So the past week has been very busy and at the moment I am writing from Jaipur where I have traveled with my host father/supervisor in order to attend a tourism trade show. I will update on that after it is over, but for now I am going to write about the news from the village in the past week.
The most exciting thing that has happened in a while is that the hotel has been equipped with solar power for all electric uses except for the AC. This is such a great improvement for the hotel since it usually has to use a generator in order to have any power between the hours of 10 am and 8 pm. This was starting to get quite unbearable as the temperatures were starting to rise in the upper 90’s or reaching above 100 in some afternoons. It wouldn’t make that much of a difference it the daytime since I sit outside in the crafts center, but as soon as I get done with work, my room is scorching hot and there is nowhere to relieve myself from the heat. I understand this is a part of village living and there is nothing I can do about it, nor should I complain, but it really is nice to be able to sit under a fan after sweating all day long outside.
Now that there is solar electricity powering the hotel though, I am able to retreat to my room and enjoy a few minutes after work drying off from midday heat. That is exactly what I do as well. I literally have to dry off under the fan before I feel I can pull myself together enough to do anything outside of pouring a bucket of cold water on my body. I end up trying to do that sometimes, but it never works out because the water has always been solar heated so in the afternoon it is scorching hot as well. The solar electricity now makes life a lot easier for everyone and it is not only environmentally conscious but it also saves the hotel money so they don’t have to run the generator when guests are at the hotel.
Another exciting thing for the village, separate from the solar electricity that was established for the hotel, but still along the same lines, is that there are three more women in training to become solar engineers for the village. In Tilonia, a village close to Ajmer in Rajasthan, there is a non-profit called Barefoot College, where they train rural women from all over the world how to be solar engineer on basic equipment that can be set up in the rural villages. Previously, there had been two women already trained but the Barefoot College said in order to supply the equipment for the solar lights in the village there had to be more women trained. This proved very difficult and took almost 6 months to supply more women to attend the seminar. The classes are for 6 months and they are required to stay at Barefoot College for that time. In the village, women are not allowed out without men or if they are it is for very short times, like less than a day. So getting men to allow their wives or daughters, wives are a better choice because they are staying in the village, it is near to impossible to persuade them. After much time and effort, 3 more women are being trained though and shortly after they return, the solar equipment should be delivered and installed for the homes in the village to secure solar lighting as well.
On a different subject, and for me just as exciting, I believe we have found the manager for the center, well managers. There are two women from a women’s empowerment project in Jodhpur who have expressed interest in joining Sunder Rang as manager. They have different expertise but would be both be assets to the project since one is a teacher with sales background and the other is a designer with a degree in fashion design and craft making. We have asked them to both work part time as managers for the center and work together on different areas of the project. I hope this works out and it happens before I leave because I would love to be able to train someone before my time is completed.
The other night was quite exciting for both my fellow intern, Emily, and myself. Her time as an intern has come to an end and her brother is visiting her from the U.S. We had been invited to a wedding of her host mother’s cousin and decided it would be fun to take her brother along to experience a Rajput wedding. First, I should explain the dynamics at a Rajput wedding. Rajputs are a caste here in India that consist of the upper echelons of society whose ancestors and parents were the ruling class of India before the Independence of India was established. The Maharajas and rulers were almost always Rajputs and both Emily’s host family as well as mine are both Rajput families as well. So, at a Rajput wedding there is screen set up and the men and women are strictly separated so that the men can drink and be merry and the women have to sit around in the women’s area or house and get the bride ready or perform the ceremonies. Let me just say, being in the women’s side gets really, really boring after a while.
Well, the bride-groom was entering the wedding festivities on an elephant on this particular occasion- it is always a horse or an elephant at Indian weddings- and all the weddings I have been to in India so far all had the groom entering on a horse. It was quite funny when the groom had to dethrone from the elephant because it was too large to fit through the traditional gate that is built in front of all wedding parties. Anyways, after the groom entered the women’s home, he was being prepared for the ceremonies while the elephant was being fed bananas and jagori, a traditional sweet here in India. I was able to feed the elephant and stuck my hand to its mouth to throw the food in when it engulfed my hand inside its mouth in order to take the food before I could toss it in. I quickly pulled it out but the mouth was not at all like you might expect. As I saw the mouth before feeding it, I was remarking how narrow the mouth was, much like that of a fish, and as the beast chomped down on my hand to discover the food, I was equally surprised to not encounter any teeth in my short experience inside the elephants mouth. I am sure without a doubt the teeth are definitely in there, but as the beast took my hand in its mouth, it made sure to not knick me or take a bite of unnecessary skin.
The feeding was an experience, but the real fun came when everyone was crowding inside to watch the groom be prepared by the priest for the ceremonies. Emily and I decided to go pet the elephant that was being led back to the truck that it was driven to the destination in. As soon as we got there, and the elephant was starting to search me for more food with it’s trunk, the mahout- elephant driver- told us to climb up for a ride! Um… OKAY! So in the sarees that we were wearing, we climbed up a rickety ladder to the top of the elephant and sat in the howdah as the elephant was led around the area for a few minutes. It was a blast although it didn’t last long enough and neither one of us had brought a camera that night, so we ended up without any pictures of us riding the wedding elephant. Oh well, there is always next time…