Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beautiful Kerala

Sunday, November 26, 2006

India Thoughts

Yesterday I hit a low and couldn't deal with how hard people are working here just to be exploited by the system and the world market. We went to a coir mat making co-operative. Coir is collected from the outside husk of a coconut and turned into a twine rope. It is the stuff that make those natural fiber door mats and natural twine fiber carpets (perhaps called sissle?) Because of big business competion this cooperative can't get prices high enough to provide the better wages and benefits they were set up to provide. Big factories have come in and strong-armed and exploited the market and prices have dropped by a lot. If the company can't compete with their prices the order goes to the next guy. And... this whole area is filled with coir factories so competion is high. In fact it employs 60% of the people that live here.

The exploitation causes very very low wages and people living largely below the poverty line which is determined at $1 a day. Watching four men power a manual loom creating the carpets was heartbreaking because of the back breaking work they are doing. They are exposed to health issues with massive dust inhalation and exposed to poisonous dies and bleaches with no gloves or masks. They can only get enough work for 4 days a week which certainly does not give them enough wages to feed their families. And what makes me ache inside is that I don't believe there is any way to fight these workers battles. Walmart, Target and CVS... will continue to sell their mats and cheaper prices

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Indians sure are hard workers

Another thing that strikes me here is the desperation people have to earn money. I recently left Agra, the city that the Taj Mahal is in. It is a poor industrial city with alot of people trying to make a living from tourism there. I would walk out of my hotel and many many rickshaw drivers would run after me and offer their services for practically nothing. An old man on a bike rickshaw quoted 10 cents for a whole hour! I want to help them all since they are obviously trying to work so hard.

I had another conversation today that puts such a contrast to our views in the Western world. I am now in Kerala in the south of India. Many people from this region go and work as guest workers in the Middle East. From the perspective here, they are going to good jobs and are bringing back wages that allow them to build new big houses and provide for their families in ways that they couldn't here. From the Western world's perspective though, I just read yet another article about the way workers are treated in Dubai. In a region where the average monthly per capita wage is over $2,000 a month, Indians are only earning about $106 to $250 per month, accordeing to a recent Human Rights Watch report. Their conditions are atrocious and from my perspective it seems more like slave labor, but from a local Indian here, that wage was alot and it was worth it to give him a leg up at home. He did it for a few years and it was tough, but he didn't even seem to notice that it was a low wage. In fact, he had to calculate it and agree that is what he was getting paid.

India's GDP is estimated at $640 per year and over 30% of the people make less than a dollar a day so its no wonder that they are willing to work under those circumstances.

India Photos

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Golden Temple: The Holiest Site for Sikhs

My journey since the Pushkar Camel Fair has taken me to Jaipur, where I rode like royals on the back of an elephant up to their great fort and palace. Then to Agra to see the great contrasts of India with the Taj Mahal with all its regal grandeur, popping up out of a poor, polluted, gritty, industrial city. Then to Delhi, the gigantic sprawling capitol city to celebrate the elections and Rumsfeld's ouster with a large group of Western journalists who were able to give me a better bird's eye view on the news in the region.

Finally I reached my last stop in Northern India, Amritsar in the state of Punjab. As many of you New Yorkers may know Punjab is the Indian state that is the home of Sikhs. It is the region that our regal turbaned Indian neighbors come from and because of that it was on the top of my list of sites to see, even though it is a bit off of the tourist track.

India: Urban vs. Rural

The contrasts of India continue to strike me. People crowded like sardines into cities. Rickshaws, bikes, cars, trucks, camel and oxcarts, cows and people taking up every bit of open space so that as a pedestrian I feel like I have to hold my breath to make my way on the street. And then all you have to do is get on a train or drive from place to place and look out the window to see endless farmland with only an occasional burst of color from a sari or turban.

The reality is that India is farm country. One of their proudest accomplishments of the past 30 years is their "Green Revolution". Which because of good political stewardship and the introduction of new varieties of crops, fertilizers and soil maintenance, India has raised its output of wheat by leaps and bounds. Now the lands are producing much more and famine is only a historical memory. It went from a beggar nation depending on America’s excess wheat, left over from farm subsidies, to a donor nation which was able to give to Ethiopia and Vietnam during their famines in the 80’s. One reads that during this time of growth farmers were actually seen as rich. Something that is hard to imagine as an American. Land is a great resource in a growing country that needed to be fed.

India Photos

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More photos from India

Beautiful ornate Jain temples are all over in this country.

The carvings are really intricate

Its amazing what women can balance on their heads!

Camels camels and more camels!

Religious pilgrims, packing the streets

Friday, November 03, 2006

India is jam packed with Indian tourists

I have been traveling in India during the Diwali holiday. Diwali is India's happiest and biggest holiday of the year. The actual day is filled with candles and lights since its the day that Rama their loved king came back from exile and they say he came from the dark to the light. Everyone blows off firecrackers and celebrates for days. They also give gifts and pray for prosperity.

On a larger level, people get about 2 weeks off during this time and so its a time for the new middle class Indians to travel around the country and see the sites. This has meant that every big place we go is FILLED with Indians. Its amazing how charming it is to be packed into a palace with all the Indians. So much better than being with a bunch of Westerners!

The most charming part is that the Indians want to take our photos. They walk over and say "one photo?" and place their kids next to me for what must be an odd photo. I even had a baby put in my arms one time. And one time I was in the middle of a huge family photo. And pictured above, there was a group of young guys who all wanted a picture.

The only sad part is that I feel like I always look hot and wilted and really must not add much to the photos. I certainly don't look like the hollywood people they have in their minds. Meanwhile they always look bright, fresh and pressed.

India: Pushkar Camel Fair

Ahh India... I don't even know where to start. Should I describe a typical street scene or the traditional dress or the strong religious culture or the amazing architecture??? What about the noises and smells? Frankly I could write a whole essay about the cows that wander around everywhere. I'm really starting to believe they are holy. They have a way of looking deep into my eyes!

Anyway, you get the idea. My brain here is constantly stimulated which makes it hard to sit back and reflect and then share. Too much to process.

Its funny because I think people think that travelling is a lazy vacation but in truth its hard work to really "see" the world. Every direction I look in is something worth attention and memory. And each place I visit has temples, palaces and forts that have deep history and much to learn about. I try so hard to soak everything in and then really try to process it for myself and to share what I see with all of you. My thoughts come from a combination of books I am reading, local papers and conversations I have with anyone I can find to talk to me.

Right now I am at the Pushkar Camel Fair. Pushkar is located in the Indian state of Rajastan. Its on the edges of the Thar Desert and camels are a main mode of transport. (You've probably seen the camel cart on my blog.) So... once a year nomads bring over 50,000 camels and other livestock (horses and cows) to sell. This little religious pilgrimage town goes from 16,000 to 200,000. Along