Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saree Shopping

India is a complex chaotic place consumed by traditions and religious conviction. Our tour guide said the secret to driving through the madness of the streets is to have “a good horn, good brakes, and above all good luck.”

Choosing a saree — the traditional Indian dress for women — is not an easy process and I was ready to jump into it with the two hours I had left in Mumbai, India. Earlier in the day I flew with Ashley and my friends who are on Semester at Sea, but live in Mumbai, India, Anjali and Aman, to Mumbai. I had four hours till my return flight to Chennai, India and I wanted to utilize every minute of it.

After visiting Anjali’s house, meeting her family and eating homemade, traditional Indian cuisine we went down the street to Brahma Sarees to buy a saree. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The store was filled from the bottom up with stacks of fabric. They had every color and then some. Sales women and men lined the counter vying for each customer’s attention. It was 6:00 p.m. and we needed to leave Anjali’s house at 7 p.m. Anjali, Ashley and I sat down and the event began. Anjali asked me the color I wanted, the price range, and the fabric and then translated to the sales people. It was great to have a native speaker with us. It made the process that much easier and faster.

Choosing a saree can be an all day process that involves choosing the right colors for the saree piece or what is basically a long piece of fabric about 6 yards. Then having to find a tailor to make an undershirt, a small shirt that exposes the belly, and buying the underskirt. For a more modernized urban inhabitants like Anjali and her mother they would only wear a saree to very formal events like a wedding. Not even Anjali’s sister Radhika, who was getting ready for her 16th birthday party that night was going to wear a saree. She had chosen a tight fitting dress that fell above the knee for her party. But in more rural areas sarees are all they wear.

In the store yards and yards of fabric was yanked from their homes on the shelves and placed in front of me. They were all so beautiful which made the selection even harder. It wasn’t like I was buying a dress or something I was familiar too. This was a garment I had never even worn. There were light purple ones, dark purple ones, pink, red, and every other color in the purple red spectrum. I was looking for purple one. The clock was ticking 6:20p.m. I needed to make a decision and find someone to sew the shirt. The temperature was rising and my throat was getting dry. It is so hard to tell what will look best when you have been immersed in the culture less than three hours. It came down to a vote and the deep purple/pink with the green trim won. I purchased the saree and they cut off a yard at the bottom for the top. Running out of the store we all were looking for the tailors hoping they had not already closed. I thought we were looking for a store, but as we turned the corner there were men with their sewing machines on the sides of alleyways sewing away.

“Huh … could this really be legitimate?”

But Anjali knew what she was doing and I trust her. She was talking in Hindi with the tailors. The first one shook his head and pointed further down the street. The next one said yes, took the material and took my measurements. It was 6:40 p.m. I wasn’t going to get the shirt in 20 minutes so Anjali said she would bring it to Chennai later. With the remaining time we bought some bangles to go with the saree and chips for the plane ride. I still can’t believe we made it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to put on the flippers

Snorkeling in Mauritius

10 Things to bring on an SAS field program:

1. Water

2. Money in a messenger bag (has strap that goes over your head) or money belt. At every port at least one person has been pick-pocketed so be clever in concealing your valuables.

3. A camera

4. Comfortable clothes – you WILL fall asleep on the bus rides.

5. An iPod for the long bus trips and days on the beach.

6. Presents for the people you run into along the way – the children love stickers and lollipops. If you are doing a township home stay, bring a gift for the family so they can have something to remember you by. I suggest something from your hometown.

7. Your laptop on overnight trips – internet access becomes a special treat and most hotels have WI-FI so take advantage because who knows when the next time you can check Facebook will be.

8. A soccer ball – everyone loves soccer and it is a great way to make new friends in a short amount of time.

9. Pen and paper – to write down not only interesting facts, but also names and numbers of the people you meet along the way, cool places you hear about and want to discover, and information you need to gather for your classes.

10. Be ready for anything – NOTHING goes as you planned so be “flexible” is the SAS motto.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

South Africa - Stepping back in time

The cables are the first things that appears over the wooden fences as I ride in a taxi to the wine lands. Then it’s the metal sheet roofs and then the people’s faces. Telephone polls are scattered between the few openings of the shacks. They are everywhere and each shack has their own cable coming from a poll. It looks like the May Day pole, but these are not bright colorful ribbons and the people are not celebrating. It is their daily struggle to get the essentials that come standard in our lives: running water, electricity, flooring, a toilet and shoes to walk to school.

Before arriving to South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave us a lesson on his home country telling us about the apartheid and the impact is had and still has on the country.

The apartheid ended in 1994, but from being there only six days it was clear there still was a sense of separation among the South Africans. The ship docked at a newly built port, which included a mall, five star hotel, and elegant restaurants along the pier. Student who did not adventure out of the port area would not of suspected anything.

The city itself looks like it could be a city in the US. It has the high-rise buildings, easy transportation, nightlife, and businessmen and women walking with their cell phones glued to their ears. But, the real disparity is seen within the “towns” that are on the outskirts of the city. These places are the townships. The government has created some, but most are informal settlements taken over by squatters. The one township I visited, Monwabisi Park in Khaylitsha Township, is actually part of a nature preserve, but 20,000 squatters had made it their home.

Along the coast are mansions and driving by it feels like Malibu. Some times I forgot I was in Africa. Even in the kinds of shoes they wore there was this disparity. In the townships children wore flip-flops like in Ghana and in the center of Cape Town women and men wore nice sneakers and sandals like in the US.

One of the life long learners on Semester at Sea said “it is like I have stepped back in time to the US in the 70s. We all might be equal now legally, but their isn’t respect for the other race.”
The city is still dressed up for the World Cup with soccer ball sculptures in the fountains, World Cup advertisements, and banners saying, “Cape Town welcomes the world.” The city is still hyped up on the influx of tourism and spike in their economy. What will happen when that money runs out?

Right now, in the city, no one respects each other no matter if they are white, colored or black the only color they respect is green. Money it is what they want and it is what they need. You can see it in the overprice cab fares and the cost of clothes in the mall. You can see it in the townships with children lining up to get food, 50 percent of the population out of work, and diseases such as HIV and AIDS the highest in the world.

“The system of apartheid is so ingrained that it is going to take ages to turn it around,” Tutu said.

Nothing happens over night, but there are people who are trying to make it happen. On my visit to Khaylitsha Township a group of SAS students and I learned about the Indlovu Project. This ecovillage consists of hand built structures made by the locals with sandbags and Ecobeams. Their mission is “to create an innovative, simple and sustainable way to improve the physical, emotional and economic health of the community.” The founder, Di Womersley, has created this place that includes a health clinic, community center, volunteer housing, a day-care center, and movie house for the whole community to enjoy. She said she can see the depressed state of community and wants to bring purpose to their lives, get children off the streets, and help mothers stop drinking. Ultimately, she wants each family to have their own sustainable home.

There is a saying painted on the wall in the main guest house which reads “sisonke singenza umahluko” meaning “together we can make a difference” and I know this is possible from seeing the success this one women has so far had with her project in bringing the community one step closer together.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Delivering shoes in Ghana

At the center of the world I found myself at Egyam Children’s Foundation of Hope. This is just outside Takoradi, Ghana, which is the largest city closest to where the equator and the prime meridian intersect.

The three-year-old facility is located down a long muddy unpaved road and houses 55-orphaned children from the ages of 2-18. They also take care of 20 children from the surrounding villages.

On our second day in Ghana we brought the children about 80 pairs of shoes, toothbrushes, dental floss, and toothpaste we had collected from the shipboard community. The shoes we brought consisted of mostly sneakers, flats, and some flip-flops.
Without shoes the children can’t walk to school. Some children walk 3 km to school everyday. Fortunately the orphanage is located down the street from the school, but the roads are bad especially in the rainy season.

In Ghana, most of the people wear flip-flops. They are cheap, easy to wear, and breathable.

In the streets of Ghana men, women, and children carry everything from small vending machines to bowls full of rice on their heads. Carrying around all of that weight and trying to balance it on top of their heads is hard enough, but doing it with unstable shoes is where the challenge lies. But the country has so much poverty that flip-flops are the only kind of shoes a family can afford. Most of the shoes are worn out and covered in the red dirt that covers the roads in Ghana.

Ghana was the first country that the Fall 2010 Semester at Sea students were confronted with poverty at every turn. The shoes we delivered were only “a drop in the bucket.” There is a lot of work that needs to be done to help clean up the streets and promote prosperity, peace and preservation.