September 02, 2007

Back in USA

While I expected it would take a few days to adjust when arriving in India, I would not have ever guessed it would take time to get used to Chicago again. The first couple of days back home definitely felt strange because I did not see the loving ladies of Virudhunagar or the adorable kids at the school. It was unbelievably hard to leave the town when the ladies kept telling me how much they would miss me and would be waiting for my next trip to India. I was absolutely shocked when I saw the women bringing all of their children to say bye to me. During my lessons and discussions, I often wondered if I am really helping my students or just confusing them even more, but their unforgettable love and appreciation on that last day in Virudhunagar gave me reassurance that I helped in some way, small or big.

Posted by nidchaud at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2007

Pinching Madam's Cheeks

“Hello Nidhi madam?” I definitely did not expect the ladies to call me madam since I was half their age! After I got over that initial shock, I noticed the computer room was full of brightly smiling women, ready for their computer lessons. The moment I began explaining how to use Paint and Microsoft Word is indescribable but the ladies’ soft giggles were definitely a good indication that they were having fun. Even though the Tamil was still a problem well into the days of classes, it became much easier for me to explain my ideas as time went on. There is no doubt that I often wondered if I was truly helping the students or just confusing them even more. But when their faces would glow with excitement everyday and they would pinch my cheeks lovingly, I felt like maybe even these few hours a week actually are making a difference. (cheesy I know…) The days that the internet was working were absolutely chaotic. Everyone was browsing the net, calling Nidhi madam for help here and there.

Everyday I would tell the ladies that I have to go teach spoken English classes to the teachers at 4:00 P.M. right after computer class and everyday I would be disappointed when only the school staff showed up. I regret assuming the ladies did not have time or were not interested in coming to spoken English class. Unfortunately, I waited until the last week and a half of my project to ask the women why they did not want to come to Spoken English. One of the ladies, Mahalakshmi, laughed quietly and hesitatingly told me how the class fee was 600 rupees per month. I had initially thought since the computer classes were free of charge, the spoken English classes would be free as well. Still, I am glad I still had that week or so left and asked permission to teach spoken English to them for free for just that week. Even though I had already held many spoken English classes with the school teachers and principal, the first class with the local women felt completely different. Even though most of the ladies did not know English as well as the school staff, it was amazing to see how they tried full heartedly, without holding back at all. Discussing Marie Claire magazine articles on the film Provoked (about domestic violence) one day and just holding conversations about each other’s lives another day was unforgettable. The last day of classes was definitely the most heart-felt because the women kept telling me how much they would miss me and kept asking me when I would come back to visit. Even though I told them again and again how much I loved spending time with them and would miss them greatly, I am not sure I conveyed my true desire of wishing I could do so much more than I did in this short time.

Posted by nidchaud at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2007

Domestic Violence: Choosing Life Over Traditions

I nervously held my notebook and sat down next to Eswari, while all of the women and children gazed at me, curious about today’s meeting. Surprisingly, Eswari later told me, other volunteers who visited the women’s Self-Help Group meetings only introduced themselves and learned about how the women earned money for the household. No wonder I saw many shocked yet interested expressions when I began my discussion. Fortunately, Eswari understood and spoke English fairly well, so she was easily translating for me. But oddly enough, many times the women’s nodding heads and indications of understanding my message, made the translating almost unnecessary. I began by explaining the definition of domestic violence and some of its major causes.

As I was beginning to feel a little disappointed that the discussion is slowly transforming into a lecture, one of the ladies sitting in the back laughingly pointed at a man sitting at the other end, warning me her husband is listening to all of this supposedly “anti-male” talk. Eswari and I looked at each other, giggling, and I quickly clarified that I was definitely not saying all men were abusers. Speaking a little louder, so he could hear as well, I said it is just as important for men to be informed about domestic violence as it is for women.

While explaining what the women should do if they are ever in such a situation, I noticed one of the ladies listening intently and bobbing her head in the traditional Indian way. Right when I said the women should report cases of domestic violence rather than ignore it or pretend it is not serious, one woman strongly disagreed. She told Eswari how complaining against one’s husband was out of the question because it was not in their culture to do so. Although Eswari and I managed to convince many of the younger women how important it is to tell someone about a domestic violence case and even report a case at a ladies police station, the older, traditional women still opposed. Even though it was a challenge to change the conservative viewpoints the women held their entire life, I loved every minute of our discussion. While I definitely felt passionate about every word I was saying, there is no doubt that I wondered if the women were actually finding the meeting worthwhile. Later that evening, when I asked Eswari about her opinion of the discussion, she replied the women were paying such close attention to my words because some of them actually had been victims of domestic violence.

Posted by nidchaud at 06:51 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2007

Laughing with the Locals

As Eswari and I were walking down the street, it was wonderful seeing the women laughing and gossiping away. The houses are so close that passers by always see the local women chatting and children playing in the streets. Visiting the women’s self-help group members in their homes was amazing. Even though I had just been introduced to them, the women at each house treated me like family. I had initially thought, naively perhaps, that the locals would be more frustrated with their living conditions. Instead, many houses were full of content, loving members, continuously offering us food and tea. Ironically, the people who supposedly had so little were generously offering everything to their guests, while back in the states nothing seems to satisfy our appetite.
The excited women proudly invited me into their house and laughingly told me how they were dying to come to America. While Eswari explained how UCT gave loans to these members to start businesses, the ladies came by with yet another round of tea and spicy home-made snacks. Eswari giggled (shockingly smiling with her teeth showing!), while saying how she too gets to enjoy tea at each house while the foreigner is in town. Each evening is full of excitement when meeting the sweet women and families who love to laugh at my attempts to speak Tamil. Going to the members’ houses does not feel like work but it is definitely an unbelievable learning experience. Each house has a different story and concerns but fortunately many women are becoming more self-sufficient. While some members were stitching clothes to sell to shops, others were making match boxes or cooking food for restaurants. Even though I absolutely love my nights at the women’s houses, the reality of their situation hits hard when Eswari explains that the women do not earn nearly enough money for their day’s work.

Posted by nidchaud at 06:53 AM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2007

Does this pinkie look bigger than this pinkie?

At about noon on Tuesday I realized that the pinkie on my left looked a little puffier than normal. I held both hands up and examined them, and tried to decide if it was my mind/paranoia, or if my pinkie was in fact swelling up. Two hours later it undeniable, there was definite puffiness. By 4pm my finger was the size of a sumo wrestler's thumb. I was concerned and asked people in the office. They said it was a bug bite, for sure.

For sure? I knew better. I hadn't been bitten by any bugs, and there weren't any bite marks on that finger. They told me to take Allergen and everything would be fine.

By 6pm I was getting red bumps on my right hand, knees, and lower arms (near the elbow). They itched like mad, but I tried to ignore them, and assure myself that it was nothing. A friend went out to get me Allergen, but after 1 hour of searching, he discovered that you can only get anti-histamines with a prescription. 9pm rolled around, and there was a mean puffy rash forming on my arm. So, I took a couple of Alavert (for seasonal allergies), and that seemed to help with the bumps. The next morning I woke up and the bumps were gone (hooray!), and my pinkie didn't look as gruesome. I thought I was getting better, until I saw that my other fingers swelled up and my upper lip looked like it had been hit by a baseball.

I skipped work for the day, primarily because my face looked ridiculous and my fingers were like sausages. Bala bought me some antihistamines that he was able to find (Professor deSouza helped sort out what I needed to take - thank God).

Today my hands look normal and the rash is gone. There is still a little rash/ puffiness on my right hand, and its sore near the joints because of the swelling. I have no idea what went wrong with me: I must have touched something or eaten something that I am allergic to, though I am not allergic to anything, besides sulfur. We hypothesized that my trip to Agra, which is notorious for Sulfur pollution, could have sparked the reaction, but a doctor from home told me that that was unlikely, as inhaling sulfur is not the same as ingesting sulfur/ sulfus. I didn't go to a doctor here because I didn't have a fever, and didn't show signs of throat irritation/ tongue swelling/ etc.

Another day, another adventure.

In regards to my internship, things are going great. I love Lokniti's Youth Study, its depth of question is amazing. I manily have been going over the results, and trying to make observations, and notice trends. I'm also trying to consider them from an "American-youth's point of view." Most of my report is based on that. I have to do a 25 point analyses, and it is due tomorrow. Lots of work for today. I cant go into too many details, because the results have not been published yet.

Posted by vanlaura at 02:59 AM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2007

No English?

While eating breakfast on my first morning in Tamil Nadu, I realized that my work would be harder than I had every imagined. Playing an interesting game of charades, I laughingly tried to tell the cook that the ‘Idli and sambar’ breakfast was delicious. I didn’t know that communicating even simple thoughts could be that exhausting! Interestingly though, not knowing Tamil makes my work much more exciting because I have to find new and creative methods to explain myself.

Since most of the women’s advancement and self-help group activities are in the evening, I get a chance to teach English to the primary school kids in the mornings. Even though it is difficult to talk to the kids in English, they learn very quickly. The adorable three and four year old rugrats running around and shouting ‘twinkle twinkle little star…” is unbelievably entertaining. Also, I can easily get their attention with the love of their life: my digital camera. It is hilarious when they pose like models and scream “Enna, enna!?!” (me, me?) when asking where they are in the picture.

After a fun yet tiring morning of “ABC’s” and “123’s” it is a nice change of pace to teach computer classes for the local women in town. Many ambitious women come to learn basic computer skills at the computing center in the school. Even though the communication barrier makes things more complicated, the women’s determination to become more technologically savvy helps them through the struggle of deciphering my English. Also, the principal and the school teachers always help translate when needed. While teaching computer classes, it is hard not to ignore the fact that many societies are still very traditional, with male superiority and disregard for female education and advancement.

Although it is very admirable that organizations like Unity Charitable Trust (UCT) are taking the initiative to educate children and adults, it is critical that the teachers themselves are trained well and ready to teach others. In the Spoken English classes, I lead a group discussion for the school’s teachers and principal. While we laugh some days, other days the topics are very serious and informative for the women. Not only do they get a chance to share their opinions and learn about domestic violence, women’s rights, community development, and much more, but they also improve their English speaking skills. This is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day as well because I learn about the women’s thoughts and concerns. It will definitely take a lot of time and effort before their English is perfect but it is fantastic that they have the desire to improve. It is undoubtedly very difficult to adjust to the new environment and my home for the next month. Fortunately, the people here are absolutely wonderful and I am really enjoying my project so far.

Posted by nidchaud at 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2007

more blog notes

I've realized what an amazing opportunity it is to study Indian government and politics in Delhi, as opposed to studying them in the US. The things happening on the ground, the day to day events, which may not always be reported or explained in the news, represent the broader picture of development, deprivation, democracy, capitalism, and so on.

An excellent example of this is the recent sentencing of actor Sanjay Dutt. In the library yesterday I thumbed through the newspapers, looking for something to do before lunch. I was really hungry so I tried to distract myself. Usually I turn to the entertainment section first (I have gotten very attached to Bollywood and all its drama), and save the real news for the end. But something caught my eye on the front page of India Express. It was a very tired looking man who I recognized from tv or something. The man was actor Sanjay Dutt, who I had seen on a news report weeks earlier.

Well, here's a summary of the story: 14 years ago he was charged for illegal possession of weapons, and was taken to court. This week they finally ruled on it, and in what I think was a very ironic, and maybe even somewhat patronizing speach, Judge P D Kode told Dutt "not to lose faith in himself as he was ‘number one’ in films."
For me this decision seemed extreme, as Dutt had already served a year in prison, and he demonstrated remorse at his hearing. Possessing AK-56 rifles surely isn't a small infraction, but in this case 6 years in prison seems outrageous.
Its been 14 years! To me it makes no sense. He's not a suspected criminal (the charges related to Mumbai were cleared), he didn't injure anyone, he has never broken his bail in the 14 years, and the list goes on and on. I can maybe see a little more jail time being necessary, just to prove a point - "no exceptions" - but 6 years is absurd. There are more details to the story which can be found here.

My professor asked if I had seen the story, and I told him that I had. Before he could ask my opinion of it, I blurted out how I thought 6 years was insane. He then began to tell me that he thinks bigger political issues are at play here, and that this case, like many things in India, represent the nation coping with and defining the terms of democracy and citizenship. The more I think about it I see how right he is, which makes my stay in India so much more amazing, because I can get a small glimpse of a nation defining itself.

A note:
I was really irritated by the judge's comment that Dutt can act for 100 more years, suggesting that 6 years in prison isn't that long. I doubt if someone said to him, 'practice law/ judge/ be a father for 100 more years, I am only removing you from all these things for 6 years' he would find that very comforting.

*If you have comments please leave them. I would like to get others' reactions/ opinions on this.

Posted by vanlaura at 06:25 AM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2007

Here At last

July 16, 2007

After a long 20 hour flight, I am finally in India! I had this crazy idea that being Indian would make it much easier for me to adjust to the atmosphere here. For the most part, I could not have been more wrong. Driving from Madurai airport to Virudhunagar was an adventure in itself. Sure we almost got into several accidents but I seemed to be the only one having a panic attack. Everyone else in the car sat back and relaxed while the driver sped up one inch from a monstrous bus and quickly swerved while switching to another Tamil song on the radio. I have read about India in books, heard countless numbers of stories from my parents, and even visited Delhi 10 years ago. Nevertheless, as I glared out the car window, and constantly took pictures, I realized that I was finally beginning to understand India. Cows roaming around aimlessly and people walking barefoot on the street with everyone's curious eyes on the new foreigner in town made me uneasy initially. As I approached the St. Antony primary school where I would be staying, however, the unique simplicity of the town and genuine hospitality of the people began to sink in.

Posted by nidchaud at 02:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2007

Blog notes

I have crossed the midway point for my internship, and while a lot of things have changed since I arrived, other things have stayed constant.

After a very refreshing 2 day trip to Dharamshala on the weekend (which included a 13 hour bus ride, the last 3 hours of which were up steep hills) I was ready to return to Delhi. Leaving Delhi for the first time made it clear to me that I have adjusted to my surroundings (for the most part), and that the guesthouse here is more like a home.

Once our bus returned to Delhi on Monday morning most of those warm fuzzy feelings momentarily evaporated as I walked to the metro to get home. Several boys walking past said some rather choice words to me, which shocked Andrew, who had never actually witnessed me getting harassed (though I have complained about it before). While it irritated me, I realized that it did not bother me as much as it once did. But that doesn't mean they aren't idiots, because they totally are.

The last week has been full of adventures: a trip to Dharamshala where I saw mountains, waterfalls, Buddhist monks, European hippies; the release of the 7th Harry Potter book (yes, I most certainly am including that as an adventure); a trip to the very new, very impressive Akshardham monument/ temple (some people call it a temple, others say its a monument - a member of the staff who I met said it was a "spiritual game park"); my first bargaining/ arguing experience with an auto driver, in which i totally won (score!).

Oh, and work is going really well.

Posted by vanlaura at 07:11 AM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2007

sort of lost

Some children selling cotton candy poked me on the arm and asked me to buy them potato chips. I felt sort of shocked. First, the fact that they actually poked me caught me off guard. Finding little fingers on my arms struck me dumb. Second, I was torn about giving them money because my friends (who are among the nicest, kindest, and most moral people I have ever met) ignored them. To think of it, while in Delhi I haven't seen anyone actually hand out money to a poor person on the street. I'm not sure what that actually means. I didn't dip into my pockets that time, and I don't know if I should have, or if I should in the future.

Its weird that when prepping for this trip I never once considered that these things would or could happen.

I feel like everything I have ever learned about economic theory, politics, societies, and poverty is irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is that people suffer, and that they shouldn't. So where do I fit into this picture? And what am I supposed to do when I see people asking for my help?

Usually when I'm confused I run to the library and do research, but I'm quickly losing confidence in academic books.

My Professor here told me not to judge things too quickly, and I think thats the best advice I could hear at this point. Besides, I'm too busy being confused to be critical or analytical, I think.

I wish I could say that Delhi is amazing and I'm having the time of my life, but that would be a lie. Delhi is not a fun school trip to Rome or Paris, and Delhi is not a vacation. I am having a lot of good times, mixed with a lot of hard times. Most of all I am having a lot of interesting experiences. I can honestly say, though, that I am glad I came.

Posted by vanlaura at 07:06 AM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2007

Settling in

I have met some pretty amazing girls here at the office. Coming from all parts of India, they said Delhi was a big change for them too, but mastering the city is very doable.
Tonight I think we are all going to JNU campus, which is south of here. I really like being around the universities because the crowd is much younger and you can stay out late without worrying too much. Last night we went shopping for tops but it was unsuccessful. We brought Andrew (the other intern) with us. Normally, he is very fun to be with, but like most men he looked sick every time we went into a shop and chatted about what things we liked. Tonight is a more girl-oriented trip, and we'll be sure to fill him in on what to expect.

Posted by vanlaura at 06:17 AM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2007

Ups and Downs

There are moments in the day when I feel totally comfortable with Delhi. Those feelings of assurance and confidence last for a few hours, and I'm very happy and very comfortable during that time. But then there are points also, when I feel very overwhelmed by whats going on, and a little intimidated of things I don't necessarily understand. I'm waiting for that point in my trip where the ups and downs are less unpredictable, but I think it will take much more time than I first thought.

Posted by vanlaura at 01:23 AM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2007

Moving On

My ‘project work,’ as everyone likes to call it around here, is coming to an end. This is my last week at the NRI Academy of the Sciences. I could have stayed a bit longer until my flight home, but I decided that I need to see another part of India, especially since there aren’t many sights to see in this area.

Leaving here, I can only hope that I have enough data for my project. I’m not completely satisfied, although I feel slightly comforted to know that many people leaving the field feel the way I do, as if they don’t have sufficient data. I have at least completed my goals. The cool thing or problem with this research, depending on how you look at it, is that it could have continued for months, branching off in different directions, revealing more and more about the beliefs of the people and the way of the hospital. But, I must cut myself off and move on.

Cutting your self off may sound easy, especially when the flight back to America seems so close, but it isn’t. I have forged a second life here. I will miss my new friends more than they will know. For some reason, people think that I will forget them as other foreigners have in the past; it is sad that they expect this from western visitors. But I will not. I’m not going to fall into the other foreigners’ poorly set standard. I’m going to show these friends that this American is a true friend.

Many of these friends want me to stay and others have joked about arranging a marriage for me; though I think they are somewhat serious and would arrange one if I was older and living here. And too be honest, I could probably live with these friends. As cliché as it sounds, everyone has made this place feel like home.

Though I would enjoy living here, especially without many of the extra material items that I have grown up with, I have come to the realization that this place is not my ‘native place.’ A few years spent here would be nice, but at some point I would miss being near to the most important people in my life: my family and friends. Hopefully I can visit everyone that I have met here again. But for now, I must also move on from these new friends.

I’m leaving NRI tomorrow to head towards Dheli. I’m going to spend my last week sight seeing and relaxing in the capital city and Agra. I don’t have many plans as of now, but I will trust the travel guide book that I have as well as Larua, another student who is part of the summer fellowship program. She and I might even see parts of Dheli on Sunday if we can work it out. Then, on the 11th, Sara, Laura and I have made tentative plans to meet up at the Taj Mahal. I can’t wait to explore both Dheli and Agra!

Posted by caten at 11:40 PM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2007

IRB Approval!

So I put on one of my “well-worked” sarees that is beautifully embroidered to wear this morning. I had to look and feel my best for the IRB presentation today. I spend the morning mostly preparing the presentation and practicing in front of Anandan because he gives me good feedback about “body language”. After many practices and many people from the office distracting me it was already time for tea yay!
Krishnan and Sethu gave me advice about IRB, and tell me that I have nothing to worry about! After basically spending the day relaxing and chatting around the office I headed out to IRB. I arrived at the Krishna Street Office and sat in a room with other participants who were presenting to IRB.
By the time it got to be 5:30 and it was time for my IRB presentation, I really wasn’t that nervous anymore. I walked into a small room with about 13 people sitting around a table and I did my presentation very quickly and they listened attentively. After I was finished I was nervous for the questions but they were more concerned about my study getting finished in time than they were about the participants being harmed. Dr. Suniti Solomon was there and I was most nervous about her! But it turns out that I finished and got all the signatures! I’m so excited, my first IRB approval and my very first study that I am conducting almost entirely on my own. So pumped!
After the IRB approval Bala came to pick me up for the counseling center opening in Prasavakam village. When I arrived there were probably over a hundred people crowded around under lights and a big tent. There were community members, police and important people from different professions that came to talk to the people about HIV and the importance of stopping domestic violence. We announced and introduced the new CPOLS (counselors who will be helping with community problems) to the community and it was a really exciting time. The entire community had gathered together and it was such an amazing feeling to be there. We blasted Tamil songs and the kids did AMAZING dances, I was so blown away! Everyone was clapping and singing and joining in on the dancing and overall we had an incredibly turnout. The CPOL counselors that were trained remembered me from when I visited this village about a month ago. It was a really good feeling to be back and after witnessing the entire community coming together for such a great cause last night I realized that the future of this community is looking bright.

Posted by saraba at 02:46 AM | Comments (0)


Traffic, monkeys, geckos, heat. Delhi.

My flight was really good. I sat with a bunch of Americans and we all gabbed about our trips. The three girls who sat next to me were on a volunteer, school-sponsored medical trip, and were all going to various cities in India. It was nice to have people to share anxieties with.
I have written loads of emails this morning, as it is the first time I have had Internet access, and I have been given freedom to do what I want on the computer for the time being. I ventured to South Delhi yesterday with the other intern and had a great time. At first I was extremely hesitant to leave the guest house, which is comfortable and secure. But, after taking a rickshaw, an auto, and the metro I was glad I came out. I got a great iced coffee that reminded me of being at school, and I sat in a cafe. The heat is bearable, the food is good, and the stray dogs and monkeys keep to themselves. It's been interesting so far, and I can't wait until the pace of Delhi feels normal.

The traffic is unbelievable. Its basically chaos.

Posted by vanlaura at 02:44 AM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2007

TNCODE=Tamil Nadu Consortium of Domestic Violence

This morning I headed over to T.Nagar (an area of Chennai) where YRG Care was putting on a meeting to bring together about 21 NGO’s in Chennai who are all in some way involve in domestic violence awareness in Chennai and India. As I walked in it was still pretty quiet and we were still setting up. All of a sudden I head this voice coming from… well I don’t’ know where. “Saraaaaaaa…..” “Saraaaa has come”. Bala was goofing around of the loudspeaker as usual, I peeked in and everyone was laughing, and then he proceeded to sing me a Tamil song… and it is moments that this that remind me how much I love this family at YRG Care.
My job was to talk to the different NGO members as they came. I talked with a doctor from a Christian medical NGO, 2 women who were there representing an NGO called SNEHA which has a primary concern of suicide prevention, Zonta Resource Center where they have set up training centers for women desiring to work, and a man from SUMANA Goodwill Home which is a treatment and recovery center for chemical addiction. All of these NGO’s were excited to see me in India and all were very eager to invite me to visit their NGO. After mingling with the NGO’s, our program began with the lighting of the candle, lit by CPOL members (community political opinion leaders who are part of YRG’s domestic violence program, and me… a very special time for meJ). There was a presentation about the current status of the domestic violence research project that is ongoing at YRG Care, and personal testimonies of CPOLS that are involved in the research program, and suggestions and questions on how to better understand the domestic violence cases, and talk about setting up more sustainable community centers. Following this program the NGO’s broke up into groups and had different topics to discuss, one included a brainstorming on slum outreach about domestic violence… there was talk about reaching out to the communities through cartoons, SMS messages, radio and doing live community programs.
After the meeting we had a FABULOUS lunch and it brought me back to the memory of my first week in Chennai when I was eating lunch in this same hotel but I was so clueless on how to eat with my hands and stand and talk to people at the same time. Now I knew exactly what to do and I was much more confident eating with my hands I think I might have a problem going back to using silverware. I wonder if I even remember how to use a knife. Over the “not so awkward” lunch I met yet another important professor from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. He is specialized in human behavior and community development and has played a huge role in the domestic violence program. He bragged about YRG and all the amazing research projects going on at this organization, and expressed his great love everyone in YRG Care.
After all the important people left we goofed around and sang songs in Tamil and English before all piling into the auto and heading back to the office. And my day only gets more interesting from here…I finished my work and met some PhD students from Johns Hopkins and then headed out to the curb to catch an auto home. But I wasn’t feeling like heading home at 5:30 was sounding like too much fun. My auto driver friend Velu was there so he took me for a ride around Chennai. I wanted to go shopping so he took me! We went shopping for sarees and bangles; I was cracking up the entire time because I can’t believe he actually wanted to take me shopping. He actually has good taste and found me the best deals. We talked about his family and children and how much he loves his family, it was so nice. As we were leaving a bunch of the girls from the department store approached me and stuck a bindi on my forehead. This wouldn’t be the first time this happened. After shopping he took me to the tailors and we headed back to Ayanavarm where I live. As we turned on to police Manikham Street we had this great idea that he would teach me how to drive an auto. Well I never ever realized it would be so difficult! I am even one of those girls that knows how to drive a stick and this was sooo much harder! Needless to say I got frustrated after about 40 seconds.
Tonight we had visitors from Delhi. My uncle from Delhi decided that he would make some north Indian food for us! I got to cook with him and learn how to make a real Indian meal, it was fabulous! We cooked Paneer with tomatoes and onion and peas and lots of spices. We also cooked north Indian rotis, and it was an awesome dinner. Now I know how to cook Briyani- south Indian, and a north Indian meal as well!

Posted by saraba at 05:54 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2007

Alexander the Great

As I talked about before, I am studying the social aspects of health care. While interviewing a few patients daily, trying to understand their beliefs about disease, I have also observed the Doctors, Nurses and other health care professionals care for patients; sadly, I have been less than impressed with the social care in general. Many people seem too methodological as if they are robots solely worrying about the treatment or medicinal task at hand. This general lack of social care can also be seen in the hospitals in the United States; fortunately, as in the U.S., there are individuals who go beyond the minimally required physical care.

Yesterday in the orthopedic ward, feeling a little disappointed about the doctors’ and nurses’ un-social way of practicing, my mood and the moods of the patients in the ward were suddenly brightened as doctor Alexander made his appearance. Never before have I felt goose bumps watching a doctor care for patients. Not only did he draw the patients in, but the staff suddenly started smiling and heading towards the doctor; everyone seemed attracted to his Patch Adams like charisma.

As Dr. Alexander began his work, he smiled at one patient, lifted him up, hummed a tune and started ball room dancing with him and his broken arm in front of the makeshift audience. He quickly sat him down after assessing and brightening his day and moved on to the next patient. He brought a walker to the man, lifted him out of bed, said “let’s go darling,” and began pulling him. Finishing his work, he slapped the old man on the arm as he left towards the next patient. Dr. Alexander messaged this patient’s shoulders while whispering a seemingly funny, inaudible comment to him. He checked the external fixation on the patient’s leg, slapped him on the arm, and continued to apply, with jester like flare, his playful palm on the patient’s butt; did I mention that this patient appeared depressed when I greeted him earlier in the day?

Dr. Alexander added the social touch to the required physical care, emotionally lifting each patient up as evidenced by their widened smiling faces; he probably earned more self-satisfaction than any of the health care professionals who just went through the motions. Not only have I witnessed his ‘greatness,’ but I have experienced it first hand.

When I was admitted into the casualty ward for acute gastroenteritis, he brought me cookies and a Kit Kat bar knowing that sweets would appease my uninterested taste buds. After I told him that the pharmacy didn’t have the last drug I needed, he even drove me to his friend’s pharmacy, or road side drug shop, in the little town a few kilometers away. The pharmacist in the shop asked me why I came to India, shook my hand and gave the drugs to me for free. I was overwhelmed by the giving spirit of both of these people.

Later when I talked to my male nurse friend of the casualty ward, I found out that they call Doctor Alexander ‘Alexander the great.’ Though solely treating patients is the norm of the profession, Dr. Alexander is known across the wards for his cheerfulness and sincere enjoyment of caring for patients. He even has his own clinic in a small village where the treatment is supposedly free. When I asked him why he is so cheerful, he said, “The best feeling in the world is seeing patients smile when I truly make them happy.”

Imagine if all doctors, nurses and other health care professionals cared for patients in this way. The patients would be more satisfied while recovering quicker. Health care professionals should model Dr. Alexander’s devotion to patient satisfaction. This type of care is holistic.

Day to day, I'm having a good time in the wards working with nice people like Dr. Alexander. Along with them, the inpatients of the orthopedics ward have become friends as we continue to talk.

Thank you for reading. Take Care.


Posted by caten at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2007

Hopkins and IRB Update

I rushed back from field to meet a very important foreign guest from America. A doctor from Johns Hopkins University from the department of Epidemiology was visiting to get an update on the research that John’s Hopkins school of Public Health is conducting through YRG Care. It was really exciting for me to sit in on some of the meeting because they were just brainstorming ideas for upcoming projects, such as micro financing ideas for female sex workers. After the meeting I talked with him and another professor from John’s Hopkins who is a University of Michigan graduate! They gave me some advice about my future and we talked about research, HIV, Public Health and my future study plans. They were really impressed that I had found YRG Care because their research is quality, and I told them how beneficial YRG Care has been for me in my field research experience.
Next I went to another branch of YRG Care to talk with some people about getting my project approved by IRB. I had lots of finite details to work out but I am ready to present my research study on HIV & Peer Influence of Female Commercial Sex Workers on Saturday. Since my study is so small, I only have 5 minutes to present my entire study… which should be interesting! I am nervous to present my research proposal to the people, but everyone is telling me not to worry. I am preparing everything this week because as soon as IRB is over I must start collecting my interview samples right away since I am leaving on July 10th!
Tomorrow I am attending a Chennai NGO meeting. NGO’s that deal with domestic violence and women’s rights issues will be present at the meeting. I will give an update after I see what its all about!

Posted by saraba at 07:40 AM | Comments (0)

Research Update at YRG Care

It’s been so long since I’ve written and I am greatly extending my apologies! It has been absolutely insane here in Chennai, the monsoon weather is moving in, rain everywhere, and crazy adventures working in the villages… it’s a mess!
I have been out of the office pretty much everyday recently trying to get in as much fieldwork experience as I can. The past 2 days I have been working in a village called Kothaval Chavadi in Seidapet. It is about 30 minutes from the office and to get there we have to walk through some crazy traffic filled streets, take a train (with separate men and women compartments), and then take an auto the remainder of the way. Just traveling there wares me out! I’ve been meeting with the community leaders in this community. YRG has trained about 11 participants to be domestic violence counselors; they go through 4 sessions of training to be a good resource to their community. After completing the 4 sessions they have graduation and are introduced to the entire community, we set up a counseling center for them and put them in touch with the local police station for their help if problems are larger scale. I met the women and male trained CPOLS, and we are currently conducting training for a few men who are now going through training.
For these members who are now being trained we must go to the village about 4 hours early to mobilize the participants. That means we go to each member’s house and spend time talking with him or her, their friends, family and get to know them on a personal level. We remind them of the meeting and tell when where to go and at what time. Some of the have phones so we could contact them this way, but it is important to be reaching many members of the community and meeting more people along the way so we need to actually be there spending time in the community. Since this community is made up of about 1000 –1500 people, it is small enough for us to meet much of the community.
There are other NGO’s working in this village as well, so we took time to help out with a after school learning session that many of the children attend. I helped the children with their English homework and taught them how to say various names of birds in English such as Ostrich and Blue Bird… this is what they are learning!
The next day I returned again to Kothaval Chavadi and the community members were very excited. They are always excited to see our team come into their community and helping them make lasting changes. Devan and James have established very good ties in this community, and this is what YRG is doing in 40 different villages all around Chennai. We conducted the 4th session today and so all the CPOLS in this community are trained. We touch on 5 different areas domestic violence, Physical, Mental, Economical, Sexual and Psychological. We give them the necessary information and told they need to talk with their community.
Today I will go to a different village to start meeting a new set of CPOLS and see the work that has been done in establishing domestic violence awareness groups and counselors in this village.
I also attended a presentation in a rural area of Chennai for the IAVI project (International AIDS Vaccine Initiative). We conducted a general presentation about HIV/AIDS and the virus, how it is spread, myths, the discoveries, treatment, and collected information from women who were interested in participating in the HIV vaccine Phase 2 trial. We are in need of 250+ participants and today we collected 6 potential volunteers after an entire day’s work… this is to give you an idea of how large schemed these types of projects are.
On the way back from the meeting we stopped for lunch and of course had every Tamilian’s favorite dish of byrini. They piled this plate about a foot high with byrinai; I don’t think I could see over the top. We were all eating silently and I looked up about 5 minutes later and all of the guys were finished. Anandan mumbled something in Tamil and the rest of them laughed. “Its going to take Sara more than an hour to finish” he said. First of all, I don’t like to eat fast, and secondly, eating with your hands is rather difficult!

Posted by saraba at 07:31 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2007

Sarah Leaves Udayan

Yesterday morning I left Udayan, and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. A couple of the kids were crying and they kept telling me not to go back to America, to stay with them. I didn't want to be one of the people in their lives that makes them cry, and I didn't want to be another person who walks out on them. Not to mention the fact that I will miss them like crazy. Through the heat and all the rest, Udayan became another home for me, and I felt like one of the family. Having left there, I feel there's no other reason for me to be in India anymore and the time to go home has truly come. When I'm home, I can tell people the kids' stories and share all the reasons why I love them so much. I don't know if I can ever fully explain how much they touched my life, but I will try. My flight leaves at midnight tonight and I'll be home Monday afternoon (your time). So, this adventure comes to a close and a new journey begins. But wherever I go, I think the kids of Udayan will go with me.

Posted by sarahsim at 12:32 AM | Comments (1)

June 20, 2007

Daily Routine

Thus far in my trip, I haven’t written about my research. What am I doing you may ask? To give you an idea, I will write about my typical day as well as what I have been exploring with my research.

Every day I come to the hospital as if I’m working here. I throw on my white shirt, tighten my black belt through my white pants and slip on my flip flops. The nursing supervisor wants me to fit the dress code of the nurses.

One of the wards I have been viewing and have stayed in on two occasions, because of my stomachs intolerance for the spicy food, is the casualty ward. Compared to an American hospital, it would be the emergency room. It is a large open room with twenty beds. The women are on one side and the men on the other.

Observing the health care professionals, the patients and their families, I have become a normal face of the ward. I come in and see the routine. The rounds are similar as they are in an American hospital, probably because the NRI directors’ ideas and sturdy backing, with doctors going patient to patient to check on their status while nurses primarily care for them.

Watching the ward, I have come to realize that there are always a number of family members and or friends with each patient. It often looks like a social gathering around each bed. Here it seems as though the families play a significant role in care, more than I’ve observed them playing in America, mostly adding to or supplementing the sometimes lacking social care. This theoretically coined phrase, ‘social care,’ is the part of treatment that goes beyond solely treating the patient’s physical disease or problem—it addresses the whole person in a ‘holistic’ way, touching the mind, body and spirit.

Treating the mind involves psychologically assessing and then comforting the patient to improve their outlook or issue. For the spirit, in the American setting, treatment involves talking with patients to see if they are spiritually sound. It can be seen mostly in end of life care when the patient may need closure in his beliefs. A pastor will come in and fulfill the patient’s needs whether it be praying or bringing in a different type of priest. When the body, mind and spirit are treated completely or holistically as one unit, the patient has the best chance to recover.

I came here to understand how this holistic way of treating patients, more specifically the spiritual domain, can be seen in this hospital setting. But it is often hidden. This idea seems to be in the back of the health care professional's mind. The holisitc approach makes sense in theory but it is not useful with each patient.

Trying to understand the general culture here, to frame how this holistic approach might tie into the westernized, more physical way of treatment, I have begun to understand the omnipresence of God and religion in many of these people's lives. The ideas of God tied to healing and health care with both Christians and Hindus, seem to be the same. As one doctor put it, “It is more about understanding cultural customs than it is about religion.” He continued to explain that in Indian people’s minds, uniform cultural customs dominate irrespective of religion.

One example I’ve seen is how a majority of the people I’ve surveyed, both Hindu and Christian, believe that God has a greater healing effect than physical medicine. The similar thought pattern is seen in people of both faiths; it may be part of a broader cultural belief. I’m exploring ideas like this one, through interviews and conversations, to understand health care here in a holistic way.

With these interviews, not knowing the language is tough—I think Theresa put it best in her blog posting, “…I am finally starting to realize that doing research without language skills is absolutely ludicrous.” Thankfully I have met a couple of people that are going to help me interview the patients for the last portion of my project.

As the day of observing, talking with people, and thinking about these ideas ends, I leave the hospital sometimes more confused than I came in. How can I make sense of these ideas? It is comical for me because I think I understand something only exploring it further to find out that I am off of the mark, misinterpreting the information completely. I guess this is part of my research, fumbling around to understand this hospital.


As I mentioned, I landed back in the casualty ward for the second time with acute gastroenteritis. The spicy food is just too good for me to resist. Maybe next time I will take some tums. Thankfully the nurses took care of me and made me feel at home just as they do when I'm there observing.

Other than the first hand patient experiences, I’m enjoying my time. Thank you for reading my update.

Take Care,

Posted by caten at 01:56 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2007

Sarah's Continuing Adventures at Udayan

I can hardly believe that I only have a week left here in India, and now that the time is coming to leave, I don't know how I will be able to leave these kids. I have truly fallen in love with them. Not to mention the people here. Last week, ELysia and I went to stay with Auntie, who takes care of the younger kids at Udayan, and everyone was so welcoming and accepting. We went to see some of her friends, and one of them took us on a tour of his house and kept offering us all this food. They grow mangos in their yard and they made us a mango shake. Now, I don't normally like mangos, but this tasted so fresh and delicious. A girl about my age wants us to hang out with her this weekend, as we are here in Jaipur hanging out with Rajan, our tourguide from the first week. Tomorrow we will go see Narengi's house. She also works with the kids and she wants us to meet her parents. I have had the chance to speak to Jaimala again and I've learned a lot more about some of the kids and how things work around here. I had my doubts at first, but the more I'm here the more I see how amazing it is. Last night Elysia and I had a big water fight with Manju, Omprakash, Narengi, Madan, Deepak and Manju's niece and nephew. I had my hair washed during that little charade for the second time in an hour. It was awesome. All those people I just mentioned are workers at the orphanage, except for the niece and nephew who are just there to visit. Elysia and I made a birthday card with the kids to give to Jaimala, and they all love her so dearly. It's inspiring to see. I bought Jumangi in Hindi to watch with the kids, and I'm pretty sure it was a hit, both with the older and the younger kids. It feels good to see an American film, even if it's in a different language. Every time we come to Jaipur we go to Pizza Hut for a small taste of home. I have been so homesick this entire time, wanting to see the people and eat a bunch of food, but now that I have a week here, I am sad to leave. I really love the kids and I love spending time with them. I want to do as much as I can for them--even if it's just to give them a band-aid so they feel their pain is worthwhile to someone. And my goodness, do I love making them smile. When one seems sad or feels left out, I love letting them know that I noticed and I refuse to leave them alone until I make them smile. Sometimes it's a challenge, but with kids like little Muskaan, all I have to do is say "Muskaaaaan, give me a smile." Or I sing the Batman theme to her, saying Muskaan instead of Batman. She's so jolly it's hard for her to stay sad for a long while. I'm so excited to share what I've learned with everyone at home, and also excited to show you all the pictures I've taken (which is a lot). I want to tell you every reason I have for loving each kid, and I want you to know the challenges I've faced, though I still consider this trip to be an adventure. But I don't want to lose the bonds I've made with the kids and the people here. I will miss bargaining at the market, even though when I came here I thought I'd never have the courage to do it. I'll miss the kids drawing me pictures. TOday I recieved a whole pile, and I plan to bring them home and show them off a whole bunch. Don't worry, you will see them all, one by one. I have learned here that I can be with a kid for more than five minutes without feeling awkward, which is so important to me. I found hot chocolate at the market last week, so now I don't feel left out when all of the adults have their morning coffee or chai. We've bonded with all the people who we thought hated us at the beginning, and that makes it a lot more fun. What else...yes, regardless of how much I'm loving it here now, I still miss and love everyone at home so much. I keep thinking about coming back every day. And it will be a bonus not to be stared at everywhere I go. I have decided to stay an extra week at Udayan instead of travelling my last week here because I'm just not ready to go yet. BUt now the countdown begins, and I know my flight with be here before I know it. I want to write one more time, and I think I will have a chance. So keep your emails coming because I haven't stopped wondering about what's going on at home. Stay cool.
Much love,

Posted by sarahsim at 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2007

'Let's Eradicate Polio'

Last Sunday I decided to go with the second and fourth year nursing students to Guntur, the next closest city to the NRI Academy of the Sciences. Because there were two cases of polio in the city, every child needed to be inoculated. At first I was afraid to ditch my church going friend remembering how he said that God is always the first priority, but I decided that meeting some locals and relaxing might be a nice change from the last week. After telling some of the nursing students that I would go, I found out that the departure time was planned at 5:30 a.m.; my sleep would have to wait.

When we got to the little clinic in a smaller village on the edge of the main city, I was transfixed to the beautiful people and their morning activities. I walked up to the cinder block wall to see a young woman crouched down in front of her house spreading salt in patterns to protect her house. It was nice to see the traditional custom. I found out that it is called muggu.

After I learned about the artsy salt designs, I looked up through the divine neem plant/tree, to see the same woman now on top of her house. The rising sun shed its light around her as she spread washed sari after sari over the edge of her roof. The bright, lengthy fabric seemed to extend past her arms halfway down the side of the house forming a colorful mosaic as she placed each partly on top of the other. Never seeing anything like the two morning chores, I was hooked on observing these locals.

Once inside, all of the students picked up their polio-drop shoulder cases and went to the bus. Dropping groups of four off at a time, I watched all of these students, without complaint, prepare to service their community on their only day off of the week. It was a humbling sight.

It wasn’t just the fact that the students were servicing the community that made me feel unworthy of ever documenting my community service hours, with the thought of documentation never surfacing in these students’ minds, but it was the fact that everyone did this out of a pure caring mindset. It has more to do with their cultural custom of caring for the group.

Most of the people that these students meet turn into friends and are “treated like God.” As one doctor friend put it, in Indian tradition, whether the person is a Hindu or a Christian, there is an imbedded cultural practice that God is in everyone and therefore everyone must be treated like God. I don’t know if this is a true belief held by the entire population, but thus far I have seen it.

Guests are also treated like God. Shelu, a new friend that was posted with me, wanted to show me an Indian house. Walking up to a random house, she stepped over the cement collecting drainage gutter, which can be seen all over the village and the parts of this state that I’ve seen, and she began talking with a woman inside of the open door. I didn’t understand what was said, but we took our sandals off, walked in and looked over the first room.

In the room, the kitchen, a woman lie on the bare tiled floor. Burners were connected to a propane tank and many other kitchen accessories were scattered in their various spots. A large cotton wrapped material that was connected at two opposite ends of the ceiling, hung, drooping down in the center in front of us; I found out later that it is their baby's hammock. I smiled at the woman holding her baby and we continued into the next room. I was a bit surprised to see a T.V. displaying a black and white program. Shelu told me that it is common in the middle class Indian house. Glancing into the third room of the house, I saw an old sewing machine with lots of materials lying around. Shelu told me, “The woman is a seamstress.”

Coming back out of the room, I noticed another woman, two more kids and an older lady. I was surrounded by smiles. Continuing ten more feet back into the kitchen, one woman without the baby pulled out two plastic chairs for Shelu and I to sit in. Joining all of us, another man, the first woman’s husband, appeared in the door way with a little boy at his side. He quickly took the plate that rested on top of the water jug off and he scooped us up a glass of water as the older woman came out with a coconut based sweet for Shelu and I. I was flattered. These strangers treated us better than I have been treated by certain long known friends.

The conversation consisted of few words, but the smiles and looks said it all. It was hard for me to sit there, eat their food and drink their water without being able to ask them about their family and lives in general. All I said was: “Bagunara” and “Bojunum chesara?” This means, “how are you? Have you finished your lunch?” I probably could have said a few more phrases to them, but I was blown away by their blind hospitality and I couldn’t seem to pull any more words from my memory. After a few more minutes of smiling at them, we got up, thanked them many times and joined the little kids on our way back to the school house.

Walking back, I was ecstatic. I talked so much about the friendly family that I wasn’t as nervous about walking and talking with Shelu through the conservative area. Girls and boys walking and talking at the Academy of the Sciences is one thing, probably tolerated more in part because of the NRI (American in these cases) youth’s mentality, but in a village where woman mostly stay indoors, it could be seen as unorthodox. Shelu was not reluctant while she talked, as another girl was when a tutor (teacher) walked by at the college, which affirmed that we were alright to continue on.

As the twelve hour day continued, there were many slow parts, but they were never dull. The little boys would come up to me, smile and say ‘hi older brother,’ except in the Telugu form, as well as “Chris, Chris!” In the afternoon, the boys brought me a little bag of corn puffs, then a locally made layered sweet dripping with honey, then a napkin full of different wheat flower based sweets. I didn’t know what to say, except, “Thank you tammudu,” which means thanks little brother. My stomach was full, but I kept eating the food because they were giving me gifts, showing their affection towards me. I didn’t have anything to give them except for a fun time running around. We finished the evening off by playing a tag like game.

Leaving the little village, as the kids waved to us and chased the bus, I felt horrible as if the day was incomplete. I didn’t give the kids anything of mine. I wished that I would have brought some pennies, quarters or something that I could have given them to remind them of the day we had, but I had nothing. All I could do was hope that they would remember me; I knew I would remember them.

It was quite a day learning about Indian culture, talking with friends and playing with the kids. Waking up at 5:00 A.M. on Sunday was more than worth it. Thank you for reading.


Posted by caten at 12:54 AM | Comments (1)

June 06, 2007


I can’t believe its already June. Where does the time go? The first week the time seemed to pass by so slowly, but now it has taken off. The past couple of days I have been trying to get my saree blouses from the tailor, but she is being quite unprofessional. Everyday I talk to her she says, tomorrow they will be ready, in a few hours, maybe I’ll bring them in the morning… this has been going on for the past 2.5 weeks and I am really starting to get impatient!
I wore a saree to work the other day for the first time and it was quite the event. All the ladies have been asking me everyday when I am going to wear a saree, and so they were overwhelmed with joy when I finally did!
Everyone here are workaholics. They arrive early in the morning and some of them do not finish until after 10pm with their field work. They have time to go home for dinner, some of them take over 1.5 hours to travel to their home, and then go to sleep to start it all over again. I can’t imagine having that life forever, and many of them do not feel like they are making nearly enough to support even themselves. But as for me, I feel like I am turning into one of them for these couple months! The longer I am here, the later my hours get, the more consumed with work I am. But I am loving it, I have never felt this passionate about anything in my life, and I just cannot stop focusing on the projects! Last night I was here until after 7pm doing some translating for a survey we are distributing, and even though it was getting late, I was hungry and tired, I still was excited to be working on my project. I was rewarded on the way out with some milk tea, it was a great end to my evening at work.
When I finally arrived home Beaula was waiting for me. Beaula is a woman from our church who is sewing for a living. Her husband is not working, and this is the only way that she can make a living. Her and her mother were waiting so she could stitch some fabrics for me. She is such a beautiful girl, and I am so excited to have some fabrics made especially for me. It’s a pretty cool concept that many people do not get to experience back home.
The family I am living with has adoped a child who was an orphan through the tsunami. Little Jonas lost his mother and father and brother Roy came across him when he was doing some relief work after the event. They took him in and he is adorable and a complete spaz at the same time! This kid is crazy, he gets into everything, write on the couches and walls, runs into the street, dances on the glass table, sticks things in electrical outlets, climbs out the windows, I mean… you name it and he has done it! But at the same time you cannot get mad at him because he is just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. I took care of him last night for a while and we had a grrrrrreat time!
I’m getting ready to go to Delhi tomorrow to visit Theresa! I am so pumped, everytime we talk its like we have tons and tons to catch up on so it will be an awesome weekend to chill, explore, and relax. On Monday I am going to visit a children’s home in Delhi that my family here also started so I am looking forward to that as well. So update to everyone that will be emailing… I will be out of the office until the 12th, so you must call if you want to get a hold of me!

Posted by saraba at 03:30 AM | Comments (0)


I am not sure if I put up the current site for my pictures so I wanted to do so!

~Sara Baumann

Posted by saraba at 03:09 AM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2007

Sarah's Adventures in Childcare

Wow. The time here goes by quite quickly, but I'm learning a great deal about these children. They have so much to offer me, and I hope I can offer the same to them. Emotionally, some days are rough. Seeing a child cry or endure illness without a mom or a dad is difficult for me. But I keep reminding myself how lucky they are to have found Udayan and that this is the best place for them if they have no parents or if their parents are incapable of caring for them. I'm also learning more about where some of the kids came from and how they ended up at Udayan. Some of them have been through so much and deserve all the love and care they can get. One of the kids here saw his mother strangled to death by his uncle and another saw his mother raped. Many of them have survived abuse, violence, and life on the streets at a young age. The oldest girls here are 14 and 16 and you would never guess by interacting with them as they are so mature. Yet, I can tell they still have a lot of little girl in them, which is refreshing. I'm warming up more and more to the kids every day and I find myself falling in love with them. When they cry, I fight not to cry--at least until I get back to my room by myself. The other volunteers and I have been stuck out of Jaipur for a week or so due to tension among castes and some rioting. The trouble moved to Achrol, which is the town about two kilometers from the orphanage. In the night, Raaj and I heard gunshots. But sleeping under the stars calmed my fears and stresses, as it tends to do. I started having some conversations with the founder of the orphanage today so that I can learn as much as I can before I go. Speaking to her firsthand is such a priviledge as her passion shines from her every pore when she speaks. I learned so much from her before I even had the opportunity to speak with her one on one. THis morning Elysia and I made French Fries for everyone to eat for breakfast (I dont know. That's when we were told to make them...). THey turned out quite well and it was nice to have a taste of home. Since Jaimala (the founder) was here for a visit today, the kids got the chance to play games all day long. It was so much fun. THey all cheered each other on and clapped for everyone, even those who came in last. THeir enthusiasm is amazing. Elysia and I were involved in the Tug of War, and my goodness, I forgot how that takes it out of you. The kids were given toffees as prizes, and they are insane about candy. They love it so much, but some of the little girls gave me pieces of their candy, even though they only had a few. The children and so gracious and courtious. THey'll give up a chair for you and help you if you lose your way. I love being around them and I spend more time with them this day than the day before. Their affection is addicting and it makes me want to dish out more and more. Homesickness continues to plague me, but I find things to comfort me along the way--though it doesn't make me miss the people I love any less. Everything is so hard here, but I'm starting to feel the rewards of those trials. When I make one of the kids smile or laugh, I'm filled with joy. When I come home I will have to share pictures and stories with all (please expect me to be talking about this trip for at least 294 days). I will write more when I can. I think I'll be in Jaipur this Saturday and I'll pop into an internet cafe if I can. Again, thanks so much for words of encouragement and for hellos. Anything from home makes the trip that much easier. I miss everyone a great deal, and I hope to hear from you soon/to write more soon.
Sarah :)

Posted by sarahsim at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2007

“Leave this country. You have created a mass wave of tension.”

Seriously! Everywhere I go/am going. As you may know, this coming week I intended to visit Ranthambhore Reserve, and work with the Dastkar women’s group there and their craft shop. With the roads blocked and unpredictable violence it is now unsafe for me to go.


But here’s the deal. Because I extended my stay in India until June 29 to do some traveling after my project is completed, I have some wiggle room. I will take the next week to travel elsewhere, yet to be determined, and hope that in this time the conflict eases. I really hope it does because there is another group I wanted to visit recommended to me by both Dastkar and the Ford Foundation, SEWA Mandir in Udaipur. If not, I may reconsider the trip I had to cancel due to the Sikh riots in the Punjab. This tour would allow me to observe the process of governmental microfinancing. Rajasthan tour would be a lesson in private ventures and self-help group finance.

Though I am in Mussoorie for an extended weekend “vacation” I’ve also been able to do some work here. I visited a local compound where people from the lowest poor classes are living. Many of the women who live here do knit-work in addition to their domestic duties which they sell to local middleman for export or retail. The women are paid by weight for the work they do. My rough calculations put their wage at 4 rupees per hour. That’s about 10 CENTS per hour. My god. Working with Dastkar has helped me understand the larger process of production and marketing. These women may as well be totally unskilled. Their handwork is decent, but easily replicated by machines. Furthermore, they do not have access to quality raw material at reasonable rates. The middleman provides the yarn. He has access to the market and raw material in the ways these women don’t.

Another barrier the women have in reaching the market is the absence of a retail space. The women could never come up with the capital to start their own shop. I am not aware of NGO presence here and as far as governmental assistance, the women have ZERO faith in any governmental ventures. In 1994 the political party in power, threatened in their sovereignty, decided to vie for two separate states, now Uttaranchal and Uttrakhand. The poor supported this split and many died thinking that they would receive the benefits the party tempted them with. Healthcare and pensions for the old are nothing more than phantom dreams that haunt these suffering people.

Another factor that is difficult to overcome in vending garments, one of the most important variables in the sale, is the style and design of the piece. The women have no idea how to cater to current market tastes. They are not privy to information regarding design and development so catering to a market with ever-changing product preferences, oftentimes reliant on fickle global trends, is impossible for them.

They want me to help them export. ???.

In other news, I am finally starting to realize that doing research without language skills is absolutely ludicrous. I have used at least 6 translators since arriving here. My interviews and tours are totally reliant on their understanding of my project as well as their own methods of communication. One time I asked a question to be translated and the translator just answered it instead of allowing the interviewee to speak! So I started Hindi lessons yesterday and will have two more hours of one-on-one practice today. After my short-sighted attempt to learn tone-sensitive Mandarin, learning to speak Hindi is a piece of cake.

Posted by tvanderm at 02:57 AM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2007

just a few.

She is checking her cell phone. We are roaring down a road so packed and polluted with people and smog that the street corner a block away is invisible. Her little scooter weaves in and out of traffic; she doesn’t even seem to be guiding it, preoccupied with her latest text message. I am clenching her shoulders, a little scared but also entertained at the ridiculous places I seem to end up and the possibility of such an absurd death; if this is how my life is to end I expect a full campaign insisting on the end of scooter texting.


My $150 purse is touching the bathroom floor. I am touching the floor. There is a cockroach watching me. I feel guilty for owning $150 purse. The majority of India could live on this for half a year. I am a bad person. Using this toilet is my penance.


“What time is dinner?” I ask them. Neeru translates for Jogi and Jogi answers back. They keep talking. Jogi shakes her head and Neeru’s language suddenly boosts a few decibels. Jogi’s eyebrows raise, their voices both lower. They keep talking. They stop, shaking their heads.

“So what did you guys talk about?” I ask.

“Nothing,” she says. There is silence.
I still don’t know what time dinner is.

Posted by tvanderm at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

Stream of consciousness.

In the dregs of Dastkar’s library I turned page after page until the tips of my fingers became black with dust. Belatedly discovering this treasure trove, I feverishly absorbed as much information as I could in my last few hours at the office this week; I was preparing for a trip to the Dastkar shop that works specifically with a women’s crafts group near Ranthambhore Reserve, in Rajasthan. The library shelves are full with annual reports, conference summaries from a gamut of social causes, and extra copies of educational media printed about crafts, bazaars, and even other NGOs. For now I am appreciating the scenery of this train ride; I am headed to northern hill-station town Mussoorie following an invitation by friends. Thus far I have received multiple warnings to take care of myself and be wary of the cool weather. I remind these “Aunties” that if anything this will be closer to my natural habitat, noting it snowed for the last time two weeks before my departure to India.

There are some distinct mars in the landscapes we pass. Mingled amongst the trees and in the distance beyond green pastures and golden fields are tall, circular stacks that raise high into the skyline. Black fumes respire from their coal-stained mouths. With little productivity to be seen, no other dependent buildings in sight. I wonder to what end the monsters compromise our air, land, and water.

Today I read in the Hindustan Times that a recent study from the U.S. found that really friendly people, or antagonistic ones, tend to sleep around more. It cracks me up to see this article comprises the input of news from the U.S.

On the way to the station I saw a dog chasing a monkey through the streets. This was almost as cool as when an elephant nonchalantly walked by my window as I checked my mail in a local internet café. Now if I can just find one to ride…

Embedding yourself in a foreign cultural system isn’t just about learning on an interpersonal microlevel. I find myself utterly confused about how economic and social systems work on a macro scale. I am totally clueless to how legislature actually comes to pass here. So often we rely on the government to regulate and protect us, but what if the basic premise of a governmental system is flawed? Also in the Hindustan Times was a picture of melting Mt. Everest. In just forty years the state of the world has been irrevocably compromised, beyond repair in our lifetimes. I actually am quietly terrified that we are destroying the planet and our futures. The people who have the resources to care don’t because they can easily navigate around the destruction. Can you really “be the change” and take private taxis everywhere? Can you “be the change” and eat at world-renowned luxury restaurants that import half of the foods found in the kitchen? I feel guilty.

Additionally, I am confused about the reality of state-to-state relationships, the consequences of Western media on developing and malleable worlds, and the essential contributions of globalization to the state of humanity and the planet.

Any answers?


PS. THERE IS NOW CONFLICT IN RAJASTHAN. First the Punjab, now this! Updates to come.

Posted by tvanderm at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)