Saturday, November 22, 2014

Toto we're not in Delhi anymore.

I stepped off the plane and immediately knew I wasn’t in Delhi anymore. 

cheers masuma!
I landed in Delhi a few days back and had the pleasure of staying with good friend there, who showed me everything but a typical Dehli experience. It was a nice soft landing. Thank you Masuma! Now fast forward one day later and a one hour flight and it feels like I'm on the other side of the world.

The NGO I'm working with here in Varanasi (known as India's holiest city, right on the holy Ganges river) was so kind to send a driver to pick me up from the airport but with a little delay I was by myself for a half an hour as the lone white “madame” in the airport looking clueless. It is an initially frightening feeling, because you can’t help but compare to what you already know. I know very humble parts of South America and can’t help but compare this to that. But that’s like comparing an apple to a porcupine.

new friend
[literally bumped into him outside the hotel]
“How the eff did I find myself here?!” keeps running on repeat in my mind.  

To rewind a bit, I originally planned to come to India to celebrate the wedding of Kaveri and Manu (two friends from IESE). It’s going to be a beautiful celebration in Goa, in the South of India, sometimes called the Ibiza of India – can’t wait for a little mmmse mmmse mmmse! In addition, I’m joining a bunch of crazies (a French, a Lebanese and another American, to be precise) for a week of travel around India, mostly staying in the Northern parts. In trip planning (or lack there of – sorry guys!) I thought it was time for a little extra personal adventure.

I have been nearly obsessed with the ethical luxury movement and particularly with pioneering fashion brand Maiyet ever since its launch a few years back. Basically it is a women’s brand creating exceptionally beautiful products (apparel, footwear, accessories) that compete with other top tier luxury fashion brands, is sold in the likes of Net-a-porter and Barneys and most importantly each product is made from materials that are all ethically sourced from various parts of the world – handmade handbags in Swaziland, metal work in Mexico, silks hand woven in India (that’s me!), etc. All of this is made possible via their partnership with the NGO Nest . So long story short, I found myself with some free time and decided to reach out to them to do a short fellowship with them here. 
Maiyet FW14 runway
[made by silks from Loom to Luxury, inspired by the Varanasi loom punch cards - more on that later]

Nest is working with a local business called Loom to Luxury here and helping to create a more sustainable and thriving business, with the goal of ramping up the business and no longer having to lean on Nest. I’m here to help them create a marketing plan for their first collection, for SS16, where they'll be traveling to Paris to compete with top of the line fabric manufacturers and pitch their product to the likes of Celine, Hermes, Stella McCartney, etc. Basically HEAVEN to me.

Back to Varanasi!

The drive from the airport was shocking in itself. THE COLORS! THE SOUNDS! THE TRASH! THE SMELLS! It literally took my breath away, like I actually choked. And laughed outloud to myself.  And definitely felt a bit of fear. And felt alive. 
ride from the airport
There was high pitched hindi music playing from the tinny car speakers while a mixure of the most unplacaeble images I’ve every seen flashed by me. Barefooted women dressed in the most colorful sarees you can imagine, pungent colors, traveling in the middle of the road with barrels of leaves on their heads. Nearly naked men with 2 foot long white beards (that put Brooklyn hipsters to shame) draped over water troughs, sleeping. Lone children running in the middle of the highway shoeless (ooh finally found a need for toms? Ha) dogs doing nasty things together on the side of the road. And the cows! Cows and bulls, with a presence on the road like monster SUVs, roaming with confidence and the little 1970 Tata toy cars just swerve and slam on their breaks in response. Signage only in Hindi, which looks more to me like repetitive curvy brushstrokes than a written language. Garbage piles that put trash day in NYC and even trash strikes in Napoli to shame!! But to SHAME. It’s as if the people living here don’t see it or notice it or know that it is not hygenic. They walk in it, pick through it, play in it, live in it. Shrines. Temples. Chanting. Goats. Pigs. 

Uff how comfortable/predictable is new york and its amenities. I kinda miss it. Oops, I didn’t say that.
ride from the airport

Being surrounded by the literally unknown and feeling this true sense of unfamiliarity in every sense of the word, I realize, is exactly what I should be doing - throwing myself far, far, far away from my comfort zone. I had been getting Way to cozy in Brooklyn and it was time for another shake up.

Routine and easy living force you to be numb, in a sense, to your environment and allow you to comfortably treat every day as the day before, without questioning those things around you. New York I love you but you’re dangerous. In the city, for example, we wouldn’t dare speak to a stranger. We are so much wrapped up in our own world and unaware of our surroundings that we even power walk right past the people we know on our way into Starbucks. We walk into said Starbucks with the entitlement that they will make exactly what we want, when we ask for it, and it will taste exactly like the same same drink we get every day. And if it doesn’t we’re pissed. (Guilty of all of this by the way!) The learning stops. The questioning stop. Questions and frustration only arise when things aren’t how they were the day, week, or month before. And that is straight up spooky/dangerous/lethal…at least for me.

morning on the Ganges

I feel a life learning coming on strongly, staring at me in the face: Wherever you are, every now and then do your best to abandon your former ideas of the way things work. Expose yourself to new ones and be present and curious enough to try to understand them. THIS is my lesson for the day/week/year/lifetime, and boy am I getting schooled HARD on this here in Varanasi.


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