Of the gladdest moments, methinks in human life, is the departing upon a distant journey into unknown lands…
-- Richard F. Burton

Search This Blog

26 September 2010

Expense Report-GOA

September 26 2010
  • 30 footsteps from our hotel....

1200 rupees for  the 9 hour overnight semi-sleeper bus to/from Goa
250 for driver to Old Goa
180 for the best butter and garlic crab of my life
100 for a fresh cut pineapple on the beach
17 for a surprisingly ballin’ grilled cheese sandwich
40 for some guava cheese
230 (about S5.17) per person per night for a beach side hotel room with a  hot shower
Making 30 rupees for posing for a “quick click” with gross Indian men?

 ...more tomorrow....


So for Ganpati last week, we were interesting-looking enough (foreign) to be interviewed by the Times of India. Although we weren't featured, the Pune Mirror somehow picked up the story. You can see it here but sadly they didn't use the photo they took of us. The creepy thing is that I am not getting a lot of friend requests and messages from men saying they want to meet me in Pune. That's the problem of having my name and "US" printed in the local paper!

22 September 2010

Light in Darkness (I'm so dramatic)

September 21, 2010
Amy, Me, Sarah, Stephanie, Kara, and Melissa...the driver thought it was a nice photo op!
I never thought keeping a blog would be this difficult. So much happens every day in India that I cannot summarize my experiences in this form. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far is that there is no equivalent to being in the moment itself. My pictures could not capture the panoramics view of the Ajanta and Ellora caves. Similarly, I can’t replicate the laughter of 90, 9-year-old Indian schoolchildren as we were commanded to sing an English song (“Old MacDonald” was the first one that popped into my head?) and then speak our poor Hindi. I can’t simulate the chills I felt, sitting in front of the enormous, 2nd century B.C. Buddha. I also can’t describe the sickening feeling on the bus while being verbally harassed by young men. I can imagine Mom tensing at that sentence. Nevertheless, I’ll try to sum up our lovely weekend at the caves.

one of the most delicious/comforting meals in India
Melissa, my wonderful fellow nerd/history buff from Amherst had been talking up Ajanta and Ellora since we arrived in Pune. Both are UNESCO world heritage sites! Built in two phases, when the gospels of the Buddha were enthusiastically accepted, first in the 2nd century before the Christian era by the Satavahana Empire and then by the Vakataka Dynasty in the 5th and 6th century, the Ajanta caves bear a brilliant testimony evolving Indian art under the influence of Buddhist philosophy. Kind of on a whim, we booked a driver and the cheapest hotel in Lonely Planet and set off with 4 other fabulous girls, armed with two jars of AMERICAN peanut butter(we paid like $5 bucks each for it) and nutella. I even found whole wheat bread at a bakery near Fergusson College…what a godsend. Above is the epic car sandwich complete with golden raisins. Nice to have a break from rice and dal! We quickly launched into embarrassing stories, sharing our life stories, and laughing. I feel so lucky to have met such diverse girls from Hawaii, Ohio, MA, CA, and NY who have varying degrees of world travel and talents, but a common infatuation with India. It really helped to talk about difficulties adjusting. There are so many contradictions and things out of our control, such as being young American women who are stared at, cat-called at, and constantly on candid cell-phone camera.

We reached our surprisingly nice hotel, non-AC but with an actual showerhead that kicked the hostel water-pressure and mold out of my mind. We put an extra bed in our double rooms—making the total cost of the hotel, including the driver’s room and meals, about $14 per person. NOT BAD. After a great Punjabi dinner at the hotel, we watched Indian soaps and laughed. Rising at 6:45, we got an early start to Ajanta—since it is about 2.5.hours from where we stayed in Ahmadbad.

I was really intimidated when we pulled into the parking lot and 7 men surrounded the vehicle. They were salesmen, as I later learned, who often pay off car drivers to bring customers around to their shops post-caving. I saw postcards and (stupidly) expressed interest. “Johnny” followed me, promising me bargains as soon as I was finished. Another man gave us “gift”, beautiful crystals that were even “bigger and better” in his shop. We felt awkward being surrounded and followed, so we quickened the pace.

The caves. WOW. Perhaps the most astonishing part of it is that everything – from the basilican relief, ornate pillars and lofty arches—is completely the craft of human creativity. The images help, but there is NO WAY to truly describe the quiet loneliness of the caves. Simultaneously, one feels the sun beating down, enjoys the natural waterfalls churning, and feels incredibly surrounded rather than alone. There were many Indian tourists, all paying 5 Rupees while we paid 250. Oh the joys of being a foreigner—anyone from SAARC or even Southeast Asian countries pays just 5 Rps! Oh well—it’s about $5.50 for a PRICELESS experience. We hiked up to the temple overlooking the ravine where the 28 caves lie. Of course, we were followed by salespeople, but I sat and overlooked the edge in spite of it all, feeling the wonder!

Then we had a not-so-pleasant moment on the 7 Rps shuttle bus back to the parking lot. Standing in the back, I started hearing the familiar cat-calls in Marathi from a group of about 8 teenage boys. Cell phone cameras a-snapping, hands clapping, and eyes staring, the boys continued to taunt us. “I want foreigner kiss! I want to #$%* you! Oh baby!” I felt grimy—and worse, powerless. We’d been trained in orientation not to tolerate this—to use the constant crowd to rally support for poor behavior. But I felt frozen and just prayed that the bus would reach soon. Though that experience left me feeling down, I prepared to race past the shops to our awaiting driver. Johnny accosted me—and yes, I bought his postcards. It’s amazing the guilt they can make you feel just by remembering your name. The man with the gifts chased us all the way back and we could hardly close the door since they were swarming the car!

We made it back to the hotel and chilled, gabbing, painting our nails, and getting some fig ice cream. After another large dinner, we collapsed, ready to sleep and get ready for Ellora.

culturally inappropriate
—what a place. I would get married here. Not only is that cave lighting delectable, but the calm pools of blue-green water, rolling mountains, and intricate Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain designs would be the perfect backdrop. I don’t see marriage in the near future, but trust that these caves are my number one pick for nuptials. Stepping into the main section, I was dumbfounded. I knew these caves were a little younger than Ajanta, but I had no idea how advanced they’d be, with multiple levels, minute details in carving, and with grand obelisks, temples, and pillars. There were so many “this is why I came to India” moments here that I felt fully recovered from the previous day’s negative energy. I have never felt so free as I did dancing some bhangra outside of a Parvati temple. The enthusiasm of the people we met for America and for their heritage moved me. We met a group of women panchayat leaders from Andra Pradesh on their way to a women’s leadership conference. I felt honored to meet women at the head of village government, smiling with confidence as we spoke broken Hindi. The larger than life smiles of the school kids at our Hindi made me feel so much joy. Their very well-spoken and energetic teacher explained they were shy about speaking English “because they are very lazy—all they do is eat and watch bollywood”. Sarah commented back that Americans and Indians aren’t so different; we like to eat too. At that moment, I had a cheesy warm feeling of connectedness. The kids shouted out questions about pizza and spaghetti and eventually begged for a song. I started “Old MacDonald” and Sarah and Melis understood to say “cow” as our first animal (of course—this is India!). The Jain caves were my favorite…I felt so calm and at peace in the murky light. Again, it is very mushkill (difficult in Hindi) to describe this special site. I even meditated for a few minutes, letting the spiritual nature of the place cleanse me from the inside out. OM indeed.

We made a living Shiva
On another note, I am very busy! Academics have really picked up and I have submitted some of my first papers and given a presentation on malnutrition. Recently, I met students through my amazing Contemporary India professor Paranjpe(teaches at the National Defense University and writes policy notes for the Congress party) who attend a special 1-year masters program in Indian Government at Maharashtra Institute of Technology. The curriculum is designed to be 30% classroom and 70% field, giving aspiring politicians and social activists the tools they need to be articulate speakers and community organizers! They get to intern with parties, NGOs, do case studies of individual state governments, etc. [THE US NEEDS AN EQUIVALENT] I interviewed some students for my Research Methods class on youth political participation. Basically, Indians under 25 are the largest segment of the population, but only 18% vote. It was fascinating to see how they felt about corruption, voter apathy, and the dominance of rich people in hierarchy. In contrast, only 2 of the girls I interviewed at the hostel are registered to vote and don’t really feel the urge to read the political news. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my research and my short paper with my findings.

Had time to post ONE photo...everyone wanted to dance
For now, I have to finish packing. ANOTHER TRIP. This time---we’re off to Goa via overnight bus. No reservations for accommodations, but we’ve heard beach bungalows are readily available. I can’t wait to do some yoga, have some seafood, and dip my toes in the Indian ocean! Right this moment, I am going to watch the immersion of Ganesha for the final day of Ganpati. I have cotton in my ears—apparently the crowd is insane!

No computer until Sunday evening, so best to all my readers! -I ended up getting interviewed by the Times of India though! I'll let you know if the photo they took gets published!

17 September 2010

Thoughts on Indian/American Diets

Below is part of an essay I wrote for my public health class--read if you wish!
Analyzing the diet and eating habits of Indians requires mention of Ayurvedic philosophy. The Ayurvedic goals of nutrition involve physical, mental, and spiritual health. A healthy physical body requires well-balanced meals and regular exercise. Ayurvedics profess what one eats becomes one’s mind. Likewise, the purity of food follows the purity of the inner nature to maintain spiritual wellbeing. These principles weave throughout Indian diet patterns.
            According to most Pune residents, Indians follow a typical eating schedule. At 6 am, Swapna takes her chai or as her father prefers, milk with turmeric powder, along with two biscuits. After a few yoga poses, she eats ladoo around 9:30 am. In the Ayurvedic tradition, lunch happens from 12:30 to 1 pm and features two chapattis, vegetables, dal, and rice. She has chai at 4 pm and a snack of poha (rice puffs with curry leaves) around 6:30. Dinner at 8 or 8:30 is the same as lunch with the addition of a “salad” or cold vegetable mixed with yogurt and/or nuts. Fergusson College studies responded similarly with all meal times within an hour of Swapna. One girl has four distinct meals with breakfast of pohe and chai at 8:30am, Swapna’s lunch menu with a dessert at 1:30pm, supper of chai with light snacks and fruits at 5 pm, and Swapna’s dinner menu at 9 pm. Another FC student eats her breakfast of an egg, 3 slices of bread and a cup of milk at 8 am, lunch at 2 pm, chai with biscuits at 4:30 pm and dinner at 9:30 pm featuring fruit. She replaces the 5 or 5:30 supper with an 11am snack of sandwiches or parathas. Overall, middle-aged and young Indians follow the same schedule, though the students eat bigger breakfast meals and take later lunches and dinners than Swapna.
            Meal timing in America certainly varies. I always eat a banana as soon as I wake up (around 6:15) and usually go to intense hot yoga or run before my usual breakfast of a whole-grain cereal or oatmeal, fruit, and usually some egg whites or peanut butter for protein (8:15). Midmorning for me usually means high-protein yogurt or some fruit. Right around 12:30, I usually enjoy a large salad loaded with beets, nuts, hearty greens like kale or spinach, other vegetables, and light vinaigrette. I’ll have a cinnamon rice cake or pretzels on the side, usually accompanied by fruit. Around 3 or 4 I like to have some coffee and another snack.  I usually eat dinner around 7. I enjoy a balanced protein, grain, and vegetable combination—for example, some brown rice, stir-fried tofu, and a side vegetable. I always have dessert, mostly frozen yogurt or dark chocolate. I typically eat something every 3-4 hours. Similarly, Swapna agrees that one should have four hours maximum in between meals. We disagree on what time to eat dinner. I have always been taught that 70% of daily calories should be consumed before 6pm and that eating after 8 pm is bad for health. Swapna and I agree that one should go to bed about 3 hours or more after eating and that eating after 9:30 pm leads to poor digestion.
            The meal times in India seem more rigid and regular among young and old alike, whereas more variation exists in American meal times. For example, many Americans skip breakfast and have late-night fast-food dinners. Part of this unhealthy and irregular meal pattern results from the busy lifestyles of many American working families.
            Indians eat for convenience less often than Americans, even as urbanization spreads the golden arches of McDonalds in India. There are certain things that should never be rushed, especially teatime. Chai seems to be an anytime beverage. Whether reading the morning newspaper, sari-shopping, printing copies at a Xerox shop, or visiting a neighbors’ flat, there is always an occasion for chai. Americans taking time to sit and enjoy a cup of tea is hard to imagine. Finding a “quick” chai or coffee to-go proves challenging in India. In drive-thru and convenience food-oriented America, one can be in and out with a piping cup of coffee within two minutes. I ordered a café latte at Café Coffee Day near Fergusson College between classes.  Fifteen minutes after my order, the confused server found a take-out cup and placed it in a plastic bag, still wondering why I couldn’t manage to sit down and drink it in the coffee shop.
            This anecdote reflects a fundamental difference between American and Indian culture in terms of convenience. One hardly sees people eating and walking on the go. In America, many skip breakfast in favor of power energy bars, eat on the morning commute, or at their desks. The amount of families that still come together for meals dwindles as American lifestyles grow busier. Luckily, my family eats home-cooked meals together most nights. While some Indian families have adopted a few frozen food dishes, homemade meals are prepared almost always. Perplexing to an outsider is the way in which businesses close for the lunch hour. Indians value sitting down for an hour mid-day for nourishment and rest. My hostel roommate, a coder in information technology, says her lunch can be taken for as long as she wants and whenever she wants as long as she works an 8-hour day. Where I interned at the U.S. Treasury Department this summer, we signed a statement that we would only take 30 minutes for lunch in spite of our 8-hour workday. I have noticed that few Indians bring their lunches to their jobs, however. Perhaps my college student budget motivated my decision to bring a large salad to work everyday, but many of my colleges brought their lunches as well, usually because there is little time in 30 minutes to leave the office and come back. Some colleagues would work through their lunches at their desks, determined to reach deadlines. My hostel-mate chooses to buy her lunch from the cafeteria since she can have homemade food at an inexpensive cost.
            There are also differences in the overall types of foods consumed. Most Americans consume too many calories and not enough nutrients. Many consume a diet low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar. Two-thirds of Americans are obese and there are increasing risks for chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain cancers. Something I’ve noticed is the amount of meat consumption in America. Many families consider meat the main course and the vegetables as small side dishes. As a vegetarian, I don’t personally cater to that philosophy and prefer to gain my proteins from beans, legumes, dairy, and nuts. Hence I was pleased to discover how often nuts are used in chutneys and sweets to add nutritious protein to the highly vegetarian diet of many Indians. Seeing PURE-VEG advertisements for restaurants comforts me as a former minority in a carnivore-based society. The same foods listed in the above typical Indian schedule do not vary much for lunch and dinner. The type of vegetable may change, but rice, dal, and chapatti are guarantees in the Maharashtran diet. Classifying food as “typically American” is a difficult task in light of Americna cultural diversity.
            Lots of extreme tastes like the very sweet and very spicy are popular in India. For example,  “black coffee” served without milk is loaded with sugar. The confections are sickeningly sweet. Some of the curries are also very spicy. Desserts and salad are served cold while the rest of the food is usually hot. Most Indians attempt to balance flavors; the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy should all marry together in a single meal.
            Along the same lines, the way in which meals are eaten, including the process and the portion sizes, differs from America. Everything eaten has a purpose: to enhance the skin or to calm the stomach or even to give thanks or prayer. Even sweets are mostly eaten at puja as offerings for the gods. Traditionally, some food used to be offered to a cow, a bird, and a starving person. Behaviorally, light conversation during meals is preferred. Swapna says most Indians do not talk during meals and instead concentrate on tasting the food and experiencing it. Too often in America, I’ll eat subconsciously, while watching a movie or chatting with friends and not realize my fullness. Interestingly, Swapna also says that it is important to have pure conversation without gossip when eating, since that kind of negative talk can be a pollutant to a nutritious meal. Instead, she was taught to thank the gods consciously in her head as she eats. While some Americans take a moment to say a blessing or grace before a meal, some don’t, and others rarely sit at a physical table to take a meal. Spiritual eating is less evident in America.
            Methods to eat illustrate proper Indian culture. The right hand is always used while utensils are hardly touched. Even the way a plate is arranged is very specific in India. The chapatti is always placed closest to the body. Rice is served above that. On the left, a cold side salad is dolloped along with a chutney while the right side features some kind of vegetable. On special occasions like Ganpati, special holiday foods are served. Muldoc replaces chapatti; rice with a little curd is eaten last as an offering to Lord Ganesha.  Traditions vary in America, but the special muldoc reminded me of traditional pumpkin pie being served on American thanksgiving. However, methods and orders for consumption are not defined as strictly in America. Indians rarely use napkins and are much better at keeping clothes free of stains, due to close eating over the plate as opposed to the American straight-backed style.
            Portion sizing seems to differ in India verses America. I was struck by the small size of my slice of birthday cake when we celebrated Preston’s birthday at the program center. In America, every piece of cake I’ve been served has been at least twice the size. Similarly, when I order a chai latte in America, it is five times as large as the shot-glass sized tea served by the street chaiwallas. Similarly, Indian desserts, while much sweeter than most of sweets I consume in America, are very small. At an American restaurant, the platters are as large as the silver, round trays used in India, but Indians do not cover their entire plate with food. American restaurants tend to serve 2-3 servings as a single one, meaning either one eats the entire thing or brings leftovers home. In my experiences, Indians prefer to eat everything they are served and leftovers are rare, since there is not usually excess food. For example, if there are left-over chapattis, they are ground into a breakfast dish for the next day.

Ganpati Bappa Morya!

Jeannie doing puja as Swapna instructs
CELEBRATION. India is full of festivals. Seriously--it is like there is a new one every week. Even though I was frustratingly ill with a horrendous fever, cough, and faucet-esque nose*, I still managed to experience a bit of the festivities for the Ganesh Festival, a 10 DAY holiday celebrating Ganesha, one of Pune's most revered gods. Ganesh, the eldest son of Shiva and Parvati, is worshiped widely year-round, but this festival is a chance for the super devoted to deck out their Ganesh idols with flowers, colored powders, lights, and fruits.  Remover of Obstacles, Ganesh has an elephant head and a large belly, for "digesting everything", according to Swapna's father. All over Pune, there are impromptu stages, flashing lights, speakers, and statues of Ganesh. I have gone to more pujas (and eaten more prasad--sweets offered to the God and physically consumed by us) than I can count. We are fortunate to be warmly invited as guests to temples, pujas in people's flats at the hostel, and even to special programs held on the street. Sometimes, people take just as many photos of us white folk as Ganesh..which is sort of awkward.

I ate SO many modaks and will make them for you all. My picture uploader is being very slow right now. But this website will help explain the incredible-ness. They are specially made for Ganpati, so I made sure to have my fill of the dumpling-style sweets...smothered in warm ghee of course!

*A little bit on health*I've been to the doctor 3 times in 3 weeks. I never get sick this often in the States. I hope I don't get immune to amoxicillin. I love that stuff though--it was the most money I've spent on a single item other than my sari(oh yeah-bought a yellow sari for 640 that is to-be-tailored!). All of my drugs(including a liquid expectorant that is a punchy shade of lal (red), sumo(high powered Tylenol, perhaps?), the antibiotics, and some drugs for "cold" added up to about 500 rupees(around $11), but the amoxicillin was 440 of that total. I'm totally sending that bill into the study abroad insurance. That's at least 5 full meals worth of Rups(pronounced ROOPS, as we fondly call them).

This is a really scattered post, but I have a few highlights.

-LOVING CLASSES---will post sections from some papers I've written thusfar.

-had nice lunch with 3 male journalism students from Afghanistan...our contemporary India prof teaches their class on media and politics at an area university(they are hear as part of the 1200 Afghans India sponsors annually for study-abroad). We discussed women under the Taliban, marriage, pop culture....even a little bit about Pakistan. I also spoke extensively with my professor about the work I researched at Treasury--mainly the US's anti-corruption reform efforts in the public financial management of Afghanistan. I felt so cool to know what hawaldars were. Apparently Kabul Bank just failed and I am wondering how it is affecting our Treasury technical advisers there.

-off to Ajanta and Ellora tomorrow--historic caves that are World Heritage sites! Me and 5 other fabulous ladies are taking a hired driver and staying in a great hotel ($5 per person per night with breakfast!) over the weekend. Pictures galore for sure.

-I love fig ice cream.

11 September 2010

More on the Village Visit

Sarah and I enjoying succulent bananas dipped in mango pulp
September 10th, 2010
Part of our visit included this 84 yr old village drummer performing traditional music
Ah sometimes my own nerdiness, or as Guy, my friend from Northwestern, calls it, my "hard-on for development" is overwhelmingly strong. I acted like a news reporter, asking questions and taking notes like an investigative journalist, seeking more understanding of my foreign surroundings. After many agricultural field visits, we met with a council of the heads of women's Self Help Groups (SHG), coalitions of about 20 women in villages that advocate mostly for issues related to water, women's health, and the education of their children. Oftentimes, the women admit the stigma related to joining a SHG and the increased spousal and in-law abuse that often results from attending said meetings. However, since pooled collective micro-loans often improve the well-being of the entire family, gradually, more and more village women attend SHG sessions. The vivacity of these humble women absolutely moved me. MITTRA (see below post) conducted training and education for 15 initial women in 1999, who were then dispatched to train other villages. When asked the biggest changes they saw in their lives, many of the women on the panel said 'speaking up", "decision-making", "office skills" and "confidence". One woman, the leader of the SHG Federation, Babithai, has earned enough income and respect to finance her way through two years of college, in Ayurvedic medicine. In most villages, participation is at 50% with the goal being at least 1 women from every household enrolled in the monthly meeting. The delicious cuisine we ate was cooked by women from a SHG, so they made money off of us! Even though it was indirect, it felt nice to contribute to exuberant women.

Mutual Curiosity
 We also enjoyed the almost haphazard chants of traditional village music with an 84 year old man with a tabla (drum) tied to his foot. He told a folk story about Rama in Marathi with lots of voice intonation and hand gestures. Perplexed, I tried to concentrate and understand...alas, I kept holding back the giggles since his voice kept cracking and his eyes were dancing wildly. Once it was over, I recovered and actually got to meet the musician. Erik, my friend from New Mexico, greeted the man, who reached his hand to Erik's ear, pulled him in close, and whispered a blessing into his ear. Later we learned the man mentioned he wanted Erik to come back and he'd teach him everything he knew about living a long, happy life. [This is almost exactly what happens in Bali to Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love"...just saying...].
Shelling those creamy cashews!
Anyway, we also got to see cashew manufacturing! It was SO cool--the nuts are steamed, dried on the floor for 12 hours, then shelled using a nifty foot-petal-powered machine, then dried, and then "graded" and sold. The nut I ate was just dried and it was the sweetest, creamiest cashew I have ever eaten. I bought 2 bags of the broken ones (they were cheaper---180 Rs--about $3.86 for at least 1 lb!) and ONE will make it back to the States. I also picked up some dried gooseberries and raw honey(which is the BEST honey I have EVER tasted). I love that I spent $10 and it felt like an overindulgence...I usually only spend about $2 a day, since my big purchases (like Internet for $60 for the first month--will be $35 for the other ones) are pretty much over. Side note on money--I went to the doctor again post-village with a terrible fever. One kid has had dengue and many more on the program have fallen ill. Regardless, all of my medications together cost .36 cents and the visit was $2.15. So I think that's pretty reasonable for feeling better!

 The new mom is checking out a cell pic of her boy!
Onwards! To the Community Health Center. 80% of health facilities are concentrated in urban areas. However, 74% of India lives in rural areas, which often lack both preventative and curative medicine. So India launched the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in 2005, with the goal of improving the availability of and access to quality health care, especially to the rural poor. The scheme has increased public health fund allocation to 2-3% of GDP from existing allocation of .9% GDP. A village level ASHA(Accredited social health activist) is placed in every village to create referral chains. At the 1000 population level, there are gram panchayats: sub-health centers that serve 5-6 villages with a male and female health worker that have immunization days, drugs, and small clinics. We visited a public health center, which serves 30-40 villages or about 30, 000 people.

Check out THIS birthing table
Many villages rely on indigenous forms of medicine, but the NRHM has provided government funds for incentives to get people to these rural clinics. For example, the CHC we visited pays women 700 Rs to give birth at the clinic rather than at home. Trust-building between modern and traditional takes time, but our clinic claimed about 2-3 births a week. The rural health scheme trains traditional birth attendants as well to conduct delivery under safe hygienic conditions. I got to see a baby that was 8 hours old and SO small. Assured services of the CHC include routine and emergency surgery(like appendicitis), obstetric care, family planning and laproscopy, diagnosis and treatment of leprosy, eye diseases, malaria, TB, typhoid...etc. The one in Jawhar had 3 doctors and about four nurses. They also had an ambulance to drive severe cases to the district hospital about 45 minutes away.

It was most interesting for me to learn about family planning. I enjoyed learning about the BIAF-oriented choice-based advice-in a government-run hospital. On government suggestions to limit children to two and to space births every three years, contraception is available. A lot of people are insecure about condoms, which is bad with high rates of HIV, but many women opt to have IUD inserted in between pregnancies and some use traditional birth control pills. They said a lot of their work has been relatively successful. We also met young girls under 18 who had dropped out after 10th standard, but enrolled in these girls' groups that teach sewing skills. The girls earn 90 Rs a shirt and are required to not marry before the legal age of 18 to remain in the program. Interesting!

10 September 2010

Thoughts on the rural visit

Village kids watching our 6 SUV caravan drive by
September 9th 2010
Factors Associated with Physical Spousal Abuse of Women during Pregnancy in Bangladesh
A village house

Visiting the rural Jawhar, municipal area in Thane district in Maharashtra, may have been the most enlightening thing I’ve done in India thus far. In terms of career development and academic, it was a development nerd’s dream. After a bumbling 7 hour drive through that took us through the pothole ridden Indian highways, outskirts of Mumbai slums, and finally, through the GREEN mountains of the Western gats, we arrived thoroughly stuffed of Indian sweets and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. But as is the custom in India, it was 8:30 PM, meaning dinnertime! After an incredible meal prepared by a local women’s cooperative self-help group, I was a little upset we were forced to start the film Gandhi at 9:45 PM.  It was a required film for my Political Economy and Development class, which has speculated on what the Gandhian approach to developing modern India would look like. The feasibility of self-sufficient and home-grown villages for modern India may be doubtful, but through our visit to Jawhar, we got to look at how a local NGO is approaching development with both modern and traditional methods, in a way I found extremely inclusive in utilizing the skills of local people. We stayed with MITTA, Maharashtra Institute of Technology Transfer to Rural Areas, an organizational subsidiary of BAIF(Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation) trusted disciple of Gandhi, Manibhai Desai, founded BAIF in 1967, initially by using artificial insemination in cows to increase local milk production.
Their mission reads:  to create opportunities of gainful self-employment for the rural families, especially disadvantaged sections, ensuring sustainable livelihood, enriched environment, improved quality of life and good human values. This is being achieved through development research, effective use of local resources, extension of appropriate technologies and upgradation of skills and capabilities with community participation.
How awesome does that sound, right? But they’ve actually achieved A LOT since 1967. BIAF proven its credibility, now receiving most of its funding from big companies like TATA and the government. BIAF has programs in more than 47,000 villages in the following states: Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand.
One of my favorite quotations from the weekend was: “Tribal people of the rural population are the real scientists”. The MITTRA representatives kept reiterating that not all technologies are necessary or even possible to bring in to the rural communities. They were vehemently against the use of GM seeds and instead emphasize a participatory choosing of seeds by the farmers themselves. They also brought up the importance of being autonomous from MNCs that control the distribution of GM seeds. Technical support is more what MITTRA aims to offer. They have introduced 15 varities of grain to diversify crops and also created community seed banks.
We stayed at the training center where they have sample crops and techniques to train local farmers in watershed development, floriculture, medicinal herb cultivation, weed extraction, biocomposting, and other kinds of sustainable technology. I was impressed to learn about BIAF’s other programs including community health initiatives, women’s empowerment self-help groups (SHG), and Shikshan MITTRA, a network of 16 ashram (residential) schools where the students learn how to create kitchen gardens, deworming, biodynamic compost and other kinds of agricultural training. They even work with landless laborers and start by giving them one acre and proper training to eventually own their own land.
showing off his worms
One farmer we met with started with his one acre and decided he wanted to grow cash crops like mango and cashews. Always pushing for sustainability, MITTRA encouraged him to continue with rice growing during monsoon season. He also grew jasmine, which yields over 10,000 Rs a kilo. Eventually, this farmer bought 5 more acres and now hires outside labor to tend to his crops. He does the main overseeing while his brother sells the produce in Mumbai markets.—hey division of labor! Women participate, especially in irrigating the saplings. He was beaming when he told us he made enough money to buy a motorcycle and to send his son to a good school.
However, I have to wonder about the future for this farmer. If his son decides to join the trend and migrate to urban jobs in the city, what will become of the farm? I asked the farmer through a translator what he thought, and he replied that if his son does not want to continue this farming way of life, he will hire more outside labor to sustain his business. Many Indians I’ve talked to have strong opinions about the future of this 70% agricultural society…government incentive programs exist, but the lure of the city seems to be draining youth interested in farming.
Me, Allegra, and Uttarrah with jasmine
My next post will continue commentary on the village visit and more BIAF-based projects. I am so excited to tell you about the community health center visit. EYEOPENING.

07 September 2010

My Address

Some have asked about sending me some mail...for future reference, here is my address!

Deven Comen
The Alliance for Global Education
Bungalow No. 3, Fergusson College
Ladies Hostel Gate, FC Road
Pune, India
411 004

05 September 2010

The Adventures Continue

Before I leave on my rural village visit in 15 minutes, I figured I would update my blog! So much has happened so quickly that I can barely keep track. This post will not feature photographs, but I will take many at the retreat and will upload the others when I have more time.

Anyway, Wednesday was Krisna's birthday! In true Indian form, we attended a massive temple celebration with the followers of the Hare Krisna movement. During the lecture from the leader, I felt the calm of his slow intonation and explanation of his faith wash over me. A decided theist, I do not adhere to any particular religion. In Thailand, I was pretty much a Thich Nat Hahn Buddhist reading an incredible book of his showing the close relationship of Buddhism with Christianity. I have always loved my United Churches of Durham community I was brought up in and recently tapped into my dad's Jewish heritage by attending a few services at Georgetown. I love Hindu services because I really enjoy incense, simplicity, and Sanskrit. Anyway, our Alliance group was all invited specially to the temple for Krisna's birthday. We chanted some prayers and viewed the incredible idols and gardens along with the other 1000 visitors. I didn't stay up for it, but at midnight, the streets are filled with human-towers of men celebrating (like in cheerleader formation). It sounded incredible, but is considered pretty dangerous for women to be out in the street that late at night.

I have had such an outdoor-exploring filled weekend complete with a trek up Law College hill with some friends. It's quite a strenuous hike, but once you reach the top of the crazy tower/temple, you can see the entire city. It really took my breath away.

This morning I volunteered with a tree restoration on top of a temple mountain with Youth to Youth, a Pune based NGO that works for mostly environmental college. Although I had to be there at 6:45 am on a Sunday morning, it was very refreshing to have clean air, laughter with Indian students, and some dirt under my fingernails. The best part with staying with Sarah's host family and having banana with peanut butter!

Much love and will write soon--time to catch the rickshaw and drive for 6 hours to the village! I have my bugspray and net!

02 September 2010

A LOADED weekend

September 2nd 2010

I wanted to alert you non-facebook users that you can view one of my India albums here. Just for you, Dad! I had many adventures last weekend and can't believe that my week is nearly over! I only have Hindi on Friday morning and then I'm done!

To recap, Friday night I hung out at the hostel and chatted with all the girls, practicing my Marathi and Hindi. It's truly entertaining for them to listen to me struggle with the retroflex characters of the alphabet and do the aspirated tones--imagine listening to someone your age forget what comes after letter E. I enjoy discussing my little knowledge of Indian culture and their extensive knowledge of Dan Brown books, Julia Roberts' movies, and Miley Cyrus.

Operation Roach Kill in the hostel. Flatmates: Ferocious Jeannie and Intimidating Erin
Unfortunately, for the few times I've tried to engage in convos about Indian politics and curiousities about the BJP, I was surprised to learn that none of the hostel girls are registered to vote. A lot of them are apathetic and with the daily newspapers sprinkled with tons of corruption, it is easy to see why they feel less enthusiastic about the political process. My classes are starting to delve into the governance side of Indian power dynamics. The central and state systems often collide and create a lot of red tape and failed delivery. When I'm not feeling brain-dead, I'll write more about what I'm seeing with my own  eyes. Look out for future posts on language tensions, caste relations (still existing, believe it or not), and the various attitudes surrounding the possibilities of an independent Kashmir.

Saturday morning, I went on a run! It was fabulous even though I got lost. Running in India is quite a feat; the streets are narrow and I have to avoid cars, rickshaws, cows, and of course, people. It also is the middle of monsoon season here, so random openings of the sky happen. A LOT. Running is a mutually beneficial activity: I entertain the Indians and they entertain me; I'm a tall white girl running without cause and they are selling, eating, laughing, and living.

The artist and his wife, who mostly paints
After some breakfast, the four flatmates and I ventured to visit one of Swapna's artistic friends. There are so many talented musicians and artists in Pune. It makes me want to rekindle my creative days as a potter up to age 12. Once I turned into an athlete, I kind of stopped all those things, except for 10 years on the flute, which I've since retired. The image at the left shows a piece of commissioned work of a famous guru and spiritual leader. It was impeccable. The sculptor usually only works from live models, but he is using photographs of this guru since he is deceased. The couple have traveled all over Europe on art exhibitions and love Paris the most. It's clear they have done very well and live a comfortable lifestyle at their self-designed house and attached studio in the mountains outside Pune. We drove up the most windy and steep road I have EVER been on(yes, Mom, even more twisty than Mount Washington!) and entered a green oasis with a mango and apple tree garden. The best part was when the artist asked if he could sculpt Erin. We're not sure if it's nude or not...but she's going back!

Erin and Jeannie enjoy a Sizzler--basically spaghetti and steaming veggies piled high--only 100 rupees!
We went out to lunch with Swapna. For a mere 120 rupees (about $2.50), I got a watermelon shake, a delectable corn soup, and a grilled vegetable sandwich(with 1 slice wheat and 1 white..not sure why?!). It felt so nice to have a break from rice or fried sweets!

Indeed, he is not wearing pants
I checked my email at the hostel, but soon left to meet some friends at FC (Fergusson College) to head to our first Bollywood film! Going to the movies in India was one of the first things I wanted to do! After buying some CANDY and mango juice(though the cheese popcorn looked appetizing), we decided on Hello Darling, because it looked ridiculous. The plot basically follows a modern women working at a fashion magazine sporting plunging necklines and see-through tops who make coffee for their creepy boss who uses every opportunity to harass them. Though all in Hindi, the humor was universal though it was pretty seedy with sexual innuendo that I thought was almost raunchier than what we see in America. The film also involved stealing a corpse from a hospital, dance numbers, a mafia-like grandmother who tortures husbands to make them obey their wives, and WAY inappropriate office attire. I couldn't believe the same society that persecutes hand-holding teens on Valentine's Day allowed this kind of sexuality! The end of the film has the women finish on top--one of them becomes the new Boss and the Boss is relocated to Bangladesh. Even though the last line on the screen read (in English) "Empower the Woman!" I left feeling kind of sad that women portrayed as sex symbols were supposed to be "empowered". It just seems ridiculous when I hear about oppression in the streets and the homes of girls all over India. More on this later...

On the 12 RUPEE train to the caves..in a monsoon
My friend Hannah from Whittier College and I met our pal Guy, the Northwestern student nearly fluent in Hindi, for some snacks in the early evening before heading to our first bar, K Lounge. There were approximately 3 women and maybe 50 men in the place. In lots of Pune, it is taboo for women to drink and smoke in public places. I felt a little uncomfortable, but since our Program assistant Alicia is dating the owner of K Lounge, we felt safe and welcomed. We shared a beer tower and discussed slum development with some older Indian guys who were friends with our FC buddies. I am going to visit the graduate school for development studies and hopefully sit in on a few classes. Since I was staying at Hannah's house, I got to be out until 10:30 instead of my usual 9:30 curfew! Her host brother had friends over and those crazy kids kept us up til 4am with their laughter! I was a little annoyed, but with school M-Sat, I realized they needed to blow off some steam. Up at 7 to get Hannah ready for a wedding she was attending, I walked back to the hostel and geared up for another adventure--the Karla Caves with Melissa, Sarah, and Guy.

Chaitya Hall
being taken away by the wind!
Karla Caves are approximately 40 km away from the city of Pune. These caves date back to the 2nd century BC and represent the golden period of Buddhism in India. Look at Chaitya Hall, beautifully chiseled sculptures and pillars adorned with animals as well as various forms of human life. There is also a stone stupa, placed under an umbrella and carved with figures of men, women and elephants. The 37 pillars chiseled with the figures of prosperous men and women on elephants, bowing before Lord Buddha humbled me with their AGE and detail. Though it was pouring, my Chacos held up well up the massive stone stairs. We took refuge in the viharas, dwelling places for the Hinayana Buddhist monks. There are no images of Lord Buddha in the caves, only symbolical descriptions. 

Also of note: we hitched to save money. A rickshaw from the train station to the caves would have been like 15 bucks, so Guy's Hindi skills came in handy. It's pretty easy--just stick out your thumb. I know this post will give my mom a heart attack but I felt so free. I am kind of a notorious "good girl" and it was nice to take a risk. I realize it is dangerous, especially in an unfamiliar place, but since we were with Guy(aka a man), there was less likelihood of trouble. Completely soaked, we enjoyed some hot roasted corn and chai, of course, before I returned to a mountain of Hindi homework and a shower. What a weekend! 

"Courage is the power to let go of the familiar."
                                                   -Raymond Lindquist

01 September 2010

Ensuring He'll Stay...

the two mothers dancing to kick off the ceremony
those fried puris are deadly. Also note the gulab jamun(brown balls of delicious dessert)
August 25th-ish 2010
Last week, Swapna took the four of us to a special Indian ceremony performed soon after a marriage to ensure the husband will stay with the wife.Apparently Swapna's cousin’s sister-in-law’s niece recently wed and this month is the most auspicious time to have said event. After a huge dinner(see left),  a group of women perform a traditional play for the bride. It was all in Marathi, so I couldn’t  tell you what it was all about exactly, but many silly dances and songs with clapping ensued. Picture forty and fifty year old women (usually aunts and relatives) jumping and twirling, dancing and laughing, all in swirling saris and gold nose hoops. The stories are about being a daughter-in-law, so they simulate all the clothes washing and tasks that come along with joining a new household. I got to spin around and around and participate in some of the dancing afterwards.
one of the blessings/narratives

We also met Swapna’s twin sister. She walks just as quickly and smiles as effortlessly as her slightly older twin.

It was GORGEOUS. I will find a cheaper option though, I'm sure!
I love looking at saris and these decadent clothes. I haven't yet gotten one, though I tried one on. It was a little out of price range, but here it is nonetheless! Below is a photo of the gorgeous red and yellow one I almost bought. Trying on saris is so much fun. Especially in Indian shops, where the customer is always right and you are served hot chai and pampered with compliments about your skin and eye color that complements the garment. I also enjoy custom fitting my clothes for literally pennies to fit my waist and arms. These clothes are SO comfy! The salwar khmeez shirts are roomy and the skinny leggings so popular in the States are quite trendy here as well. I like being in loungewear all day!

A Visit to the Doctor

26 September 2010
Swapna, my hostel mom, her son Satim, and I, armed with delicious, but potentially deadly masthanis
It was bound to happen. One too many street snacks and a CHEAP mastani made with ice got me pretty sick on Thursday. I don't really need to describe this in detail, but let's just say it didn't agree with me. After a long night and a phone call to the program director, I took my temperature. Yes, I brought a thermometer with me to India. Yes, I realize I probably overpacked a smidge. Nevertheless, the plastic stick of wisdom read 103. I realized this was more than just a traveler's stomach. I skipped Hindi, which really killed me since that class is the kind of sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, write-the-script-and-listen-and-try-to-keep-up type. I waited for my ride to the doctor's office with Preston, a wonderful staffer who did the Alliance semester as a college student and now works as an assistant. He explained that while I had an 11:45 am appointment, so did the other 10 people in the tiny waiting room. Shoes outside the door, as is the custom, I glanced around at the people who appeared much sicker than I. In Public Health, we're learning about the delivery systems in place for healthcare. Private insurance is super rare. Our professor has worked extensively in rural communities so he has a breadth of experiences to share, including a common thought that pregnant women should eat less so the baby won't grow as much and delivery will be less painful. Another professor told us a man explained his apprehension of condom usage since he believed his wife's vagina was directly connected to her throat and that she would choke and die if it slipped off. After these kind of stories, I wasn't sure what to expect. Preston explained the 2 important body motions: the hand wave from the  secretary (it means 5 minutes, and to go stand outside the exam room), and her subsequent head nod (go inside). Once I got into the office at noon(efficiency to see 6 patients in 15 minutes!), I met the kind doctor who took my vitals, looked at my throat, listened to my symptoms, and promptly gave me a laundry list of prescriptions for "intestinal health, fever reduction, headache, rehydration therapy, etc". I ended up getting the electrolyte powder pack made by the World Health Organization. The best part: my visit was 100 rupees, cash on the spot ($2.12) and my scripts totaled to 125 rupees. AWESOME. I felt better even that afternoon!

A nice first day of school picture with Sarah, my fellow Georgetown counterpart:)