Monday, June 21, 2010

one of the most awkward experiences of my life.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Khim to take me on a ride out to the villages so I could take some pictures. I had a wonderful time getting out of Pokhara for the afternoon. I was able to observe small family farms and men working in a rock query. Khim took me to meet a family that he has known for years; I was welcomed into their home to enjoy a cup of chiya.

With the sound of thunder threatening to bring rain, we decided to head back to Pokhara. On the drive I spotted a huge decorative arch made of velvet and inquired about its purpose. Khim told me that a marriage celebration was going on inside and if I would like to stop we could. Part of me wishes we never had! As soon as we stopped the bike, a group of women spotted me and quickly rushed towards me. Before I knew it, I had been lead through a series of long alley ways which opened up to a large outdoor space where more than a hundred women, all wearing red, were dancing and drumming.

The opportunity to witness all of this would have been wonderful...if I could have quietly observed from the sidelines! However, they had different plans for me! I was literally DRUG into the middle of all these women and motioned to begin dancing. I tried to explain that I had no clue how to do traditional Nepali dance. They didn't speak English, and if they had, it wouldn't have changed anything. For the next HALF HOUR I awkwardly danced in a small circle... trying my best to imitate what I had observed in the .02 seconds of observation I had before I became the center of attention. I guess it wouldn't have been that bad, except for ALL eyes were on me and no one else was dancing.

I should have turned back at this point!
Notice the underlip bitting....aka "The ultimate sign that I feel uncomfortable"

These little ones sure thought my performance was hilarious.

I was finally able to free myself by motioning that I would like to give an offering to the couple. All I had with me was 500 Rupees. I wasn't about to try and make change with I just threw the whole bill in the offering plate. I guess this was a large amount because when I placed it in the plate and said "Namaste" someone rushed towards me and placed a huge smear of red Abir and rice on my forehead. This was my first tika!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ansu Sen

For the past two days I have been interviewing women and children for the new CWSDP website. Five percent of each sold item goes toward supporting local children. CWSDP teams up with sponsors from around the world who pay for monthly tuition for the child, while the 5% from the shop goes towards purchasing other necessary items like books, uniforms, lunch, pens etc. As of right now there are seven sponsored children. Six of whom I have met. I am hoping to feature a few of these children on the new website so that sponsors can directly see how their donations are helping the children.

I have really enjoyed doing this and it has been a good break from being in the shop. Getting the women to be candid and open is really difficult, understandably so. But I have had a blast with the children. I've had somewhat of a stressful week dealing with some things from home and their youthful excitement and simplicity has been a wonderful thing for me to be surrounded by. I had a wonderful interview with this beautiful little girl named Ansu Sen.

Name: Ansu Sen
Age: 7 years old
Siblings: Only child
Favorite color: White
Favorite food: Strawberries and momo!
Future dream: "To be a big teacher"
What makes you most happy?: "If my mother brings me cake."
What makes you feel sad?: "If I don't get an education."
Best friend: Sabita!
If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go?: "Australia"
Why?: "I don't know. Once I learned they have kangaroo's there"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Just a few things...

My feet are looking pretty gnarly after a trip to Southern Nepal...tan lines/dirt lines :)

Fell in love with this little one and have been visiting her everyday.

Yesterday Tara decided to close the shop early so we took a walk around Fewa. Had a good conversation about women's issues in Nepal. This woman is AMAZING.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Oh I forgot!

Today we took the second half of a HUGE order to the post office. This order was placed by a really awesome young Japanese couple named Yuki and Miwa Homma. Check out their blog here:

I met them my first night in Pokhara. We shared a meal of Dal Bat and Lassi with the Timilmshina Family. While traveling through Pokhara, they fell in love with Tara and her contagious spirit. They wanted to help the organization out in some way. Tara asked that instead of just giving money, that they place orders. So they did a blog post on their travel blog and days later had an order for more than 300 products! They were continuing on to the UAE and left me with the responsibility of packing and sending products as they were finished.

The magnitude of this order allowed for the purchase of a new sewing machine! The CWSDP started two years ago with just one machine. Today they have five. Much love and thanks to Yuki and Miwa and all their friends who ordered products from the CWSDP!

New sewing machine=more jobs for women!

CWSDP update

Well I haven't yet had an opportunity to write about progress at the Chetana Womens Skill Development Project because I have been busy working and traveling. But its raining hard outside, and business is slow so I am taking this opportunity to fill everyone in!

My main goals for this project were to help the shop with marketing, product development and organization. Pokhara is a pretty big tourist hub; almost all the customers are European or American. So we have been working on making the store more appealing to these markets as well as improving the working conditions for the women. One of the main ways we are trying to do this is to organize the store and better display the products.

The first thing I did was change the display out front. Before this counter was stacked with papers and other junk. Khim took me to the large market where I found these baskets that usually hold vegetables.

They thought I was crazy when I suggested we buy them for the store. However, they are now okay with it and suggest that we buy MORE baskets to put out front; since changing the front display they have sold more items on display than those INSIDE the store. For example: before placing these "quick grab" items out front, they were selling very few pairs of yak wool socks, coin purses etc. Now that they are visible and easy to pick up and play with, these small items are making up about half of our daily profit.

While the shop has many already made bags, custom ordered bags and fabric are also possible. Despite the fact that this is a great service and product, not many people choose to do it. I am trying to change this by making custom ordering easier. The first thing I have done to change this is to ORGANIZE everything in the store so it is easier for the customer to know what they can choose from to customize a bag (fabric, strap, lining, tassel choices) We have had great success with custom ordering after changing this! Below are some before and after shots of the store.

Good thing organizing and color coordinating is one of my FAVORITE things to do! You should see my closet at home :)

The third thing I have tried to do is teach recycling and commit a space for it! There are lots of little fabric scraps and string that could be put to good use. The production space is tiny so I didn't have much space. I decided that a hanging basket would be perfect. It doesn't take up any floor space and is not in an area where women can hit their heads. Next step is coming up with products that can be made from the recycled scraps. So far I have thought of Ipod cases and these dolls. Does anyone have any other ideas?

Finally, I am trying to teach Tara color theory! Right now all the cotton is dyed in bright primary and secondary colors. I feel like if she were to be a bit more adventurous in her dying, she could get some really great results. She has a very natural color sense already, and I know that with this little bit of knowledge she
will do great things!

Even with the little lesson, she was catching on quickly. She asked if she could keep the watercolor and the next day presented me with an entire sketch book full of color combination's that she would like to try.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good morning Nepal

Yesterday morning I woke up to a knock on my door and Khim calling to me from the other side, "Rita baby, its time please wake up." (Rita is the name I have adopted since everyone struggles to pronounce Rachel) It was 5 am and the weather was perfect for viewing the Annapurna range from the World Peace stupa in Damside; in the monsoon season it is difficult to get a clear view of the Annapurna range. I dressed quickly and met Khim downstairs where he was waiting with a bottle of water for me. First we took a small boat (more like a canoe) across Fewa lake, on the other side was the beginning of the trail. My knowledge of this hike was limited to what I have read in my Nepal trekking guide, and I wasn't really expecting such an incline. Khim explained to me that we were taking a different route than most people, a faster route. Faster means straight up the mountain! It felt a lot like the first 1/2 mile of the trail head from Teton Canyon, except for it was about 6 times as long. It was a great way to wake up, that is for sure! We reached the stupa around 8 am. The view was incredible, the entire range was visible and we had the whole place to ourselves.

View from the top

World Peace Stupa

I am so fortunate to be staying with a Nepalese family. Khim is a highly sought after trekking guide in the tourist season and he knows all the secrets and tricks to enjoying this beautiful area. We are planning on doing a five day trek in two weeks; either to the Annapuran Base Camp or Jomsom, depending on the rain.

Also, a few days ago Abiskar (my host brother) took me to a Buddhist monastery that is situated on the top of a hill, just on the outskirts of Pokhara. I was just in time for the 5:00 prayers (?) It started to rain while we were inside listening to the chanting. This was such a beautiful experience, I could have stayed here all day.

I am loving all the colors and patterns... just so much visual stimulation. My eyes are seeing so many new things. I am having a hard time recording it all. I wish I had more time to sketch. I was able to find some simple watercolors in the market yesterday with the help of Abiskar. I messed around with them for a little while last night.

I caught this little one playing hooky with his cats.

Also, I am addicted to this food. What it is, I do not know. All I know is that it is really spicy, cheap and NOT Dal Bhat :) I buy it from a man who comes by the shop every afternoon with his food cart. Delicious.

Friday, May 21, 2010


After three days of travel I have made it to Pokhara. Whew...its good to finally be here. My 12 hour wait in the Delhi airport was one of the most painful waits of my entire life. Flying from Kathmandu International to the small airport in Pokhara gave me an unbelievable view of the Himalayas. I cannot believe how high up some of those remote villages are. They seem to just be built on the very edge of cliffs.

I was met in Pokhara by Khim, Tara's husband. I jumped on the back of his Kawasaki with my big pack and we were off, weaving through crowded streets of cattle, food sellers and school children. The home where I am staying is nice and secure. I have a private room and bathroom with electricity and running water.

After passing out for a few hours I woke up and organized my things. Dinner was so wonderful... Dal Bhaat. From what I understand, this is what I will be eating everyday for 2 meals a day. Rice, lentils and curried veggies. We ate dinner on the second floor deck, there was a breeze and the company was wonderful. A young Japanese couple joined us. Apparently Yuki and Maehway were traveling through Pokhara, stopped by Tara's shop and were very impressed by the project and her products. They posted a few picture on their travel blog and soon they had an order of over 100 items from friends viewing the blog. So the shop has been working overtime to fill the order. The couple is great, very kind and wants to help the CWSDP in any way possible. Despite the language barrier, we were all able to communicate quite well and enjoyed learning and teaching phrases and expressions in English, Japanese and Nepali.

I woke up this morning to delicious mint tea picked fresh from Khim's tea garden. I also had time to sit and sketch some of the plants on the veranda. It felt so good to wake up slowly, sketch, drink tea and enjoy the sun.

I just visited the weaving studio. What an exciting space: Freshly dyed skeins hang from the ceiling, six women weave in the back and four sew in the middle room, the storefront is full of light and beautiful products. It sits right on the lakeside...a great location for tourist traffic.I have many ideas for the project, my head is buzzing... that will have to be my next post.