What Do You Do At Sangam When There’s Not An Event?
1. You empty out all of the filing cabinets, dump everything on the floor, throw out half of the pile (including the file labeled “People” full of calendars from the 1980s with photos of children from around the world and random Girl Scout photos from the 1990s), reorder everything that is left, and put it all back, labeled, with a system.
2. You go on a staff picnic to a giant Ganesh built by a cement company and the Kharla Caves (rounding out your Maharashtran cave expertise!) and then have lunch at a roadside restaurant and drink Mazza and sweet lime sodas (not the same as fresh lime sodas, sweet!) with all of the lovely local staff. At the caves dating back thousands of years, having been carved by ancient Buddhists, a contemporary Hindu temple made of blue metal and surrounded by colorful flags and powder and flowers has been tacked on–the Hindus obviously decided to cash in on the holiness of this spot!
3. You volunteer with the Community Programme for a day, and accompany two Tare, Olivia and Alison, to their site at Mobile Creche. You trek through a construction site–cement buildings, scaffolding, rubble, puddles, dirt, dust, women in saris carrying bricks on their heads, men pouring buckets of water over ledges without warning–to reach the nursery and school where the workers’ kids have a safe space to play and learn while their parents build a fancy new apartment building on this spot. You help the kids make papier-mache globes to kick off the month’s curriculum on the environment, smile at the mothers who come to breast-feed their babies before heading back to brick-carrying and cement-pouring, step in a (still warm) puddle of pee, teach the kids the letters, E, F, G and H (and pronounce words like “horse” with all of the letters, including “R,” which Alison from Australia does not!), and sing songs and play games before eating lunch with the teachers and traveling back to Sangam. You remind yourself that you are not super skilled with babies or little kids and should not grow up to teach kindergarten or elementary school but also realize how great it is to see a kid learn something–see the light bulb go off–and you experience the hard work that is being a Tare!
4. You hold international dinner with the Tare, staff and two independent guests visiting from Canada, and make bruschetta with tomatoes, red onions, olive oil, oregano and triangles of white bread toasted in the broiler. You burn your fingers and can’t get the garlic smell to go away for days!
4. You head to the Handloom Weaving Expo with booths from every region in India displaying thousands of gorgeous fabric wares in more forms that you can imagine–raw material, saris and punjabis, tablecloths and bedspreads, bathmats and cushions, skirts and shirts and scarves and silks–and talk Philippa into buying a gorgeous, super expensive sari but buy nothing yourself because the sheer number of goods is overwhelming. (And there are no awesome pants, no matter how hard you look.)
5. You take some more photos documenting your absurdly long (and growing longer) hair.
6. You visit a school which receives funding from the UPS Foundation, sing songs with the 9th Standard boys and girls, and go on a tour through the village in which they live. UPS provides funding to Sangam’s Community Programme, which is how we are connected to this village school. They have a pre-fabricated classroom on site, full of twenty or so computers and made entirely of materials and parts brought over from the U.S. The ceilings are those same pinboard panels that my high school used. Bizarre! More impressive, though, was the amazing mountain range that simply rose up behind the village and the school, like a tidal wave–and there sat the school, and whenever the kids walk from school back to their homes, they walk straight towards the mountains. It makes me question (not for the first time) my parents’–and, now, my–decision to live in New York, especially Long Island, which is, in the area I was brought up, pretty much devoid of striking natural beauty. The ocean is lovely, but the beach areas on Long Island are mostly built up and full of human debris. The mountains outside this village were stunning, in their grandeur and their singularity, their stand-aloneness.
7. You cover your hands in red, white and blue and bleu, blanc and rouge paint and leave your mark on the wall in Priyanka’s room, which used to be the staff lounge and contains the hand prints (and some foot prints!) of thirty to forty past volunteers, interns and staff members.