Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Sambar! (and WHY LAFTI>)

We arrived home safely, though felt miserable after eating food at the Seoul Airport. It’s not that we dislike Korean food (on the contrary, I can easily get addicted to kimchi), but that we missed our sambar!

So when we got home, we broke open one of the two bags of "Maharani Krishnammal’s Sambar Finest", got out some vegetables, and cooked up a batch. Tasted fine, but…it was missing a little something.

So we e-mailed Amma and she sent us back a recipe:

"Regarding Sambar: first, we have to boil the dhal. When it is half boiled, add vegetables and onions and put little salt; when the dhal and vegetables are well cooked add tomato. 5 tomatoes are enough. Of course, we have to add water for boiling the whole thing. Lastly, the whole thing is to be seasoned with little oil and onion. This is Sambar. When we use tomato, no need of tamarind."

Got that? I especially like the part about measurements and proportions, and particularly the directions as to how much sambar powder to use. But then that’s probably as close to directions as I’m ever going to get. Krishnammal has likely never cooked only two liters of sambar in her entire life – the question is always whether to feed 60 or 100. Meanwhile, she reports distributing rice (and sambar), bed sheets, and vessels to 700 families yesterday.

Amma says that the army of compassion is now proposing to build a total of 514 houses. Of course, I know that she has nowhere close to the resources they need to do this, but she writes, "Hope in week’s time it will materialize…Achayapatra is getting larger and larger everyday." Now I’ve never heard of the achayapatra (the magic vessel) multiplying exponentially, but here is your chance. We continue to receive unexpected checks from all quarters. A rock band put together by a 13-year-old homeschooler, and which just released a CD, is holding a benefit this Sunday, and I hope to attend.

Aliyah has returned to Smith. First flight was cancelled due to the big snowstorm, but she was one of the few who managed to fly into the northeast U.S. on Sunday night, and was picked up by an old LAFTI friend. A little chilly, I would think, after Kuthur.
Folks often ask me why they should specifically contribute to LAFTI when thinking about tsunami relief. Of course, my own reasons are that they are family, and that they need the money! And, of course, all the previous blogs should provide reason enough. But many of you – LAFTI supporters – probably get asked the same thing, so I thought I’d organize a "canned" response for you.

Four reasons "Why LAFTI":

LAFTI is local, and most of the assistance is integrated with self-help – As you’ve read, most of the aid agencies are quickly disappearing. For over three decades, LAFTI has built relationships and sprouted strong roots in local communities, and they are not going to disappear. Most of the material assistance being offered – from petticoats to sambar powder to the actual bricks and cinderblocks for the new houses – is actually being manufactured by local folks themselves. This also makes for much greater efficiencies. There is no overhead to speak of, and little needs to be brought in from the outside. LAFTI utilizes its own headquarters to provide housing and meals for volunteer relief teams coming in from elsewhere (mostly from within India itself), and provides transportation and orientation to the relief areas with very little in the way of extra expense. A little goes a LONG way.

LAFTI addresses social injustice at the same time it provides relief – More than 90% of LAFTI’s own staff are dalits ("untouchables"), and most of its aid is directed at dalit communities, both those affected by floods and by the tsunami. Many of the aid agencies ended up providing assistance to those communities which were already politically well-organized, or highly visible. The housing effort is directed at tsunami-affected dalit communities, or communities previously assisted through land-reform efforts over the past 30 years. In addition, the housing effort provides a "food-for-work" option for extremely low-income communities to receive food assistance even as they build permanent housing to replace the mud huts.

LAFTI address global economic inequities at the same time it provides relief – The near-starvation found in landless dalit communities before the tsunami, and the degree of damage in fishing communities as a result of the tsunami are closely linked to multinational interests, and the drain of resources from the poor of the Third World to the restaurants and banquet tables in the First. If people ask what they can do to help folks in India suffering from the effects of the tsunami but want to do something besides sending money, tell them to stop buying shrimp!

LAFTI addresses issues of environmental sustainability at the same it provides relief – Much of the damage caused by the tsunami was exacerbated by the destruction of the natural habitat, mangrove forests, and the greenbelt that had once existed on the coast. Moreover, the ability of the coastal communities to recover from the effects of the tsunami are highly impaired by the inability of the land and of fish breeding grounds to regenerate themselves. LAFTI has been addressing the need for environmental sustainability for more than a decade, and now has scheduled a series of consciousness-raising marches even as the housing and other efforts continue apace. This time, government officials and community leaders may actually be prepared to listen.

Hope that helps. The magic vessel is open and waiting….


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