Day 3 - Fair Trade India Tour April 12 2014, 1 Comment
We are now beginning to acclimate to the time change although still experienced very limited sleep last night. The train stayed on a steady schedule, one passing every 20-30 minutes, sometimes more throughout the night, always sounding a very load horn warning the small town of its passing. We managed about 5 hours of on and off sleep. Our hotel breakfast consisted of sliced tomato on processed white bread, naan & bananas.
Following breakfast we again traveled by bus to visit several of our wood working artisan groups. We had a beautiful 1 1/2 hr. drive through mango groves, sugar cane and wheat fields naturally landscaped with purple wildflowers. We passed several small farming villages and saw just how resourceful and hardworking the locals were, spotting many handmade wooden carts carrying massive loads of harvested sugar cane, drawn by a pair of Burma Cow. We saw tall concrete brick kilns, sugar cane presses and saw an abundance of cone shaped stacks of cow dung disks, shaped and dried for burning fuel.
We arrived to our third artisan group, a small carving village in Uttar Pradesh that produces many of the beautiful handmade wood crafts represented at One World Fair Trade. We were greeted by excited children and friendly, smiling adult faces. During our walk through this craft and farming village, our group continued to grow as more and more village members joined our procession. Soon it began to feel like a parade and we realized that we were the entertainment. We were informed that this is the first time that anyone from outside the country has visited this entire village and that was an amazing feeling.
We walked down narrow dirt streets passing home after home, eyes and faces peeking out windows, doorways, rooftops, walls and around corners. We arrived at the home of our first woodworking artisan. His home workshop consisted of a small room with basic hand tools. He was a small, thin man with a big smile, eager to show off his talent, techniques and examples of some of his best work. Accompanied by his small children, we watched him saw, file and shape an ornate carving in an open doorway of his modest shop.
We traveled deeper into the village, visiting several artisans on our way realizing that the entire village is like one big workshop in which each artisan works from home. Walking through, we had the entire village moving with us, younger children squeezing in, occupying any open space, entire families on rooftops, older children climbing on top of brick walls, laughter, smiles and shyness surrounded us. Our last artisan was a master carver with 22 yrs. experience. A tall man, taught by his father, sat on his workshop floor, using his feet to anchor the piece against a wood block.
The group coordinator, Mr. Shamim and village mayor invited us to a small rudimentary showroom built of red brick with a low tin roof. This small but functional makeshift showroom offered a respite from the hot sun and displayed a wide variety of wood carving samples. The producers requested feedback and advice on product development and as we browsed and offered our thoughts we were constantly entertained by little faces peering through the gaps in the brickwork. We then proceeded to their community building where had the chance for question and answers regarding Fair Trade, community development and coop growth. We learned that this unique partner of One World Fair Trade has mastered an art form of Mughal Dynasty being carried forward and now approximately 400 artisans are associated with this group.
As we were departing we were invited to visit the village school house. This turned out to be a real treat being surrounded by excited children of all grades, us just as excited as the children to meet each other.
Accompanied by several teachers we discussed their program. Just when we thought that this was a wonderful end to a wonderful visit, the Mr. Shamim invited us to a local farmhouse to enjoy our lunch. Our bus driver expertly navigated us through several tiny villages on very narrow dirt roads obviously not designed for a tour bus to an even narrower walk path where we disembarked.
After a short hike through eucalyptus, sugar cane and wildflowers we arrived at a farmhouse that reminded me of something out of the Carolina's, beautifully landscaped with a large porch just begging for a hammock. A perfect location for a relaxing lunch of traditional Indian vegetarian dishes our hosts so graciously packed for us.
Our next stop was another 1 1/2 hr. drive to more of an agricultural/industrial village near Nazibabad that produces several of our top selling items at One World Fair Trade, such as our Eye Glass Holders and Puzzle Boxes. Here we found our fourth partner artisan group, a Fair Trade Woodworking Cooperative. The director met us at the wide decorative Iron Gate securing his facility. Inside we saw a common working facility that housed a cleverly designed single generator powered 4 station lathe. By moving large bands made of recycled tire from one piece of equipment to another, artisans can power a handcrafted band saw or utilize individual lathe stations, all from the same generator. Here the sheesham wood, aka Indian Rosewood is steam treated for preservation then cut into blocks and moved through various stages of carving, sanding, waxing and polishing to create the many beautiful pieces we carry.
The director explained to us that many of the artisans work from home but utilized the common work facility because of the equipment and lack of electricity at home. After a full tour and demonstration of the entire process from start to finish, we were treated upstairs of the workshop to a feast of tropical fruits, cookies, snacks, treats and of course, tea. We have come to learn that this is traditional Indian hospitality. The generosity of families and pride of artisan craft is something I will never forget.
At this point we all loaded on the bus for a 5 hr. drive back to Delhi for a much needed shower and comfortable night’s sleep. Several hours into the drive we stopped at a McDonalds to use the restrooms, stretch our legs and pick up a little something to eat. India, being primarily a vegetarian culture and holding the cow as sacred has a completely different menu than the US, no beef on the menu, no Big Mac or Quarter Pounder. They have the Mc Paneer Royal, the Mc Egg and the Filet o' Fish Sandwich. Hungry and looking for some comfort food to distract me on the long ride, I ordered a fish sandwich and realized that this was the first time I have been to a McDonalds for as long as I can remember. The fact that I was actually enjoying my McDonalds fish sandwich says something about the state I was in!
We arrived back in Delhi late that night, most of us too tired to have dinner. It was nice to see our hotel after such a big day.