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! 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sushil

After speaking to my mom about my scary experience, she somehow gave me the strength to suck it up, be more careful, and put it to the side. Like I said in my previous post, I only managed to do that for one day. I hired a hotel taxi to drive me around all day for the equivalence of $20. The driver was Sushil, a kind, shy, twenty-five year old who is on the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week as a taxi driver and who sends a big chunk of his monthly earnings to his family back in a village near the border of India and Nepal. Through his broken english, I managed to get to know him a bit, since I did spend a whole day with him. He gave me the history of certain monuments, told me how much things really cost so I wouldn’t get ripped off, and was my photographer when needed. When he took me to a place to have a late lunch, I asked him if he was going to eat with me. Shyly he replied that “those” places were not for him, that they were for “guest” like me. When he said that, i felt shame. Here I am, wanting to study Global Poverty and he’s looking up at me. No way. I asked him to please eat with me and that I would pay. He politely refused. I didn’t want to insist too much since I’m not all familiar with the culture and didn’t want to cause a wrong impression. I walked up to the restaurant and ate alone, paying about $13 for my meal and eating only half of it at most. IMG_0563

Namaste!

It’s been exactly a week since I left the states and I’m barely getting to my first post. I would say it took the whole week for me to finally make sense of that fact that I’m here, in India, all by myself; something totally out of my comfort zone. Good, that’s what I needed. I would love to say so far so good but I can’t because my first night here in India was a total nerve wrecking experience and I would say it pretty much shut me down until today. Here goes the story: I walked out of the New Delhi Airport and of course I saw a whole bunch of taxi drivers waiting for customers. I make eye contact with one friendly looking one and he waves me over. Yup, big mistake. As soon as I get in the car, which at first glance looked like a taxi, another guy jumps in. Right then and there I knew I had messed up but I tried to keep my calm, not jumping to total conclusions. I tell them the name of the hotel I had made reservations for and already payed in full and tell them that according to the internet it should only be 2.5 miles away. One of the guy quickly replies that it is more like 10 miles away. We drive around as “the friendly looking one” begins to bombard me with questions about my family, where I’m from, work, school, etc. I already had a funny feeling in my tummy so I vaguely answered, paying more attention to where we were going. I noticed a turn into the most sketchiest street I’ve ever seen. It could be that I was scared and it was about 3am in the morning that influenced this thought, but I was seriously scared. I couldn’t help but express to them that I was nervous and that I didn’t think the hotel was that way. They spoke amongst themselves in Hindi, which I totally can’t understand. As soon as we turn into an alley-looking street I begin to cry, I’m so scared at this point that I yell at them to stop the car. They tell me to calm down and I tell them to take me to the airport. I don’t really pray, but you bet I began to pray at this point and I beg them to take me back. Once again, they talk amongst themselves and finally back the car up onto the shady street we were on and again onto the boulevard where I could see all the different hotels. I don’t know exactly what softened up their heart, but they decided to take me near the hotel where I had reservations for and gave me the b.s. excuse that it was a one way street and that they couldn’t drop me off in front. At this point I didn’t care, I saw my hotel and I just wanted to get out. Crying I gave them the 2,000 rupees they asked for (I was told afterwards that they were only suppose to charge me 300 rupees at most). Getting to the hotel was a relief, but that experience haunted me for the days that came after. The following day I changed hotels to one one closer to the heart of New Delhi, and while I was there, I only came out once to sight see. Other than that I was pretty much stuck in my room scared to come out since all of what I saw were mostly men, thinking to myself about the cast system, the different culture and the different vibe. The streets were dirty, crowded and I hardly saw a woman in sight. I thought to myself ‘ I want to go home’.

Looking out of the window of the hotel I was in for a few days.

Looking out of the window of the hotel I was in for a few days.