Happy 60th Independence Day, Dearest India!

Today I did yoga on the beach in the morning, had mixed fruit, yogurt and tea for breakfast, rented a scooter and drove to two nearby beach villages (don't worry mom, we only had one small, mini-accident, even though I have never driven a scooter before and didn't even know which knob was the accellerator). I had a vegitable curry with rice for lunch and then passed out in my room for an hour nap. Then we went to the beach and I swam to an island against the current which took a really long time and I was very tired and when I got to the island it was surrounded by shallow, poity and slimy rocks and I just hung on to the closest one for a while until I could come up with the best plan for getting back to the beach. Then I got back to my blanket and read from my book of short stories until the sun went down and then Jessica and I retuned the scooter for the daily rental fee of $5. Dinner included fresh mint tea, freshly caught prawns pan fried in generous amounts of butter, salad and topped off with a brownie covered in what tasted like brownie batter..yes! Now to return to the room with Jessica and see if there are any more 007 movies on our little TV. Need to get up early for a few more hours of beach time before check-out. I will miss you very much India. Thank you for an amazing summer.


Arrival in Paradise

The rice paddies of Karnataka as enjoyed from the open door of a moving train are fantastic. The strong wind adds a little excitement as I hold the outside rails tightly and watch two women in brightly colored, windblown sarees walk in a zig-zagged path accross the brilliant green fields. Old men wearning a single white cloth fish in small lilly pond lakes with bambooo poles. In northern Kernataka the train passes through a mountain tunnel and the emrald landscape is replaced with blackness. I notice teh smell of the nearby bananna fritter salesman (thank goodness it is not the smell of the latrine again!), and enjoy the warm metal window frame beneath my forearm. At 2pm we arrived in beautiful Palolem. Large, clean beaches, surrounded by dense palm tree groves and small green mountains in the distance. I swam and body boarded, built a sand castle and walked along the beach. Tomorrow we will rent a scooter and visit the more secluded nearby beaches... smile.


Cashew liquor and coconut flower wine

My comments on these two drinks: Fenni - the cashew liquor smalls bad and tastes worse Kallu - coconut flower tonic (wine) - this drink tastes a little funky but grows on you. During our 7 hour backwaters tour Jessica and I split a litre of Kallu immediately after it was collected from the coconut flowers. Here is a little blurb stolen from another site: “Palm sap begins fermenting immediately after collection due to natural yeasts in the air. Within two hours, fermentation yields an aromatic wine of up to 4% alcohol content, mildly intoxicating and sweet. The wine may be allowed to ferment longer, up to a day, to yield a stronger, more sour and acidic taste, which some people prefer. Longer fermentation produces vinegar instead of stronger wine.” What hs happened since the last blog? I'm so glad you asked... August 12th: after our leisurely breakfast and lunch we rented bicycles for about $0.10 an hour and biked around the perimeter of part of the island. This was the perfect way to get around the beach village island and see the interior village life - and of course buy lots more mini-bananas (we like them very much..they are just so darn cute). From 5-6:30 I had an awesome 90 min Hatha yoga class with a guy who has been practicing since 1970 - his english was pretty good and showed me lots of new yoga positions to work on...yay. Then, from 7-8pm (since it had been such a hard day) - I got a 60 min ayurvedic massage. August 13th: motored and punted around the backwaters all day and got to see the main local industries: fisherman (collecting fish, muscles, scallops...and sand, actually), muscle shell processors (making the powder for everything from calcium tablets to white paint), rope mking (from the husk of the coconut), and of course coconut harvesting (for food and oils...). Now for an early dinner followed by another overnight train ride adventure! Singing off, Yours, The Cat


Kerala: Allepey's Nehru Snake Boat Races

At 8am Jessica and I caught the "super fast" bus to Allepey from Ernakulem (just a ferry ride away from where we are staying in Kochin). Like most of India's transportation: it consistently gets the job done but is somewhat of a joke: since at about ~0.7km/min we aren't exactly flying down the coast. This is understandable though given the foot-deep potholes and frequent puddle-lakes. Nevertheless I manage to stand and read for a while and only fly into the man in front of me twice because of the violet braking (no doubt due to a stray cow or swerving scooter rider). Once I get a seat I even manage a bit of a nap. On arrival to Allepey we are greated by traditional Keralan drumming and custumed dancing that launch the day's festivities. We watched the young female dancers with elaborate costumes and makeup as well as teh oversized dancing heads and peacocks that praced around to the beat of the drums. We took a ferry (which we barely arrived on time for) over to the spectator's island near the finish line. Then began the 3 hour waiting period while the boats warmed up and we waited for the appropraite local government dignitaries to arrive. Luckily for us we ended up sitting adjacent to poart of the Allepey home-crowd: specifically about 40, very happy (read intoxicated) men between 20 and 50 singing, eating, yelling and dancing...and it was all too clear that the abundant police presence wouldn't attempt to exert much control over this boisterous bunch. These men continually handed us food and entertained brief conversations in English explainging which teams were favored, which teams had new boats and how much they cost and how the rowers were chosen for each team. The pictures for this day are great and I wil post them as soon as I can. Just imagine a crew team on a 135 foot wooden boat with a crew of 105 men. Most of them rowing, but several positions are reserved for cheerleaders and at least one for bailing water out of the boat during the race. However, perhaps more bailers could have been used on several boats because at least 3 times yesterday we witnessed a long line of heads above the water..they certainly take "going down with the ship" literally - somehow they would manage to maneuver the sunken boats to the river's edge while staying in their original spots. We met some medical and dental students from the UK at the race and had a lovely dinner with them before heading back to the bus station. Lovely, but long day. Today we plan to take it easy...slept in, breakfast at the Kashi art cafe (a little piece of european, starbucks in the Keralan backwaters) and will head over for an Ayurvedic massage after this stint in the internet cafe...and then we'l find a little garden restaurant for lunch :)


South India

I want to stay on the green cliff above the Arabian Sea with the strong sea- breeze encircling me. The vegitation in Goa during monsoon season is so dense that the small roads and nestled houses struggle to stay exposed. 6 August: Around 1pm our war-weary public service group pulled itself together for one last combined effort and gave a presentation to the Chairman of the Rai Fountation. He apparently had met with MIT's Dean Daniel Hastings the day before about strengthening MITs collaborations in India..cool.I stayed up all night with Jessica to finish the report, so the 6th led right into thr 7th...As we were leaving for the airport I had intense "feeling like I am forgetting something"...but it must have just been the sleep that I had forgotten. 7 August: Delhi by airplane to Goa at 11am- (because of Yamilee's flight schedule Jessica and I got to the airport about 5 hours early so we got in an early breakfast and a solid nap ). Upon arrival we took a taxi to Panaji (Goa's Portuguese inspired capital). We went on an extremely slow walking tour of the gorgeous european town with Indian detailing. We had dinner at an outdoor restaurant adn I had the local specialty of prawn curry rice. We stayed in a family run Park Lane Lodge with two twin beds, fan and shared, outdoor restrooms/shower stalls. The gate is locked 10pm - but getting to bed early suited us just great. 8 August: Met up with german girls our age at 8am whom we met the might before and went sightseeing and shopping (although we tried really hard not to) at several beach villages. Panaji by bus to Mapusa for 8Rs ($0.20). Mapusa to Anuja by bus. Taxi to Vegator where we stayed for the night. 9 August: Morning treck through desolate Vegator looking for breakfast and internet. Found both: toast, eggs, (indian) hash browns, and banana porridge :) Train down to Kerala this evening.


Delhi Good-byes

Well Delhi, despite the dust and the heat...we will miss you.

This picture is dedicated to my friend Deepak. I am so happy we met.
On my father's tennis buddy's recommendation we headed out for one last dinner as a group to the Bhukara restaurant in the Sheraton hotel, New Delhi. This is the biggest piece of Naan I have ever seen...however, we chose not to buy the $30 piece of gaint naan.
Yamilee and I "cheers" our bronze cups.
I know this picture doesn't do a good job of selling the dish, but let me tell you, this was the tastiest stuffed bell-pepper I have ever had - it had a spicy, vegitable curry including cashews and raisins in it.
Here we are in our Indian garb...aren't we cute...and SOOOOO tired...not to mention paranoid that these saris tied at a below-amateur-level were going to fail us at any moment.

Well, our car comes to take us to the air port in 4 hours and I have have not finished packing, so...yeah. See everyone in Goa!

Good night


Code Orange: Time moving VERY quickly

This morning involved some very efficient re-gearing - but everything came together just in time :)

We hosted the second big meeting today - here was the Adgenda


4 August 2007

PURPOSE: Meeting to ensure sustainability of sanitation pilot project in B-Block of Bhoomiheen camp through the interaction of all the stakeholders to :
* Finalize a payment system for the community agreeable to all stakeholders
* Discuss suggested responsibilities for each stakeholder
Set a regular meeting schedule for future stakeholder meetings

Mr. Mohammad Gulzar Community Committee
Ms. Krishna Community Committee

Mr. Rama Community Committee
Mr. Saurabh Issar Municipal Counselor’s Office

Mr. Thakur Prasad MCD Local Inspector (NO SHOW)
Mr. Deepchand MCD Local Manager (NO SHOW)
Ms. Snelata YWCA Community Mobilizer
Ms.Usha YWCA Community Mobilizer
Ms. Madhu YWCA Community Mobilizer
Ms. Vardi Devi YWCA Community Mobilizer
Ms. Shanti Devi YWCA Local Director

TIME: Begin time: 1pm, End time: 2pm-2:30pm
VENUE: Bhumin Vikas Mandal

*Project Update (5 min)
i. Bins installed
ii. Overwhelming use of bins and very little trash in waterways
iii. Requests for bins from all neighboring areas
Current Challenges
i. Regularity of trash worker schedule
ii. Unresolved payment plan
iii. Regularity of emptying the large MCD bin
* Payment System (20 min)
* Group comments on suggested stakeholder responsibilities (15 min)
* Set up time/dates for future stakeholder meetings (10 min)
* Suggestion for natural expansion of the project (5 min).
* Thank you for your dedication to and support for this project. (5 min)


I don't think the meeting really followed the agenda partially because of Indian Standard Time causing the meeting to start at 1:30pm instead of 1pm and because the MCD officials never showed up...apparently it was meant to be though because the Monicipal Counselor's Office gave permission for the community to hire a private worker and the 3 community leaders and the 5 YWCA community mobilizers were ready to take on all the responsibilities.

After the meeting finshed around 3pm, the community committee members and the YWCA headed out directly to start collectingg money from the community to get the community-run sanitation program running.

All the neighgboring lanes want the program in their area and are 1. willing negotiate bin placement themselves and 2. pay the small monthly fee. We are going to try to set up a garbage bin fund so that these lanes can join the pilot project in the future...I couldn't be more proud of us and the community!

And here comes my reward...Jessica and I leave at 5am on Tuesday for 10 days of nothing but sleeping in beach huts, eating south indian food and hanging out on the beach reading, playing, swimming...everything but planning :)


Best day of my trip to India

Well, I just can't believe last night...it was like a fairy tale in a formerly dirtier slum community.

At 7:30pm last night we presented our parting gift to the community: a slide show / movie of the community members over the past three weeks, so that the community could see through our eyes the love and unity possible in the community. The pictures were often of children, or older community members with children and it was magical...the whole market area in front of the temple filled up with over 200 community members and families perched on balconies and roofs to get a good view. However, the whole day was pretty amazing, so let me back up to the beginning.

After a morning of writing up documents in English and Hindi to make sure all the project stakeholders agree on their respective responsibilities, Musheer and I headed over to YWCA to confirm their attendance at the second big sustainability meeting on Saturday and get their feeback and advice on current challenges. On the right is Vardi Devi (the leader of the community mobilizers for this YWCA branch) and Shanti Devi (office director). I am so impressed with both of these women - they are sharp, strong, connected, and they know what they are capable of. Any community problem we explain to them, they are able to see through all the fog and tell everything as it is - bluntly. They don't speak english but I greatly enjoy every meeting with them.

After the meeting, Musheer, Dharnani and I had a few hours to hang around the community before the others came at 6pm to set up for the show. Here are some local girls we know.

Later on, I decided I would start drawing animals to see if the kids could identify them. Seven animals, two insects and ten minutes later I was being pressed on all sides by small bodies pointing and yelling out names in Bengali, Hindi, and English (from two of the older girls).

I was sitting near the temple writing in my project notebook when this little guy pulled up a stool and sat down right next to me.
At 6:30pm - an hour before the show the crowd has already begun to form. We learned the lesson about crowd control already...

Yamilee and Dharani make sure the sound and projector are working before the show. We have learned that this process must be begun at least an hour in advance because every time we set things up with a new set of borrowed speakers and amp there are always some cables that are missing or wires that are crossed. The community is pretty awesome though and usually an electrician comes out of the woodworks to help out if we appear to be struggling.

Children were told to sit down in front, mostly because they are less likely to run under the rope and knock over the projector this way.

Mansi entertains the nearby crowd as we try to rally as many community members as possible for the show.

Jessica and I accompany Dharani on rounds through our residential pilot project area to make sure everyone is attending...it is good news to see that most of the houses are empty of people :)

The show starts and the people are captivated. Big cheers erupt from the crowd for images of the most popular neighborhood children, well-known shop keepers and friendly community leaders appear on the screen....I nearly cried...but I have also been short on sleep for three weeks now.

As we were packing up, the children's ecitement could no longer be controlled. We protected the equiptment, but Julie who was attempting to take a picture with some children was knocked to the growd by the mob of excited half-pints. Never in my life have I felt like as much of a celebrity - little children popped up all over with their hands stretched out waiting to shake mine and as we walked to the main road and waited for an auto, our 1 m tall entourage was all around us. As the auto pulled away last minute handshakes were exchanged and everyone waved and said good bye.

We were all glowing.

The MIT team decided to treat the RF team to dinner so we went to Le Chef in Sector 37 and had a tasty feast. Despite the exhaustion (several team members hadn't slept at all the night before) - we laughed all through dinner at our inside jokes and impersonations of particularly eccentric (or difficult) people we have met (or people who will surely get fired when their government contract is over...).

All hands in the middle...1,2,3..."INDIA!"


Compromise for sustainability

Last night it rained all night and all through the morning. View outside our rooms.
Monitoring the bin system: the local MCD manager is still having trouble sending a worker for 30 min 2x a day to take away the garbage. Last night we hit a semi-crisis point as several bins had filled up by 4:30pm and the local manager told us that he would not send an afternoon worker. We went for a meeting at the municipal councilor's office (read furniture store and nearby pharmacy) and had a blunt conversation about how government workers will only perform our community's work if there is a monetary incentive system put in place so that this area of work will be prioritized for the understaffed MCD office.

For yesterday evening, the Municipal Councilors nephew took on the local MCD manager's responibilities and personally arranged and paid for two workers on short notice - 150 Rs (~$4) for two guys to haul 10 trash bins to the big dumpster.
I was pretty tired by the end of the rounds in the community and was sitting under the overhang near the temple (where we will be giving our final show for the community tonight) and as usual children hung about watching me write and asking me to take their picture through hand gestures.


What a great day!

The community has bins! and we are monitoring the rate that trash bins fill up in two hour shifts 10 hours a day...great times.

Here is a glamour shot of one of the bins locked into position next to a bunch of caged chickens on the back of a bicycle. Here you can buy your live chickens for slaughter directly in front of your home...yay!

Below, some young men read the poster on how to use the bin, with handy catch phrases like "put your garbage in the trash bin" and "open and close the lid".
In this picture, from right to left, we have an MCD trash remover, Musheer, Gulzar (one of the community committee members), and a second MCD trash remover. Both of these trash removers ran away before they gogt a chance to move any trash. These workers are proving very difficult to get a hold of and retain.

That is a good looking open sewage line if I've ever seen one...no garbage...it is unbelievable!
Here is Dharani - our trash bin warrior - diligently measuring trash heights every 30 min, while training us to do the same.

On the job...it started raining heavily during my monitoring shift and so Meenu and I sat under an overhang near the temple and she did mehindi (henna) on one of my hands. For most of the time we had a crowd of about a dozen boys, girls and women watching Meenu draw lovely designs.
...and you think I am kidding about gathering all these stray cows and becoming an urban cow-herder.