I want to go back.

It has been challenging to really identify an organization I’d like to intern/work for in the near future. It’s hard to always say whether an organization is working towards addressing the structures or the symptoms of poverty and inequalities. There are some interventions that are clearly Band-Aids, who are just providing alleviation through monetary resources or services, but there are also interventions that become muddy in their mission.  I say this because I believe there are good-hearted people out there that start interventions with the purpose of really changing the structures of inequalities, by aiming to truly empower individuals or communities through trainings or education on the system that oppresses them but then are often blocked by the constraints that society opposes on them. This reality of society is hard to overcome, which drains people and discourages, diverting them from their main purpose.  Nelson Mandela brings up the point that his and his inmates’ survival depended on understandings on what the authorities were attempting to do to them and sharing that understanding with each other. This is empowering and in our society, the oppressed must act this way as well and become conscious of what the oppressor’s purpose is in order to becomes ones that won’t fall under that trap and won’t be controlled by outsiders to later need their bandages.

 

That sounds ideal, but oppression, segregation, racism and all other odds against equality of all human rights are so deeply embedded that it makes not needing bandages a difficult one.  Malcom X in 1964, sounded very optimistic saying they were no longer going to turn the other cheek against all the domination of the white-man and it has obviously become a continuous struggle where Band-Aids have become the to-do thing for various reasons. In the case of my practice experience, I can interpret the intervention absolutely being a Band-Aid. It provided vaccinations and food to families. But because it was a prototype intervention that was being tested, it automatically can be seen as a Band-Aid to that community.  And when we think of Band-Aids we can also think of the well known quote, “something is better than nothing” or Laura Beck’s comment, “We must focus on what we can fix right now”; those women participating in Health of Urban Poor, received their vaccinations and received food for their families, and most importantly and closest to attacking the actual root of poverty, received education about healthier practices, empowering them to hopefully pass that on.  But looking at the bigger picture, the mission of Health of the Urban Poor was never really addressed. The poor infrastructures that contribute to poor health in those communities were never addressed or worked on for improvement. The policies that segregate those communities were not addressed. The way people of those communities think about open defecation, as what their ancestors have practiced for hundreds of generations, weren’t changed. There are several factors in which contribute to what Paul Farmer refers to as biosocial reality. Reflecting on my experience, I can see there was a biosocial reality of course that’s not to say that the outsiders decisions doesn’t play a role in it, but it was obvious that practices and or beliefs of the community members were part of their practices that often times weren’t the most hygienic or most healthiest.

 

I can’t help but admit that when I give someone who is hungry a bite to eat, I feel satisfaction. Or when I help someone with the littlest thing to move forward onto the next step to where they are heading, I feel good inside. I can’t explain why I feel this way but I know that I too have been on the other side, where there have been times where I desperately need a boost to get over a fence or a push to get onto the next step to where I’m going and it’s helped me to keep going and move forward whether that be a loan in money, a ride somewhere, or also a bite to eat when I’ve been stranded somewhere without food. I know these things are not on the same level of bandaging extreme poverty related issues but I like Laura Beck, also believe that structures should be addressed, but that doesn’t mean symptoms cannot be. I can agree with others that say addressing structures are of higher importance, but also think that while getting there, band-aids can be placed. From this I can see how missions of interventions that plan to attack oppressor’s structures can come out of focus, but presently in the moment, how can one not help with symptoms if the opportunities are there? Hopefully through my writing you can see that I stand in the middle of this because it is hard to say realistically what my motivations are related to. I can say that of course I would love to work towards changing the structure, but it is a difficult task and I wouldn’t want to become over critical of those who are addressing the symptoms, because if I were to, I would most likely bury myself in anger and frustration as I watch at least some individuals get a boost, or a push in a better direction.

Fast Pace Living Put This On The Back Seat

I’ve been back in the U.S. for 2 months where a huge part of what keeps me reflecting on my India experience is my Global Poverty & Practice Minor reflective course. I’d like to add that it’s doing a pretty darn good job at it. It’s strange how time just keeps flying, we go about doing our previous daily routines or embark in new ones and things just…keep moving. My experience in India stamped a memory inside of me, but getting caught in our typical American fast paced life, my experience took a back seat and of course it shouldn’t be that way. I deeply care about this issues of poverty and I am grateful for this minor program that will enable me to spend a whole semester course reflecting on my experiences as well as learn about the experiences of others who also worked locally, domestically or internationally. I’m excited to see where it takes me.

 

Something I often reflect upon, something I cannot radically change, is the caste system I witnessed while in India. I’ve talked about this before in my previous blogs. And brining that back to a more local realm, I can compare India’s caste system to U.S.’s continuing issues with racism or even classism. Many experience much of this everyday, not knowing what side of it we are actually on as it is embedded in us quite deeply.

 

When I got returned from India, I went on a cruise with my siblings and my brother’s girlfriend to Alaska. This was our first cruise, something that we couldn’t help but feel guilty about. We touched the topic on how we felt guilty spending that amount of money on such a trip, where it was aimed for us to experience complete relaxation, comfort, and if I may, what seemed like royal treatment. We were obviously not use to such a thing. A week full of not doing our own beds, unlimited food, not having to deal with our dishes, not having to deal with cleaning of any sort, had towel animals made for us every night, and as ridiculous as it sounds, having the corner of our bed sheets pulled back ready for us to jump right in every night. “People live like this everyday”, my sister pointed out. I won’t say it wasn’t enjoyable, but I will say it made me reflect much deeper. We’d quietly analyze the behavior of many passengers on the cruise; a strong sense of entitlement seemed to have been a theme, which had us critiquing it several times. Why do we act in such rude and mean ways towards others, not only on this ship, but also everywhere else?

 

Our minds are set onto a face paced setting, where all we care about are ourselves and those closest to us… but are people truly happy? I would argue that many are not, actually a vast majority are not. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my own these past few weeks, where I walk and look to a person when walking past them and I get nothing. No smile, no hello, no eye-contact, no nothing. I sit on the grass in the middle of campus, and here too I hardly notice people smiling but instead a huge absence of people reflecting happiness. We need some sort of transformation where it perhaps starts with how we live our own lives, which might trigger a change in the way we interact with others.

 

One last story before I end this: Yesterday as I walked out of my apartment in Berkeley, a predominantly private area where mainly neighborhood residents use the pathway in front of my apartment, I noticed what seemed like a homeless man sitting on that path talking to himself. I said hello and continued my path, unable to avoid the thought ‘this is first time I see homeless person up here.’ This morning as I was getting ready to leave, I saw him through the window walking down that same path in a hurry with the same clothes on from yesterday. I felt an instant impulse to give him some food of some sort but he was long gone. When I returned home earlier today, I again saw him walk down the same path through the window. Without thinking twice I ran to my room and grabbed 3 Clif bars and walked outside as quickly as possible. I suddenly had this feeling of fear, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘will I offend him by giving him this food?’ As I walked down the path, I noticed he was squatting on the path as if defecating. He looked up and saw me and he quickly pulled up his pants. As I got closer, I noticed it was a women. She was truly embarrassed and I could see it in her face but I acted as if nothing happened, simply saying hello. I then said, “I saw you walking down here and wanted to know if you wanted these bars?” She asked, “What are they?” I responded, “Some Clif bars; snack bars. Would you like them?” She said, “Sure, yes, thank you.” I set them on her bag, which was closer to me than her at the moment and asked her for her name. She told me her name and asked me for mine. We both smiled, and I told her to have a nice day as I walked away. The feeling that this caused me is something I want to experience more often. Sure, we can see today’s incident as small scaled, but getting a glimpse of that feeling makes me hungry for more.

 

I hope to see her around. I’d really like to get to know her. 

A Continuous Challenge

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Two little boys stand in front of their home just off the side of the main road. 

It’s all coming to an end quite quickly. I’ve been able to see different aspects of this NGO, have experienced the local’s taste in places and foods, have interacted with different people and overall have had a great time. Last week I spent a lot of time going through my interview footage of MAS members and Link Workers with a local who helped translate them for me.  It was challenging and took us a while as he struggled to come up with the right phrases since English and Hindi are so different. I’m actually still working on them, taking longer than I thought. I would have to say this has been the most tedious part of this project, but also the most important. I hope to get it translated as precise as possible since I’ve been a witness of crappy subtitles and I wouldn’t want to do that. It’s been very nice to finally know, more or less, what they were really saying. Before this, I only had a sense of what they were saying, since I asked the questions. I think I talked a bit about MAS members in one of my earlier posts. They’re basically groups of women that belong to a slum and are dedicated to help mobilize their communities. They divide the households among themselves so that they’re each in charge of 4-6 homes per person. Each of them pay daily visits to their assigned households, advise them, make them aware of resources, schemes and events HUP put’s on for their communities. I can say more, but instead am excited to share my video with you all once I’m down with it. There, you will get the breakdown of it all. So stay tuned!

For now, I can say there is a lot of politics involved, just like anything else. It’s sad. It seems like government schemes are there to help the poor, but the implementation is where it fails. There is a lack of monitoring, people looking out only for themselves, and no one really taking on the responsibility since much of organizations like these are grant based and therefore it’s progress advances at a very slow pace. On the other hand, it’s also a challenge for the people of the slum communities to adapt to these “new” ways of health care and sanitation. So in a sense, there is a lack of cooperation from both ends. Many of these urban poor come from rural areas where their parents and grandparents never got immunizations, so they think, “Why should we?” Open defecation is another issue that contributes to the unhygienic factor and also something that is very difficult to change. Many of the urban poor live in a single-room home jam-packed among surrounding homes, where is there room for a bathroom? On top of that, they believe the bathroom should be away from the home, most definitely not inside of it. How can this be dealt with? I interviewed a doctor, and in my opinion, was on the right tract when he said we needed more than just health officials in these slums to help alleviate the health challenges. Public Health officials, politicians, psychologist, economists, architects all need to work together to make things happen.

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Another thing that I must touch on is that this organization is going to disappear soon. Apparently it was created to form a model for the government and based on numbers, the government will choose to take it up or not. This is frustrating for me because I think, what will happen to these people now once all these incentive events disappear? This project is basically just an “experiment” and the people here are basically lab rats. I realize that’s an awfully strong statement but it’s how I feel. Many of us know it happens often. People go in, change the ways of the people and then leave not really considering how these people originally felt. Programs like these are to document numbers and build a reputation.  Even during the construction of my script for my documentary, I was told to leave things out. The purpose for them of my project was to show what HUP has done. I would have loved to focus more on the things that aren’t working. How annoying. At least I can say that I, personally gained valuable knowledge. I guess this is what I meant when I said I wanted to learn about how the NGO’s worked behind the scenes.

I don’t want to end this on a bad note. Like I’ve said in previous posts, I’m impressed by India. I’m impressed with the people of the slums and their big hearts. It makes happy to be around them, to see their excitement when I take their picture. I appreciate their hospitality when they welcome me into their small homes and offer me tea. I like sitting on the floor with them. I like the kids following me around calling me “Didi” as they smile non-stop. It’s contagious.

A man from the state department I met last week approached me as I was interacting with women of the slums. He asked, “how is it that you communicate with these women if you don’t speak Hindi?” I responded, “with smiles, body language and hand gestures we understand each other.”

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“Didi” is used when referring to your older sister. That’s what these kids call me. 

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Without the help of Rahul, my documentary wouldn’t have been possible. Cheers to good people!

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Renu, a Cluster Coordinator and is in charge of leading MAS meetings throughout several slums.

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A 5 year old bathes her 4 year old sister. 

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A mother breast feeding her child. What a beauty. 

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Amazing smiles. Amazing children. Amazing spirits. 

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This young girls sits here for a large part of her day, selling scraps of wood. 

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My first time wearing a sari, what an experience! Here i am standing with award winning Link Worker and MAS members for an event held last weekend dedicated to sharing the bigger picture to all 500+ MAS members and Link Workers. Awards were given to those that have been most organized and effective. 

Thoughts and More

My 4th week of my internship is coming to an end and I feel as if my thoughts are spinning with excitement along with confusion. We tend to ask why does poverty exist? And that can be a whole discourse with various reasons depending on who is presenting them. Why is life so unfair to some? And that too can involve a whole set of definitions of “unfair”.

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I saw a man last week next to the road, where his home was surrounded by huge bags of garbage and dirty empty containers. His house was no more than a bunch of tarps and cardboard over some wooden logs, his and his family’s bed was a simple empty sack layed on the dirt.  Now, I’ve seen many of these structures while I’ve been here, but this time was different for me. This time my translator, the cluster coordinator I was with, and I walked up to the man sitting on his bed and asked him how he was doing. He looked incredibly sad, a face not yet seen here since most people are full of smiles and vibrant eyes.  Prior to this encounter my thoughts were going on the track of ‘mo money mo problems’, people seemed happy in these slums. Sure, they don’t have the resources or commodities we have back home, but they seem content with what they have, they make it work. But at this moment, this didn’t apply anymore. This man who usually eats scraps or food given to him had not eaten in two days.  The sadness that his face carried also included the fact that he was a father to three daughters, something considered in this area as a social burden.  Having daughters instead of sons means you have to marry them off and pay for everything too. It’s definitely a huge weight on their backs if you see it from their perspective, especially coming from an extremely low caste. As he spoke to my translator in a soft voice, I reached into my backpack remembering that I had the food Pooja’s mom had packed for me.  When I gave it to him, tears automatically rolled down his check, something that initiated tears in mine. It was hard not to cry.  I didn’t exchange words with him, I didn’t even touch him, yet he provoked a huge emotion in me in just a couple minutes. As I got into the car, the tears continued to slowly come down. Why couldn’t I stop crying? I felt hopeless, thinking back to my initial attitude coming here knowing that I wasn’t coming here to change anything. This world is too messed up to cause a good dent in it.

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Ok, I’m exaggerating on that last point. But still, I had a whole mixture of thoughts: Why do the poor suffer the most? Do the poor suffer the most? The poor I’ve met thus far have been the most humble and genuine people around; so giving and loving with amazing hospitality, offering so much to a stranger without expectations for anything in return. Those thoughts only triggered more thoughts. Is there a scale to measure suffering? Why do people practice inequality among humans? Why does this caste structure exist? Why do things not make sense to me? Can’t people just have good hearts and be nice and help each other out? Ok- that one was a little too romantic. But why are some people so greedy, or so religious, often times putting money into things that don’t help the well being of human kind? Who are they to practice inequality among their own kind? Who are we, who do the same thing back home? Who am I to think this? Geez, and my thoughts just go on and on….

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Below is a 5yr old girl washing the dishes for her family.

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Below is a picture of a women who has gone to retrieve water from a water tank which comes twice a day, for one hour only. The water arrives clean, but then has high chances of becoming contaminated as it gets into dirty buckets or is left in opened containers.

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Below I’m standing with Deepika (center), who was forced to marry at the age of twelve. She had her first child at the age of 13, and now at the age of 20 she has 4 children and plans to have no more, using an IUD which the HUP programs have suggested to use. Next to her is Mumtah, an enthusiastic Link Worker who visits the homes in her assigned area of the slums, counseling women and advising that they attend the HUP events.

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Digging Deeper

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I can easily say I have an abundance of love in my life. Lots of good love mutually exchanged with my parents, Abuelita, siblings, boyfriend, best friends and several of my extended family members. I feel that for me, life is good and life is worth appreciating.  When I was young, I grew up with basic commodities, never really going out for pleasure since we were a family of eight (my parents, my 4 siblings, myself and my grandmother), but never ever lacking basic needs. I’ve known this all along. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t well off. We were fine. Today, I see myself as being blessed. Lucky to be born where I was and lucky to be born into the family to which I belong to.

Getting involved more in my internship has truly invited me to become a critic of my own life and my way of thinking. I came here to witness poverty and poverty intervention and so far, this has allowed me to make direct connections with my life. People ask me, “How do you like India? And my response now is, “I like it.”  Never had I seen so much going on all at once. I’m talking about masses of cars maneuvering around each other, honking endlessly with no one getting upset because that’s just how they do here. I’m talking about hundreds of people walking on the streets, bicycles riding right next to two wheelers or big busses, three-wheel bikes hauling hundreds of bricks and various other material for who knows how many kilometers, donkeys trotting along the street, cows, goats, camels, elephants, the informal sector of both random items and street food, men crouched down talking in groups, women with their beautiful sari’s usually walking in pairs and sometimes carrying something huge on their heads. There is just so much.  Although sometimes some of the things I see are very dangerous and can be seen as an accident waiting to happen, people here are living life.  They’re doing what they have to do to keep pushing forward. This is how I tie it back to me: back home, as my brother put it, life is so easy. Although I do see my life as a blessed one, I hate to admit that sometimes I complain about the littlest things, sometimes realizing it too late. Being here makes me realize that there is so much more to it. Being here, especially alone, makes me think about appreciating the simple things in life way more. Now, let me make myself clear, I’m not totally on an extreme side of this thought, I’m simply saying there’s room for us to reflect on our lives continuously. As Arthur and Joan Kleinman put it, “there is no single way to suffer; there is no timeless or spaceless universal shape to suffering.” With that, I want add that a lot of us see India as a third world country, one full of poverty and backwardness but there is so much more to it; vivacity.  A liveliness that some of us back home fail to experience blocked by our modern technological commodities, by these comforts that in reality make us lazier and anti-social as the days go by.

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Above Pictures show some of things I’ve experienced not related to my internship: A trip to Choki Danni, Eating traditional Rajasthan food, eating street food for the first time (delicious and I didn’t get sick!) and an aerobics class with Pooja (indian style) that was absolutely amazing!

Then of course, there is poorest of the poor in India. Up to now, I can only share what I see. When I visit the settlements, I too see a dynamism. People here lack clean water, proper infrastructure, education, health resources among many other things, but they still manage to genuinely smile and keep going, being extremely resourceful individuals and highly resilient. When together, I get a good sense of their established relationship where they treat each other kindly and make each other laugh. It’s beautiful to see and I can’t help but really like it. When I get there, although I look like an Indian girl, it is obvious to them that I am a visitor. Once, I even had a group of women think I was a doctor, speaking to me at full speed in Hindi about their children’s problems. Good thing Pooja was beside me to explain that I did not speak Hindi and that I was not a doctor, just a visitor.

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Above: All around beautiful children that love getting their picture taken! 

For my project, I’m assigned to film a documentary on the interventions Health of the Urban Poor program has implemented.  Right away I thought to myself ‘ I should have at least taken one film class’, but now I’m so thankful that this opportunity has appeared, directing me to learn something new in the past two weeks. I downloaded Adobe Premier Pro and have been watching tutorials, reading about it and am excited to start the filming and editing, putting what I’ve learned to practice.  I couldn’t have asked for a better project. I’m being seen as a visitor who is here to witness the challenges the urban poor face and document the interventions that are happening in those communities. I’m hoping to get creative with it while keeping in mind the politics of visual documenting, keeping in mind what to avoid while documenting this and also being guided by what the Kleinmens said, “We must draw upon the images of human suffering in order to identify human needs and to craft humane responses.”

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Women here gather for the Godh Bharai ceremony, where women of the communities celebrate the soon to be mothers. The 7 or 8 month pregnant women receive gifts organized by HUP, but only if they’ve fulfilled their pregnancy health criteria, meaning they’ve attended sessions of maternal health, have shown up to their routine check ups, received their shots and have taken their iron pills. 

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Here is a pregnant women about to receive her gifts while the others sing worshiping songs. 

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Here i’m sitting in on an Adult’s meeting, where young girls get educated on puberty in a created safe zone. I sat because I was invited to sit and of course was not going to reject the invite but I did not understand any of it since it was all in Hindi. I did however, receive very warm smiles from all the girls and laughed when they laughed naturally. This experience put a huge thought in my mind about how young girls are so precious, leading to a thought of something I’d like to do in the near future. More to come on that later! 

Here at IIHMR

I realized I haven’t really gotten into details about my stay here at the Indian Institute Health Management Research facility, so I figured I’d give you a quick overview of how things are here. My accommodations in return of being an intern include room and board. I stay in the institute’s guest house where I have my own room and my own bathroom. I’m getting used to it but I have to admit, coming from a big family where somebody is always home, it gets pretty lonely. The students from the institution which are mainly grad students or post grad students are now on summer leave so that adds to the lonely feeling. I have mixed feelings about technology, but in this case it’s super convenient to have access to wifi internet at all times. My computer is my friend and I’m in constant communication with my family and friends back home. 

Besides it being a pretty lonely campus, it’s a beautiful one. It sits on 14 acres of land and is composed of beautiful traditional local architecture, paved paths, wooden bridges, and lots of trees. Yes, I can admit, I am in a bubble and I feel a bit spoiled. Masala Chai tea is brought to my room in the morning, and again twice throughout the day in the office.  My room is equipped with air conditioning; something that I did not expect and something that I only use if I absolutely have to, otherwise I just use the fan. It’s beginning to cool down a bit anyway, with some rain occasionally in the evenings and nights. I could easily pay for someone to do my laundry, but I kind of enjoy hand washing it in the bathroom, giving me something to do in the evenings. 

Everyone is extremely nice here, and they’ve been very supportive and helpful. I will probably constantly brag about my supervisor (which I strongly feel like I can call a friend) throughout my posts. She’s been so good to me and as time goes on we can both agree we share very similar values and beliefs in both our field of interest and life in general. When at work, it’s like having a friend you can’t study with because you can’t stop talking. We laugh about it too! 

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I cross this wooden bridge so many times throughout the day to get to and and from work about three minutes away.  

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Here is the pool at the institution. I was sad to see that it had no water, I was so ready for it. I had my swimsuit, goggles and everything!

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This is right outside the office, where I was sitting in 100+ deg fahrenheit weather.

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My breakfast always includes toast and something else I have no idea what it is. The guys at the cafe noticed I like the toast because sometimes I have to ask for it and the other day one of them smiled and gave me 4 pieces. I ain’t gonna lie, I ate it all. Delish. 

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You can find cows, camels, elephants pretty much anywhere. No biggie. 

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I’m happy to say that I finally got the nerve to take a tuc tuc (motor taxi that mainly locals use) all by myself to the markets of this area. It was a bumpy and loud ride, but those who know me, know I love that! 

Past the initial orientation stage, passing the culture shock stage, and onto Phase 3: The Adjustment Stage

Today was such a wonderful day! Today was my first field visit of the slums. It wasn’t a total shock since these slums are formal slums, if that makes sense. They are considered “listed” slums and have a whole lot of life in them. From construction workers to street food sellers, to people chillen, to some biking, some sweeping and some sleeping. These communities have a whole lot going on in such small spaces but at the same time, large settlements. I was invited to attend a MAS meeting (Mahila Arogya Samiti) which stands for Women Health Organization. These women are women of these slums that get together to become educated  by a Cluster Officer (a worker from our organization) on maternal and child health so that they can mobilize their own communities and educate the rest. There is a whole lot to it that I’m sure I will talk more about later. There can be discussions on the practicality of it, whether it works or not, etc. but for now, let me just tell you that I was in a room, perhaps a 7’x7’x room, with 16 other women. It was about 112 degrees fahrenheit but nonetheless, it was an awesome experience to sit in there and listen to their high energy discussions. I couldn’t understand  most of it but when they laughed I laughed. They seriously thought I was Indian, speaking to me in hindi. Of course, I just smiled and nodded. I don’t know how they do it, sitting indian style for so long. My legs and feet totally fell asleep. 

ImageAbove is a low quality picture from my phone. I didn’t bring my camera because I didn’t want to be disrespectful in any way but apparently they love taking pictures so I did the best I could. 

ImageAbove is the Cluster Officer speaking to the group about Post Natal care among many other things. The handouts they provide are filled with pictures since their literacy level is very low.

ImageIn the evening when we left the office, my amazing supervisor (who has been teaching me so much) invited me to her family home for dinner and tea. Yes, I jumped in the back of her two wheeler and yes, she brought an extra helmet for me….

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And yes, we rode through the crazy streets of Jaipur. It was a 12km ride. SO much fun and so much to see. That itself could have made my day. I’m a sucker for adventure. 

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 I spent the whole evening at my supervisor’s family home, where she lives with her joint family. It felt very nice to be there since she has many siblings and it made me feel close to home. We all chilled and just talked, kind of like I do when all my siblings are home. Best thing Everrr. They were so welcoming and taught me so much about Indian culture from their perspective. Such a nice family with a tiny grandmother like my own. When I met her I felt the urge to give her a hug. I asked if it was ok and she smiled and said yes. So cute! My supervisor’s mother was in the kitchen cooking a meal from scratch, using veggies from her garden. It was by far, the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been here. When i told them that, the mother smiled and said something in hindi. When translated I found out she had said, “of course, there was love put into this meal”….the same thing my Mami says 🙂 Image