Sunday, October 22, 2006

On our first day in India, we honestly thought the taxi drivers were lost and we were beginning to panic, as they drove us around and around in no particular direction. At no stage did they talk to each on radios. But, as it turns out, trust the process......all they wanted was for our enterage to turn up at the hostel at the same time..all 8 taxis! How weird. So here is the adventure of me in India, along with my mate Jill (pictured) and the other Aussies.
Jill and I got up to heaps of mischief. We ate bang lassies in Jaipur (we went a bit bananas and hid in our hotel room, until Jill jumped on her bed and said "We can hide in here all day or go outside and face the bastard!"), tried to get a boat ride at the Pune Boat Club (which turned out to be so called because it was a gentleman's club by a river, sans boats...we were chased off the premises) and were surrounded by a mob of 200 young boys at a Ramudam festival (v. scary actually - we took sanctury in a walled garden until the police arrived). But amongst all this jolly japery, we were there for a serious note.....

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Oxfam Community Leadership Program

We had come from all over Australia, and it just so happened that my mate Jill from Bunbury was also on the program. We became instant buddies and just wanted to get out of our hotel and explore.

We were told from the group leaders that the people we would meet would sing us traditional songs from their village. We were expected to reciprocate, so we duly went into little groups to practice Waltzing Matilda. We then sang for the group, and our tour leader role played, saying "These Australians have just sung a song about a man who lives in the bush, steals a sheep, cooks it and then gets in trouble from the police. He then jumps into a lake and becomes a ghost, which haunts the town". We decided Home Among the Gumtrees with its actions was possibly a better choice.

I learned that while many Indians are deep in poverty, they are rich in culture and beliefs. Women would cup my hands and say "You poor poor woman. You are 30 years old, you have no children and you live on your own. You must be very sad. We will pray that you find a husband". And sure enough, two months later I was engaged. I think we take for granted that we have a rich culture. I think we are a bit lost as Australians. And being in India taught me that.

Check out the Western Australian calendar in the pic with the hands. It was a present for the village.

Work in India is hard if you're part of the "untouchable" class. Even though the class system was eradicated by Gandhi, it still exists. These women are carrying rocks on th
eir heads on a dry river bed in front of the Taj Mahal, and the other two pics are of a massive outside laundry.

The amazing Self Employed Women's Union, SEWA, of India has a philosphy of organising women rather than welfare. I was fortunate to
meet some women involved in SEWA and learn about the business they set up through Oxfam's savings groups.

Self Help Groups - Capacity Building in rural India

Women would form self help groups in rural villages in Rajasthan. Each group would need at least 20 women to start the group, and often, this was met with tripidation. Often, they were scared what their husbands would think.

To start off their savings, they would spend four weeks hiding a cup of rice from the family. On the fifth week, they would have a new ration of rice and the roupees saved would go towards their first savings bond. This is what poverty looks like.

They contribute by saving each month and then getting a loan at 2% interest instead of the loan sharks' 70%. Each time they attend and contribute, they put their thumb print in the ledger (pictured). One of the groups had been going for some time, and could now afford a teacher for their girls. The girls then taught their mothers how to write their names, so now their ledger has signatures rather than thumb prints.

This is real capacity building at work - the self help groups that had been going for longer, had healther women, better facilities in the village and some of the women were now standing for parliament.

The British empire, the American dream

Journey to the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was the touristy bit at the end of the trip. Jill, Russell and I were the first in at 6am and had the place to ourselves. The ubiquitous photo of the long path and pond with the monument at the end was not to be experienced, as it was pitch dark and covered in fog. We couldn't see the Taj Mahal until suddenly, its glowing white marble appeared in front of us.

We then bribed a guard and he took us up one of the towers before the busloads of tourists arrived. I feel extremely privileged that we had those first 30 minutes to ourselves where we could truly appreciate its beauty and peace.

Pics (all lomos so that's why the colours are weird):
  • Shoes we had to wear in the tomb
  • One of the towers through thick fog and the first tourists other than ourselves we saw
  • A close up of the marble inside the tomb
  • In front of the Taj Mahal on a dry river bed