Bhuj in Winter, by Brenna Nan Schneider

It’s mid-December and of course I’m thinking of Christmas music and hot cider. Winter has officially arrived in Bhuj and with it came wind and chilly nights. Maybe I’m just longing for a “real” winter but I’m cold. I’m bundled up like it’s 10 degrees outside and I keep feigning disbelief when I realize, once again, that it’s only in the 70s.

It has been three and a half months since I arrived and during that short time I feel like I’ve lived three lifetimes. Things move slowly here and I can see and feel every change. I have come to appreciate in new ways small changes and both the joys and frustrations of simple living.

I realize that I’m accepting much of the world around me and I often forget what used to be “normal” to my American eyes. I’m with India every minute of the day (even when I try to steal a moment to bask in my American-ness). It’s everywhere and sometimes I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am to be so immersed; other times I want to run, fast. I long for: NPR, a hot shower (I’d settle for truly clean feet), a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread, a couch, and romaine lettuce.

My project is to develop KHAMIR Craft Resource Centre’s documentation cell. KHAMIR works to revitalize craft livelihoods in Kachchh, Gujarat. In Kachchh, craft has sustained 60,000 artisan families for generations and because of climate and location it remains one of the only truly sustainable future industries. The documentation cell will provide resources for local artisans and those interested in craft livelihood, heritage, and skill.

The opportunity and challenge to give shape to my colleagues’ ideas has been a huge part of my first few months here. I have also been creating KHAMIR’s library system, exploring marketing and PR, designing print and audio video materials, and doing research on weavers in local craft villages. I have also helped prepare for two recent exhibitions. One, New Voices, New Futures, was held at UNESCO’s recent conference on sustainability and education in Ahmedabad. The exhibition featured the youngest generation of Kachchh artisans who used their craft to demonstrate personal expressions of sustainability.

My greatest teacher is my Indian roommate who is about to move back to Rajasthan after completing an internship in Bhuj. She opened my eyes to faces of India I have never seen before. I spent Diwali with her family in rural Rajasthan, learned to make roti that no longer
resemble maps of India, and came to deeper understandings of Indian culture, religion, caste, gender, and the urban/rural divide.

The past few months were full of the unexpected. The unexpected cockroach, the unexpected reincarnation of Shahrukh Khan in Om Shanti Om, the unexpected purchase of a very lavender Hero: Miss India bicycle (with a charming bell and basket), and a few unexpected and very last-minute assignments. The greatest of the unexpected is that, while looking for an opportunity to serve an Indian NGO, I found a job where I can explore interests that have previously battled for priority in my life: the development sector, design, organizational
planning, and academia. These past three months have given me not only an opportunity to explore India but to explore many ways to contribute.

Brenna Nan Schneider

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