Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Dance

We wake up every morning and, quite literally, we don’t know what plans are in store for us. We go where we are told, do as we are directed, and eat what is given. It is like being a VERY obedient six-year-old, and, with deep apologies for an unfortunate metaphor, we ride a great wave. It is very freeing in a way. I have lost track of the days of the week (Aliyah tells me she has as well, though it might be Saturday, she says semi-authoritatively).
Visitors turn up at odd hours, there is always food, and sometimes I direct them around, as we did the Swiss TV News team. I climb into jeeps that magically find their way through roadblocks, discover clothing disappearing from my room and mysteriously turning up cleaned (except when it gets lost, being mixed in with the Oriyans’ laundry), songs and stray Tamil words come to me at the proper moment, and I seem to contribute in ways that fit. I am part of the dance.
There is some intra-family discussion about plans for next week. Normally, we would all gather back at Gandhigram. Sathya is planning to come down from Chengleput. Aliyah and I and Bhoomikumar have left luggage there. There are trains that are semi-impossible to book, cars that need to be arranged. We have to fly out on the 18th from Chennai (Madras), Bhoomi has to meet medical colleagues there on the 17th, and wants us to take in the last days of the Madras Music Festival (the high point of the south Indian music festival year – normally, for me this would be bliss, but now….) The rice harvest festival – Pongal – is on the 15th (actually, it is four-day festival, but the second day is the one we celebrate; the third day is an animal holiday, and all the cows have their horns painted.) But Appa does not want to celebrate this year, and wishes to stay here in the eye of the continuing storm. It will all be figured out one way or another. We are part of the dance.
The fisherman’s village next to the school is now filled with rice and bedsheets and water, Bhoomikumar has discovered. But there is a colony of so-called "untouchables" right next door to them, who in normal times are the fisher folks’ helpers in the fish markets, and they are without food, and almost without shelter, and likely now permanently without employment. The aid agencies seem to have left them behind, or perhaps never even knew they were there at all. The fisherfolk, despite their huge losses, are at least well-organized politically, but this underclass has no one to represent their interests. Krishnamal has called together her staff and requested an immediate survey of the location of these suffering communities, and is sending out rice. They are part of the dance.
Meanwhile….rice has arrived, 300 bags or so, about six tons of it. It seems that while all this tsunami business is going on, the flood victims from the previous two months have fallen even further from view. They have come to Kuthur and appealed to Krishnammal for help. She has put her meta-economics to work. While the aid agencies have been providing rice, the price of rice in the marketplace has fallen (though this is somewhat mitigated by the poor harvest as a result of the floods). So she has purchased a huge amount of rice at 8 ½ rupees per kilo (the usual price being 13.) Total cost around $1,100. Her plan is that in February, she will go village by village, having the villagers themselves build homes from cinderblock (this is part of the housebuilding program that American homeschoolers have helped support), and in exchange for their labor, building their own homes, they will receive rice (and sambar powder!) Of course, this is the same time Appa is planning consciousness-raising marches about saving and rebuilding the greenbelt on the coast. How this will all play out is anyone’s guess. Knowing Amma, people will eat – the magic vessel, the achayapatra, will provide, somehow. This is part of the dance.
One of the Oriyan students – they have been working tremendously hard cleaning out homes, finding and burning bodies, refurbishing schools – tells Veerasami in his broken Oriyan English (Veerasami replying in broken Tamil English, there being virtually no similarity between the two), that they are so inspired by what they have seen here that they plan to stay longer. They will work for food (and raise more funds besides.) We are working for food, too. Hey, the food is good! All part of the dance.
All of you who are reading this are part of the dance as well.


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