Sudara Travels: Bye Bye Chennai

man at market in Chennai

Our team is gathering in India to spend time with our sewing center partners and the women who make PUNJAMMIES®, discuss new opportunities and ways to empower even more women, and to photograph our Spring/Summer 2016 line in Chennai and Jaipur. Follow along as we share what’s happening, what we’re learning, and a few of the ways that your continued support is making such a difference here.

Location: Leaving Chennai. In the air somewhere between Delhi and Jaipur

There’s a point you reach on every trip where the thrill of the journey is at an all time high and you are officially on an adventure. The weariness and distance of home has drifted away and you just float higher and higher in a way that is no longer lonesome or weary.

Today is that day.

As we walked out of the Chennai airport to board the flight to Jaipur, I felt the warm wind and thought to myself: this is freedom. We spent the past few days meeting people who have never even left their home town, and I, once again become increasingly aware of this beautiful gift of seeing life outside of my home. My world has expanded because of it. Every trip makes it wider.

As a woman, I feel it especially.

Women here do not travel the way men do. You see it in something as simple as the airport security line. Here in India, they separate the genders into two lines. Our current creative team is comprised of three women and one man and all three of us {Paula, Sophia and I] made it through the line in Chennaia good ten minutes before Nick. In Delhi, there were two lines for men and only one for women.. again, fewer female travelers.

The past few days in Chennai were an absolute blur of color and sound. Auto rickshaws and mopeds zipping through every crevice in the city. Flower stands on dusty roadsides with a woman stringing blossoms to form long garlands, fruit vendors selling pyramids of coconuts and oranges, fish merchants squatting behind platters of silvery fish, trash and dirt peppering every pathway. Staircases and door-fronts painted pink and blue and yellow and green and…basically every possible color you could ever imagine in the spectrum.

We worked hard here in Chennai. Every day was spent either scouting or shooting photos in doorways and ruins and abandoned boats on the beach. We stumbled into the hotel lobby each night, sometimes with enough energy to eat dinner, sometimes not. And in the off-hours, we met with women in a local sewing center [that Sudara partners with] to get better acquainted with how the work we do is really able to impact a woman. This particular sewing center is a new one in an area called Mizpah. The neighborhood is one of the city’s more dangerous and neglected sectors. Years back, the government built these homes to provide single-room housing to a family and the result of this much poverty concentrated in one place has not been good. Even now, with attempts to ameliorate, there is theft from something as simple as leaving a window open.

But you’d never know it while you’re in the center. There is a gentleness hovering in the air between the concrete blocks and chipping paint. The floors are swept clean. Everything is simple and in order. Bright saris drift through the rooms with the elegance of a palace and there is constant smiling. This little courtyard of rooms represents a job for women who would otherwise be cut off from a source of income. Their stories don’t even feel like they’re from the same planet as mine: abusive, alcoholic husbands; pressure to raise enough dowry to marry off daughters who are coming-of-age, earning an income so that they don’t have to succumb to prostitution. I mean- I know… I KNOW this is the same planet as mine- that’s the reason we are here.. but I mean MY little personal planet.

Days like yesterday at Mizpah zero out my problems, returning me to the only place I can possibly be- which is grateful and maybe even a little embarrassed about any menial complaint I may have had in the past 30 days. I don’t know why I didn’t grow up in a cinder block row of government houses in Chennai, India. But I do know that yesterday, both worlds were grateful for the intersection. Both of us left scratching our head at why the other felt so moved and grateful for the time together… Both of us left feeling like the luckier one.

And now on to Jaipur… the pink city.

This post was originally blogged about here.

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