June 22, 2011
I am going to India in 9 days. I can hardly believe it. My dream of 11 years is actually happening and I feel so blessed to get the opportunity to return. This summer already has been wonderful because I was able to travel and work these past two months in Ankara Turkey. I have really enjoyed my time here but I truly cannot wait to go back to India.
Despite my excitement, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t ridiculously nervous as well. I am going to be seeing a lot of my family and I won’t have my father to tell me who everyone is, how to address them, or how to get around. I don’t have the comfort of having someone personally take me around that speaks the language. But I like challenges and I have always valued being independent---plus it helps that I have worked on conquering that particular concern while in Turkey because I’ve managed to get by and travel every weekend without knowing any Turkish to start off with. It’s actually humorous how much better at charades I’ve gotten. Although when I really think about my biggest concerns, getting by isn’t even really one of them. I mostly nervous for how I’m going to feel after working in the slums and witnessing poverty daily. I want this experience so badly, and I truly think that traveling is one of the most life changing and eye opening things that a person can experience. I have no doubt that working with a water sanitation unit for a nongovernmental organization will enlighten me and make me more grateful for what I have but I still can’t help but to be nervous. Nothing I have seen in my travels has ever compared to the memories I have of the poverty I witnessed in India. I always found myself wondering how I could be so fortunate and have so many things when so many other people do not even have food or water. The fact that food and water are even luxuries astounds and disgusts me and it’s something that I know will have a hard time being reminded of everyday. I just want to learn as much as I can and soak up whatever information I’m able because I want to find a way to give back in my life, much like our generous donor has done with us. I know that I’m fortunate for not only what I have and what for I know I will learn from my experience—but I hope that I’m lucky enough to be able to make a positive impact where I am as well. I guess only time will tell but for now I’m going to try to stay hopeful and just work on making my transition from Turkey to India as smooth as possible.
June 21, 2011
The most important aspect of my trip to India was the chance to stay in one area of the country and truly get to know people here. This is what separates all the Summer in South Asia fellows from tourists who might hop from one city to another trying to see as many heritage landmarks as possible. While sightseeing is always fun, you arguably learn very little about the place you visit because this approach does not lend itself to getting to know people on a deeper level. After a month in Mysore, it saddens me most to think of leaving all the people that I have worked with.
The data-collection portion of the study thankfully concluded very well and we reached our target range of participants. I have already planned to meet with Dr. Madhivanan when I get back to Michigan to discuss next steps for the project so I hope the research will keep me busy straight up to the start of the school year. I presented some preliminary findings to the staff on my penultimate day in Mysore and was glad to share some of the work with everyone and have the chance to answer questions and begin preparing to write a detailed summary of the conclusions and implications from the research.
After the presentation, I tried to take advantage of my last night and visited my new friends at Devaraja market. Just the night before I ran into a merchant at the busy market center and ended up having a two-hour conversation with him. I was passing his oils shop and, most likely out of intrigue that I was a Westerner, he called for me and asked me to sit with him and have some chai. He told me about a book he was writing about LGBT issues in India and the taboo associated with them and I was really intrigued because my study also dealt with taboos that pertain to sexual health issues in the country. We talked, asked questions, and simply enjoyed each other’s company. It was really refreshing to have such an in-depth conversation with someone from across the world and learning that some issues really are universal. It was another chapter in the book of human connections for me.
I also had the chance to connect with other life in India. After finishing a load of laundry late one evening earlier last week, I put my clothes out to dry and hoped the dry and fairly hot night would leave me ready-to-wear clothes the next morning. I checked very early and left them for a couple more hours since they were still damp. While working with Dr. Reshma at around noon, Siddhu peered through the window and yelled, “Nader…laundry…monkeys!” I ran upstairs and found a group of at least ten monkeys playing on the clothesline that my laundry was hanging on. The monkeys were also hanging on my laundry and trying it on! They were very smart and I thought I should capture this memory and I grabbed my camera and recorded a video of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQhw-oIXxtI. They took some souvenirs for themselves, but none of those clothes were very expensive and I easily managed the last week without those clothes so seeing my monkeys play with laundry was more enjoyable to watch than anything else.
June 20, 2011
Transportation in Rural India - The Buses
I initially hated riding buses in India. Because the NGO I'm working with is spread throughout three centers in Punjab, I ride a short bus ride daily and hour long bus rides several times a week. There were several (extremely valid) reasons I originally disliked (make that strongly disliked) riding the buses:
1. On one of my first long bus ride experiences, I sat at the very front of the bus where I was inline with the driver. I was privy to seeing his crazy driving antics whereas before I only felt the dangerous swerves he made in and out of traffic. I saw first hand how he dodged bicycles, pedestrians, motorbikes, trucks, other huge buses, cars, and cows on the narrow two lane Punjabi roads. His face remained unchanged as he blared that ridiculous horn all the way down the road.
2. My personal space bubble is constantly invaded by the five people pressed against me and sometimes on top of me. The buses can be so crammed people ride on the roof. If another passenger isn't pressed up against me, then it's the bus attendent who collects money. These attendants have a tendency to sit on me or run into me when the driver makes an especially daring move and must quickly brake. It usually results in some awkward contact.
3. Both the bumpy roads and the crammed buses make for a motion-sick Julia. And I'm not the only one as evidenced by the trials of vomit that can often be seen outside windows on the exterior of the bus.
4. The language barrier constantly terrifies me when I'm not totally sure where I'm going. I have had to do many transfers on local lines and I constantly repeat the name of the city where I'm headed in order to confirm and re-confirm (and usually re-confirm again) that I'm headed in the correct direction. Usually I just have to trust the bus attendant that he's not taking me to the wrong city and putting this kind of trust in one man terrifies me. Little seems more scary than being stranded in rural India at night with no idea where the heck I am and when the next bus will come.
However, I've had a recent change of heart. On a bus journey I take at least once a week, I admired the beautiful orchards, fields, and small towns that flew past outside. The window was open and a cool breeze offered me a relief from the heat. I sat surrounded by curious Indians who wanted to know more about myself and the other Westerners with me. Adorable babies with big beautiful eyes lined with kohl returned my smiles and would sometimes respond when I questioned, "tera naam hai?" It was beautiful. It was the one hour that day I had taken time to sit down and relax. I began to love the rhythm and energy of the buses here in Punjab.
I have also met some incredible people on the buses. The other day a woman about my age struck up a conversation with me. She had excellent English and she was eager to practice it. She wanted to know about my home, what I was doing in India, where I went to school, etc., etc. She was amazed that I was to travel to other countries alone and professed a desire to travel abroad some day, although she thought it was unlikely. I told her to stop by the center of the NGO I'm working with and she surprised me with a visit the other day. It turns out that she is a police officer in a large town about an hours bus from where I live. It was refreshing to meet a young person so dedicated to changing her state and country. I was also excited and relieved to get the contact information for a seemingly well-intentioned police officer - something of a rarity.
Even the garish decorations of the buses add to their charm and I find that I like these tin metal cans packed like sardines more and more. Although I prefer hitchhiking in the backs of trucks or riding motorbikes, the buses remain a favorite of mine despite their many draw backs. I guess this might have to do with the fact that the buses cannot give me a second degree burn on my calve as motorbikes have done. That and I don't have to be male in order to successfully flag down a bus as is the case with hitchhiking... Regardless, riding Indian buses is all a part of the experience and my time here would not be the same without them.
All in all, many aspects of India that I initially dislike or resist, have a way of surprising me by enriching this amazing experience for the better.
June 08, 2011
Life in Punjab
It has been such a long time since my last blog entry but I have been so busy! If I'm not working at the NGO then I'm researching or playing with children in the migrant camps or cooking food for other interns or traveling on the weekends. Or finally trying to catch up on sleep which I get little of because the temple blares the morning prayers right into my window at 4:30 am. But some days I enjoy hearing the crazy rhythms and the chanted prayers.
So, for the first week it was hard for me to decide whether or not I liked where I was in Punjab or what I was doing at the NGO or whether or not I wanted to escape north to Mcleod Ganj where I was promised a cooler climate. The heat is blazing hot and I can never escape it. I work in it, I build stoves and shelters in it, I teach in it, and then I go home and live in it. There is no air conditioning in rural Punjab (or not at my poor NGO anyways) and power cuts are frequent. However, my body has adjusted to the heat and I've grown to really love the village I'm living in, the people I work with, the constant stream of chai filling my belly, and the music, sound, and noise that surrounds me 24/7. I even like the buses here - which at first terrified me because I thought about how likely it was I would die in the crammed tin can on wheels swerving about the road. India - or Punjab more specifically - is growing on me and life seems completely normal now after some initial shocks.
My work right now is primarily teaching children at two agricultural migrant communities in Dosarka, Punjab, as well as a girls club in a village close by. I was actually roped into teaching an Intermediate English and while this was something I didn't want to do in India, I think it will aid my research. I want to look into how globalization and Western culture has or has not been influencing education in India, specifically marginalized communities. Punjab is one of the wealthiest states in India with one of the highest rates of immigration to other countries (primarily English speaking) such as the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Meanwhile, much of the culture remains fairly conservative and the main religion - Sikhism - continues to be followed by much of the population. In my class I'm gaining valuable insight into whether or not the students feel about learning English and how they feel about their own culture.
Well it is quite late here and I still have lots to do so this blog will have to be cut off short but I promise to post again soon!
June 03, 2011
Martha's First Entry. The Journey, Adjustment Period, Settling in and Looking Ahead.
Hello all, and greetings from Punjab, India!
I have been meaning to write in this blog for some time now, and it's about time I sat down to get it all out. Having received the Summer in South Asia grant, my project and mission has been to research and understand better how micro-finance is used a as a tool for women empowerment in rural Punjab as well as how 'micro-finance' is perceived in the area.
Specifically, since I, like Julia, am spending my time here with a sustainable development NGO called EduCARE India, the vast majority of what I am learning concerns how this NGO's micro-finance program has changed over time and why.
Coming to EduCARE, my understanding was that I would be helping a team to develop and test out a newer 'model' for their micro-finance operations. I assumed that I would be observing a Micro-finance institution at work, more or less. Since I have been here, however, I have learned that micro-finance is a loaded term even among NGOs. Rather than actually observing micro-banking or lending at work, I am instead coming to understand the struggle that development organizations face in determining whether to hop on board 'micro-finance' train and how exactly to do it.
To start this blog out, I'll write a little bit about what my over-all experience coming and living in Punjab has been so far. Specifically, I want to hit our trip here, our living conditions and diet, the people, transportation, and how I plan to continue with the fellowship project given my schedule here.
Julia and I flew from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Wednesday night (May 18th) and arrived in New Delhi's Indira Gandhi Airport the morning of Friday May 20th. In between was about an 8 hour layover in the Munich Airport. It's pretty incredible how much time we spent in airports. I kept remarking what nice places airports are. They are very 'chill' with many dining options and plenty of interesting people to watch. But spending 12 hours in the international terminal of the Indira Gandhi Airport waiting for a bus-ride to Jalandhar was a bit much. The highlight was befriending a few chauffeur-type Indian gentlemen who joined Julia and I as we were playing cards. They taught us a game called "Flash". Finally once we were on the nine-hour bus-ride to Jalandhar, Punjabi Bhangra music blasted out the entire journey. Julia had already gone deaf from rock concerts, but I was forced to wear ear-plugs despite the fact that the music was very good.
Once we moved in to a house with several other EduCARE 'interns' on the outskirts of the town of Adampur, it was time to experience living in Punjab. First of all, the temperature has generally stayed over 100 degrees (F) for most of every day. Second of all, Punjab is one of the most conservative states in India which means that women must always have shoulders covered and legs covered. We can maybe get away with wearing a pair of capris every once and a while. Third of all, no air conditioning, limited water supply, and having to drink only bottled water for the first week all made adjustment quite an ordeal the first several days. I managed to avoid extreme sickness, but after having a vegetable kabob (it wasn't what you think) on the second day, I felt quite nauseous the following morning.
Since then, I have adapted pretty decently. I've purchased some traditional, loose, green Punjabi pants, have started to boil water for myself in the mornings and add some green tea, and have come to even enjoy bathing with the bucket and cup that Zilka told us all about. The heat continues to keep my appetite at bay, but each day, it's easy to get bananas, samosas, vegetables, naan, or chapatis very cheaply right by the Centre where I spend most of each week-day.
The people here are very friendly and considerate. Punjabis speak, yup, Punjabi, and the vast majority practice the Sikh religion. In brief, this is a relatively recently formed religion (15th cent.). It is mono-theistic, probably a bit more similar to Islam than Hinduism. Like most religions, it's main values are faith and justice. About 75% of the world's Sikhs live in the state of Punjab, but it is one of the world's fastest growing religions. I am really looking forward to learning much more about it while I'm here, just like I'm looking forward to mastering more of the Punjabi language. Julia and I are living in an small village called Sotla, which is a maze of narrow cobblestone roads and Indian homes, which are incredibly open and airy. Most of our house, for example, is basically an outdoor patio and open terrace plus enclosed bedrooms. The Sikh morning (4am) and evening prayers literally blast through the air into our home. In Sikhism, sound and music are considered the best way to approach the divine and the loudspeaker prayers encourage personal meditation on the meditation of God and dispel negative thoughts.
Transportation here has been a surprising joy. Indian buses may drive crazily, but they are endearing in many ways. First of all, the buses are always late. Inside the bus, decoration is gaudy, the music is obnoxious, the outfits of everyone on the bus are colorful, and the scenery is always interesting. Fellow travelers smile and help you understand where to get off for your stop. Oh, and the fare is incredibly inexpensive as well as reimbursed by EduCARE.
Finally, as far as continuing my fellowship project, my next step is to have a meeting with a woman in EduCARE who has already done a great deal of research into Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in the villages around here. SHGs have been the most successful form of micro-finance and women empowerment in India. The basic idea is that a group of about 10 women come together to talk about their livelihoods and how to improve them. The micro-finance element comes in when they become a savings group, each contributing a very small amount on usually a monthly basis. Saved funds can then be lent out for emergency purposes or business ventures, given the agreement and approval of the entire group. There is much more to be said about it, but I will leave that for next time.