Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cyclones & Staircases (A Work In Progress)

After having spent the morning in Sikkavalam village taking pictures and interviewing the locals, we got back into what was now “the foreigners Jeep” and made our way to a completely different area. Ottathatta was the name of this village, and we had spent the last hour and a half driving on unpaved paths and recently rained on access roads so that we could see one of LAFTI’s most recent and ongoing accomplishments. When we stepped down from the Jeep, just behind us there was a cement staircase standing alone, a true indicator of the work in progress that was taking place just a few feet away. There was a half-built straw building that several men were working to construct at the time, a building that once finished would become more living space for the Ottathatta hostel. Inside the already standing cement structure to the left was the part of the hostel where all operations were currently taking place. Upon first entrance, there was a medium-sized open space for anyone to gather around or possibly a space to store the staff’s bikes and such. To the left was the kitchen which also encompassed a small shrine in the back, right corner. Although there was nothing cooking at the time because the children were not present, there was a beautiful and well-colored arrangement of fruits sitting on the ground a few inches away from the prayer area. Coming back into the open space and then walking straight ahead from there, we were introduced to the room where the children learn and sleep, when they are not at school of course. There was a small chalk board on the wall, a few wooden shelved nailed around the room to hold children’s books and backpacks and other supplies, and other than that not much else. After looking around the first three rooms, Gandhi brought my friend and I into a vocational training room he spoke to me about several weeks before. There were only a few women there at the time, but they greeted us quite politely and then continued with their work. This small center was a training facility for women to learn about sewing, funded by some of LAFTI’s friends from Chicago. After a six-month learning phase, the women normally find their way to a different part of the state to sell and have exported those items they have been trained to make.

The reason for the title of this blog is as follows. When we were walking around the previous village earlier in the morning, a man in the village mentioned to us that one of the buildings we were looking which had an enormous crack along its side, had such damage as a result of a cyclone that the area endured nearly thirty years back. Seeing that damaged building there and a large cement staircase standing off the side of the road here, I couldn’t help but to find myself in quite a contemplative state. Although the cyclone-affected building and the lonely staircase may never be cleaned up or corrected, the people just go on. They were working on building this large straw building with a moment of attention paid to the staircase across the street. The families living in tiny huts and struggling to earn a living do so without holding on in the slightest to the possibility that someone might come along and mend the large building that could then be used for some greater community purpose. It seemed as though everything, the unfinished straw building, the stand-alone cement staircase, and the cyclone-affected brick building, was a work in progress. For a country that has overcome one of the world’s most horrific natural disasters and is home to some of the strongest rains several months out of the year, I am completely astonished at the strength, tenacity, and motivation these people have to continue their work with little to no help from the outside world.

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