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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cheers!

Rachna and I have been spending out free time with the Skillshare interns from the UK: blonde and lanky Andrew, sweet and freckled Chloe, and our fearless Becky who comes from a gypsy family in Scotland. Skillshare is an NGO that is based in the UK, and has been working with the Narikuravar community even before Nest! Skillshare is actually the driving force behind Nest's partnership with Chidiya, which was established with the help of a Skillshare worker named Sarah about three years ago. Sarah sought after Nest to work with the cooperative, starting with the interest-free microloan that Chidiya used to buy raw materials and the workplace to begin their business. Since the loan was given, Chidiya has allocated a portion of their profits from Nest orders to repay the loan- Nest's microbarter loan in ACTION, microloans repaid in product rather than cash. This, along with business training and secure access to an expanded marketplace, completes the three-pronged microbarter model that sets Nest apart from traditional microfinance.

The Skillshare interns have been a real pleasure to be around. It is especially interesting to hear about their work while we all sit down for lunch in the village. While Rachna and I are focusing on Nest's work with Chidiya, the UK interns are focusing on education and awareness raising on behalf of the five or six Narikuravar villages in Tamil Nadu. Quite a daunting task, if you ask me... especially because they seem to have run into a real fork in the road. Becky is a gypsy herself, albeit from the UK where the circumstances are different from the gypsies here in India, but she does have a unique perspective to offer. Becky is concerned about the future of the Narikuravar gypsy culture that can be lost with the sudden intervention of formal education and focus on getting jobs. The Narikuravar gypsies have always been outsiders, but education would mean assimilation into the mainstream society. This combined with their low social status could mean the loss of their culture and language with just one generation. The Skillshare interns need to grapple with this potential reality as they embark on their fieldwork, and I'm excited to hear about what they discover on the ground.

Other than work, Rachna and I have spent the last couple of weekends with our new UK friends exploring the city of Trichy and shopping. It is with them that Rachna and I got to experience the Indian public buses for the first time- oh, and what an experience they are! I have always believed that you can never really experience a country until you've ridden their buses, and I stick to my theory after having ridden an Indian bus. Our first bus wasn't that bad, pretty empty, but boy did the bus fill up fast! Some basic Indian bus etiquette: First, women in the front of the bus and men in the back. Second, if you want to save your seat for yourself on the bus before even getting on, throw your belongings through the window from the outside on the seat. Third, once you see someone getting out of their seat, push your way through with force if you want to take the seat. Fourth, when you want to get off and the bus is packed with people literally on top of each other, you have to physically wade through the mob of people to be able to jump off on time. There is no such thing as respecting personal space, whatsoever. What really amazes me is the bus conductor that is able to collect everyone's fares on the bus when there are so many people packed inside the vehicle like sardines. I've seen the conductor squeeze through the throng of people like it is nothing! Truly amazing...

Two weekends ago, we did some major clothes shopping in this store called Saratha's, apparently the largest textile showroom in India. The girls got some Indian ready made suits, and Andrew even got a dohty, which is basically a towel men wrap around themselves to wear as skirts. On the next day, Rachna, Becky, and I decided to treat ourselves to a nice swim at the local hotel. We enjoyed the water in the blistering heat that is South India, but were a little bothered by the sea of eyes, literally gawking at us in our bikinis. I guess it's understandable, considering women in Trichy are still very much traditional and don't ever show any skin. I was shocked to see another Indian woman in the pool, not because she was a woman but because of the full body suit she was wearing. A couple of fat, old Indian men were especially harassing us, trying to talk to us and constantly smiling rather creepily. Other than that, swimming felt amazing.

Andrew and Chloe! :)

Becky loves.. no.. she LOVES fruit :P

This is the center of Trichy!

Andrew buying his dohty, aka man skirt

This is "stinky market." We get around by recognizing landmarks, or in this case, by smells. 

At the pool, relaxing.

Felt absolutely heavenly.

Becky posing in front of the pool with the creepy old men in the forefront.  

Rachna and Becky :)
This past weekend, we totally went out of our way to find the only Domino's in Trichy. Oh, was it worth it! You couldn't have seen happier girls in the restaurant as we feasted on pizza, chicken wings, garlic breadsticks, and chocolate lava cake. We were so full that we decided to walk the 2 km to the bus station instead of taking an auto, and good thing we did! I was full until the next morning, definitely the fullest I have felt since I have been here.
It was like a bit of home.

We are oh so happy!


I miss home food very much. 
Until next time! We are continuing business lessons this week while we begin working on the Yala order of 500 necklaces/bracelets!

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