Wednesday, 4 March 2015

South India Trippin Part II

The rest of the trip to South India.
We left Pondicherry's French district to visit villages and self help groups around the area. We started with a fishing village in the morning. By that time they had brought their catches in and were emptying the nets to take to market. Fish were flying through the sky and were all over the sand. Just a walk away fish were prepared for the market. Some of these were humungous. There were even a couple of stingray. Then a little bit down the road was the actual market where women sold the recently caught fish.

Then we went to nearby self-help groups in the villages. All the groups were of 10 - 15 women. One of them manufactured stuffed animals to sell, another packaged tissue paper to be sold in Italy I believe, and the last created bags and other small items out of jute which is a straw-like material. Mats that you might lay outside are often made of jute.

These groups all got help of the government to learn these skills and then were left alone to sell them and continue their trade. The teddy bear group especially had a hard time trying to market their items in the small village. They couldn't get fair prices from vendors. And stuffed animals are a hard item to sell; our group had no one to buy them for. The jute group had switched over to creating bags made of plastic, weaving them out of lanyard type strings. They seemed to be doing ok and had time to manage their families and work. After spending a good amount of time with all the groups we headed to the beach for lunch. The women and children from the groups followed and we played games and had a beautiful outdoors lunch.

Our beach meal

There was a moment where we stopped by another fort. It had been abandoned with not much to see but the sea view was amazing.

This very long day ended with some more temple visits to Mahabalipuram. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has many different sections. We went to visit the temple area where several Hindu temples were built as templates and not for actual use. In another section there are temples carved out from caves. That evening we returned to Chennai.

Monday morning saw a great talk by Swati Tyragarajan. She's an environmental activist and tv host of nature programs in India. She's also actually the relative of our professor. She gave an amazing talk on her own path to creating nature films. She didn't follow the normal narrative of going to school to become a doctor or anything and happened to graduate just as tv opportunities opened up in India. She brought her passion for nature and created films on different animals around India. India is one of the most environmentally diverse places so it's important to preserve that even as India grows. She's an absolutely great speaker and really passionate about her work and the environment.

Cows on the beach not the fauna she was talking about but still.

    This was followed by a visit to urban low cost housing. This is a community in Chennai where the government heavily subsidizes the cost so low income people can afford to live in the city. I was not impressed by this part of the program because it didn't seem educational or informative at all. While our guide Johnson had the best intentions I don't need to go look inside poor people's houses to understand that they can be happy in their communities too. That is something that we all know and it also glosses over some of the realities of poverty. Sure people can be happy in any situation, but what factors created their poverty and how is that system maintained? They did have a community wide money pool run by women but there was nothing informative about the visit. I think of what would be its counterpart in American poor communities and it would be unacceptable. Unacceptable there, unacceptable here. There are better ways to learn about Indian poverty then going inside their houses and looking at their tvs. I think most other classmates would agree.

I had an absolutely wonderful time in the South. The coast was beautiful; it felt nice being back close to the ocean. The weather was great and all the cities we saw were different and interesting and fun.

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