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

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26 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 2009
Uttaara, our program director
Happy Thanksgiving. Deprivation of education: a study of slum children in Delhi, India; Background paper for the Education for all global monitoring report 2010: Reaching the marginalized; 2009
This was my first Thanksgiving not around a huge table surrounded by family in cozy, chilly CT. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday since I get to see my entire extended family, eat the most decadent food at the BEST time ever of 4pm (perfect for dessert seconds at 8pm), and run a great race in the morning. Thanksgiving dinner discussion quickly turns into a liberal/conservative battle of the uncles; so I always need to read the Economist and be up on my current events, or at least Washington culture to be adequately prepared against those firebrands. But before we start throwing turkey legs over Obama’s policies, we give thanks. Deprivation of education: a study of slum children in Delhi, India; Background paper for the Education for all global monitoring report 2010: Reaching the marginalized; 2009

We go around the table and reflect on the meal we’re able to indulge in, the wealth we’re blessed with in health and happiness, and how lucky we are to be together.

Knowing I was studying abroad over Thanksgiving wasn’t really something I considered. I pretty much only decided because I wanted to do the government honors program (which starts in the spring—prepared to get my academic butt whipped) and not miss the cherry blossoms in D.C., or my 21st birthday in March.

some of the spread: cheese toast(note the Maggie ketchup), mashed potatoes, green beans!
  Deprivation of education: a study of slum children in Delhi, India; Background paper for the Education for all global monitoring report 2010: Reaching the marginalized; 2009
But as this day approached, I wondered how I would re-create or if it was even possible to recreate the spirit of Thanksgiving in India.
It was.
Our program, the Alliance for Global Education, sent out an interest email last week—and asked for cooking volunteers. Living in the women’s hostel, I benefit from great communal dinners and laughs with the other girls, but I have REALLY missed baking and cooking. An uptight Deven in the kitchen is happier than an uptight Deven in other rooms. When I bake, it is a halfhazard process that usually leaves me a sweaty mess, but satisfied. And there is no better feeling to watch someone enjoy something I’ve prepared.

there are the apples!! MMM cinnamon
  Deprivation of education: a study of slum children in Delhi, India; Background paper for the Education for all global monitoring report 2010: Reaching the marginalized; 2009
So I signed up and decided to make a simple dish—some cinnamon stewed apples to counter balance our mac n’ cheese, sweet potato casserole, butter (oh I mean, mashed) potatoes, and (butter) green beans. From the therapeutic peeling to the creative chopping (knives aren’t exactly easy to come by in India), I huddled over a tiny stove as my friends checked the creatively baked sweet potato pie and coconut cream pie. Cooking for 30 is a little hairy, but we grooved to Motown and brought a little Americana to our Indian diets—even bringing in an imported turkey (which my veg self did not eat, but it looked marvelous!)
Dressed in a sari, I marveled at the intermixing of cultures. Eating American food on giant Indian plates, sipping guava juice, American students and our Indian friends of the program chatted, laughed, and ate.
I asked Uttarraa Mam if I could share a tradition.

sweet potato and coconut cream pie! mac n' cheese! apples!
Deprivation of education: a study of slum children in Delhi, India; Background paper for the Education for all global monitoring report 2010: Reaching the marginalized; 2009
And I said what I was thankful for: this new Indian family and the way in which we celebrated my favorite holiday.
Things I’m thankful for in India…
-my bicycle helmet
-sugarcane juice
-witnessing strength and hope against all odds (sounds cheesy and general, but so evident)
-being able to buy fruit anytime from a street vendor—from 5am to 11pm, I can have a pomegranate, coconut, pineapple, guava…(just have to wash it first!)
-my incredibly engaging professors who encourage questions and curiosity
-chai (need an I.V. It’s that good.)
-$2 movies
-smoked lime corn
-great newspapers with personality, human interest stories, and spiritual guidance
-the beautiful greenery of Maharashtra (and trekking in general)           
-visiting schools and meeting students
-my brown hair(I can’t imagine how much attention I would get if I were blond.)
-the kids (under 10 are the best---all smiles and laughs when they see me)
-eating with my hands
-the way Indians force-feed me, comment on my “expansion”, and then serve me more
-the peace of an early morning and watching the vendors set up their produce
-being treated like a queen when shopping
-getting chai when getting a paper photocopied or money exchanged at the bank
-understanding Hindi, especially when it’s about me
-ancient stuff and glorious architecture
-wearing sari
-feeling like family even when I’m not

Happy Thanksgiving!

13 November 2010

It's been so long

India Gate: Delhi..who needs the Tour Eiffel?!

I know, I know. I haven't written in forever. But I thought I'd wait to compile my thoughts after 10 days of non-stop, stimulating, stretching, and life-changing experiences. I still cannot compartmentalize all that happened over my week of Diwali, nor can the 1000 photographs I took describe what I saw--or how I felt.
Atka's cousin designs for Free People--hence it looked like Urban Outfitters
I went to so many places. I was lucky enough to stay with Indian families through my friend Atka. A window into Indian family life gave me incredible perspective on my own culture and personal development. The phase "as guest you are God" was taken to a whole new level. I was showered with love, generosity, and welcomed into the homes of 4 different families over the week. Needless to say, I was also exposed to a side of India I was unfamiliar with: the wealthy. I was impressed by the gratitude people felt for having achieved their status; many of those I stayed with were self-made and made smart choices in property investment or worked themselves into steady incomes. But....I got to be driven in the Audi A4 2010, a Benz here and there, be served decadent food at all hours by servants, and was pampered with a cockroach free, A/C (!!!), western-pillowed, gorgeous room in every place I stayed. I sort of felt like a princess, especially after staying in an old palace turned apartment at Hotel Arya Niwas in Jaipur.

So I saw (I'm counting the train ride through Haryana) these Indian States (more land than I've seen in the US):
Maharastra-->Delhi-->Uttar Pradesh-->Haryana-->Chandigarh-->Punjab-->Rajasthan
Delhi traffic and some curious eyes

I took 5 flights in 10 days. Airport security(or lack thereof in some cases--my Sikh daggers from Amritsar slipped through carry-on) deserves a post in itself.

I was exposed to several religions, just in this week.
Hinduism obvi(it was Diwali!!!)
the beautiful place for puja in the Chandigarh house

Sikhism-Golden Temple (Amritsar)
Golden Temple--note head scarfs (and souvenirs!)

Ba'hai-Lotus Temple(Delhi)

Islam-Qutb Minar (Delhi)

           Akbar's Tomb (Agra)
intricate!! made the Taj look simplistic.

I'll just add some more photos...and you can view the rest on my facebook albums

Our trip began by meeting Bollywood actor Shiney Ahuja at the Mumbai airport

...I am swamped with slum interviews and papers! (topics include India and Globalization, the Impact of GM Foods on India's Development, IndoPak Relations in light of Obama's visit, the Role of Pune's Infrastructure in Public Health....) School goes until December 11th, so it's starting to be crunch time!
Chandigarh's Rock Garden
to Amber Fort (Jaipur), we go!

stunning views from the Amber fort
could stay forever

these are the best pants ever

Lake Palace, Jaipur
running out of money in Jaipur

gorgeous saris in Jaipur
snacking in Chandigarh--jalabies and chaat

too bad I missed him in Mumbai--he flew to Delhi (we were there 3 days before)

Atka and her cousin at the Taj

filing in!

Sarah and I show off our leg room and her broken suitcase on the train home

Thanks for viewing....the links follow for more photos! Perhaps I'll have more time to reflect once this rush of academic work is thru!

Delhi and Agra
Chandigarh and Amritsar

02 November 2010

Quick Update on my internship/directed research

moneylenders raise interest rates! ILLEGITIMATE
Okay--I am in the middle of my amazing 10 days of Diwali travel and still pinching myself after the Taj Mahal's grandeur and the incredible hospitality and comfort provided by Akta's extended family. Since I know I'll have so much to write about Agra, Amritsar, Chandigarh, and Jaipur, I wanted to share a bit about my internship I just began last week.

As a part of my global development program, I conduct 8 weeks of directed research at an NGO matched to my interests. I was assigned to Parvati Swayamrojgaar, an organization founded in 2002 that distributes micro–business loans for education, business, and housing repairs up to 15,000 rupees. They also offer an innovative mutually generated health insurance, a Family Development Program that counsels on issues ranging from child marriage to health needs, financial literacy training, and health awareness programs and monthly medical camps.

So far I'm really impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the staff. Although I speak in very basic Hindi/Marathi and most of our conversations say "It's hot" "Would you like chai?" and "Is ___ home for an interview?", they always beam these big smiles when I walk into the office, located on the third floor of a small hospital.

I am lucky to have an incredible translator and friend, Nikhil, a student at Fergusson College. He accompanies me on visits to decipher poverty level data and measures on consumption at the branch office and also on field visits to Dandekar Pool, the slum where most of the borrowers live adjacent to my hostel. Usually, something is going on when I arrive around 2:30 after class, prepared with surveys about household consumption, education levels, and borrowing history. Once I walked into a financial literacy training and was so pleased to watch the branch manager explain risk and investment management to first time female borrowers. Interestingly, he used pictures along with a white board to describe different aspects of finance. I liked the use of a camel cartoon to demonstrate that just as a camel stores water so it won't be thirsty all the time, one can take out a loan so they don't have to scramble day to day trying to pay bills. Also key to the presentation was the use of the tortoise and the hare to describe how saving slowly pays off in the end.

Even though I've only gotten to conduct three interviews so far, I'm learning so much about what it takes to do research in India.  There are so many variables that go into designing a questionnaire, an important sense of flow to understand how to build off of questions, and recording accurate answers. Those are all challenges in any research setting. But for India, a lot more factors are in play. The language barrier can make things difficult, especially if Nikhil summarizes a statement that a woman was saying for like 2 minutes in Marathi. Timing is difficult. One has to know that at least 45 minutes at some point will be spent having chai. Sometimes people aren't home when they are supposed to be, or the collection motivator will be off somewhere instead of being around to escort us to the family home. A classic example of India time: a health camp that was supposed to start at 2 lacked a doctor until 3:45. Timing is all relative here---except for trains, generally.

I don't want to go into too much detail about what I've found out so far, since I am still only in my 1 of 3 target population samples. I will be interviewing 5 participants in the health scheme and with loans for education, 5 women just in the health scheme, and 5 women not participating in either microfinance or microinsurance.

These are my research objectives:
The study empirically examines:
1) whether the insurance program improves health seeking behaviors of the poor with respect to access to health care, out-of-pocket health spending, and preventive care behaviors;
2) whether the program reduces the health risk exposure of the poor through lowering the chance of assets depletion and of falling into severe debt when confronted with a health shock;
3) how the relief of health-related financial burdens and improved health may effect the education of slum children;
4) how the insurance program’s effects can be identified as intended effects due to the program participation and spillover effects due to the coverage of the program in the community of residence, such as those members taking out a micro loan for child education.
5) how micro loans for education can alleviate financial burdens to make attending school a reality for poor families.
6) what extraneous barriers to education remain unsolved in spite of the schemes

I'll keep you updated!