Tuesday, December 18, 2007

the remix

it's time for a review... a new look and another adventure to figure how to share the experience of women who let us into a little bit of their lives... Dec. 27-Jan.10 we are inviting our friends around 1 Middleton Rowe to consider themselves as participants in this process of meaning making... the first screening of last summer's footage will hopefully be in a small school/house with an audience of women and children who can tell us how we might best tell their story and give them the option to do it themselves... stay tuned...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

our last lunch together was sober... great kid pictures, but there was a sense of oh.. .after all this work together, we like each other... it was a quiet, thoughtful time... i think normal might be the word... the kind of feeling you wish you had in the middle of an experience... not so much at the end... it's amazing to me that after observing and entering into the lives of these 7 or so women that you leave feeling that you are in fact leaving sisters... Didi, begali for sister, is a word we heard often.."didi, she does have a husbad and he sells drugs"!, "Didi, take this baby until it walks, and then i will come back for it", "didi take this kid for a minute while i eat lunch".."didi, green saree?!?", "didi, baby milk?!?".. today it was "dede, you come back"? ... that is the nice thing to say to someone who is leaving i know ... but its a fascinating thing to recognize that someone else "knows you were there" .. it's not so much about "making a difference" or "having and impact"9whatever that means).. but maybe it's a selfish realization that you were there to watch a transformation, or a realationships develop and most importantly, you were there to witness... to really tear apart and wrap your brain around a system whose symptom is babies and moms sleeping on the same sidewalk you try to avoid walking on if only for its filth... back at marist, where even the grass looks vaccuumed, i am so thankful for such sweet smelling air....but i can't imagine them here, in this environment... not only does that disconnect lead me to think something is very off in the world, but also reminds me that this is just another finidng in coming to discover alternatives for people...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

like all things that take up alot of time and energy, you find yourself really pushing it to the limit at the end... this project is no different ... it's almost like ..AHHHHH let's just get this all together... we have been meeting with our mom's at the school and we are meeting more and more people who are happy about our project.. which is funny because colloquially our women can't even go inside to have a cup of coffee with us, but maybe its just our enthusiasm and what might be considered as the pleasant stupidity of our work that moves them to join the cause .... nah, but seriously, we have really encountered some folks here-people from india and america and canadia and sri lanka who have jumped at the idea of sharing time and energy with street mom's and are happy to hear our perspective on the drama that has been unfolding before us ... in the unending need for clothing and medicine and schooling and affection, we are continuing to learn new things about our friends... and it's interesting that they are now kindof trusting us with the truth of their lives and being real about what they can do .. at times we find that they don't really like eachother and would rather not work together ... at other times its the truth about relationships and the harm that those relationships are causing their families ... it's also the truth about their experience, that thier professsion entails piling their kids up on a tarp at night on the corner and sleeping there all night ... i know because this little pile of kids is right across the street from where we live and we didn't see them there all the time becasue 1. calcutta streets at night, even our street which is very central and in a "good" section of town...are really really scary.... and 2. when it rains they go to the other corner that has a roof ... i know that if you have been following my blog, i might be repeating myself ... i honestly just don't remember ... but each day here we are discovering more about our undestanding of poverty... and today my thought is that when we think of "the poor" and "helping the poor" i think we automatically associate that with a feeling of thanks on their part and that they will automatically be "grateful" for "all we have done for them.." .. well, for sure, in this month... i am reassured that i hate the term "the poor"... the women i have met are attitudy, demanding, clever, sometimes manipulative, concerned with thier appearnaces and sometimes crack thier kids on the ass when they run across the street without them.... and guess what... they are alive and thier kids are pudgy and some of them are in school and most of them pay the rent for the rest of thier families that live in the village or, by default, support their husband's drug habit... they also take care of eachother's babies and yell at eachother alot... all this is to say that they are complicated... and maybe complicated adds dignity to a communtiy of people whose esteem is unrecognizeable to themselves... yesterday, we were able to put one of the husbands into rehab... since his wife is seriously considereing starting a small busines of selling sarees on the street, his habit is going to be no good for profit... and i thought as we wished him luck, the story his baby will be able to tell someday.... can you imagine... "yeah, when i was 1 and a half, my mom was a beggar and my dad was an addict and then these white people and diya came to our street and threw my dad into rehab and hooked my mom up with 50 sarees to sell..." i doubt if sonu, the kid who might tell this story even though he slept through most of it, will ever have a reason too... will his future be one where this story will have any significance... will he be in a place where he is distanced enough from this reality to find it meanigful in some way... ?? meaningful as in "those people were wack" or "what does this mean for me..?"

in another fit of drama, i found myself walking down the street at about 11:30pm one night looking for someone ... in the rain... and in all the creepiness that is park street at night, i instantly ran into about 3 mom's, one after another, that i knew... they walked with me and helped me find who i was looking for ... but it was such an interesting experience to not only run into someone i know on the street... but to leave them in the street while i escaped from the creepy... so, no...in my opinion people whose immediate human needs are not met should not be refered to as "the poor"... we've ruined that term to accomidate our own complacency, ... these folks demand to be looked at becuase they don't let us walk by without reminding us of what they deserve... after a converstation with mar about all of this-i think that from now on it might be a good idea to ask for a window seat at restaurants... because it's too easy to eat in the back..

Monday, July 16, 2007

well... for a few days, the heat had been really unbearable... i was able to take my own little vacation from it all, but in these days i have learned some true lessons of making-something-outof-nothing. we were able to begin our women's circle... after doing our noon time lunch with all of friends on the street, we taxied the women to a space that is used as a school for poor children until 1pm... we have rented the space for 160 rupees or $3 a day to meet with them... it was a phenomenal experience... to deliberately take only women and thier babies to a space and pretty much ask them.. .what do you want for your life and for your children's lives and how can we help you do that... the responses were inspiring and heartbreaking ... arzu wants to be a cosmetic saleswoman... and honestly with her smile and fiest- she could sell anyone, anything... another woman, jovhana would like the opportunity to take a bath in her own private bathroom. these women have to bathe in a local pond and just was themselves with their clothes on them all at once... she tells us about how annoying it is that everyone is watching and the men just stop and stare at them,.. not just those passing by, but of course those men that are also washing in the pond. a board memebr of the YWCA, Margaret has been helping us with this project in bringing them to the school and it is really amazing to watch her involvment ... a board member from an establishment where these women beg in front of is intersted in trying to do something ... it was a great experience ... even if just to watch us craming all of 6 of us, our gear and 6 street moms and kids into taxi cabs to drive across town to a litle poor school just to be able to talk about their lives with out the chaos of the street and the stresses of their lives... i found it to be a victory.. and we get to do it again tomorrow...

as for our really really sick baby... we wandered all over calcutta today trying to help her and her mom... first cab drivers that rip you off... you have no idea the craziness of it and it really is just a rite of passage in calcutta, so come and find it all out for yourself ... but we ended up ay Shishu Bhavan, the sisters of charity house for handicapped children. it started with the nuns telling us to take the child to the hospital and that they couldn't do anything ... so we shoved this 3 month old in their face with, are you kidding us, the mother is just as if not more malnourished than the kid!!! HELP US!!! they told us that once we had the baby evaluated by a doctor, she could bring the baby back with her other child who is sick tomorrow... i have to tell you, we left sceptical... this mom doesn't know how to take care of this baby ... her husband left her and she herself is a medical case, her deliveries were done by midwifes, which by new-age terms is rad, but by calcutta terms is a death sentence... on top of lots of other really ugly details its a miracle both of them are alive ... and we are really praying that the sisters take them all tomorrow... if not... well.... that seems to be the reflection here... what if not?... maybe since we are nearing the end of our time here or are realizing the gravity of need here more and more.. there is a sense of impending doom on the streets ... what does it mean if your only choice is to to give your baby away to strangers... what if your only choice is to wash your body in a public pond... what if your only choice is to teach your children to push their noses up against the windows of cars while people are parallel parking looking for change... when the need is that raw, are these even choices..?

some peple say that documentary work is truth telling ... i don't know if that quite follows in this case... i'm feeling like its a vent... to match the frusteration we are feeling on the streets, maybe the camera is an opporutnity to talk... a visual brainstorming ... that's pretty liberating right? to vent?... the next complication is the capacity for those listening to care or to do something...

hope you are all well
much peace, jamie

Sunday, July 8, 2007

we have found ourselves in a routine of having a big community lunch with families on the street everyday at noon.. we take them to these great little places onthe sidewalk where the food smells great but is not so cool for us to eat... after ordering like 12 or so meals we just hang out ... yesterday was great.. we were spendeng time with three mothers all of whom are begging after thier husbands left them ... one is 7 months pregnant and the other, Arzu whose picture is above with her 1 year old... the other has a 2 year old, who is the little girl above... these women are really cool.. and they are full of fire..their interviews were gripping... they shared with us what it is like for them to live on the street... at the end of the day i traded my video camera for a baby (for 10 mins) and one of the moms, Arzu, interviewed diya... that's a move i hope we can play around with more by hopefully having the mom's interview people on the street.. we'll see what happens...

today another woman entered our lives and pressed the concept of urgency in human needs for our grou...her picture is above and i didn't include the baby she was caring for becuase well... it's kindof too much- i'd rather introduce you to her i nthe film and giver her a chance to tell her story... but this woman is not only in total distress but has also bridged any gap we might have felt with these people... because her situation and this baby's health is so grave we were all worried... our group and the other mothers on the street. this woman, umpim, has been carrying around her sister's four month old baby trying to care for her... she, the baby, doesn't have a name and is so sick... she looks like if you touch her she'll break... well, both of them look that way... and this women doesn't even really know how to take care of her... in fact, the other women were teaching her how to feed the baby today after lunch, which was an amazing moment of comradery since usually women fight over our attention in hopes of gaining the full benefit of these white folks with money... little do they know that a of all- we aren't loaded and b of all we are going to help them all anyway... but when the need is so great, rationalizing is kindof out the window... we were able to get the baby some formula and we are bringing them both to the sisters of charity tomorrow when we go to visit for the first time... the woman caring for this baby just wants to give her to someone who will take care of it... so, hopefully they can help...

this story has so much to teach us on why we are here.. sometime s you feel y ouself falling in to the habit of searching for legitimacy of need... for example... we found out that alot of what the families have been telling us is not true and that some of the people we are working with and more interested in taking advantage of us... that's another funny thing... i never expected NOT to be taken advantage of here... isn't that funny... i mean can we really expect that someone whose whole survival is dependant on the giving of others to expect that all people are deeply giving ...i mean, if you don't have a plan you might be as silly as 6 people coming to calcutta to hang out on the street... the diffence is that those 6 people have countless resouces at their finger tips. i think part of our real work here is to give anway-- i.e. oh... ok... your husband is alive when you told us he was dead, when in fact he is just dead to you because he is a drug addict and doesn't take care of you or your children and exploits you instead... like i'm NOT going to feed you now... Mar reminded us of peter marin, co-founder of the catholic worker movement who lived himself as a poor man... someone asked him if he ever got frusterated in being with the poor and being lied too and hurt and taken advantage of... he responded no, becaue he knew how deep the evil runs. i guess for one week, we havea chance to give all our time and available resources to people that are invisible... i mean these are people that are falling through the crackers of a place that is already really broken... film-making and book-writing aside... we are discovering the extent to which people from rich worlds can enter into relationship with those in real struggle... kindof another perspective on this idea of "untouchable"...

two kids from the street just kindof went to church with colin and i this morning... we both took a kid by the hand and acted as if they were ours..we were like a little family.. we sat towards the back to not cause a scene and they were so so good. at one point one of them had to go to the bathroom.. and i was like .. what!!! i have never even babysat really... i don't do this! so we went outside and i asked some guy where the restroom was.. there wasn't one.. i won't lie, i was really thinking... kid, you are more street wise than i will ever be- what do you usually do when you have to go to the bathroom, which is go in the street somewhere.. but i thought that since she was with me, we are doing this the right way... but the bathroom was like in some gated building.. when i told her i didn't know where it was , she said nevermind. i guess holding it was a better option thatn not hanging out with us... after what became a pretty long homily, she actually just ran out of the church and then came back really relieved.. we laughed-after she sat back down next to me, this man besideme whispered, "where are they from." i responded, "outside"... he said.. "and you brought them IN HERE ?!"

Friday, July 6, 2007

a scene

Yesterday was a great day of shooting... we just kindof walked around our neighborhood and interviewed some venders and got some shots of the city... turns out the rain we are having is more than they usually get and it is causing alot of problems for other parts of calcutta... it also effects alot of our plans on places we are wanting to go... our street is great, but we have heard that there are other parts of the city still flooded... universities have even postponed testing and there was a road that caved in by the airport... so, in all of this, we are trying to get some stuff together... now, thank God, our whole group is feeling good and we are able to travel around together.

back to shooting, it's funny that no matter what we do, we make a scene... one guy, after just getting a few seconds of him cooking, told another guy that he was going to be on the news... i wish i thought, poor guy- he thinks he is going to be on the news and really he is going to be in some idealist's documentary on marginalized women... the other great thing is that while we are shooting, crowds and crowds of people gather around to watch... we were able to get some interevews of women living on the street a few days ago... it was really something to be pretty much sitting on their tarp with them asking questions like " what are a few words you would use to describe yourself" and "when was a time you felt happy"... their responses were interesting in thier non-responses... i don't want to spoil the movie -- wink wink-- but i left them with a sense of priviledge in even asking those kinds of questions... it was also really cool to ask them if they had anything that they wanted to say... it created this 45 minute window of real investigation ... and a scene since they were able to voice thier frusteration of feeling invisbile ..the sad thing is that the crowd of about 30 men that gathered to watch us watch them, probably didn't hear anything they said... i mean there was such a crowd of people around us and they were so intent and close to us that they even blocked the natural light and i had to ask some of them to move back so i could move the camera. it was also cool having these women use a microphone... some of them were like ... naw, you hold it ... and some of them couldn't wait to get thier hands on it... afterwards we took them and the kids to dinner... which was a cool time too and also heard about some other needs they have...

today we are going to walk in a different part of the neighborhood to see who we meet... we have also revised some of our questions... like i said before this whole thing really is a process.. maybe because i am a process person and that's what the creature will turn out to be-- it reminds me of the project i did for my thesis at allegheny which dealt largely with the moment of women making films... and what that means... i was reminded of this moment when i met one of prianca's friends, princa is a friend of diya's who took us to the Genesis Foundation... her friend is a filmmaker here in india.. and is especailly interested in documentary... after sharing equipment ideas, like nerds, he asked me more specifically about the project and his first question was "what is your bottom line? what do you want to say in your film?"... this might be one of the most important elements in teaching documetnary ... but i had to laugh with my response .. " i don't know yet.. i'm waiting for them (the women/the people) to tell me." so it's a stretch from my own education in communications.. .and without it i would have probably never gotten to this point in thinking about media... but i used to think that without having a bottom line you were under-prepared... in these 30 days-- i'd rather be open to a message that is waiting for us...

hope all is well and i miss you all, jamie

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

in the floods

it's raining ... the kind of rain i expected and when it rains.. it floods.. now of my great fears on this journey was dealing with this water..but this morning in my journal and after some prayerful reflection i knew that I, eventually, would have tyo wade through it like the other gajillion people that live here... i can't stay inside forever... so today, a woman most concerned about hygene, wading through what might be the most dirty water in the world ... and it was great..and i knew, after that moment of prayerful reflection, that it would be a baptism... after washing down of my legs and rinsing my shoes i am happy to report that it was a real gift, these floods of calcutta, and now i feel ready for anything ...

too back up a bit .. on saturday we had the opportuntity to go to a drug rehab facility for women that is in southern calcutta...the name is genesis foundation and i was able to intervierw the executive director and about 7 of the women. we only really scratched the surface of thier experience but many of them talked about the profound loss thier addiction brought them and their relationships with drugs were a very big part of thier relationships with thier families and spouses. many of them had lived on the streets where the foundation picked them up... it was a great entrance to this sense of marginalizqation that we are examining here... but one of the great lines that came from mr. bose, the director, when asked about starting genesis foundation, was " we don't need anyone's permission to do good " i found it to be a great mandate. i also met his wife... who when they met was so interested in what he was doing, joined the cause.. we had tea in thier house and what an awesome couple.. you can tell that they are the house where everyeone comes when they need help, or the want to have fun. i.e. while we were hangingout agarage band was rehearsing in her living room..you can see how they take care of people...here is a picture of us at Genesis Foundation. from right to left is me, josiah, mar's oldest grandchild . then Diya, part of our group a dear friend co-researcher and translator, her best friend prianca who is from calcutta and who introduced us to Genesis foundation and her brother Buro. in front of all of us is jorden, another one of mar's grandchildren.

now, since it has been raining, we have been working indoors a bit... but we are looking forward to being back on the street soon.

hope all is well and miss you all, jamie

Saturday, June 30, 2007


on wednesday, we arrived at 5 o'clock in the morning and you could feel the humidity even before we got to our gate. i think the way the pilot put it was "its the usual unpleasant stickiness for this time of year in calutta" ... it's always something when important peole, like the guy flying your place uses words like "sticky"... anyway... it was a phenomenal flight ... especially the part of watching the map of our route as we went over afghanistan and iran... we even talked about how far we have to ship people and equipment to that very region for the war.. and how we were flying over people we knew... and to hear words like "airspace" from the cockpit in explaining our path to india... i sat next to what i thought then was the most adorable india couple i had ever seen.. of course i have since met more... but these two were like orphaned grandparents that forced me to adopt them by naturally involving me in doing things like helping grandpa find medicine and helping grandma get her coat out and find gandpa's missing sock... it went on for most of the 9 hours it took to get here from London... but it was cool.

our accomodation here was at best "up in the air".. in fact we looked at it like, "well, at least we will have an adress to put on our customs card"... when we arrived at the YWCA of calcutta located in the vicinty of Park Street (calcutta's version of park avenue) we opened the door to an enormous hallway with a giant courtyard, a sign for the Y's karate classes and a 6 foot scultpure of the crusified Christ... this really WAS the Young Women's Christian Association. we found our rooms and also these great meeting spaces, fans in all the rooms and would you beleive- a constant breeze coming in all the windows that has not stopped since (knock on wood)... above is a picture of our 2nd floor hallway where we hang our clothes and also a picture of my room... don't rememebr if i cleaned it a bit before this promo shot...

listen, you can ask anyone, i was pretty much counting on hours after hours of turmultous storms and stifeling heat... turns out it rains for about 30 mins Total, if that, every day and the sun comes right back.. yeah it's hot, but relief is close at hand with this out of control breeze that is always around... we decided to stay .. the people are nice... the breakfast is cute..and it's 305 rupee a day, about 12 american dollars.

our project started before we knew it... Our work is to explore the condition of women living on the streets. after dinner our first night we met a woman whose husband was a rickshaw driver who was hit by a car. his leg is injured and can't work, so he is back in the village out of word. his wife is in the city tryng to get some money together by joining the begging trade. After a contribution she broke into tears and asked if we would take care of her and her two kids while we were here. well, that's kindof why we came all this way.. So they have become the first of our encounters with street families... we have been spending sometim e with them helping to fullfil some basic needs and then are hoping she might help us grapple with our own questions about the realities facing calcutta's poor who even in this "nicer" section of town, take to the street to beg for money- the most recent stat i heard is that 70% of calcutta's population lives on $1 a day...

we have also found that that this whole journey really is a process... it's hard to believe that we have only been here for 3 days... the questions are building and the ideas of some strucutral solutions are boiling... now, as we are researching resources for street people that might already exist, we are learning about other areas of deep poverty and exploitation. for exampls hellish red light districts that where kids are drugged and often raped by thier mother customers, who had been sold into prostitution as kids themselves. places liek that seems to be living proof of a demonic cycle of opression and exploitation. there are organizations that work with the kids of the women who are there and also help some women get out, which is kind of like getting out of the mob. they have to hide them and educate them so that she might have a life outside. there is too much to do here.. so our work is steady and we are working to find a balance between hospitatlity for those who we encounter and a committment to beginning to answer questions of the causes of these types of human suffering.

while spending alot of time with the begging community, we have also met some entreapenouers. one woman, Khaton, has been selling cocoa nuts for 19 years. She sits on one of the corners of park street and prepares the perfect cocoa nut experience with a machete. she cuts it so you can drink the milk out with a stratw and then creates a spoon out of the shell and serves the trender cocoa nut inside. her and her husband both make a livng this way and we are hoping to learn more about how that came to happen as we have chance to hang out with her more... and of course eat more cocoanuts, that i of course made one of mar's grandkids eat as a test... her picture is above ...

today, we went to the new market with our family taht we met on the street . it is this ENORMOUS mall/system of tunnels/place where all things scary live... it was easily one of the most intense overwhleming esperiecnes so far in my life... it was like a living video game and you could easily go from the good worlds to the bad worlds and all these people would be coming at you and you had to manuever around them and then there were people with all these babies just kind of sidecaring you until you bought one baby milk, one mother some food and you could never get out... it was a dense thicket of merchandise and smells that i don't understand what makes those smells. i can't say i don't want to go back.. i mean a set of about 20 gorgeous bangle bracelets bardered down to 50 rupees, $1.10..have you met me?

it was interesting that when our family led us into the market, she went directly the really creepy part.. like a back section that in reality was dark ally posing as a strip mall. the ground is all wet, stuff is dripping from everywhere, you can't really see where you are going because it has this patches of dark and light and people coming and going ... she didn't even begin in the section of the market that you meet when you enter, well lit, lots of workers, lots of shoppers.

the documentary is on its way ... i did my first shooting today in the market and also and interview with Hari, a guy who works at teh YWCA and makes the breakfast. the kitchen is like a shed... it must of been some ruin behind the facility. there is a table with 2 hot plates and a few cupboards for the jam and the bread... we have a hard boiled egg, a bannana-which is green on purpose, 2 pieces of sliced white bread, scoop of jelly. and then some tea... that's right tea in india... an its funny how foreigner conscious the breafast is, fruit that can be peeled, proceessed food and all things boiled..

in fact-i nthese past for days, i don't think i have ever felt so foreign in my whole life.

take care and i'll right some more soon.. i was hopeful to add pictures, but this computer is from the 90s... hopefully i can figure something out. peace and love, jamie

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


i'm in the middle of prep time. somewhere between finding mosquito nets and trying out my new lavalier microphone. it's been the greatest to be surrounded by people that i really like alot these past days... eating, talking, eating and eating. should be jarring, this journey, and as a new friend reminded me, filmmaking, maybe at the very least or the very most, is like bringing back evidence of life changing experiences. evidence. to prove that calcutta worked in totally changing my perspective.