Today, we departed from Aranha Homes and Bangalore and began our journey to our next destination: Coimbatore. On our way, we stopped at the Jeeur Village in Tamil Nadu. This village is home to the Devi Maa Apparel Park, a division of United Dry Goods. This was different from our traditional factory visits because, while we did tour a garment production facility, the majority of our visit was spent celebrating Pongal, the "New Year" holiday for the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Upon arriving to Jeeur Village, we were lucky enough to see some wild monkeys! Apparently, elephants roam the area in the evening, but unfortunately we didn't see any elephants today.
We walked through Jeeur Village before arriving at Devi Maa, and this village is truly beautiful. It is full of color, and all the people we encountered along the way welcomed us with big smiles!
Devi Maa Apparel Park was built in part with Mr. Khaitani's vision to create a better way of life for his workers. The idea for this apparel park was developed about 5 years ago, and the construction of the first few buildings was completed about a year and a half ago. The park is still under construction, but the facilities that have already been built are beautiful.
We were welcomed to Devi Maa with a traditional welcome that included fresh fruit grown in Jeeur Village! Some of the Devi Maa employees were there to greet and welcome us. The decor included balloons and decorations, as well as colorful chalk mandalas. We were served fresh coconut water from the local coconut trees, and we were introduced to the UDG staff at Devi Maa.
Next, we were told a little bit about the holiday of Pongal, and we were invited to pray at a Hindu Temple on site! On the way to the temple, we saw some of the new facilities that are currently under construction. They were massive! It really looks like UDG and the village of Jeeur have a great future.
At the temple, we were asked to remove our shoes. The temple consists of a porch with a gazebo and a hut with a tiny room in it. In the tiny room is a "pandit," a Hindu religious leader. Hinduism follows a caste system, so in order to be a pandit, you must have been born into the highest caste. It is an extremely holy and desirable position. The pandit led us in a prayer that included putting our palms over smoke, dipping our hands in flower water, and eating a sugary rice dish. I'm so fascinated by the practices of different religions, and it was really fun to be able to participate in a religious ritual that is so different from my own religion! Hinduism is a fascinating faith, and it is such a vital part of the lives of Indians, especially in rural regions.
We took a short break from the cultural festivities to tour the one garment-making facility on site. This UDG factory was set up to train employees and prepare them for work in other UDG facilities. Employees at this training location work from 9AM to 5:30 PM every day but Sunday, and they are given 30 minute lunch breaks. Like the factory we visited yesterday, there is a daycare and healthcare center on site. The goal of this factory is to bring unskilled workers in and teach them valuable skills so they can be employed in the apparel industry. The facility is airy, bright, and a very safe place to work and learn.
At the factory, we saw a pair of shorts for Justice (you might remember it as the store that used to be Limited Too). While other factories produce many garments at a time, this factory is much smaller and only focuses on producing a single garment. The garment begins as fabric and is sent down an assembly line in order to become a cute pair of children's shorts! We actually saw this same garment being produced yesterday at the other UDG factory! I'm definitely going to try to get a pair once they end up in stores! According to one of the managers, it takes about two weeks for UDG to produce an order and ship it to the US, but considering these are summer shorts, we probably won't see them in stores until late March or early April.
After our brief factory visit, we were invited to participate in more fun cultural activities! We assisted in cooking a sweet rice dish by each throwing a handful into a pot. We also played a game called Rangoli, which is similar to breaking a piñata, except instead you break a hanging clay pot filled with colorful confetti. It was really fun to watch people running around blindfolded with a giant wooden stick, and every time the pot was broken, it exploded with beautiful colors!
Some of the Devi Maa employees prepared dances to perform for us, so we watched them as they danced to traditional Indian music! Then, we were invited to join in on the fun and do some dancing! Once again, everyone was so welcoming and we had such a blast dancing and celebrating! Many of the Devi Maa people speak a little English, but there is a clear language barrier between us and them. Even though it was difficult for us to communicate with words, dancing brought all of us together. Fortunately, a smile is universally understood across all languages!
We all ended up befriending one of the Devi Maa employees, a 23 year old girl named Revathi. She was so sweet, and we loved her so much that when it was time to go, we took her to lunch with us! She studied engineering at a four-year university in India, and she now works as a data analyst for Devi Maa. She lives in a nearby village with her family and has lived in Tamil Nadu her whole life. It was fascinating to have the chance to talk to a young professional woman living in rural India and to get a glimpse into her lifestyle.
Before departing from the village, we had a chance to try the rice we helped cook earlier! It was sugary and sweet, and I believe it was cooked with nuts and ginger. Then, we said our goodbyes and departed from the colorful and friendly Jeeur Village.
Our lunch was my favorite meal I've had on the trip so far. It included Indian bread and delicious rice cooked with black pepper seasoning and green chili peppers. It was the best Indian dish I've tried so far, and I ate so much of it so now I'm having a major food coma (worth it though).
We are now on the road to Coimbatore! We made a quick stop on the way, and I had an opportunity to try Kulfi, an Indian dessert. Basically, it is nut-flavored ice cream frozen and put on a stick. It was weird but in a good way, and I wish we had it in the US because I would eat it all the time (okay, so maybe it's a good thing we don't have this at home...).
Spending the day with the people of Jeeur Village really reinforced all my positive opinions on the people of India. I have never felt more accepted and welcomed in a country. All of the people here have the most beautiful souls, and although they have much less than we have in the US, they are so grateful just to be alive. These people are genuinely happy, every day I fall in love with these qualities that make India so unique. I have loved Hyderabad and Bangalore, and I am looking forward to falling in love with Coimbatore soon! Xo! Sloane