Day 7 - Fair Trade India Tour April 24 2014, 1 Comment
Today we woke again before sunrise, this time to check out of our hotel for a 2 hr. drive northwest of Barmer through a desert landscape spotting camels, small goat herds, peacocks and sheep. Once we became close to our destination we had to stop at a small, isolated concrete structure that apparently was the local police station staffed by two individuals, one in uniform that was more representative of military than police and one in civilian clothing. Here they took our passports and filled out even more paperwork and charged us 2000 rupees (about $35) a person before allowing us to pass.
We then proceeded down the road to passing very small groups of homes called "Djhani", pronounced "honey", which is a gathering of just two or three homes, smaller than a village. We arrived at our 7th artisan group just a few kilometers from the Pakistan border to the main facility and partner of One World Fair Trade, an NGO of 600 women appliqué and embroidery artisans established in 1986 for women empowerment. Here, the director, a powerful woman named Lata ji introduced the staff, management and designers. We toured the facility and watched as men transferred the intricate designs from handcrafted stencils created on butter paper to bandana sized pieces of white fabric by rubbing a lightly colored temporary red dye over it. The stenciled piece now moving on top of several pieces of identical fabric stacked about 10 deep to the next artisan, a man who would cut the design through all layers with chisel and hammer over a cut wood tree round in this common workshop. It was explained that mostly men do the work in this common area allowing women to finish the work from their own homes on their own time, which we would get the opportunity to see soon. As we toured the facility they had prepared another traditional Rajasthani lunch very similar to the one we had yesterday but this time, homemade!
We then moved to a common room in which many of the village artisans had come to meet us. We entered a common room to find a large group of women, children and a few men, most of whom have never ventured outside of the village. Once again, we were the first to visit from another country and there was obvious excitement in the air from both parties. We exchanged greetings and the locals were very curious of our life outside of this village and asked us several questions. Some of the answers found difficult to translate as they have no word or descriptive terms for things like ocean. We talked about work, clothing and festivals, the entire interaction happy, almost playful as they whispered and giggled between one another and the group would often laugh out loud when we would answer through a translator. Several playful excited children had gathered outside, peeking in the open windows and doorway, an elder often scolding and brushing them away as they got louder. As we exited Annette found her shoes to have the laces mischievously tied together with a group of children laughing hysterically!
After this wonderful interaction we traveled by jeep to our first Djhani to be greeted by a Muslim man with a big smile, dressed in all white wearing a bright red turban, welcoming us with the traditional prayer hand to chest slight bow, "Namaste". The families, anticipating our arrival were proud and honored to show us their homes.
The home was bordered by sticks and branches weaved together to create a beautiful handmade fence including a gate. Once inside we found several huts decorated with shimmering silver and gold colored garland draped from trees to roof top in a festive manner, the walls and made of cow dung and mud, then plastered, similar to our straw bale homes. This made for a well-insulated and somewhat of an insect repellant home. The roof made of a well-designed branch, stick and straw construction. The flooring, once inside the gate was made of the same dried cow dung and mud creating very functional flooring similar to particle board flooring. It was amazingly clean, comfortable to walk on and without odor as we left our shoes at the gate.
He introduced us to his family and gave of a tour. He showed us his food storage of similar construction to the huts, just a small version. The home consisted of several huts, each one representing a different "room of the house", one the kitchen, one the bedrooms and one the main gathering area, similar to our living room/dining room. Behind the structure there was a underground concrete water storage that was covered with branches and sticks and a bucket with a rope sits nearby.
Prior to the water storage and delivery they had to walk on average of 2 kilometer to fetch water for their homes. Also, many of these homes now have light as this NGO has assisted many families in installing solar powered lights. Not too long ago this conservative community had no roads, no transportation, no electricity and no water within 2 kilometers. The founders had to access this area by camel. Now because of their dedicated work, roads have been established, many homes now have water storage and delivery and a solar light.
They also work to empower women through education and political rights and acts as a liaison for government health programs and now represent 20-40 women of 40 villages for a total of 600 artisans. These artisans now make 4x the local wage and are rising up in a cast system and have access to motivational workshops, health camps, a Girls School, Blind School, Homeopathic Hospital, Computer Centers and the Solar Light project all sponsored by SETU and Handmade Expressions, partners of One World Fair Trade.
As we departed this particular Djhani, we thanked the family for hosting us and the head of household stated in his own tongue, "Your visit makes our home more pure". This was our last and most memorable artisan visit of our trip.
We then returned by jeep to our bus for transport to the Barmer train station to head on another overnight trip, this time to Jaipur. Annette counted 22 camels & countless peacocks on our ride to and from the village. We all arrived at the station hot, sticky and stinky from a long day in the desert but fit right in on the train. We did manage to grab a fresh green coconut from a roadside produce stand and the young coconut water was just what we needed to replenish lost electrolytes.