Melissa’s Musings: Bihar is creating a future worthy of its past

I am so excited to be working with IHI and CARE India on prevention of maternal and neonatal mortality.

The Northeastern state of Bihar has a long and proud history. Some time during the 6thMap century BC, Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. In the same century, Mahavira, the 24th and final savior of Jainism, codified the Jain religion. Not far from Bodh Gaya is the site of one of the world’s first universities, founded in Nalanda in 450 CE. The countryside is beautiful with endless fields and colorful buildings, and the Ganges River runs the length of the state from East to West. Bihar is the largest producer of vegetables in India and the second largest producer of fruit. This emphasis on agriculture is emphasized by the fact that only about 11% of its population lives in urban areas.

And yet, even with all of these reasons for pride, Bihar is a troubled region with one of the highest rates of poverty in India, the highest rate of domestic violence (60% of married women are abused), and one of the lowest literacy rates in India (64% overall, 53% for women).

When you tell someone in India that you’ll be going to Bihar, you’re likely to get wide eyes and stern admonitions to be careful. It has a reputation for petty crime (“Keep your car windows closed, no matter how hot it is, or people will reach in the window to steal your purse!”) and mistreatment of women (“Don’t go anywhere by your self and don’t make eye contact with anyone!”). It all seems a bit heightened and hysterical, especially after you’ve been there and had a lovely time interacting with warm, smart, friendly people who have only the best of intentions.

I am incredibly privileged to be working with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement supporting a joint effort between CARE India and the Government of Bihar to reduce

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Tejal Gandhi drops in on a meeting at the CARE office!

maternal and neonatal mortality across the state. WHO estimates that Nigeria and India combined accounted for one third of all maternal deaths in 2015. With one of the highest rates of  maternal, neonatal, and infant mortality in India, Bihar is determined to improve. Our current focus is on 10 government hospitals spread across the state, where we are working with teams to cultivate improvement skills so they have the capacity to implement best practices for prevention. Once these initial hospitals have early successes and lessons to share, we will begin to spread to the other 28 government hospitals in the state, engaging outpatient facilities within each district as well. It is a huge project with immense potential.

I say “we,” but my role is relatively small and loosely defined. Still, this is a mission that I can’t help but embrace, and I will support it in whatever way I can. Last week, I was able to travel to Bihar for an Improvement Coach Workshop, where I helped present some of the content (on the fly when a speaker was delayed), and provided table coaching during exercises. It was a great meeting, with the director of the Improvement Coach program coming over from the states, the regional director for the IHI initiative there to co-present with her and translate into Hindi, and a skilled Improvement Coach from Ghana there to begin her 3-month residency in Bihar. In addition, we were joined by many members of the CARE team who are very involved in the initiative, and representatives from state government who were lending strong support. Despite language differences (sure, people speak some English, but it’s really not their chosen tongue) and cultural surprises (people casually wander in up to an hour late for meetings, and once given an exercise, will not stop until they are done, even when the time is up), it went well and concluded with great enthusiasm from participants.

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I look forward to returning a few more times this Spring, to provide support for new improvement coaches, and to run a collaborative learning session. It feels great to participating in something so important and learning so much.

Melissa’s Musings: Changing the World at Shanti Bhavan

Visiting Shanti Bhavan is like visiting the future of India as it should be. Thanks to a visit organized by the Five Oceans Club, I was able to travel with a group to Shanti Bhavan on Saturday. I left filled with hope for the world, and deeply inspired by these kids and the incredible mission of this school.MV5BYzBmNDg0MGUtZjBiYy00YmNhLThlNjgtN2Q3M2VmN2FhNDA0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQzNjYwMDM@._V1_QL50_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_

If you’ve seen the documentary “Daughters of Destiny,” you’re probably already inspired, and this blog post will just flesh out some more details for you. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s available on Netflix and you should watch it immediately!

Shanti Bhavan was founded in 1997 by Abraham George, a successful Indian-born businessman with an incredible vision of how to radically interrupt the cycle of generational poverty that stifles over 25% of the Indian population. He looked at what he was able to offer his own children – a safe and loving home along with educational and extra-curricular advantages – and imagined offering that to children who would never otherwise have it. The children of Shanti Bhavan come to the school at 3 ½ – 4 years old, visiting their families only for holidays. All of their physical needs are met (safety, shelter, nutritious meals, clothing, and needed healthcare); they are nurtured by housemothers and faculty that appreciate them as individuals; and they receive a world class education that covers not just academics, but also leadership and critical thinking skills along with dance, music, and art. The support does not stop with graduation from high school, but continues through university and even graduate degrees, providing ongoing education and mentoring for as long as it’s needed. These children of the poorest of the poor, the so-called “untouchables,” can become leaders in their communities and in their nation, helping India move toward a society where everyone’s potential is recognized, valued, and realized. Dr. George expects that every child he helps will be able to impact the lives of 1,000 more children during their lifetime.

My journey to the school started early in the morning as I headed to Koramangala, a neighborhood in South Bangalore. There we met up with others and got on the bus for the 1 ½ hour drive to the school on the border of Tamil Nadu. The other 20 or so participants on our social awareness tour included people from India, the UK, Sweden, and the US, many of whom brought their children. Some had seen the documentary, some had read The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter which was written by a graduate of the school, and some had just read a blurb about the trip and decided to go. We were all eager to learn more, and to particularly figure out how we might be able to be a part of this exciting vision.

Arriving at the school, we were greeted by some of the most poised 11th graders I’ve ever met. They shook hands and introduced themselves with confidence, they smiled and asked questions, they articulately responded to any query. These impressive kids were our guides for the tour. John and Nandini took my group of 6 around the school, showing us into different classrooms where children happily greeted us. Saturday classes are just half the day with free time in the afternoon, so our morning tour caught them all in their classrooms. We also saw the computer lab, the chemistry and biology labs, the libraries, the dorms, the cafeteria, the lovely grounds, and the non-denominational prayer room.

 

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The daily assembly was a highlight that started with a prayer for the teachers, a prayer20180203_105347 (2) for the students, and singing the school song about all the things these children can become.  I was impressed to see a 4th grade girl get up to speak to that day’s virtue: Gratitude. She stood up straight and spoke 20180203_110007 (2)loudly and clearly to a room full of her peers, her teachers, and a bunch of strangers. She was followed by four high school students presenting stories from that day’s news. Not only did they have to speak without notes about current events, but they had to be prepared for questions from anyone in the room, many of their peers posing probing and thoughtful queries. Assembly closed after two beautiful songs by the school chorus.

 

Before lunch, we sat down with Dr. George and his son Ajit, now the full time Director of Operations for the school. Both are passionate about Shanti Bhavan and its children. Dr. George considers every one of the SB students to be his own children, and treats them as27336979_1244823358952193_8099425119779596785_n (2) such, acknowledging that they probably get more of his attention than his own sons received. This point is backed up by a laughing Ajit who says that he wishes he’d gone to Shanti Bhavan. Both stress that Shanti Bhavan is not run by money, but by love. They hope to soon break ground on a second school in Karnataka, with a long term vision of multiple schools around India to increase the impact of their efforts.

During lunch, I had the chance to speak with two Australian couples that have been volunteering at Shanti Bhavan for many years. One couple came for the first time eight years ago, after retirement, intending to go somewhere else the following year. They’ve returned now every year for the last eight, explaining that “these kids have gentle claws” that pull them back. The other couple has been joining them for a month each year for the last four years. They love their time at Shanti Bhavan, however tiring it may be, and fully intend to keep coming.

The work of Shanti Bhavan is already making a difference with graduates now working for prestigious organizations, making more in the their first few years of work than their parents would earn in a lifetime. They support the education of younger siblings, provide stable housing and medical care for their parents, and are already beginning to make steps to improve their communities while still in their early twenties. Their potential impact is unlimited.

But you know what is limited? Money. While Dr. George was able to start this school with his own money earned as a successful businessman in the US, the 2008 crash and a devastating scam have long since exhausted those funds. The school now survives through donations which must be constantly sought. When I visited Anu Life, I offered to buy purses and bags for interested folks back home (that offer still stands!) in an effort to support their efforts. I can’t offer you anything tangible in exchange for your support of Shanti Bhavan, but I can promise you bountiful good feelings from the knowledge that you are supporting something that matters. Donations to Shanti Bhavan are not lost to administrative costs, but go straight into the children of this incredible organization. If you don’t have money to spare for this cause, consider sharing their vision with friends who may. And consider volunteering at this school that will highly value your expertise and the love you can give to these amazing children.

Ready to learn more?

Take a look at the school’s website: http://www.shantibhavanchildren.org/

Check out this video of Ajit George talking about the school: https://youtu.be/5wiazRknkOk

Ask me anything. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll research it for you.

 

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: I’m doing yoga. So is everyone else.

Yoga is just a part of regular life here in India. Its ancient origins in the vedic scriptures have ensured its place in the life of Hindus in India, not as a religious activity practiced on special holidays, but as an expected component of every day. With 80% of the population being Hindu, that has a big impact. It’s taught in schools and embraced by devotees of other religions as well. While controversy about that is worthy of consideration (check out “Why Muslims in India Feel Yoga Has Been Weaponized”), I’ve mostly been considering its impact on me.

This is my 5th week of regular yoga classes here in India. Our middle class apartment complex has a clubhouse, which sounds way fancier than it is. Basically, it’s a barren first floor room with lots of windows and a tiled floor; a second floor with a billiard table and a ping pong table (both largely unused); a small third floor gym with a couple treadmills, a weight machine, and some free weights; and a top floor where I have been told there is Zumba (although I’ve never seen it). As far as I’m concerned, the free yoga is the best thing about it, with classes available 4 or 5 times a day, 5 or 6 days a week. There’s no posted schedule anywhere so you just have to be in the know, which took me a while.

On my first day of class, I arrived at 5:30 am feeling anxious and inadequate, not sure where to be and just desperately trying to do what everyone else did (leave my shoes outside even though the floor inside is kind of dirty, set up my mat in the back corner and sit on my heels until the teacher arrived). Once Sima got there and smiled at me, I completely relaxed. For that class, she directed the other students with quick instructions, but stationed herself next to me, ensuring that I was focused exclusively on breathing in sync with simple movements. I looked up and down while inhaling and exhaling. I moved my hands apart and back together while inhaling and exhaling. I got nods of approval as my abdomen expanded and “collapsed” with my breath. Sima allowed me to join the rest of the class for two of their twelve sun salutations, but then had me again stand and breathe until we got to pranayama at the end of class, when I joined everyone else in, you guessed it, breathing.

On the second day, she asked me if I wanted to join the class and looked radiantly pleased when I said yes. She then told me that if I kept coming, after one month I would notice myself seeing things differently and responding to them differently. After three months, other people would notice these changes too. That sounded pretty good to me.

Each day of that first week, she allowed me to try more, checking in with me during the class to ask, “Do you want to try this?” and beaming her beautiful smile at me each time that I said yes. By the end of the first week, I was just a regular participant, following along as best I could. When I showed up for the second week of classes, I was given a page with the prayers spelled out.

The class opens with a chanted prayer, there is another prayer before the sun salutations, there is a brief chanted line before each of the twelve sun salutations, and there is a prayer to close the class. I imagined that these were prayers that everyone else in the class knew from childhood and wondered how I’d ever learn them until I was told by a classmate that they all receive these printed prayers after joining the class. I also wondered if it was even appropriate for me to be chanting prayers – praying is not a part of my life in any way – but the vibrations felt during the chanting seem like an essential part of the practice. So I awkwardly mumble through my prayers every day and feel less weird about it as time goes by.

Each class begins with “loosening exercises” to prepare us for sun salutations, and then we do 12 sun salutations (6 on each side) to prepare us for asanas (yoga poses). We always close with meditation and pranayama. Within that structure, there are variations. Loosening exercises seem a bit like old-fashioned calisthenics, some days standing, sometimes seated, and sometimes lying down. Sometimes we follow our 12 sun salutations with 6 more “dynamic” sun salutations at hyperspeed. Sometimes we follow them with two very slow sun salutations where we pause for three cycles of breath in each of the 12 positions. Once we did 24 sun salutations. The asanas are always different, and then pranayama (breathing exercises) are always different.

The 5:30 am class can be anywhere from 5 people to 11 people depending on the day, but is usually around 8. It’s about half men and half women, with most of them between 45 and 70, but a couple younger folks as well. Sima is ageless – I could believe that she is around my age or 20 years older. She just exudes a kind of calm acceptance, but also seems like a perfectly normal person with a perfectly normal body until she effortlessly places her forehead on her knees. I may need to redefine normal here. That might actually be normal. And speaking of normal, it’s clear that this is truly just the way my classmates greet the day. They are not doing yoga because they hope to achieve something – they’re not here to lose weight or treat that back problem or better manage their stress – they’re here because this is and always has been how the day begins.

I like that it’s becoming part of my way to start the day too. I’m not sure I actually notice the new perspective that Sima said I would see, but Tom tells me that I’m more patient now and less frequently jump in to finish his sentences. So maybe it’s reversed for me. Maybe other people can see the changes now and I’ll see them in three months. And even if I never notice any actual changes, I think I’ll just keep doing it because I like it.

Melissa’s Musings: A birthday in India

Today is my birthday. Today I am one year shy of half a century. Today I am the age my father was when he died. I’ve been so focused on turning 50 next year that I failed to anticipate the significance of turning 49 this year. As my father turned 49, he was already a few weeks into his battle with an aggressive cancer that killed him in 3 ½ months. When my mother turned 49 the following year, she quit her VP position with Kaiser, sold her house and most of her belongings, and moved to Ann Arbor to begin a PhD program. Twenty-three years later, at 49, I am sitting in my living room, listening to the birds and traffic of Bengaluru. I guess 49 is an age for transitions in my family. Tomorrow I will brainstorm the ways I can make this year important – I need a sense of direction and purpose to carry me into this next phase of my life, something with heart, something that matters. Today I will continue to celebrate.

Of course my birthday celebrations are already underway, thanks to Tom who insisted that the whole weekend is about me. Yesterday morning, I went to an impromptu mehendi (henna) gathering at the home of some of Tom’s fellow teachers. They had planned a sleepover party for their adolescent daughter only to have most of the girls succumb to a nasty cold sweeping through the school. With a mehendi artist already booked to show up on Saturday morning, Nicolas sent out an open invitation, and I jumped on it. She was incredible, and I could not be happier with my newly decorated hands.

Once the mehendi had dried and flaked off with the help of a little coconut oil, Tom and I headed downtown. We’re preparing for our first Indian train trip on Thursday when we go to Mysore for a 4-day weekend. Since our timing will be tight on Thursday, we thought it would be a good idea to check out the train station and make sure we knew what we were doing. Things that are so easy to figure out at home can become overwhelming when faced with a language barrier and a sea of bustling people. We spoke with the woman at the inquiry counter, confirmed that this was the correct train station, learned that we should be 30 minutes early, and walked to the track from which our train will depart. We felt much more confident for our Thursday trip.

We then walked to the nearest Metro station and took our first Metro ride. As at every mall, hotel, or other large gathering place, we had to walk through a metal detector and have our belongings checked. We bought our tokens (22 rupees each, about 34 cents) and headed down the escalator to the track where a kind attendant told us where to wait. The Metro station is spotless, so different from the garbage-strewn street above. The train itself is clean, air-conditioned, and entirely pleasant despite being completed packed. Little screens tell you the upcoming stops and show ads about keeping things clean and safe, with great tips like “Don’t push your fellow passenger.” No one pushed me so I guess it’s working. The only problem with the Metro is that it only serves the central core of the city. There are plans to expand, but it won’t make it to Yelahanka where we live for many years yet.

Six stops later we emerged near 1 MG Road, a big fancy mall where we could explore the delights of Foodhall. Foodhall is every expat’s dream come true. When we first discovered it, we bought Bob’s Red Mill flour, our favorite raspberry jam, and a big block of Belgian butter. We’re all ready to make jammers! Yes, everything cost twice what it would at home, but it’s just so exciting to have it. Yesterday we were on a mission to buy food for my birthday dinner. From there we went to Fabindia where Tom got fancy clothes for India Night, the annual fundraising event for the OWC on October 7: a long teal kurta, cream pyjama pants, and a gold and cream stole. He’ll look great!

After some downtime (and Tom’s birthday breakfast prep time!), we went to the Royal Afghan for the perfect birthday dinner (see Birthday at The Royal Afghan).

Today I anticipate Tom’s amazing homemade masala dosas (I got to taste the filling yesterday and it was so good), a relaxing afternoon, and a fondue dinner to cap it all off.

I am a lucky woman. Forty-nine will be a very good year.

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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Melissa’s Musings: Ganesha Chaturthi

Tomorrow is Ganesha Chaturthi and we are excited for two reasons: we get to experience our first India festival and we get a three day weekend! We’ve decided to take advantage of the long weekend by spending time in downtown Bengaluru and doing some things that might normally be more difficult with the traffic between us and city center. That will also put us near some significant celebrations and allow us to visit some ancient temples.

On today’s walk, I saw a vendor selling Ganesh statues. Tomorrow begins 11 days of celebration in honor of the birthday of Ganesh (via a complicated “birth” story that involves beheading and reanimation with an elephant’s head). In the next few days, people will mostly have family events with special sweets and altars to Ganesh set up in their homes. Toward the end, the statues from the altars will be submerged in bodies of water around the city, sending Ganesh home,taking all of our misfortunes with him. 20170824_151008Unfortunately, this practice has evolved from traditional clay statues to brightly painted plaster of paris statues that kill the fish in those lakes. There’s a big awareness campaign on right now, so hopefully this year will be better than last, although my local vendor was selling both kinds.

We look forward to having some great stories next week!