Thursday, July 21, 2011

Final Goodbyes

It has been a hectic two weeks with a mix of emotions. I spent all of last week in Karawara trying to finish all of my projects and activities before I had to say goodbye. Alfa received a new intern through a rural development internship program. Her name is Sandra and she hails from Nagaland which is an eastern state of India. Lucky for me her primary language is English and she is fluent in Hindi! I can’t tell you how excited I was because she was basically my unpaid translator for the last two weeks. It was really nice to have someone in the village that understood my jokes and liked the same music. She was a valuable resource for Alfa especially during our English lessons. We taught classes to young boys and girls everyday at Sanjha Manch and it was a blast. The kids were very mischievous, but they reminded me of my bad behavior as a kid. I like to think that I have an intimidating yelling voice that I learned from my father. The only problem is when I yell to get their attention; they just laugh and stick their tongues out at me. When it came to Sandra, they feared her more than anything. They always listened to her and never misbehaved. I don’t understand that logic.All in all, the English classes were great. It was amazing to see how quickly they picked up the different words and phrases we taught them. I couldn’t believe they were able to learn the entire alphabet, speaking and writing, in only one class. I was so happy that I was able to work with these kids for all of these lessons.

The first half of my internships consisted of making reports and sitting at a desk all day, but the past few weeks I was able to do a lot of activities with the kids. Alfa has worked really hard to gain the trust of these children and it has paid off. They are more willing to visit the office and participate in any type of activity we are hosting. This is really important for our creative education project. Even though we still haven’t heard back from CRY or NFI about funding, we are implementing different aspects of the projects to get them started. I was sad to have to say goodbye to all of my new friends in Karawara. When I first arrived I felt uncomfortable walking around and trying to integrate with the community. The language barrier was really tough for me to overcome and I felt like everyone only saw me as an outsider. During my last week there I realized how genuine and sincere all of these people are. They welcomed me into their homes on a daily basis and truly wanted to get to know me and my culture. I built strong relationships with many of the people even though it was difficult to communicate with them. One of my best friends actually turned out to be one of my students, Tusara. He came to the office on a daily basis and caused mischief left and right. I definitely provoked a lot of this mischief, but we still always had fun. He was really sad to see me leave so I promised him that I would return for Lokesh’s wedding in the next two years. He was excited to hear that so I must make sure that I keep that promise.

Lokesh was another person that was I didn’t want to say goodbye to. I will still see him this week, but when I left I knew that meant it was the last time I would be working with him and Alfa. He taught me a lot about patience, friendship and genuine kindness. I severely underestimated his abilities when I first arrived in Karawara and he showed me how much a valuable asset he is to Alfa Educational Society. The organization would not exist without him and the immense amount of time and resources that he puts into it. We had some great times hanging out and working together; I’m really going to miss him and his town. I apologize for the somber blog today, so on a lighter note, I am awesome at cricket. I finally got to play a full game in the village and by the end of the game they referred to me as the Barry Bonds of cricket. I was hitting sixes (homeruns) all over the place and was a dominant force within the game. I may have exaggerated that just a little bit, but none of you were there so we will just pretend that is how it went down. I can’t wait to see everyone back home! I think the first thing I am going to do is hit up the nearest Chipotle. I heard about the “heat wave” that is hitting the Midwest right now. I’ve spent my entire summer in a heat wave so bring it on!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In Indian time...

Geez, I better be amazing at charades after this... I chucked to myself, as I couldn't help but try to decode every facial expression, every hand motion of each Kharadiyan community leader out of pure nervousness. After weeks of research and interviews, I finally composed a water purification and hygiene training manual that will serve as the platform for an educational presentation. The leaders are key in my project as they will be the ones to conduct the presentation and who else will the community trust more than these individuals? My translator, Kamal, was going over the manual as they followed along and discussed in Hindi. Well...are they impressed? Is the manual too simple? There must be so many grammatical errors on that thing! Google translate, you better not make me look like an idiot... I thought to myself, my inner dialogue rambling faster than my mind could organize itself. Okay, so I had my host sister proof read the text but still!

It was midday in the village and, with no clouds in sight, the sun was mercilessly piercing it's rays on every surface, through every lanky tree. The Monsoons have arrived early this year, but with feeble sprinkles farmers are frustrated at how stingy the season has been. In hiding of the heat, we sat inside one of the community leader's household, sharing a large mat made of rice bags. The mother was sitting halfway inside by the door, while children were peeping in, hiding behind the entrance.

One of my biggest objectives for this project was to have a deep and holistic understanding of the community before I even jumped into the training manual. This took a number of overnight visits and being extremely aware of families' daily tasks. My questions ranged from health symptoms to overall hygienic routines, but what really propelled this research forward
was having an experienced translator. I was really lucky to have Kamal since he not only knew the area but has interacted with other interns in the past. He also knew when to ask further questions beyond what I've composed to gain a deeper understanding.

Overall, I'm extremely excited for this project and I'm not sure if I'm ready to head back home soon. It's the closing few days of my time here and I'm still learning so much! Although three months is not long for an intern, I've always concentrated on acclimating myself to the environment and learning more about India. Besides expanding knowledge in the political, economical, or cultural realm, this journey has constantly taught me understanding and patience, carving it into shape as time passes. I gradually develop understanding in the sense of always wanting to see the same object from different angles, whether in problem solving or interacting with another human being. Patience is needed if not required to thrive in a setting like this...and I don't mean acknowledging the spontaneous power outages, that is only skin deep. The work ethic and concept of time is different here in India. An article I read recently described it perfectly: Americans generally operate in "monochronic time"- where time is the given and people are the variable. In schedules, deadlines, etc. we can see that the needs of people are adjusted to suit the demands of time. On the other hand, India generally works in "polychronic time" where time is the servant and tool of people. More time is always available, and you are never too busy. Nevertheless, shifting from monochronic time, a system branded to your daily routines from day one, to polychrinic time is not a smooth transition. It is slow and bound to have miss-communications as well as mistakes along the way, especially as an intern there were moments where I felt out of tune with everyone else in the office. Regardless, I feel that all of this provides only opportunity to recognize the difference in work culture and flourish regardless of what "time" you are thrown into.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Costumes are overrated

I had such a fun weekend with all of the interns at our midterm retreat in Ahmedabad! We ventured to one of India's few water parks and let’s just say it isn't exactly like the water parks that we are used to back home. It was a perfect day for wave pools and water slides, but one of the managers wouldn't let us in until we purchased one of their "costumes". Costumes are swim suits and they are very particular about what the definition of a swim suit is. Apparently my Red Cross approved lifeguard suit is not up to their standards. We caved and bought the nylon costumes after about twenty minutes of heated debate on the importance of costume material. We finally got to go on the slides and have some fun in my new costume that was about three sizes too small. Everyone at the water park was surprised to see a group of foreigners which made us feel like rock stars. We had a following of people at every ride we went on. We even provoked a small riot in the wave pool which was crazy to say the least. The next day we were able to visit the Gandhi Ashram to learn about Gandhi's life and his values. The Ashram was my favorite site that we visited. It was a beautiful facility and I gained a lot of knowledge that I had never known about this inspirational figure.
We celebrated the Fourth of July yesterday, but it just wasn't the same without Naperville's Ribfest and firework show. I'm sure my family and friends had a great time this weekend; I wish I could have been there with them. I'm headed to Karawara soon and probably going to stay a little longer than usual this trip. I only have two weeks left in the village and want to make sure I tie up all of my loose ends with Alfa and the community. Still no word on the CRY funding. I'm really investing a lot into this funding agency and will be disappointed if we don't get the grant. Almost all of the other funding agencies that I have contacted have failed to even email me back. It is frustrating because I want to make a significant impact on Alfa, but feel like I am running out of time. Hopefully we hear some good news this week!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sorry I Didn't Bring a Camera

I can’t believe that I have been here for five weeks now. I can vividly remember my first hour in Udaipur thinking what did I get myself into? It’s amazing what just a few weeks can do to change your mind set. I made India my home and no longer feel like an outsider. I still get the daily cat calls and awkward stares as locals see this good looking American walk around the streets, but I embrace it and enjoy the attention. It’s all about stepping outside of my comfort zone. I explored my new surroundings and engaged with the people. I would have never become acclimated to this new environment had I stayed inside all day watching American movies. Once I got past the awkward encounters I realized that every person here is kind hearted and show a genuine interest in our American culture. This is such a great place to be it’s sad I only have four weeks left.
I had a great week in Karawara working alongside Lokesh. I think we were both motivated by the short time I have remaining in India. We created an entirely new youth project that involved capacity building activities and computer based learning exercises for the young men in the village. We sought out multiple funding agencies and are awaiting replies. On Wednesday we hosted a fun art activity with many of the children. Approximately 20 kids showed up to draw and paint pictures. I took part in this activity and learned that I draw worse than some of the six year olds that participated. We also got a few pieces of great news. Our 12A certificate successfully passed the approval process. This means that Alfa has non-profit status and is exempt from any government tax on future funds. This is critical for Alfa because funding agencies typically won’t consider organizations that don’t have this status. Even better news, we heard back from one of the CRY representatives and they liked our children’s education proposal. Our project is now in the next stages of the funding process and is being reviewed by the CRY Executive Board for final approval. Alfa will have a very secure future if this project is approved for funding. It’s a very exciting time for Lokesh and I. I only wish I had more time here to see that all of our hard work produces positive results.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

I want to start by saying happy father's day to all the dads out there! I missed my dad especially this year, but was able to spend a relaxing day with my host dad. Dr. Sareen and I share a passion for any kind of sweets or pastries. I made sure to buy him a special father's day sweet buffet from the local bakery. I knew that it would be my responsibility to help him finish. We are the only two in this house not watching our figures. Needless to say we both slept very well last night after our sugar crash.

I spent an amazing weekend with my fellow interns in Agra. I was able to experience my first long distance train ride. It was a lot like sleeping on a plane except no one seems to sit in their correct seat which makes things interesting as passengers are boarding at 3 AM. After a 12 hour trip we finally made it to Agra where it seemed to be 120 degrees. It had many similarities to Udaipur, but the vendors were relentless. There were little boys trying to sell magnets and Taj Mahal snow globes every five feet that you walked. I caved and bought some miniature snow globes. I like to think that I am contributing to the local economy. The Taj was amazing. It's hard to describe the sheer size and detail that went into the construction of this magnificent wonder of the world. I hope that I am able to visit the six other wonders of the world. I'm really happy that I took this opportunity to see the Taj because I'm not sure how many other chances I will have to visit. Our group only spent a day in Agra before boarding a train home. A day is all that we needed to see everything and being in the heat all day drained my energy. I'm heading to Karawara today and hope to work with Lokesh on Alfa's annual activity budget. I hope all is well back home!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hello Monsoon Season!

When most of us think of rain, we assume a dreary day of puddled sidewalks, an inconvenient change to plans, or nature's sweet melody for a much needed nap. When the rain hits here, the city comes to life and spirits soar.

After months of the sun's relentless, piercing rays propelling temperatures of up to 100 - 113 F in the afternoon (trust me, I know this), people mound with excitement as gray clouds creep above them, thunders begin to sing their deep rumble, and a breath of new, cool air sweeps through even the most congested markets.

With no warning or progression, the rain hammers to the ground! Know that these are not your ordinary feeble spring-time droplets. As if someone took a needle and ruptured millions of swelling water balloons, there was no stopping the proportion and speed of this rain. As I caught an auto to head back home, I saw water sweep away the dust and debris built up from the dry season. After weeks of harsh, arid conditions I was finally seeing a different face of India. The Monsoon Season has made its arrival.

My host family's power was out for the evening, but this was not uncommon even if the weather was perfect. Especially during midday, our electricity would shut off about 3 - 4 times a day.Living in an Indian's home as oppose to a hotel, you quickly learn how scarce resources are. At times my shower head would run low, at which point I turn to my bucket full of saved water from our dripping faucet. Despite all of this, I would consider my host family to be extremely fortunate compared to 70% of Indians.

I can still remember traveling to the villages and seeing buses PACKED with people - some holding on to the outside frame of the bus while others sat at the top ducking to low tree branches. These are migrant workers traveling from their home village to perform labor at large cities such as Udaipur. On average, they earn 100 rupees a day which converts to a meager $2.00 USD. This, however, does not take into account transportation fees (remember those buses?) which takes away 25 - 30 rupees.

I'll be traveling to Kharadiya again tomorrow to visit the PHED (Public Health Engineering Department) and map out the village's water system. BAIF, the environmental NGO I visited, suggested on replacing the current hand pump pipes for plastic PVC pipes to solve the excess iron issue. These pipes should last about 10 years and are relatively cheap to install. I'm no engineer, but if I were to take on this project on top of the water purification & hygiene trainings I need to consider if that is possible in a few weeks.

*photo: Bart Pogoda

Sunday, June 12, 2011

No electricity? No problem.

Life is much more difficult without electricity. After spending a week in Karawara I learned this hard lesson by spending almost three days without any fans, lights, or running water. Good thing it is only 110 degrees everyday of the week. All jokes aside, I changed my perspective on what I thought were basic necessities. I take a lot for granted back home and experiencing this lifestyle makes me appreciate that I can turn on my lights at any time during the day. I can't say I was the most comfortable during this past week, but I have learned how to adjust to new and challenging environments. This attitude could serve most of us a lot of good back home when we complain about how slow the Internet is! Trust me, slow Internet is always better than no Internet.

Aside from the electricity situation, I had my best week yet in the village for a variety of reasons. Lokesh and I started work on our main project proposal for the CRY organization which aims to generate funds for Alfa's youth project. My first week lacked direction, but last week Lokesh and I worked tirelessly each day to create a successful proposal. Hard work was exactly what I needed to take my mind off of the scorching heat. My main priority for this internship is to sustain Alfa and create an accounting system that is easy to maintain and budget. Currently, Alfa will have no source of funding when Lokesh's fellowship ends in October. There are many problems in Karawara that Alfa has worked to fix and I am determined to continue this progress. Our youth proposal is designed to sustain Alfa's creative learning environment, or Sanjha Manch as we call it, for the next three years. Many children come to Sanjha Manch for fun art activities, presentations on social issues and an open environment to learn and express themselves. The proposal outlines many of these activities and provides CRY with a budget that will sustain Alfa's operations for up to three years. We are submitting the proposal this week and hope to hear some good news soon!

Last week I spent a lot of time engaging with the Karawara community. Everyone wants to get to know you as an American because they are intrigued by our culture. The most common question I have been asked is whether or not I love John Cena (a professional wrestler). For the sake of making friends I may have exaggerated my interest in wrestling just a little bit. I've also fallen in love with the village cooking. I thought I would have trouble finding food that I like, but it has been the opposite problem. I can't say no to anything! My favorite is the bread pokora. It reminds me of popcorn chicken that you would buy at KFC, but better. I've probably eaten about four pounds of eat in the past week.

Unfortunately my supervisor Lokesh had to schedule a last minute trip to another state. I will be working at the FSD office all week trying to find more partners from funding agencies. I am very excited for this upcoming weekend because I will be traveling to Agra with my fellow interns to visit the Taj Mahal. How many opportunities do people have to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World? I'm lucky to be here and have all of these great opportunities. Thanks again KISI! Also, Lokesh has some great pictures from the past two weeks so I will make sure to add them to my next post when I see him.