It’s been a busy couple of days since we left the office on Friday evening. Saturday was the second day of SEWA’s annual meeting, and the UW students were lucky enough to be invited to attend. We packed into the cars after breakfast and commenced the journey to the meeting site, roughly 30 minutes from the hotel. We arrived, signed in and entered a large, open auditorium where the ceremonies were already in progress. As we entered we found ourselves immersed in a sea of women dressed in brightly colored sari’s, all in great spirits. The energy was truly palpable. On stage a new group of women was being formally initiated into the leadership ranks, and as each was handed a certificate the room erupted in applause. We took our seats along the perimeter of the room and took in the experience. Scanning the crowd we found a mix of old and young women, and mothers with children. The highpoint of the event was when Reema-ben took the stage. Although we didn’t understand Guajarati, the speech’s impact was evident by the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction!
After the event’s conclusion we made our way back to Ahmedabad for a late lunch and ice cream! It’s a little known fact, but evidently Ahmedabad is the ice cream capital of India, and pistachio-saffron had proved itself to be the best combination since peanut butter and chocolate. Ben Boynton was particularly excited by the dairy-delights served up at the Havmor desert stand.
The next stop of the day was the Hansiba store, a retail outlet for goods produced by the women of SEWA. The STFC (SEWA Trade Facilitation Center) group invited us to discounted merchandise at the store on the condition that we accept to participate in a survey. After taking some time to tour the shop, and to view the various hand-made goods offered for sale many of us proceeded to shop! Among the goods offered were elaborate pillowcase covers, elegant scarves and other decorative goods. In addition to widdling down our Christmas shopping lists we were also able to contribute to an excellent case; supporting the women of SEWA.
Sunday was spent sightseeing! We woke up early, caught breakfast in the lobby and made our way to the old walled city of Ahmedabad for the “Heritage Walk”. We were led along a 1.5km route through portions of the city that are over 600 years old! Throughout its history a mix of Hindu, Muslim and Western influences has impacted Ahmadabad. As a result the mix of architecture styles was striking. As we walked the streets we were dodging pedestrians, mopeds, small autos and livestock. We also had the opportunity to purchase fresh produce from street vendors, including water chestnuts and sugar cane. We also came across groups of men coloring and strengthening kite strings for the impending kite festival, wherein those flying kites intend to use their kite strings to cut those of other kite flyers, with the last kite flying being the winner. The tour reached its end at the site of the fifteenth century Jami Masjid Mosque.
Our next stop was the Adalaj Sepwell on the outskirts of town. An intricately designed structure descends below the ground, the site served as a place for locals to gather water as well as socialize. The detail in the stonework was striking. In what has become rather typical, as the only Caucasians we garnered much attention with other visitors of the site requesting to take photos with us. We spent some time taking in the scene before treating ourselves to cocoanut water and continuing onto the next site of interest.
Arriving at the Akshardhan temple we found ourselves thrust into crowds of Hindu worshipers. We were forbidden to bring in any cameras, cell phones, tobacco or other “addictive substances”. The temple itself was gorgeous, housing statues and relics of Swaminarayan, the central figure of the Swaminarayan sect of the Hindu faith. In addition to being a beautiful place of worship the site has also gained a reputation of being the “Hindu Disneyland”, complete with an ice cream stand, a small rollercoaster ride and a water slide that you ride in an inflatable raft. Thoroughly exhausted, and hungry, we stopped for a late lunch/early dinner before returning to the hotel to prepare for our last week in India.