Friday, February 15, 2008

Fuuwa: Community Free Space

Originally uploaded by dalbhat
After the workshop in Sasayama, we were all invited to stay the night at Free Space Fuuwa. When we arrived there were about 25 people around several tables that were fitted together and every person in the room brought a dish. We went around the table and each introduced both ourself and the dish we brought. Then we had a discussion about Kolkata NGOs and the fair trade movement.

I was so inspired by the sincerity at this space, which is the dreamchild of a woman named MUKAI Chihiro-san. She originally worked as a social worker but also wanted to live in a rural setting. She put it altogether to establish FUUWA, which caters to elderly and young people living in the community. If you take a look around, you can see that everyone who visits is allowed to share something and although Chihiro manages things, she is happiest when she can facilitate someone else's learning and achievements.

In the evening we all sat around, after a very long day, and drank the most delicious lemon sake drink...followed by a pot of hot tea. I didn't want the night to end, or the peace to stop flowing.

The four shoji screens behind Chihiro in this photo were done by children who live in the village. The photo doesn't do them justice, they are gorgeous.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Visiting the Rakutendo Home and Shop

rakutendo genkan
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
One of the reasons for my coming to Japan this time was that I was invited by my friend Chiaki-san and her husband, Muu-san to do a presentation together. The idea is that we would combine my experiences working with children in India with their movement to introduce bean cuisine to a wider and wider audience, as a means of reducing the amount of meat consumed in the world.

We created a workshop where I introduced a few simple ideas about living in India, by showing various things from India, and then Chiaki-san introduced the food that children in Kolkata eat each day: dal and chapati (rooti in Bengali). The workshop was held up in the mountains at the Sasayama Children's Museum, a creative facility established in an old primary school that allows children to explore the world around them on many levels. It was so much fun watching three - ten year olds trying so hard to make their chapati puff up perfectly in the final step!

Mustard Seeds is very proud of the project it has collaborated on with Rakutendo and Jeevika Development Society, a womens' handicraft training center in Kolkata. Rakutendo is a vegetarian bean cuisine club that studies recipes using beans from around the world and packs kits that give the exact beans and spices needed to make the recipes. A member receives the kit in the mail each month.

About three years ago, when I was leaving Japan to return to Kolkata, Rakutendo's Bean Cuisine Club members developed a
pot cover that not only keeps food warm but allows you to take beans
off the gas burner earlier and keep the cooking going for the last 15
minutes under the pot cover. Sooooo...if 100 people save 15 minutes of gas every time they cook, it really adds up. I had asked them to put on their thinking caps to see if we could create some sort of fair trade project within the group; and I like that this product is something that also protects the environment! The pot covers are made of handloom kesh made by the Tagore Society in Santiniketan: weaving old sarees together to create incredible and one-by-one unique patterns. Even each label, a little smiling bean (thegroup's motto is "All we are saying ... is give beans a chance..."), is hand-embroidered by Jeevika, along with all the sewing on the cover itself. They are just about half way through the third order of the pot covers. Each order was for 100 pieces. That's a lot of pot covers.

Ahhhh. I love this sort of thing! Now we are working on a spice holder pouch for members to keep their spices in. Wish us luck!

Thank you to Rakutendo for making doors open for me...and so many other people.