises to restore balance to the world. We left our shoes outside, carefully stepped over (not on) the threshold, and entered the courtyard where a group of men were working on a new carved structure. The impressive buildings of this temple and some of its idols may only be 100-150 years old, but the priest at the temple told us that the main Krishna idol in the shrine is itself 1000 years old. The inner temple had a wonderful serenity, with one man seated cross-legged practicing the balancing pranayam while another man sat wrapped in a purple stole chanting vedic scriptures along to the accompanying music playing on his iphone. This combination of old and new felt just right in this setting.

Our next temple was the 17th century Kaadu Malleshwara Temple to Shiva from which img-20171011-wa0003288686728.jpgthis neighborhood gets its name. Kaadu means forest in tribute to the lovely trees growing so densely in the area while Mallikarjuna is one of the names of Shiva. On the way in to this temple, we paused to greet the priest standing in front of his cow shed. This temple is entered on the backside, overlooking a gorgeous forested park area. Just inside is a large Nandi, or bull. This bull is Shiva’s conveyance, and also the closest creature to him. As such, people whisper into the ear of the bull all the things that they want Shiva to know, whether a painful confession or a wish for something better.

Leaving the temple, we descended the stairs and saw to the right a large statue of a hooded snake sheltering a god and a great collection of smaller snake idols behind it. Kaveri explained that when a new construction project is undertaken (like the creation of a new neighborhood), the snakes that live underground are disturbed. To placate the snakes and prevent harm to the new residents, a snake temple is erected. When people become ill or otherwise distressed, they may suspect that the cause is a curse from a snake that must now be given offerings before the curse can be lifted. It was a beautiful, peaceful setting, even with all the snakes.

Beyond the forested area was yet another temple, this one with an amazing story. The Shri Nandeeshwara Teertha Temple was, at some point, lost to time. It was erected in a topographical depression and, with disuse, had been completely covered by mud and disappeared. That is, until a group of boys saw something shiny in the mud and tried to dig it up, shocked to find a complete bull statue. They told their parents, and the community lobbied to unearth the temple and prevent the construction of a mall on this site. While there are claims that this temple is 7000 years old, it is likely that it’s closer to 700 years old. It features a nandi spitting water which falls onto the lingam of Shiva, ensuring the continued procreation of the world. In front of them is a pool fed by an underground spring with fish and turtles happily swimming about.

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Aside from the amazing temples of this neighborhood, we also walked by Malleshwara’s vendors. They used to have a very popular and thriving market, but the government wanted to build a new mall (currently under construction). In the middle of the night when no one was there, they bulldozed the market structures to make way, entirely against the will of the community. People are remarkably resilient, though, and they continue to sell their wares along the sidewalks where the market used to stand.

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20171011_120757145938616.jpgWe completed our tour with a visit to Dwaraka Plus, an organization that supports rural communities that create beautiful paintings on cotton or silk, using natural pigments that they create themselves from vegetable sources. The fabric becomes wall hangings, sarees, purses, boxes, and all manner of other things. Before the founder of this organization discovered these artisans, their community was dying – they were far from major roads or water sources and were struggling to feed themselves – but she helped them create a market for their goods and reinvigorated their expression of this art form.

I’ll definitely be back, to Dwaraka Plus and to Malleshwara.

 

Melissa’s Musings: Struggle and Resilience in a Bengaluru Slum

Even though we don’t live in a cloistered expat community, there is still the potential to live in a bubble, unaware of many of the challenges around us. That is not the way I want to live here. Sure, I will occasionally seek the bubble, but I also want to truly understand and be a part of life in India. With that in mind, I went on a social awareness tour conducted by Five Oceans, a local club that gave memberships to teachers at Tom’s school.

I was part of a group of five women who met our guide, Kaveri, a cultural anthropologist who has long interacted with and supported the community that she took us to visit. This particular slum was initially formed when the government gave a 25-year land grant to villagers lured to Bengaluru to work on new road development in this ever-growing city. Twenty-nine years later, it’s still there, home to 25,000 people who live in small homes of their own creation without plumbing, running water, or garbage collection. Children who grew up there now raise their children there, and yet there is joy among the garbage.

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The focus of our tour was a group called Anu Life, created 8 years ago to give women in the Janakiram Slum the tools to support their families. It has done so much more than that for the 11 women who work there. Officially, it offers healthcare and education for the women and their children, helping them to learn the English that they need to succeed here. Unofficially, it offers pride and confidence, both unknown to these women before their involvement.

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Kamala in front of her home

Kamala came to Bengaluru as a young child and worked with her parents on road building with no protection from chemical exposure or general safety. She grew up, got married, and had four children. When the fourth was born, she and the infant were both very ill with tuberculosis. Her husband sent her to his parents’ village, far away, where she was horribly mistreated. Eventually she was strong enough to leave with the baby and return to home in the slum. When she got there, she learned that her husband had run off with another woman and

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Kamala tells us about her work with Anu Life

abandoned their children alone to scavenge in the streets. Kamala brought them all together again and got a job working nights for 100 rupees per night (about $1.40). It was a constant struggle. And then Anu Life recruited her as one of its first members. She is paid 200 rupees for every bag that she weaves (each taking about three hours to create), she receives healthcare for herself and her children, and she’s proud of what she does. She said that when she began, she was always scared and wouldn’t talk to anybody, but now she’s confident enough to talk to anyone. And she’s proud of her three older children in boarding school.

 

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Sophia in front of her bed

Sophia proudly invited us into her home to see her two prized possessions: a large blue plastic rain barrel and a double bed on a metal frame. Water is a major factor in these women’s lives – it is an effort to get clean water to drink, do dishes, wash clothes, wash themselves; they are also at the mercy of any flooding. Sophia is able  fill her rain barrel, occasionally with help from Lalitha, and wp-image-58364639doesn’t sleep on the floor where it’s often damp. Like Kamala, she has three older children at boarding school and one at home with her. She told me that she visits a different child each month so only sees the older kids every three months. She also told me that she is not sad when she says good-bye “because they must have a beautiful life and they can’t have that here.”

 

Lalitha’s home is up a flight of stairs. It’s tiny (about 5 feet by 6 feet with a 3 foot square L

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Lalitha’s home as seen from the doorway

off one side which serves as her kitchen). As small as it is, she has two distinct advantages: the height means that she is not subject to flooding, and she has actual running water for two days each week which she shares with friends in need. She also has a distinct disadvantage. She shares her small home with her husband and three children. When she was asked if her husband works, she said, “No, he drinks.” We were then told that he beats her often and she’s just getting over a black eye. She also told us, though, that through Anu Life she has learned to stand up to him so it’s not as bad as it was. The other women spoke of her strength and generosity.

 

Anu Life means a great deal to the women who serve as its collective workforce and owners. They were taught the craft of making baskets and bags out of tetra packs (juice boxes) and of embroidering on old cement bags. Their supplies are otherwise garbage, but the things they make with them are lovely. They do, however, constantly struggle to find buyers for their work and nearly had to end their operation last month when they had no sales. Happily, a woman placed a large order and kept them going, and everyone who tours their operation buys something (I bought two bags that I love). If you’d like an Anu Life bag, let me know and I’ll make it happen!

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