September 01, 2009
Questions answered but more raised
Well, I begin this last post where I began my first, in my bedroom in New York. I could say that I don't know where to start, but, seeing as I've already begun, I'll say that I don't know where to end.
I'd first of all like to express my dear, dear thanks to the department and the donor for allowing me to have taken this trip. I can't tell you how much I appreciated you selecting me before I went to India, but now that I've gone and returned, it is be impossible to adequately show my appreciation for the countless laughs, contemplations, interactions, relationships, and memories the trip has inspired. It will be an experience I remember for the rest of my life, and who knows yet what type of effect such an experience will render in me as a person.
I can say already, however, that from my first day in India and throughout the trip, I've felt more and more like a citizen of the world. This association is not encouraged enough in America. I've begun to question where my responsibilities lie, as an individual, towards my fellow person. Where do my commitments lie to myself, to my family, to my community, and to humanity as a whole? I obviously don't know the answer, but I'm immensely thankful for having experienced the necessity of the question. Thank you so much. I can't wait to present my project on October 2nd, and hopefully clarify what all my ramblings are really about.
I must mention that in between paragraphs there's been a pause, and I've had a conversation with my father about the trip, and now I know I'm going to say. I'll begin by mentioning that a fantasy of mine has always been to write a story, short or long, and the trip has given me an idea for one. The topic of that story would be living in wealth in Calcutta, and the social contradictions that I think one would have to reconcile in order to do so.
The Friday night before I left, I had dinner with a friend of a friend of my father's, a successful Calcutta businessman. We ate the members-only "Saturday Club.” The club, with tennis courts, a large lawn, and a pool, is located right in the heart of the city, just off of Park Street, one of the city's ritziest drags. During the British Raj it was apparently a British Club that excluded "Indians and Dogs." The club’s existence, which I was perceiving in the midst of my experiences volunteering, seemed somehow absurd.
While eating, the man asked me what my first impression of the city was. I told him of my first night and morning, and how horrified I was initially at the poverty I saw. He laughed as if I had fallen for a common trick played on foreigners. "Well, you in America live one way," he said, "and this is just another way people live." My first responsive thought was that at the present moment we were living just as we live in America, but as I continued to think on his comment, I found that I believe it to be true only to an extent. While I certainly have not had a chance to understand much of the culture of Calcutta that could presumably qualify or explain some of the poverty, I feel personally that despite everything, even the happiest beggar should not have to live in a pile of garbage. I'm sure the man I ate with would agree, but the simplicity with which he dismissed my reaction to the poverty really bugs me. It leads me to feel that he either ignores it or has long ago reconciled himself with it as a fact of life, and moved on. I think is is a reaction really common and probably necessary among most people in Calcutta. I find this totally interesting, and would love to know more about the history of the upper classes in Calcutta in relation to the poor. Next time.
But now to relate all this to my project. Through interviews, books, observations, and about two hours of writing a day, I've been thinking a lot about the spatial mechanics of CRAWL and the Daya Dan house. I've written about the numerous difficulties CRAWL incurs at Sealdah station in trying to establish a sense of order. CRAWL's lack of its own space leaves it exposed to the same hazardous environment as the station's homeless. There are problems with the police, the weather, the commuters, the drug addicts, the bullies, and the station in general. All of these factors prevent CRAWL from establishing the order it needs to work at its most effective capacity. The environment causes volunteers and workers to make mistakes. Supplies are often forgotten. An errant photograph has kept us banned from Dum Dum Station after three appeal attempts. Looking at all of CRAWL's problems in public space, one can see the advantages of its plan to buy its own space near Sealdah station and run a wound care dispensary and a soup kitchen.
Yet my dinner Friday night inspired me to understand CRAWL's public presence in a broader social sense. CRAWL always has spectators. They are old and young, men and women. From their dress one can tell that they come from many different professions and income levels. Some stay for a minute--others for an hour, but all simply stare. At Sealdah station I often walked around with three or four children hanging on my arm. I got many different looks from the surrounding people, none of which were readable to me. I wondered what the Indians thought, looking at me. Did they approve of what I was doing? Did they think I was a stupid tourist? Were they offended that I was helping out their poor people, in their station? After all, walking around with homeless children, one becomes more than a tourist: one is a tourist making a statement. That statement is NOT an accusation blaming the Indians for ignoring their poor; it is a statement that these poor are being ignored. It is a statement implicit in CRAWL's actions, and it garners different reactions.
Sensing my own conspicuousness from the perspective volunteer, I felt all of the aforementioned self-consciousness. But since my dinner on Friday, I understand that CRAWL's pubic visibility is doing a social good as well. It does not matter what the spectators are thinking when they look, but simply that they look. CRAWL's activities at the stations bestow the conspicuousness of foreign tourists onto the homeless people they treat. Illuminating their plight is necessary, because despite their ubiquity in the city, homeless people are so regularly relegated to society's margins. Thus CRAWL's activities become not only personal or charitable, but demonstrative. I do not mean to say that they assume any sort of a didactic tone, but they simply provide something to be seen by the people, and thought about.
I came into this project with a main question: how are children’s aid organizations in Calcutta able to protect children from the harsh conditions of the street. Volunteering with CRAWL and Mother Teresa has revealed two distinct answers. In the case of Daya Dan, one could simply remove the street, and all the hazards with it. The children at Daya Dan were found alone and naked on the streets, and the sisters bring them into an enclosed, secluded, and protective space where they can be cared for and rehabilitated. Behind the walls and fences of Daya Dan nothing can threaten them. Their time is structured and uninterrupted. Mother Teresa offers these children complete protection from the streets by placing them in a different environment.
In comparison with the kind of care at Daya Dan house, CRAWL’s efforts seem ineffective. Yet one must look at Daya Dan both from within and without. Daya Dan does not have any sort of public presence. Located in a small alleyway, the Daya Dan house is unassuming and secluded. No one sees the type of care given to these children. A more public Daya Dan would allow people to see an alternative to leaving their disabled child abandoned. Instead, the parents who abandoned their children (and all parents like them) will never see their children again. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity is renowned not for this convent-like privacy, but rather for the opposite instinct, which is to take the streets. Indeed, the sisters are seen in public, as all of them must leave their house and serve the community. But the children remain behind closed doors. Many stay within the Missionaries of Charity system for all their lives. They move from house to house, and with a generally shorter lifespan than those without mental disabilities, never return to the streets. It is not this insular protection alone, but the Missionaries’ of Charity dual functions both on and beyond the streets that earned them their enormous presence in Calcutta as well as their fame around the world.
But CRAWL is a much smaller organization, with no donations other than volunteer fees, and no government sponsorship. As the organization begins the process of acquiring land, it must first reevaluate how it perceives itself as an organization. CRAWL must know what it sacrifices by moving into its own space. There is a reason why some of the wounded we treat have said they prefer CRAWL to the Mother Teresa dispensary, in a small building right across the lot. It is because CRAWL offers a different kind of protection than Mother Teresa. It is the protection of the attention, affection, and general care with which CRAWL treats the station community. It is the protection of knowing that on Saturday and Sunday mornings that someone will come to you to help, rather than you having to go to them. It is the protection of knowing that an organization doesn’t care about the environment you live in, because all that matters is your person. CRAWL expresses its protection through the love (this is my first time using that word) it brings to these communities. It is a love that is willing to make spatial compromises and suffer many inconveniences in order to serve street people in their homes. One can argue against this policy with theories of creating a dependence among the homeless or enabling them to continue their lifestyle, but I will choose to look on the bright side. By operating in public space, CRAWL builds personal relationships and creates greater public awareness.
On Saturday morning at Sealdah two things happened that I found of great importance not only to myself personally, but to my conviction that CRAWL can be a successful organization. While I was walking with the kids to the water station, a man walking by me smiled at the sight, and gave me a pat on the shoulder. It is the only sign of approval I’ve gotten on the trip, but it validated my work. Secondly, after we had finished food distribution, a ten or eleven year-old girl who we had fed (and who I noticed had to deal with a pestering 16 year old boy) came up to me on her own volition and just gave me a hug for about a minute. She came back three more times to do the same. By meeting the children in their own communities, they feel comfortable enough to extend affection to us. Her hug was the moment when I, and hopefully some of the people watching, realized that she was not a homeless kid or a beggar, but merely a little girl who just wanted a hug. And how can one ignore that? I can’t tell you what that moment and that realization means to me.
I’m thrilled that my project idea actually fit so easily into CRAWL’s organizational situation, and that I was able to see and learn so much. I can’t wait to share my work with you on October 2nd. Though my questions have not been fully answered, merely having a perspective and a direction with which to observe the organizations has been so interesting, and has led to many of broader social and historical questions which perk my interest even more. It is the first “field work” that I’ve ever done. I look forward to continue thinking about my project, whether that means for the October presentation or in future work. I came home yesterday having acquired for myself a new perspective on the meaning of being human, which I think is the most one can ask from any learning experience. I’ll never forget the trip, nor that traveling to India was an opportunity afforded to me by the U of M. Thank you so much.
August 31, 2009
Easy to feel
Finishing up another week of working with the kids at Bidhan Chandra, I am soon to depart. Many lives have been touched as it has been expressed to me by every invitation to every house, and by every smile and friendly gesture. It has been my distinguished privelege to have such an opportunity as I continue to realize the more I see the less I know about the world.
At the school I have had many visitors, many observers, and many social workers that aspire to take the means of a small program like mine and further it to treat the less abled all over the state. The problem I foresee is that there is a great divide in communication and organization. Being that I am here to make sure that education continues while I am gone, I must return to follow up with other NGO participants so that some accountability is put in place.
As it is my last couple days here, I have but one day left with the children at the school. I have tried to show them about working together and have even attempted to have the more physically abled instruct some of the exercises during class. Many of the students are now just going to the equipment and doing what they were instructed to do. What a glorious sight to watch as they work together. My part is that having needed to reduce the activities to the simplest common denominator, they will begin to develop their own ideas about how to use the equipment. Hopefully, they will learn that they are still in great control of their bodies despite some difficulties. Having shared some of my own difficulties with breaking limbs and rehabilitation as a kid injected hope into their lives. I hope to teach one girl how to combat her lower limb paralysis by first strengthening her core muscles. Up until recently, she was unwilling to even try to stretch her legs. The process has been very slow. Another child has a spastic limb that sticks straight out at her side. The other day, after getting her to repeatedly focus on bending her elbow, she finally almost touched her face(which was huge!!!). Her wrist and hand has been a different problem of sorts.
Thats all for now. The greatest gift has been the hope that they can change their circumstances if they focus and are dedicated. Thank you all.
August 27, 2009
Rain finally in Calcutta, but is CRAWL eroding?
After many delays, I've finally gotten my interviews with the heads at both CRAWL and the Mother Teresa Daya Dan House. The two interviews had two different effects on my perceptions of the organization. My interview with Sister Christalata at Daya Dan made me reevaluate some of my misconceptions, while my interview with Subhamita and Kakoli Biswas at CRAWL mostly confirmed many of my observations.
I'll briefly delve in to the interviews before talking about more recent news at CRAWL. First, Daya Dan. Photographs of Daya Dan in its small, concealed alleyway would give the impression of an inconspicuous fortress. The building has few small windows, and is made out of pure concrete. It is unlike most of the other buildings in the area, which are amalgams of the different levels added over the years out of different materials. Daya Dan in a clean slab, 3 stories high and quite long, with a high fenced-in driveway. And much of what I saw on the inside reinforced the place's sense of isolation. The kids do not go outside, except on occasion to the small balcony or on the roof. Even there, with the high fencing, one feels a bit like a prisoner. The organization is extremely confined, and thus can run on a disciplined schedule. Every day is planned with meals, therapy and prayer. Volunteering there consists of participating in the feeding of the 35 kids in a small kitchen, and sitting with them in the small play area. Maybe one wants her hand held, or to be rocked back and forth. One does not break a sweat at Daya Dan; though comforting some of the children can be stressful, all of the activities are extremely sedentary.
My interview with the Sister, however, revealed that the house does much more than take care of children. They open a wound care dispensary Tuesday and Saturday mornings, where people from around the neighborhood can come in to get their wounds treated. They also hold a slum school for the neighborhood's slum children in a semi-hidden room on the second floor. Both the wound care and school are in separate sections of the building from the kids. I also leaned all of the 9 sisters who reside at Daya Dan, and every sister at Mother Teresa in fact, must participate in a project on the streets. Every day two sisters go out to different slums around the city and see what people need, which they can then come pick up at the house.
There seems to be a pattern at Daya Dan, where the sisters will go out into the neighborhood to find people, who must come to the house to receive help. In this way the house acknowledges that one must engage with the streets, while still using their fixed space to their advantage. The sisters are able to give aid in their own environment. I think it is this kind of mixture between street-space and building-space to which CRAWL aspires. My impression of Daya Dan as an isolated establishment has definitely reformed.
My interview with CRAWL clarified much of what I already knew. I had heard that the organization had been formed by volunteers at another organization called SMILE which also feeds the kids at Sealdah station, but during the week. SMILE's other project, however, took place in the founder's home neighborhood, and CRAWL was founded to do the same. The founders wanted to give aid in their own communities, with the school in Khardah and food and wound care at Dum Dum station. They also filled in for SMILE at Sealdah, feeding the kids during the weekends.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that SMILE has had similar problems to CRAWL's. At Sealdah station, they were also not able to deal with the drug addicts. They have had to end their wound care program all together, and now only give out food.
Is it inevitable that CRAWL will too have to relent? Yes, CRAWL is seeking its own space by the station so that it won't have to, but what if the drug addicts just cause too many problems with the station? Our station projects are in constant jeopardy. With the loss of Dum Dum, we cannot risk losing Sealdah too. But giving up wound care would mean losing the heart of the organization. Anyone can, and people do, walk around handing out food individually. Sitting for wound care is what allows the creation of that stationary (though temporary) space in which a sense of community is achieved. This, I feel, is by far the best aspect of CRAWL's organization.
Two of the CRAWL volunteers are going to Dum Dum station as rogues unassociated with CRAWL, and handing out food and taking care of wounds anyway. The will to help this community (which maintains a personal relationship to some of the CRAWL staff) transcends the bureaucratic nonsense forbidding us from helping. Yet at the same time , giving similar help to the people as individuals rather than as an organization undermines the latter body's importance. With CRAWL seeming in danger, I am forced to ask myself: what does CRAWL really DO? How is the organization not only doing a deed, but meeting a need? Were it to fail, can it be replaced simply by individual efforts?
These are the questions that I may leave with, not knowing how the situation at the stations is resolved. I will think on these for the next few days, and have more to say in my last post.
Thanks very much!
August 23, 2009
Somewhere out here
Hello to all,
This week I focused on stretching techniques with my group of students at the school Bidhan Chandra. Most of them have severe muscle atrophy that affects at least one appendage. Therefore I have included several simple but effective stretching exercises at the beginning and end of each class day. I have engaged several different staff during each activity in order to build up the confidence of the children. Most of the time, there are great laughs to be had by all as some tasks are difficult to even the most physically capable teachers. It is vital to the futures of these children and I have been working in different ways to capture their confidence.
Along the way, i've had some difficulty conveying the importance of what I like to call the emotional X-factor. As the bones of these children grow and outgrow their muscles, they begin to experience spasms and atrophies that make simple tasks like standing on one foot quite difficult. This rigidity in movement is rather severe and disturbs their physical capacities, let alone their self-esteem. The X-factor is about engaging the children with the idea about how important this period of growth is in their lives. Simply put, it is not intended recreation but disciplined activities of repeatedly activating atrophied muscles that will best combat limb paralysis. So far, I think I have built some genuine consensus with the teachers about the the real importance of youth development and strategies for slowing the onset of some problems reoccurring problems. With the help of the teachers, I have been helping them work through stiffness and immobility. Only time will tell but I am hopeful.
As I waited for a bus at the bus stop in front of the school the other day, another bus blew right by a group of students from the school. I can only imagine the difficulties my students will experience in the future if a local bus would attempt to ignore them. In my observation, many of the kids just walk down the street to another bus stop to avoid missing the bus. I have even experienced the bias attitude towards these children when I am asked why I am here from America. When I tell them I am here to work with handicapped children, a look of confusion overcomes their faces. Sometimes they ask me why and I ask them why not. Hopefully that if nothing else, my being here will reflect a change in the bias attitude that people have adopted towards less physically abled people here in India.
Lastly, it has come to my attention that I will need to author a short manual that highlights several anatomical portions of the body with which I have seen the greatest difficulties. I intend to use high resolution, color illustrations and simple explanations to extend the focus of this project for future local social work organizations. Alas, this may have to wait until I get home. I want to make sure this is a well thought out effort that illuminates every vital detail to sustain this work.
August 22, 2009
"A Fine Balance"
Just when I was begining to think that volunteering with CRAWL was becoming routine, the organization has suddenly found itself in a predicament. If you recall, we operate at three locations: a school in the small village of Kardah, the larger Sealdah train station, and the smaller Dum Dum station.
Keeping the school operational is a non-issue, since CRAWL owns the space. The train stations, however, are more complicated. As I've mentioned, though we've operated with the stations' permission, we are subject to the arbitrary will of the station police and administration. Usually this is only an inconvinience. For example, Sealdah station doesn't like that we treat drug addicts, so they often force us to move our location of treatment away from the station wall to the parking lot. Yet I realize now that dealing with these incoviniences preserves a fine balance between us and the station. If we do not make a scene neither will the police. The balance is preserved, and we are allowed to remain. Yet as happened yesterday, the fine balance can falter under the most minor of misunderstandings.
For some reason, yesterday morning at Dum Dum station the police were clearing the small square where we normally work. They were shooeing all of the sqaure's inhabitants-- the vendors, the rickshaw drivers, the homeless people, and us. As this was happening, one of the volunteers was about to take a picture of a rickshaw driver. A nearby policeman soon accosted our volunteer, thinking that the picture was being taken of him. Though the volunteer showed him that there were indeed no pictures of him, the policeman took him over to where a group of other policeman stood. A big ordeal ensued, with the CRAWL's director stepping in to help him (thank goodness she was there that day). The result of all this is, however, is that CRAWL is forbidden to work at Dum Dum station anymore.
Apparently this has happened once before, in the May, and CRAWL was obviously reinstated. Yet the assistant stationmaster had already refused to reinstate us when our director spoke to him. We will try the assistant's boss, but having to cancel the Dum Dum project looks like a possibility.
This raises a lot of questions. First of all, how will the organization replace this project? Will they go to another station? Will they allocate more attention to the school? But what if the balance at Sealdah station was broken as well? Could the organization still exist with only its small informal school in Khardah? The school is not so established. It has about 30 students and is located in an abandoned building. And besides, as a long-term volunteer mentioned, it is the station projects and not the school that gets volunteers. People come here to see Kolkata, not Khardah.
All of this raises what is probably the central question of my trip. That is: it it really possible for a mobile organization to survive in such a harsh and unpredictable environment? Ultimately, CRAWL is just like the people it treats; it is without a home. In Kolkata, individuals and families on the street must struggle to survive from day to day. CRAWL's whole purpose is to give these people some consistency, a guarantee of help. Yet it appears as though CRAWL must itself suffer a similar hardship. My posts likely convey that every day at CRAWL has been different, presenting both new obstacles and new rewards. While this makes for an interesting time, how can an organization guarantee anything under such circumstances?
Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity has stable homes around the city. Yet CRAWL fills in the some of the crevices between the Teresa locations, instead going to the people rather than have the people come to them. It's quite true that many of the wounded and homeless are incapable of travelling to a medical dispensary or a hospital. CRAWL is one of many organizations trying to fill a niche unoccupied by Mother Teresa's. It is Teresa's degree of establishment in the city that ensures its success. The Daya Dan house is able to run under a strict schedule and with few volunteers. CRAWL ventured out to help those that Teresa couldn't reach, yet in doing so, exposes itself to the same vulnerabilities as anyone on the streets of Calcutta.
CRAWL is able to operate under a fine balance. When the balance is maintained, the organization has agency; it can enable the sort of sense of community I wrote of in previous posts. But it is a fragile situation, and CRAWL has little experience, no clout, and ultimately, no control. If the balance is disrupted, we fall. CRAWL has decided to exist on the street and so must deal with the struggle of survival.
A possible solution? One of the co-founders, Nancy, wants to buy land to open a dispensary near Sealdah station. Owning a location should give some much-needed stability to the organization. But for an American to buy land in India is a process. Will CRAWL be able to hold out for that long? And if she can purchase the land, how will that alter the character of the organization?
The differences between Mother Teresa and CRAWL are presenting themsleves more and more clearly. My final week of experiences, as well as my interviews with the staff of CRAWL, Mother Teresa, and (hopefully) SMILE--the organization from which the founders of CRAWL seceeded--should answer some questions, while inevitably raising others.
August 17, 2009
a good day
I had a great day yesterday volunteering with both CRAWL in the morning and Mother Teresa's home for disabled children in the afternoon.
So far this trip I've been noticing a lot of flaws in CRAWL's procedure, many relating to their inability to cope with the environment around them. I've noticed that their lack of a fixed location coupled with factors such as the station's beggars, the police, and a difficult commute for some volunteers leads to a lot of instability within CRAWL's operations. But I also mentioned that on a good day, despite all these hinderances, CRAWL is able to create a sense of community, compromised between itself and the station's homeless. Well, yesterday was a good day.
It was so good because it witnessed the collaborative incolvement of the station's community in directing CRAWL's program, an effort suggesting that my theory of a compromised community was not total mumbo-jumbo. Numeorus members of the community did their part in helping themselves by helping us. They helped keep the beggars and drug addicts away from our area and helped keep the children organized in line. Basically, they prevented the chaos that frequently frustrates our opeartions.
Two members of the train community were especially helpful. One was a mother of one of the children who patrolled the line and who even accosted a man who was quite high and who would not leave us alone. This was great to see, because so often the mothers are actually the ones causing the problem. They cut in line to get for their children, or scream and yell, or hit their kids. To see a mother actively work with us rather than, as is usual, merely passively consent to their child's getting food, was really encouraging. The mother also inspired some other women to join her. In order to build a community for children, parental participation is neccessary. It was great to see that we could inspire such support.
But the real secret weapon to our sucess yesterday came from a young boy, about 14 or 15 years old. Many of our problems stem from an inability to communicate with the stret community, both because of language and just because we cannot fully relate. But our communication problems were solved by this boy, who, to the utmost irony, is deaf and mute. In fact, we call him Deaf Mute Boy. I also call him The Enforcer. The boy is endlessly sweet, and using only body language, is able to keep nearly all of the children in check. He holds the line, tells us who has already receieved their portion and who needs extra for an absent sibling. He even reminds me to wear my backpack around my front side.
Deaf Mute Boy is our bridge to the community there. Everyone--adults and children alike--respects him. The fact that he respects us makes our job so much easier. It suggests that we are not imposing our presence on a foreign people, but that they indeed want to create the feeling of a community, compromised, between us. Even better, it suggests not only that the people will accept our help, but that they want to get involved in helping themselves. And this, after all, is the real goal.
Volunteering at the Mother Teresa center has also been going well. Though all of the kids' activities are kept in extremely limited quarters, its possible that this is done not only out of necessity or pragmatism, but out of forging a place where learning is integrated with the other daily functions of life. They sleep and eat next to where they learn, pray and conduct physical therapy. The sisters live in the house, and so become part of their community as well. Though obviously the Mother Teresa center is very different in function than the CRAWL school, there are some similarities.
I always felt personally removed from the school, and that the school itself was removed from the community, the village of Kardah. But I realize now that this is only because I do not live in Kardah. CRAWL has a living quarters in Kardah, and when this is filled (only girls can live there) there is a great sense of community fostered between the school and the volunteers. A girl who recently left had been to many of the kids' homes, and knew many of the people around town. While she was still here, we volunteers ventured away from the school into the residential neighborhood, to play soccer in a small muddy field. However, that no one lives in Kardah now results in a feeling of removal, like we are merely substitute teachers rather than volunteers wanting to interact. But now I realize that the school can be more successful if CRAWL has volunteers living in the community it is serving. Though in an earlier post I mentioned that living and working in the same place causes complications in maintaining one's "professionalism," I understand now that these complications are indicative of a feeling of community. Like many things in Calcutta, it's a mixed bag.
August 13, 2009
the past week
Yesterday was a good day. I registered to volunteer for Mother Teresa for a week and a half at their Daya Dan house for physically diabled children. I would have liked to work at their Gandhi School, but I could not give them the 1-month minimum commitment. Surely volunteering at Daya Dan will provide a complimentary experience to CRAWL, perhaps revealing the remedies to some of CRAWL's problems, or perhaps suggesting that CRAWL's policies in fact reconcile some of Teresa's issues.
Yesterday was also productive in that I began to read a book about the Teresa houses, and I also scheduled interviews for next week with two of the founders of CRAWL. A third interview will be conducted via phone once I return home, with the American founder Nancy Chrzan. While I am thinking much on the organization's present state, these interviews should tell me about its past and its future plans. I've been hearing rumours of CRAWL's big future goal--a clinic at Sealdah Station--that would completely alter the nature of the organization.
I've found so far that the organization has many problems, much of it having to do with its lack of its own space. CRAWL doesn't really have a set "location." It is a mobile and a commuting organization, treating the homeless in the lots outside of two train stations and conducting a school of of an abandoned building. It has no formal office or warehouse. The volunteers have to commute with the food, medical supplies and play supplies on their own. There are a few long-term Indian volunteers who bring most of the supplies. We short-term folks bring a minority. But without an office, the commute becomes challenging. Trains in Calcutta are no joke; one can barely fit on the train one's self, let alone bring a few bags. The commute causes many issues. Invariably something is forgotten. Sunday there was no food, soap, or coloring books. Saturday there was no toothpaste. Friday, no vitamins. Crawl operates in both very public and private spaces. People and supplies travel from private homes to the sites and back again. There is no supporting infrastructure to back up the rough transition from private to public space, and so forgetting supplies becomes unavoidable, to the frustration of all involved.
Operating at these public train stations, CRAWL is subject to the elements. Whether it be rain on heat, angry mothers or the Sealdah Station drug addicts clamoring to get a scrap of the children's food, CRAWL must fashion order out of this chaos. This often proves quite difficult. We operate very conspicuously, and so beggars crowd around us while we are trying to find the children sleeping in various areas of the station. Thus, it appears to the Station managers, who do not like us anyway, that we are supporting these beggars.
These complications breed inconsistancies. We may have to relocate to another area of the station. Someone may give food to a beggar just to get him to leave us alone--always a bad decision, I think. Unable to control its environment, CRAWL is prone to dissembling. When this happens, the simple and contained tasks of giving out food and treatment run awry.
But when successful at finding those who need food and treatment around the station, and if the conditions permit a little patience for the needy to wait in a short line, CRAWL can create something good at the stations. What I think it can do is to briefly create a community out of compromised spaces. The location of their services--the lots in front of train stations--exist as liminal spaces, existing sandwiched between the mobile spaces of train tracks on one side and the street on the other. The homeless live in their own small sleeping communities around the station. But when CRAWL brings these people together in one small area, it seems that a new community is created. It a compromise between the tracks and the street, between the volunteers and the homeless, between the station and the organization. But it is a compromise that, however briefly, can support communal institutions. In different areas of the lot there is created a "bath house" where the kids are washed, the "dining hall" where they are fed, the "hospital" where the wounded are treated, and the "playground" where the children play. At the organization's best, and for a brief duration, CRAWL is able to forge a sense of community compromised within the harsh streets of the city. It is the slightly removed character of the space beside the station that allows for CRAWL's community to exist.
August 12, 2009
Lights, Solar Panel, Action
Today the whole system was installed, and at around 4:30 pm, we turned on the computers for the first time! The last couple days have been a rush of events, and I’m still trying to come to terms with how significant today was. I'm still trying to soak in all that's been happening, cause boy, it’s been a lot…
Two days ago I went to Bangalore to pick up the equipment. Then yesterday morning, my uncle came from Pavagada in a hired van, and after picking up Anand Uncle (not a biological uncle; we're in India so everyone is an uncle), we went to Powertronix. We met with Mr. Ramesh, who owns the company and has designed our system, and Mr. Dilip, his partner, and both know my uncle Subba and Anand Uncle very well. It was more like a reunion of friends than a business meeting, and they talked about old times and new; apparently, my uncle had given Powertronix their second ever order in 1995, and now was giving them their second ever solar order 14 years later. They discussed a lot of the things that I didn't follow, but eventually the conversation turned to the project, and getting the equipment to Pavagada. After everything was figured out, we had a long talk about the future of the project - expanding the system to power all 20 computers - and things sound super positive. I’ll be staying in touch with Mr. Ramesh throughout the next several months, and we’ll be trying to get government subsidies, which have recently increased dramatically for solar projects – up to 40%!
After tea and a few pictures, we went outside and Subba Uncle (that's my uncle) and Anand Uncle oversaw the people loading up the equipment into the van. The solar panel, which is two meters by three meters, was too large to go in the van, so it got strapped to the top while all the other stuff went inside. After meeting the engineer from Powertronix who was going to come to Pavagada to install the system the next day, we set off for home with a van jam packed full of electronic gizmos and gadgets. Bouncing down the pot-holed road to Pavagada with my feet up on the box of the charge controller, surrounded by all the equipment we had been talking about for months, I felt so excited and so happy. “Yes! It’s finally happening! And these are the parts that it’s going to happen with!” When we got back to Pavagada, we went straight to the school, where about 10 gentlemen were waiting to unload the equipment. Among them were the Headmaster and school Clerk, and seeing them in their pajamas at 10:00 pm was a reminder of how much sway Subba Uncle has; when he makes calls, people listen.
Then, this morning we went to the school at around 10:30 am. In order to fix the solar panel to the roof, a cement base support had to be made, so my uncle made a few calls to arrange it. The engineer was already on his way from Powertronix, so it had to get done quickly, and for about twenty minutes, things weren't looking good. During that time, I helped one of the computer teachers (Venkatesh) to unpack and setup the three computers that the system will power, and just having something to do felt good. In that time, Anand Uncle had shown up, and he and Subba Uncle figured out a temporary way around the cement base, and things were back on track. They also phoned a local electrician to come over and help finish up the school's internal wiring so we could actually use the system.
By noon, there was a small army of people buzzing around the school - me and Venkatesh in the new computer lab, my uncle and the electricians in the room where the equipment was going, a whole bunch of people up on the roof making cement fixtures and hooking up the solar panel, and various others who were just interested and wanted to see what all the hulabaloo was about. Soon after, I switched into my role as camera man and joined the Club-of-People-Standing-Around-Not-Really-Doing-Anything-Constructive-But-Getting-In-The-Way. I was able to take a lot of good pictures and recorded some good videos, which I’ll be piecing together into a short film about what we’ve done so far. Then, I’ll be sending the film around to let people know about our work and to try to fundraise. I’m hoping that because you’re reading this, you’ll be interested in it, so let me know in a couple months and I’ll send the film your way too.
It's only a ten minute walk from the school to my uncle’s house, so I went home for lunch, and when I returned, things were almost done. The crowd had thinned to around 6 or 7 by then, so I was able to talk with the engineer from Powertronix and get the details about how the system works. It turned out that this was his first installation job, and he looked as happy to see it up and working as we were. Just after the school was let out, we all gathered in the computer lab, and switched everything on. The first thing the monitors said was "Unrecognized Power Frequency: 86.5 kHz/ 50 Hz." The collective disappoint was pretty tangible, because it had already been a long day, and the engineer had double checked all the system parts. However, someone hit the “reset” button on the computers, and then the monitors started to work, and huzzah! Success beautiful success! We switched everything off, shook hands, and called it a day.
Since the next step in the project is to move the whole computer lab, the current set-up is a temporary one. There are still several changes that will be made, some in the next few days, some in the next few months, and probably more will happen as things develop. For example, the solar panels needs to move to a part of the building where it won’t interfere with future construction, and as mentioned above, the computer lab is going to be moving to a different room. However, these are things for the future; right now, we have can sit back and eat a few mirchi bondas. I think that after today we can officially stamp Phase One of the project a success.
I want to point out that while I have been saying "we" while talking about a lot of the work that's happened, the credit for the project really goes to my uncle. In the last two days, he has hired a van to transport the materials, finalized the business end of things, arranged for an engineer to come install the system, hired people to make a cement foundation for the panels, gotten electricians to come finish up the network within the school, oversaw the installation of the system, arranged for me to videotape students and teachers giving their opinions on various issues, and is now preparing a function to inaugurate the computers at the school. And yesterday, he also travelled 9 hours to and from Bangalore to pick up the materials. I am in awe at the amount of things he got to happen, and in debt for his generosity of time and patience.
I don't think the reality of the situation has really set in for me. It doesn't feel real that the solar panel is actually on the roof of the school right now, and that when the computer monitors lit up earlier today, it was the culminating event of about six months work. It's sort of like finishing a semester; you race and race towards the end you know is going to be a doozy, and then you get there and it feels...strange. I guess that's the only way to put it.
But typing up this entry, it's starting to feel more real. We did it! Hurray
August 10, 2009
Several days in...
So I have been posting to the wrong blog entries...forgive me. Today was my 4th day working with the handicapped kids at Bidhan Chandra. So far, I have been getting to know each of the 15 childrens' maladies that range from polio deformities to minor birth defects. Nonetheless, there is nothing minor about being restricted in your abilities to move.
Another challenge I am facing is that some of my kids are deaf, which means they can lip read but only in the language of Bengali. With the challenge of the language barrier, I am working diligently to treat these children with a mind and body connection. However this may sound, today's teachings were about hand and eye coordination by tossing a frisbee around in a circle. I have had to reduce the content of my health initiative to the most basic of treatments. Just consider trying to tell a child the importance of learning how to stand on one foot is and this will provide some insights. Exercises of this nature are very important in training the brain to recognize the mechanical receptors in every joint as they relay message after message about the position of your limbs in space. I can touch my nose when my eyes are closed but then again, I have been lucky enough to have been born healthy.
I have been received warmly and enjoy every second when I am at the school. Today I also taught the children about situps as one mother of a child was deaftly concerned about the growing belly on her child. Speaking of parental figures, a man came a few days ago to visit me. I had come to learn that he had been in a motorcycle accident several hours prior to his arrival at the school. He came to ask me what he should do about his knee as the swelling was scaring him. I couldn't believe he was asking me, but nonetheless, I told him I was not a doctor. I advised him to ice his knee for 20 minutes for the next couple days and if the swelling did not go down, go to the hospital. Is it so big a deal to be an American working with disabled kids in a remote part of India that you may be suspected of having quality medical advice for injury? Apparently so...and tomorrow is a new day.
August 06, 2009
(shift doesnt really work on this keyboard, so sorry, no caps)
so, a brief update. there's more to say about the content of the project, but i'll save this for the next blog. this one is just to say that the structure of my time here and of the project is shifting a bit. I am going to try and form more of a comparison between the mother teresa organization and crawl, and so in order to make the same types of observations i am making at crawl, I will volunteer with mother teresa briefly as well. because crawl's hours are from the early morning to the early afternoon, i should have some time to spare to volunteer at teresa's later in the day. i also think there are many published books about the teresa house here, so those can be of great help.
since teresa's is the preeminent volunteer organization of the city, and operates totally differently from crawl spatially, it should serve as a great basis of comparison, allowing me to evaluate crawl with a wider perspective. the biggest variable, however is in size. teresa's is a huge organization compared to crawl. when i question whether crawl's projects could be executed successfully on a much larger scale, seeing how a larger organization works may give me the answer. I've found that considering they're dealing with street people, crawl is a very community-based organization. they serve the same groups of people, and so have come to know many of the children and their families personally. if one were to expand the size and scope of the organization, that sense of community may be jeopardized.
anyway, that's all for now. I'm having a great time. the volunteers are all very nice, and the children are all so charming. of course, this charm is mixed with tragedy, and makes for a very interesting experience each day.
thanks so much,
August 04, 2009
First Few Days!
Well now, so much to say. It is now Tuesday Night. And since I arrived in Calcutta late Sunday night, and Monday and Tuesday are CRAWL's days-off, I will not start the volunteer work until tomorrow. However, from my experiences and my conversations with fellow volunteers, I've learned and experienced many things that are both interesting and applicable to my project.
CRAWL works on a weekly schedule that consists of 3 main different sites. There is an informal school Wed, Thurs, Friday mornings and a pre-school on Wed, Thurs, Friday in the early afternoon. Both of these are in Kardah, a village 30 mins from the heart if the city. There are also the two other sites: the Dum Dum and the Sealdah Train Stations. At Dum Dum, Wed, Thurs, and Friday mornings there is wound care and food duistribution for the needy. Saturday and Sunday mornings outside Sealdah, one of Calcutta's largest train stations, there is wound care for the street people and activities for street children. This is the organization's busiest project.
Walking around Calcutta these past few days, I've already learned of some of the spatial complications facing the organization. What I've noticed is that for us volunteers, the line between volunteer and tourist, between on-duty and off-duty responsibilities, and between working and living is extremely blurred. And I believe that this confusion is actually a spatial issue. It stems from the close proximity between the Sealdah Train Station--where the organization often works--and the Calcutta Lodge--where many of the volunteers (myself included) reside.
I believe that the heads of CRAWL chose the Calcutta Lodge as our place of residence precisely because of its nearness of only a few blocks from the train station. Its nearness is extremely convinient for walking. But our presence as both workers and residents of this small area has caused complications in terms of our relationship to the street people. For the people attending the organization's projects are the same street people that we find in the neighborhood, and our conspicuousness while working has translated into recognition, and even familiarity on the street. The homeless recognize the volunteers, and ask for help every time they see us. And this puts us and the organization in an intersting bind. To give or not? And of the other five volunteers, all have given. One man in particular with a bad skin disease has recieved his last four meals from indidicual volunteer purchases.
This problem cuts at what I predict to be the heart of the organization: community involement. I believe that the CRAWL may see itself (at least some of the volunteers do) as an alternartive to Mother Teresa, which houses hundreds of volunteers. While Mother Teresa has a specific location where street people can seek treatment, I think CRAWL's montre is to come to the people who cannot really transport to a specific place. Following this concept, CRAWL's operations are spread at main sites within the community. Yet being so close creates issues of self sufficiency for the street people. Of course, CRAWL wants to encourage people to seek help rather than to wait for handouts. But it seems that spatial issues between work and residence have been producing an opposite effect.
Is the top organization even aware of these problems? Do they see it as a problem? Do they plan to reconcile it? How does Mother Teresa's compare spatially to CRAWL? And where does CRAWL see itself situated both geographically and figuratively to the street community?
All this and much more to say and learn over the rest of my trip. Now that I'm settled in, I expect to be blogging more frequently. Sorry if this post was too long, please let me know.
July 30, 2009
Design = Finalized and Purchased
It's been a while since my last post, mainly because I was always thinking "Well, I'll just wait until tomorrow, because then I'll know more, or something will have happened." However, a couple days ago, we reached a pretty big milestone for the project - confirming our design and placing an order for it - so it seems like a good time for an update.
We confirmed our deal with Powertronics for a system that will provide power for three computers, a printer, and a network hub to connect the three. The $1,400 system will run on grid power when it is available, and when grid power fails, will switch to a taking power from batteries. The batteries will be charged through a combination of solar and grid power, and supply three hours of back-up. Powertronics said they will deliver the materials within seven days , and send an engineer to install the system three days after that. So theoretically, the system should be up and running by next Friday. However, if there's one thing I've learned well, it's that things have a tendency not to follow any schedule here, so we'll see what happens. In any case, the project should wrap up well before I leave on August 18th.
There is one addition to the system that we are thinking about making - right now, the batteries will be charged 50% by the solar panels, 50% by the grid. To charge the batteries entirely through solar power would require buying another solar panel, which costs Rs. 40,000 ($850.) Saturday (tomorrow) we will be discussing if this would be worth the extra cost and if we can raise the money before I leave. However, this is a small part of the system, and doesn't influence the overall design.
It's crazy that in just 19 days I'll be headed back to Michigan. I'm excited to be here, but looking forward to going home. I guess things are at a pretty good place.
July 29, 2009
First Post! My waning days in NY
Well here is my first post. It is Wednesday afternoon, August 29th and my plane leaves for Delhi from New York Saturday, August 1st at 5pm. It’s a direct flight to Delhi, and a two-hour flight from there to Calcutta. A representative from CRAWL—the NGO I am volunteering with—will meet me at the airport, and drive me to the hotel at which I’ll be staying.
While the organization’s headquarters, the school, and the female residences are located in Kardah (a short train ride from the city’s center), I and the other male volunteers stay in a hotel which is right in the city. I have been emailed pictures of a room there, and it doesn’t look too bad. I may even have my own bathroom! Experiencing the daily commute from the city to the Kardah site will certainly add perspective to my project, allowing me to better understand the distances and boundaries, both literal and figurative, between the organization and the city.
CRAWL runs two main services: the school in Kardah and medical aid in the urban slums. I intend to experience both, and observe how these two services, differing in both content and landscape, interact within the organization. Presumably, offering both education and medical assistance requires two distinct orientations or philosophies regarding the best ways to help the communities. For instance, education largely deals with the future, while medical treatment deals with the present, which for some may be too late. Why did the CRAWL decide to offer both? How do such varied operations affect the organization, its structure and the people it serves? Are the children aware of the organization’s services in the city? Are they encouraged to give back to the urban poor? Or are they shielded from these gritty activities, involving bodies and environments that are not protective and supportive, but exposed, vulnerable, and degrading?
Each time I think of the organization, the ideas feel fresh, as more and more questions come to mind. Of course I really can’t know what to expect, and preparation can only go so far. However, I get excited nonetheless, hoping that present thoughts can give some shape to future experience, though it appears to me now as amorphous and opaque. I intend to just dive in, keeping in mind a base of questions I want to ask, but understanding that other questions will inevitably arise and attract me.
There is more to say, but I’m about to watch a movie. The film is called Born Into Brothels (2004), and it's about child prostitution in Calcutta. It won the 2004 Academy Award for best documentary. I assume it will give me a visual idea of the city beyond the images I’ve garnered through reading novels and guides. So I’ll let you know how the movie goes.
Talk to you soon!
July 21, 2009
Interviews and IDSK workshop
July 21, 2009
Last Thursday, July 16, I went with Professor Husain for an interview, as I mentioned in the previous entry. The interview was conducted in Bangla, which I do not understand even though there are some similarities with Hindi/Urdu. Professor Husain was very considerate and helped me understand by writing some short notes for me in English as the interview was going on. Most of the questions revolved around the female entrepreneur’s family and educational backgrounds rather than the highly technical work her business does.
Our next interview was on Saturday, July 18. Professor Husain, his wife, and I all attended. Professor’s wife is a very nice lady who is also a professor of economics.
This interview was conducted in English. This female entrepreneur’s work was also in a highly technical field that was very involved with subjects like chemistry and again, we did not delve into those details. My task now is to create study participant profiles of these two ladies in a Word/Google Doc.
This past Monday and Tuesday, July 19-20, the IDSK held a workshop on structural equation models (SEM). Professor Husain kindly allowed me to attend even though the workshop was already extremely full (there would have been a shortage of computers to use, but I had my laptop, but then had some technical difficulties, and luckily there were two computers free and I was able to use one). The workshop was very organized and informative. The only two sessions I was able to attend were the “Theory of SEM” by Professor Diganta Mukherjee from Usha Martin Academy on the first day and the “Structural Equation Model: Basic Model” by Professor Zakir Husain on the second day. Monday I had stomach pain and the next day a severe headache, so I just went home. I was upset that I had to leave, but remembered that many people have advised me to take it easy because of the heat as well as other health issues foreigners are susceptible to. Also, I felt better knowing that I have an excellent packet that has very detailed tutorials about how to use the programs. As for the theory part that I attended, I think it may help me in my Econ 406 – Introduction to Econometrics class that I will take this coming fall.
Lastly, today was Trinamool Congress (TMC) Martyrs’ Day commemorating eleven youth Congress Party workers that were shot in police firing in 1993. TMC head Mamata Banerjee head a rally in honor of Martyrs’ Day so the roads were so, SO jam packed. It was very difficult to get around the city.
That’s all for now. Thank you for reading :-)
July 17, 2009
Kojawara Hospital update
Kojawara Hospital: More details…
The Kojawara RHC is small, with 11 beds for its inpatient facilities. It has an X-Ray machine, laboratory with microscopes and a centrifuge, pharmacy, ladies’ ward, male ward, delivery room, store room, dressing room, and a canteen.
There are two doctors at the RHC, and one ANM (auxiliary nurse-midwife). The ANM and the head doctor are on call 24-7 and live with their respective families in the hospital quarters. The second doctor is a visiting gynecologist, who provides care twice weekly.
When I first arrived on a visit to the hospital, I was undeniably impressed. The hospital has a clean, airy look to it, and the doctors’ offices, wards, and even the canteen are very well maintained. On the surface, there appeared to be absolutely nothing that needed to be changed.
Then, I spent some time getting to know the hospital and its people. Throughout the week, I had long conversations with the doctors and the ANM, and observed the daily activities of the hospital. Through this, I noticed something significant – there were hardly any patients. On a good day, I was told there could be as many as 50 patients. On average, there were 5-7.
The passive approach of the hospital staff to their work became apparent as I spent time at the Kojawara RHC. When there are patients, everyone moves about in an efficient and productive way. Patients receive the free consultation from the doctor, take the prescription to the pharmacist, pay a small free for their medicine and wait on the metal bench to obtain results of any recommended health tests from the technician. Then they are sent on their way.
When there are no patients, nothing happens.
After gaining this overall insight into the ways of the hospital, I spoke to my Reporting Officer back at the head office in Udaipur. Together, we developed a plan and came up with a questionnaire, and soon I was on my way off to interview the villagers of Kojawara.
to be continued...
More on my Projects @ Seva Mandir
After spending six weeks in Seva Mandir, it is hard to believe that I have exactly 7 days left. I have had a very valuable experience working here, and have learned a lot from my work and my interactions with people from the rest of the organization.
Seva Mandir essentially works for the development of the rural and tribal populations in the areas surrounding Udaipur. I have been supporting this mission by working in the Health Unit of Seva Mandir. The following is an update of the work I have done on my projects:
-“Improving the Patient Experience at Kojawara Hospital”
Seva Mandir runs a Referral Health Centre (RHC) in the village of Kojawara, about 80 km from Udaipur. My assignment has been to make recommendations on how to improve the hospital, in terms of patient safety, infrastructure, and the general needs of the patients.
After speaking with hospital staff and some of the Seva Mandir administration, I realized that the biggest issue of the hospital was that there was a lack of a significant number of patients. I developed a questionnaire and made some trips to the village of Kojawara, where I interviewed villagers on the following topics:
• Common illnesses they experience
• Where they seek treatment for these illnesses
• Their awareness of the facilities of Kojawara Hospital, including that of the visiting gynecologist
I will be finalizing my results after making two more trips to the field this week, and will give a presentation to the administration here next week.
-Bal Sakhi program: developing a training module for home-based child care
The Health Unit of Seva Mandir has sustained a program for maternal health for many years. It includes TBAs (traditional birth attendants), who work with women to ensure safe deliveries and increase the importance given to women’s health. The Bal Sakhi program will train women to work with mothers and children, and address the need of a lack of education regarding nutrition, proper feeding practices, recognition of illnesses, and so forth.
I completed basic research for developing the training module, by learning about what has been done through other organizations, such as the WHO, in the past. The information will be incorporated to fit the needs of people in the surrounding villages here.
(Note: This entry was written on July 14.)
July 15, 2009
Wednesday July 14, 2009
Monday was my first day at IDSK. My nervousness was only exacerbated by my running around my room trying to find something to wear. I was supposed to leave the house by 11.15am to reach there by noon and ended up leaving at 11.30. Still, I was lucky and arrived five minutes early.
I met with Professor Husain and he explained the previous components of the project to me along with some economic development theory. After that, he showed me the computer software (CSE) they were using to input the data from the previous components and they would continue to use for the component on which I am assisting. The computer lab is located inside the IDSK library, and in order to enter the lab, you have to take off your shoes. It is nice and air-conditioned in there.
After having had a look at the computer program, I met with three other girls who are also assisting on the project. They are former students of Calcutta University (the main branch on College Street) and had studied economics and statistics there. We talked a bit about the project and how yes, I do own shalwar kameezes and wear them regularly (unfortunately that day, after having tried on three kurtis and having no shalwar kameezes available, I had to throw on a dress and run out of the house). Also, I tend to do this on a regular basis – I wear these yellow and blue sandals in the house that have Univ. of Michigan “M’s” all over them, I forget I am wearing them, realize it halfway down the stairs, and run back to my room to change them so as not to look like I just walked out of M Den.
Anyway, the girls invited me to have lunch with them in the canteen upstairs on the tenth floor. The canteen is a relatively small room with three tables of four seats, so we stood on the side. Like a clumsy kid on the first day of school, which I was, I dropped half of my sandwich on a chair. I seriously contemplated picking it up and eating it, and realized that perhaps the five-second-rule should not be applied in India – where getting nausea and vomiting is all too common for visitors. One of girls also advised against it – I think she could tell I was scrutinizing the situation. After that, it was time to go home.
The following day (Tuesday), I came in at 11.30am but my professor was so he came in later. In the mean time, I decided to go sit in the nice air-conditioned computer lab to do some work myself on the project (which did not require a computer, though). About ten minutes later, the librarian walked in and asked me who I was working with, if I needed a computer, and where I was from. She was really nice, though. She asked me to come sit in the library, as there is a table there (I was sitting at a computer chair and writing on my lap), and told me that I would be more comfortable. I seriously doubted it to myself, because I went into the lab for the very reason that it is air-conditioned, whereas there are only ceiling fans in the library. Still, it was fine and I sat at the library table.
In the library, there are about six ceiling high, 8-feet wide shelves filled with very interesting books and journals. They are the sort of titles I would often look for in our own U of M Hatcher Graduate Library, but they are often spread out. Here it was nice to be able to see so many of the development, political economy, and history of economic thought books in a small space. I often find out Grad library overwhelming, but in a good sense. Most times, I leave having checked out far more many books than I intend on getting or actually finish reading. In any case, some of the titles I saw were
“Development or Recolonisation?”
“Kicking Away the Ladder” – Ha-Joon Chang
“European Journal of the History of Economic Thought”
“Journal of Comparative Economics”
“Development and Change”
“South Asia’s Cold War” – Rajesh Basrur
It actually feels good to be around such books and I look forward to reading in there, rather than at home.
After sitting down for some time in the IDSK library, I decided to walk across the street to the National Library. The entrance is gated and the entire complex is quite large. I walked around the main building itself for a while, then entered through the rear entrance. I was surprised that there was no security or receptionist. As I walked in, though, it appeared as though the building was under construction, so I decided to have a look. I went into the reading room that was very large and beautiful. I have added some pictures HERE and more descriptions of the reading room.
After that, I walked around the building to another much smaller one, on the way to the entrance gate. I asked if I could have a tour of the main library (the large one that I have just described a bit of). They said that the smaller building that we were in was actually the most important and famous part of the National Library of India. A very nice Mr. B.N. Rao gave me a tour of the very old original manuscripts. They are all housed in these five to six large vaults that are air temperature and humidity controlled. You can see some of the works I am talking about here.
The ones I saw were from the 17th century and later - two Qurans, one large one with real golden paint and intricate artwork on the first two pages of Surat al Fatiha (Ch 1) and Surat al Baqara (Ch 2). The other Quran was a portable one with leather binding. It has small print and is very delicate. He cannot read or understand Arabic so he had me read and translate some of the verses.
In addition to the Quran’s, actually before them, I also saw:
-The first newspaper of Bengal - Hicky's Bengal Gazette (1780).
-Palm leaves, these 1.5x12 in ones that were so paper thin and delicate and upon them was written the Kambaramayana. Absolutely beautiful.
-The Golden Book of Tagore - famous contemporaries of Tagore like Einstein, Gandhi, and others wrote about him in this book. The pages were thin leather - made of calf skin. It was written in 1930 or '31
I had spent about 1.5 hours there, so I thought by that time the professor would be at the Institute so I got ready to leave. Mr. Rao had me sign the guestbook and proudly showed me the first signature, former Indian President Abdul Kalam.
I returned to IDSK, discussed few questions I came up with for the interviews we would be doing the day after next, and he assigned me three articles to read from “Capabilities, Freedom, and Equality – Amartya Sen’s Work from a Gender Perspective” ed. by Bina Agarwal, Jane Humphries, and Ingrid Robeyns.
So I spent today reading, uploading pictures, writing on this blog and thankfully my shalwar kameezes came back from the tailor. In the evening, I went to Mrs. Sen’s house, who is a close family friend of my father’s. She is really kind and very interesting to talk to. Also, she always has delicious food and also French press coffee which is truly a treat for me!
Tomorrow I will go for an interview of one of the female small-scale entrepreneurs with Professor Husain. I will post once again with an update. Thank you for reading :-)
July 10, 2009
First few days in Kolkata
While this blog will be primarily concerned with my academic work related to my fellowship project from the Center for South Asian Studies, it will also have some personal experiences, thoughts, and reflections from my time here in Kolkata. I have always found it a little strange and seemingly self-involved for people to write blogs that include such things, but I guess there’s just a tradeoff between appearing to give so much importance to oneself and sharing one’s own stories and thoughts which can certainly benefit oneself and others. It still makes me feel a lot better that this blog is primarily for my academic work.
We arrived at the Kolkata airport Wednesday, July 8 at around 9am. The flights were comfortable – no major delays, turbulence, or screaming babies. We consists of me and my dad. He lived in Kolkata as a child and has extremely fond memories of the city. He and my uncles and grandparents had to quickly leave Kolkata in 1964 for what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) amidst communal riots and a lot of unrest. They endured the ’65 war and finally, in 1969 when relations between the two countries had been reestablished, my grandfather decided to leave for Pakistan (W. Pk at the time), Karachi specifically. My trips to South Asia have only consisted of visiting friends and family from both sides of my family in Karachi, where my mother was born and raised. Her own experiences in Karachi and also moving around as the daughter of government servant have also been informed by the political realities of a huge, multiethnic land mass having just obtained freedom from colonial rule and with new, nationalist feeling all around.
Already as I am writing this I have been thinking over some things to add about my parents’ experiences and their impacts on me (and my sisters’) multi-faceted identities, but I think that might just be a little too much for now. There’s a LOT of analysis there, but I don’t think I’m up for it right now and I want to get to talking about my project.
Back to the trip. I am staying with my father’s close family friends for the next four weeks. They are very down to earth, hospitable, and loving and I couldn’t ask for a better place to be for the next month. The Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK) is a ten to fifteen minute drive from the house. We went to (IDSK) Thursday, June 9 at around 4pm to meet with Professor Husain. IDSK is located on the fifth floor of Calcutta University – the Alipore Campus. It is near the Taj Bengal (hotel), the Zoo, and the National Library. I am happy about the location – the area is not so congested as other ones and these interesting places are nearby. Also, it is relatively safe for women to walk around by themselves (relatively, meaning you have to watch yourself in whatever city you are). This is a huge difference from my experiences in Karachi where I would never go out alone and even feel some discomfort safety-wise going out with my mother, grandmother, and sisters. I in no way want to give an impression of attributing backwardness to Karachi and progress and civility to Kolkata even though this simple description may do just that. There’s also a lot of analysis here that I will save for later posts and perhaps can describe more eloquently when I write about a specific experience that I have here in Kolkata and compare it to Karachi. As for now, I am reading “The Duel” by Tariq Ali, whose own analysis can certainly shed some light upon this notion of “safety” which is specific to my case, but relevant to the political, economic, and religious issues between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh that he discusses.
At the IDSK, I talked with Professor Husain about the project. He gave me a list of the female run businesses we will be looking at. One list has the contact information of the female beneficiaries of credit facilities by the National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC). When we begin on Monday, we will be contacting and making appointments with the women to ask them some questions related to how they have benefited from the credit facilities and those other aspects that I have written about in the previous blog post. We are doing a qualitative analysis for this part of the larger paper on “Employment Generation and the State”, so we will be conducting interviews. One challenge is to find the contact information for a number of the beneficiaries (the majority of 24 businesses we are looking at). This task might be challenging because we may not be able to find a telephone number, we may have to figure out where these addresses are they may be in obscure areas and very far apart from one another. Also, in interviewing the women, some of them may be suspicious about why we are asking such questions, even given the explanation of the project, or perhaps more so given the explanation. They may think their potential future funding may be contingent on their answers to the questions we ask, but we will address these concerns when I go in to IDSK on Monday, and also as we do some initial interviews and observe reactions.
Lastly, Professor Husain told me about an interesting seminar coming up July 20-21 at IDSK introducing the LISREL software package to students and faculty. I have to run now, so more about that on the next post. It’s actually really exciting so I would like to write about it properly. Thank you for reading. :-)
July 08, 2009
Closing in On a Design...
Since I've landed in India, a whole lot has happened - so much for taking it slow and soaking it all in!
First of all, I got in contact with my uncle Subba who gave me the name of one of the school's board member's cousins, who knows a lot about power system designing. After a very helpful convo with this gentleman, Mr. Ram Kumar, I got in contact with a company who distributes and manufacturers solar related systems based out of Bangalore, the city I was staying in. My uncle came the next day, and we met to meet with them, and although it was informative, it was something we probably won't use in the end - the company specializes in bigger systems, and was interested in pursuing government subsidies, which mean a lot of hoop jumping. Also, we would have to include a wind turbine in our design if we wanted government funding, which just isn't something we're interested in pursuing right now. While the meeting wasn't directly helpful to the project, it was a very good way for me to begin to understand the dynamic of a business meeting here, which was MUCH less formal than I was expecting...
Two days later, my uncle and I travelled to Pavagada, the village where we'll be working. After getting introduced to what felt like was upwards of 30,000 people, I went to the school and there I got a tour of the computer lab. We met with Mr. Anand Rao, who is also a board member for the school, and the three of us (Mr. Anand Rao, my uncle Subba, and myself) went over the design for a while. Or rather, they went over the design, and when called upon, I threw my two cents in. At first, I was bitter about not being included more in the process, but then I realized that these were two men with experience actually doing this type of work, so I should take the opportunity to soak in whatever I could. In summary, the school has one of the parts we need, which means we can transfer some of the costs to making the system bigger. The school also has three LCD monitors, which consume far less power than their other computers, and as a result of the two facts, we will hopefully be able to power three computers this summer.
In the end, Mr. Anand Rao set up a meeting for himself, his son, and me back in Bangalore to meet with another solar distributor, who focuses on smaller scale systems. I'll be leaving tomorrow at 5:30 am, and then returing to Pavagada on Sunday, and hopefully we'll be close to a final design by the end of next week. I've also sent a copy of our newest design to Mr. Ram Kumar (see above) for guidance and input.
Also, today I went to the school, where they had a function to formally introduce me. It was complete with a super traditional and formal introduction by three members of the board in front of the 10th standard (= 10th grade), a garland hung round my neck, a speach by me, then an explanation of how they system will work. It was definitely not something I was prepared for, but a good way to get into the school system. I may be returning to teach a math class or two, so my exposure to school students will be on the rise.
So I think that's everything. It's amazing to actualy feel like things are starting to come together, and in such a good way. I'm learning a lot about patience and swallowing my pride. Thought it's a little painful now, I know that in the long run, these are necessary skills.
In an attempt to create some semblance of sanity in an otherwise chaotic experience, I'll be posting only project related info to this blog, and all other personal ramblings to the following:
Until next time,
July 02, 2009
Riding in an airplane reminds me of taking the elevator – we get to ride in uncomfortably tight quarters with people we don’t know. However, while an elevator ride is a pretty mundane event that lasts about a minute and is usually awkwardly silent, a plane ride is the beginning to an adventure, and long enough that a little conversation to pass the time is almost a guarantee. I was thinking about how many different conversations I had on my trip from Ann Arbor to Bangalore (where I arrived safe and sound last night at 2 AM), and it’s pretty neat to reflect on them.
Dave gave me a ride from Ann Arbor to the Detroit airport, and on the way we talked about his first day at work with the Clean Water Action party, and all the things I should have taken care of before leaving that I was dumping on him to get done. Then on the flight from Detroit to Charlotte, I sat next to an elderly lady from Pittsburg and we talked about her grandchildren who are looking for jobs and how enjoyable Pennsylvania is to live in. From Charlotte to Frankfurt, I sat next to a physicist who taught me about proton accelerators, how to make thin-film superconductors, and his religious views. In the Frankfurt airport, I was taking a shuttle between terminals and I was alone in the compartment with an American army officer who had spent four years in Germany, and he advised me on the best types of beer to drink while there. I followed his advice, and had a .5 liter of rocksabababsdf;lkjasdf-weizen and a turkey sandwich for breakfast.
Then on the stretch from Frankfurt to Bangalore, I sat a in a row with three young Indian professionals, who talked about differences between European and Indian lifestyles, and also how to best take advantage of one’s sick days. At one point on this trip, one of the three guys asked the attendant for jam to go on his bread, and the attendant said “We aren’t serving jam since it’s dinner time” to which the guy replied “Madam, we Indians eat jam whenever we want to.” Chuckles from all around. Finally, in the cab from the airport to my grandparent’s house, I spoke with the driver about the traffic jams in Banglore that are epically terrible, and how the city is addressing the issue by installing “magic boxes” which are the same as over passes, as far as I can tell. I got to my grandparents house, and after several hugs and a quick call home to confirm my safe arrival, I passed out for the night.
So in one 26 hour period (which is how long it took to get here), I spoke with a good friend, a grandmother, a physicist, an officer, three young professionals, and a cab driver. I wonder about all the other people I would have met if one of my flights had gotten delayed, or if I had a different seat on one of the planes. Travelling is such a strange and surreal experience – I feel that I completely lose touch with time and zone out for hours without noticing what’s going on. It’s a good way to transition between mindsets, because I think I need several hours of just sitting and doing nothing for my mind to really accept that I’m going to a new place. It’s almost as though the best way to approach a change is to think about nothing at all and let your mind get used to a new situation when you’re not paying attention. I wonder what it’ll be like in fifty years when travelling around the world will only take a few hours. I’m not sure if I think that will be a good thing. Sometimes I like to move slowly. Like Jack Johnson sang in that one song “slow down everyone, you’re moving too fast. Frames can’t catch you when you’re moving like that.”
I’ll be in Bangalore for a few days, and I’m looking forward to spending time with my grandmother and eating all the wonderful creations that come out of her kitchen. My plans for my time here have already changed, just as all my family warned me they would; I was hoping to go to Pavagada, the village where I’ll be staying, in two days but right now there is a case of “Chicken Gunaya” in the area. Both my uncle and aunt and have it, but it’s nothing too serious, and after they are healthy I will make my way over. I already have many thoughts about my first ten hours here that I’d like to share, but I think it’s probably better to split things up so that this isn’t too long.
And here’s the soundtrack for my last-minute scramble around Ann Arbor in preparation for this trip. It came from Dave’s “Best of Motown” tape that was in his beautiful minivan. I owe both Dave and Nate big for all their help in the last week – “a friend in need is a friend indeed.”
“Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelletes:
June 20, 2009
Life in Udaipur
Udaipur is a beautiful city -- and I have been told so, since the day I landed at the airport a few weeks ago. Recently, as the rains have gradually started to come, I'm believing the claim more and more. In the peak of the heat, Udaipur, and most of Rajasthan, is dry, dusty, and unbearably difficult to walk anywhere barefoot. But from a mountaintop, the view of the city and the natural beauty of the trees and lakes is astounding.
I am conveniently housed on the Seva Mandir campus -- the "hostel" is in the same building as a few other offices, and the unit I regularly frequent, the Health Unit, is just across the street. Next door to the hostel is a large, 3-story public library. Recently I picked up some books on Health Management & Administration (focused in India), and one on training Community Health Workers; for my reading for fun, I checked out a book of Indian short stories.
The typical workday at Seva Mandir is 10am-5pm, Monday - Saturday. I get a delicious tiffin twice a day, which is decreasing my motivation to learn to cook Indian food with the other girls in our kitchen. In the evenings, we usually end up just hanging out or going out for grocery shopping (street-side red delicious apples are the best; I guess when in India I should be eating mangoes daily instead, but I can never resist good apples!)
There is a beautiful lake, a quick 10-minute walk from here, where young people and families often stroll by in the evening, and is one of our hang-out spots. A few of my friends and I recently got a work-out craze, and this morning, we woke up at 530am to climb a mountain (at the top of which is a locally famous mandir). The adventure only lasted an hour, but it is enough to keep me from working out for a couple of days.
A few nights ago, we had the first thunderstorm of the summer. All I can say is, in the hostel, lightning + first rain + city-wide blackout = scary & ridiculously fun.
Tomorrow on our day off (Sunday) I plan on sleeping in, and then spending all day doing laundry. It will literally take me all day -- I only recently learned how to handwash my clothes, and the first time, it took me 1 hr to wash just two salvar kurtas!
June 16, 2009
Remembering Not To Plan Too Much
In the last week I have been putting together a little packet of info about the project that serves as a snap shot for where things are right now. I spent a long time doing it, and it’s just about done, and tomorrow I’ll be sending it out to family and friends. If you’re interested, please send me an email at email@example.com, and I’d be happy to send you a copy.
And in putting together this packet, I realized that I have been planning too much. There’s only so much I can do before I go to India, and I think I’m at just about the right place for now– I’ve spent time learning about how to design a solar powered system, found potential places to buy the parts from and how much it will cost, talked a good deal with my uncle in the village about the current situation, and that’s about all I’d like to do before I go. I think if I try to plan much more, I’ll start building up unrealistic expectations (which to some degree I think I already have), which just isn’t worth it. I want to experience the village I’ll be in fully, and if I think too much about everything before hand, I’ll be trying to process events rather than experience them. No thanks.
So in my next two weeks in Ann Arbor, I’m going to try to relax and enjoy the summer. My good friend Dave just got back from a trip to New Zealand, and I want to hear all about his crazy adventures abroad. Another close friend Jeff is going to be moving to Richmond next week to start working in the real world, and I’d like to be able to hang out with him while we’re still in the same income tax bracket. A friend from back home is visiting this week, and my parents and sister will be in town this weekend, and this week is “Restaurant Week” in Ann Arbor, and basically summer is in full bloom, so I want to smell the flowers. Cheesy? Yeah, probably, but I’m alright with that.
I hope all is well for you, and again, if you’d like to learn more about where the project is at, please send me an email and I’ll send you a packet.
Here’s my song of the week:
"All I Have to Do Is Dream" by the Everly Brothers
PS – have you seen the movie “Up?” It’s great, especially in 3D.
June 11, 2009
My work at Seva Mandir
I arrived in Udaipur last week after touring India for some time, and already feel well-adjusted to the life/work culture here. At first, the lack of guarantee of electricity and even water was difficult, but the key to survival (and success) is patience.
My main project at Seva Mandir is to assess the infrastructural needs of two hospitals in nearby villages. Currently, I am also working on developing a training module for the Bal Sakhi program. The Bal Sakhi program is essentially a home-based child care program that will be implemented in the villages. It addresses the issue of the severity of malnutrition and the high mortality rate present with infants and young children.
I had the opportunity to go out to "the field" earlier this week, and spent the whole day meeting the people of the village of Badundia. Only one woman, who is a traditional birth attendent trained by Seva Mandir, actually spoke Hindi. The majority of the villagers speak Mewari, a local dialect that is only slightly similar to Hindi. Due to the frustration resulting from a lack of ability to communicate with each person, I have decided to learn some basic Mewari and have been receiving lessons from one of my friends, another Seva Mandir volunteer who is from Rajasthan. The key to establishing trust with another person is through language. When I visit the hospitals next week, it is certain that the patients will only know Mewari, and I hope to be able to communicate with them at the very least on a basic level.
I'll keep you posted on other aspects to my daily life soon!
June 09, 2009
Days left until leaving for India: 21
Last semester while reading a book for a class, I stumbled across a concept that I like: as the order in a system increases, the time between significant events decreases. The faster that significant events happen, the faster time is perceived to pass. Well, since time seems to be zipping by, the only logical conclusion is that the order in my life is increasing, right? Or something like that anyway…
So anyhow, a whole lot has happened in the three weeks since I last blogged, but I’ll stick to the (somewhat) relevant bits:
First of all, I wrapped up the research I had been working on for my mentor Dr. Adelman. I was putting together educational material on nine operas, and doing the research on each one was great; besides discovering a whole new world of music (check out the Three Tenors version of Nessun Dorma: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNQeKvVPPlc ), it gave me a chance to build up my endurance for working on the computer and get better at organizing my time.
Also, I signed up to take the GRE on June 25th, so I’ve been toiling through two books in preparation, which I feel could be aptly titled “Want To See How Much You’ve Forgotten Since Second Grade?” and “Here’s A Bunch of Words You’ll Never Use Again.” However, the process is coming along well enough, and I’m hoping that my time in preparation will pay off in spades. 1600! 1600!
I’ve also made huge steps in planning for India, and it feels good to see the project taking shape so well. Briefly, here’s how the system will work: the solar panels will utilize the energy of the sun to create electrical power. Since the sun isn’t always around (nights = dark, clouds = shade), the computers can’t rely on the solar panels directly. Instead, the power generated by the panels will be stored in batteries, which can be trusted to supply power continuously as long as they are charged. However, to make sure the batteries aren’t damaged from overcharging or discharging too deeply, a charge controller will sit between the panels and the batteries. To actually use the power stored in the batteries, the electricity has to be converted from DC to AC, which is accomplished by an inverter that will be connected to the batteries. After passing through the inverter, the power will be available in a form that the computers use, as a 220 V pure sinusoid signal. In summary, here’s the signal flow: sun -> solar panels -> charge controller -> batteries -> inverter -> computer.
It will cost roughly $2000 to power each computer this way, and the goal for this summer will be to get two computers up and running. I’m looking into one possible source for getting the equipment, and you may have heard of it too – the Barefoot College in Tilonia is an organization that trains illiterate women from rural villages to build and design solar powered systems, empowering women to empower themselves. My mom visited the college in a recent trip to India, and picked up a sheet detailing the necessary equipment to power a system using solar photovoltaics and the associated costs, so I’m in the process of contacting the head of their solar department. My uncle who I’ll be staying and working with also has a possible source, so we will either go with one or the other, or possibly both in order to compare quality and cost effectiveness.
During my visit this summer, in addition to getting the two computers up and running, I’ll also be doing a good amount of picture taking and video recording. When I come back to Ann Arbor in the fall, I plan to make a short video that depicts the current situation, the progress we made in the summer, and what work still needs to be done. I’ll be distributing the video to organizations in the hopes of raising the money to power the rest of the computer lab, or even get the equipment donated…we’ll see we’ll see! Then following my graduation in December, I’ll be headed back to India to scale the system up to its full size and hopefully set up a way for similar projects to develop.
Last weekend I had the chance to visit home, and while there I caught up with family and friends, ate two ice cream cones at the Pit Stop (peanut butter mackinaw island fudge and moosetracks) and spoke with our good family friend Mr. Benda about the project. He designed a similar system that uses a wind turbine to power his house, and speaking with him really helped to solidify concepts that I was unsure of, as well as raise questions that I hadn’t previously considered. My parents also stocked me up with good Indian home cooking and advice on how to move around in India (tip #1: don’t eat the meat), so now I feel like I’m pretty ready to get going.
Finally, last week orientation began for the incoming freshmen, and in tragic news, my favorite computer in the Fishbowl is no longer available. I feel like a grumpy old man having a bunch of hooligans let loose in my private workshop. And yet, seeing them struggling bravely through the process of backpacking classes, I am reminded of myself from a few years back, when places like “North Campus” and “the Dennison Building” were exotic and far off lands waiting to be explored. Sharing the Fishbowl with them, l like to think about how we are both sitting on the verge of the next stage of our lives – for them, college and leaving home for the first time. For me, India and a trip into the real world for the first time.
New Song of the Week:
“Yesterday” by Marvin Gaye ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=li9an3BC_QU )
June 08, 2009
So the scope of my work has constantly been changing given the new projects or needs to get done. From looking at some of the gaps in software at the hospital to working on some financial projections for a new possible project in Khargapur, there has been a slew of different things to get accomplished.
The hardest part has been getting the information and data to make accurate projections. I've been attempting to get this info via some of our own UMich databases. Most of my searches through them haven't been too fruitful (though they do provide some great summaries/reports about the future of healthcare in the U.S. and Europe). So I have come to rely more on international databases to approximate some of the figures.
Another thing I'm grateful for over here are the satellite televisions. On the hospital main floor they have been broadcasting the NBA Finals, so I have been able to get a chance to see some of the games - often a staple of my early/mid summer Junes in Michigan. I do tend to draw some attention to myself when reacting to missed calls by the referees or last-second shots by the Magic. Not many others here have the same type of interest in the outcome of a game between the L.A. Lakers and Orlando Magic. Everyone else in the country seems to be more concerned with ICC World Twenty20 and with India defending its cup. (Some TV channels have an ad running every ten minutes with some commercial tying the competition to Pepsi, L'oreal, etc.). It's kind of difficult for me to watch, though - cricket isn't my favorite sport to watch & the teams I have a rooting interest in aren't doing that great either. Still, though - it's good to be able to discuss some type of sports.
June 02, 2009
Aspects of daily life
It is a local name of a small accommodation, very popular in Bangalore. The rent could vary a lot from 2000rs-6000rs depending on the location of PG as well as the type of room. A single room in an urban area will probably cost 6000rs per month, 1500rs plus food. The PG I live is arranged by SVARAJ. It sets in a decent neighborhood called with a walking distance to my office. Parks, lakes and temples are surrounding the area. I am very fond of the PG life in India. I am taken care of my landlady and her kind mother, who always worries about my short pants:D In most of the city, people are still conservative; fully covered, even when they work out in gym. But it is nothing other than the cultural preference.
Food is one of my favorite. I tried to cook Indian curry with friends in UM. Now, I can enjoy it whenever I feel like to. Check out the picture for my favorite Indian breakfast. For lunch, I love chopadi best. Be aware, Indians prefer spicy food a lot and lots of them are vegetarians. If you want to try nonvege, you can still find Pizza Hut or some Chinese restaurants easily. I was planning to go on diet, but failed after I tasted food here and began to gain weight lol….
Actually, I've finished my project in India and back in Ann Arbor now. For those who haven't started yet but wanna know more about India (i.e southern India), you are most welcomed to talk to me!
Sorry for the belate posting since I was unable to access the internet in the last few days at home. I will gradually make up for it. Looking forward to reading more about your experience in India!
June 01, 2009
It's been a little more than a week since I left for my trip. And today was the first time I have been able to go outside the small area of land between the hospital and the house where I am residing.
While going to the bank to cash some traveller's cheques, I also visited small shopping centers to pick up some small items and non-essentials. Durgapur's claim to faim seems to definitely be its towering steel plants that can be seen from quite a distance aways. And it makes sure its residents are well aware of the fact. There are signs plastered all over the city touting Durgapur as India's Steel City. The signs make it out to seem as if it's some big tourism attraction that a visitor to India would stop by on his/her way to Agra.
Other than checking out the steel plants there aren't too many touristy things to do. One or two people in the office have actually left early for the weekend to go to Kolkota or other parts of the region for the weekend, visiting family and such. I'll try the same. It's a tad difficult to go explore parts of Durgapur unassisted because there aren't too many rickshaws near the hospital and there are no street signs.
The guest house I've been residing in seems to host a wedding party almost every other day - even in the middle of the hot summer people host wedding parties almost every weekday. These ceremonies have been my first time witnessing a Hindu wedding. It has been nice to be able to wake up to the smell of incense but difficult to try to sleep when songs and renditions of 1970s Bollywood soundtracks are being played on the floor below me. Almost every other day I come downstairs to a smoke-filled room trying not to trip over someone's kids running around the ground floor.
Communication hasn't been an issue either. Everyone at the hospital and guest house speaks Hindi and varying degrees of English. But there are those times where I try to communicate with someone on the street and he speaks only Bengali (and some broken Hindi). There haven't been too many cases, but it's come up a few times.
Let me know what's new with any of the readers of the blog. I have access to the internet whenever I'm at the hospital. So I'm pretty good with responding to emails during business hours.
Until the next post,
May 28, 2009
I arrived in Kolkotta on Tuesday and drove to Durgapur the same day. Fortunately, I avoided a major storm and arrived the day after a six-hour cyclone. During the drive to Kolkatta I was able to view some of the the intermittent villages and open-land areas that were still inundated with flood water. I am hoping that with the big storm out of the way, my stay will mostly involve some of the smaller rain storms that characterize monsoon season over here.
During my time, I will be residing at a guest house about a ten minute walk from the hospital. The city seems to have a nice well-planned out infrastructure. It doesn't have the same urban sprawl and overpopulation of the bigger city, Kolkotta. While that makes the walk to work a bit nicer, it makes it a bit difficult to wander and see other parts of the city. There aren't too many buses or rickshaws for me to hitch a ride and explore areas.
Given the hospital was built a little over one year ago it is pretty impressive. (If this blog gives me the ability to post pictures on the site I'll try to snap a picture of the hospital and upload.)One of the only superspecialty hospitals in West Bengal (outside of Kolkotta), The Mission Hospital is about ten stories high, housing physicians/surgeons in virtually almost every specialty.
With these resources, the hospital runs a hospital management system that coordinates patient care as he/she navigates through different departments throughout the building. My immediate job for the next week or so will be to benchmark some of the features of this system to other systems I can find more information on.
If you have any questions, you can reach me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The hospital has internet access and wi-fi (that doesn't seem to be working at the minute) on the administrative floor. Or give me a call at (+91)9749175200.
May 24, 2009
Just wanted to put up a quick post before I head out. My flight is in a few hours and I just finished all the last minute packing.
By the time I next post I should be somewhere in Durgapur. In the meantime here are some URLs and more information about the hospital I will be staying with:
I'll write back letting you know about the travels.
- Adam Khan
May 20, 2009
updates from Ye Wang
The first week in the office
I had my first week most in the office. People from SVARJ prepared a working table for me, even provided me with a laptop in the first day. I was given files of introduction of organization, including the season magazine called Splash, a delicate calendar, a SVARAJ notebook, etc.
I introduced myself to all of the staff in the office and shared them with my application process with CSAS summer program.
The next two days, I began to finalize my project by talking to deputy director Mohan and office manager Rajkumar. Both of them are working on the organic farming in Tamil Nadu.
Thanks to the conversation, I had more acute view on Indian food markets. Though I read several academic papers beforehand, the situation now in India is different. Farmers are more advanced in terms of marketing strategy. With the help from SVARAJ, farmers in TN manage to broad the local market themselves. They are able to connect to the market without depending on large buyers, for instance, supermarket. In such way, they are able to maximize the profits while having more flexibility. Unlike the US, UK supermarket system, contract farming is still underdeveloped in India. Rather, the procurement is divided into two sectors. Once the supply directly from farmers can’t meet the daily demand of supermarket, they turn to the unorganized market for help, city market for example. Therefore, the souring method of supermarkets is more complicate than either from farmers or from traditional retail market.
Finally, I complete the questionnaire for both farmers and supermarkets. The next step is to contact supermarket.
I would appreciate if you visiting the website of SVARAJ: http://www.svaraj.in/
May 19, 2009
I have a ticket!
After an obnoxious amount of running around the Indian Embassy in Chicago to get my visa and several conversations with my parents' travel agent, I emerged victorious with a ticket to India. I'll be there June 30th through August 18th, and hopefully making at least one or two trips within the country related to the project while there.
Also, I recently got in email contact with a cousin who has a start-up business in Bangalore, the closest city to the Pavagada (where I'll be working), and he has offered his support and guidance with the project. It's been pretty amazing how generous people have been with their time and support, and I feel blessed to be in the position I am in.
Now it seems like I have all the pieces to make the project a success, and it will be a matter of putting in the time to make sure everything comes together. Right now, I am doing research for a professor while in Ann Arbor, and after that wraps up in two weeks, I'll be able to devote much more time to getting in contact with solar panel vendors, electricians, and people who have more experience dealing with designing power systems for rural Indian communities.
Finally, here is a link to the song I have been listening to a lot lately. It really conjures up just the right images for the beautiful weather we've been having, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
May 16, 2009
Working with Seva Mandir in Rajasthan
Beginning June 1st, I will have the opportunity to work with an NGO called Seva Mandir in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Currently, the details of my project are limited to the following: so far I know that I will be assessing the infrastructural needs of the hospital, in terms of patient safety, hygiene, medical equipment, and so forth.
As a side project, I will likely be helping the organization develop a female literacy program.
I am excited to see what I can do!
May 14, 2009
Description of Sairah's CSAS Summer in India Project
Hi, my name is Sairah Husain and I am a student majoring in Economics and S. Asian Studies with a minor in Russian Studies, here at the University of Michigan. I feel honored to have been selected as a recipient of the Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS) Summer in India 2009 Fellowship. Thank you to the generous donor and to the Center for all their hard work in making this program happen.
As for my project, I will be in Kolkata from early July to early August. I will be working with Professor Zakir Husain of the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata [IDSK] (bio at www.idsk.edu.in) on his project called "Employment, Empowerment and the State: Targeting of Women in Employment Generation Schemes", being funded by Rosa Luxembug Stiftung, Berlin.
My actual project has changed slightly from before when I was to assess the role of women in urban construction projects. While I am still working with Professor Husain on the general goals of the project (to assess the role of government employment generating project and their effect on women), my particular role is a bit different now. I will be interviewing a group of 25-30 women entrepreneurs in Kolkata to find out their experience in setting up and operating units, to what extent their gender has helped them in their work or has created difficulties, to what extent has the government helped them, and to what extent have they felt empowered.
Please feel free to comment about my post and I look forward to blogging more once I reach Kolkata.
I hope all is well. I have completed the majority of my checklist for the beginning of this journey. If anyone has any questions, please do not hesitate.
May 13, 2009
First Post - Adam
Hello all CSAS Summer 2009 Blog readers!
Leaving soon, I will be conducting my internship with the Mission Hospital in Durgapur, India.
I will be interning at the local hospital in Durgapur as they expandto some of the more rural areas and aid in areas of business development. The mother hospital is working on implementing a hub-and-spoke model to to bring medical services to areas of Durgapur and nearby that previously lacked access.
My time will last from the end of May to the end of June. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to post some pics to go along with the upcoming blog entries.
Post any comments for me under this blog post. Or you can email me directly at email@example.com as I should be checking my email frequently.
Hello from Caleb
During the month of August I will be traveling to Calcutta to volunteer with CRAWL Society, a group that teaches literacy to underprivileged women and children. While volunteering, I plan on studying how children's aid organizations such as CRAWL interact with Calcutta's city space--to what extent are these organizations refuges from or potential reformers of the city?
As Nancy asked for information on the visa and flight, I have received my visa, and have not yet booked my flight. It seems likely I will be leaving August 1st and returning August 30th, but I am still waiting for my parents to discuss it with me. They don't seem to have the same sense of urgency I do, but hopefully I'll have the flight reserved by the end of this week.
Greetings from Ye Wang
Hello everyone! I feel honored to be selected by the Center of South Asian Study as a summer fellow and also to be the first one to start the Indian travel.
This summer, I will be helping a local NGO called SVARAJ(Society for Voluntary Action, Revitalization and Justice)in the city of Bangalore. My project is to analyze the current supermarket supply system in Bangalore by collecting the primary data. In help with SVARAJ, I am able to talk to organic farmers who are now trying to market their production in a local context.
My internship will start from end of April to the end of May. Unluckily, it is within the most hottest time during the year. But actually, Bangalore is named as the green city of India. Green trees are almost everywhere cooling the weather. By the time of June and July, Bangalore will be having its rain season. For those who will travel to Bangalore, enjoy the cooling weather and millions of India food! Mango juice is highly recommended!
Also, I am calling for your interest for the NGO I am working now. You can always make a difference! Check back and join my trip to India! Thank you!
May 11, 2009
Hello from Raj!
This summer, I'll have the privilege to travel to India as a Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS) India Program fellow. While there, I will be working to install a solar array to help power a school in Pavagada, a village several hundred kilometers north of Bangalore. Pavagada is my mother's ancestral village, and while there I will be staying with my uncle Subba, who is also a local electrical engineer and a founder of Jnana Bodhini, the name of the school.
I'll be in India from early July to the end of August, and the next step is to buy my ticket, which I'll be doing in the next couple days. I look forward to sharing my stories with everyone as well as hearing about all the great things other CSAS India Program fellows are doing. If you have any comments, concerns, questions, or thoughts in general, please share them and I will do my best to get back. I hope you will continue to check back, and join me for the biggest adventure I've ever been on!
Hello Summer in SA Students,
Please go into the mblog and let all students know about your project and when you will be traveling to India. We look forward to hearing about your experiences and what you encounter during your summer.
And remember, don't hesitate to contact our office if any questions or concerns come up.