Jaggery Festival – By Sara Taylor

Originally published at buda-honnavar.blogspot.com

Dawn hit the Angadibail forest center, freshly dressed after its final construction, and stirred a frenzy of excitement for the day. Ashish began what would become his 24 hours as a chauffeur and went to pick up our participants. We all peeled back our layers of jungle which had built up in our previous days of preparation and took hold of the celebratory mood. We heard squeals of delight sound from the jeep, barreling down the red-dirt road. Our eccentric group poured out, wide-eyed at the landscape which they’d just been thrown into. Bharat’s flute hung over the place, the most fitting and soothing soundtrack you could imagine to first discover the beauty of the jungle. We greeted everyone warmly, arming them with our homemade soap-nut pouches and bamboo shoots of charcoal tooth-powder in our effort to keep the stream water clean which flows through the forest center.

Charcoal toothpowder in bamboo shoots & re-fillable scrub bags of soap-nut

After a brief exploration of the new center, we fed out hungry travelers (with plenty of jaggery for idly on their banana leaves) and challenged them to our first task of cutting down sugarcane. Just as the sun started its blistering effect on the forest, we set out to give pooja to the earth and began our harvest. We handled machetes and tried our best to cut and clean the sugar cane as well as Eshwarana had demonstrated. Meanwhile the four youngsters went back to the center to create their own statues of Ganasha for our final pooja after harvest. Our most experienced and enthusiastic participant in the harvest was Savita’s Appa by far. He held a wide grin and laughed joyously, reliving childhood memories of sugarcane harvests past.

Appa gleefully demonstrating sugarcane harvest technique

Krissy & Luci hauling back some of our harvest

After our sweaty efforts, we hauled what sugarcane we harvested back to the center and cooled off with a glass of kokum juice. We had a beautiful (thanks to those artistic Ganesha figures) harvest pooja where we thanked the earth for letting us take her fruits. Everyone enjoyed a cool stream water bath and we settled into lunch, again filling our banana leaves with jaggery-flavored dishes. After a nap and some quiet time, I headed out to the house where we’d be camping/watching jaggery production with Poornima to put some last minute touches on our festival area. Meanwhile everyone at the center revved up for the site-visit by watching a cooking demonstration of Bangli Rotti, a local cake-like jaggery treat.

Bangli-Roti, traditional jaggery recipe that uses burning coals to bake

Ashish managed to get everyone in the truck and the participants arrived at the campsite with anticipation and eagerness to participate. We fed them the traditional roasted peanut and jaggery snack to welcome them to the house and quickly made our way down the road to see the traditional style jaggery production before dusk. There, many local friends and villagers joined us in the celebration of traditional jaggery processes. The bulls that pulled the gaana were calm but monstrous in size. The farmers guided us on how to push the other side of the gaana and quickly the children and a few brave participants (shout out to my fellow students) joined in on the work. All the while we sipped fresh sugarcane juice which our hosts poured for us abundantly.

Traditional GaaNa, pulled by bulls, to extract sugarcane juice

More ‘bulls’ to help the process

We were just in time to see the farmers take the sugarcane juice which had been cooking in an enormous vat over a large fire and filter it through cloth. We could smell the caramel-like aroma of the finished jaggery and soon we were served a healthy dose of the stuff which we hesitantly slurped down, trying ignore our bodies cry of: enough sweets! But the local treat was just too good for any sane sweet-tooth to turn down. As the sunset left us with a pink sky, we walked back to our campsite to continue the festivities. There at the house, we ran three stalls: 1) a bottle rope-wrapping station where participants decorated recycled bottles to fill with jaggery 2) a cow/bull bell beading station and 3) a cooking demonstration of a crispy crepe-like jaggery treat, todedevu. As the crickets began their symphony, we quieted down from our bustling day and enjoyed sitting still, working with our hands. Soon everyone had crafts to show each other proudly. We leisurely had our dinners and the strongest among us even ate more jaggery treats. A bonfire crackled by the tents and once by one we trickled down to sit by its warmth and hear stories and songs from each other until sleep took us over.

Sugarcane finished cooking down to liquid jaggery, about to be filtered

A dewey morning came and we had everyone russle up their belongings to head to the location of a house that did mechanized jaggery processing. Sleepily, we somehow piled even more people and items in the truck and bounced along the back roads through the sweet-smelling jungle. Our new hosts welcomed us and led us to their processing site where we learned how the modern, mechanic technique works. More sugarcane juice and the caramel-like taste of the jaggery ‘cream’, filled our mouths with sweetness again. We sat down to a breakfast of jaggery dosa and green chutney as the sun began to heat up. After a farewell, we piled back in the truck and headed toward a near-by water fall. Our short trek to the falls was full of wonderment as we stared up at the beauty of ancient trees and playful, vibrant flowers. At the sight of the falls we were elated, a few of us unable to contain our excitement and jumping in right away. The water was cold, even by Luci’s Minnesotan standards, but it came as a relief to the sun, humidity and layer of camping we’d acquired.

Everyone piled up in the truck!

The waterfall

Smiling and soggy, we came back for our final meal together at the forest center. We chatted, napped and reflected on our journey. We came together to share our favorite moments and everyone got to try the bangli-roti they’d learned to make the afternoon before. As a parting gift, we gave out jaggery recipe booklets filled with traditional delicacies our friends could try to make at home. A successful first annul jaggery festival had us already planning for next year. The weekend finished as it had begun, with smiles and sweetness flowing between BuDa friends in the forest.

Recipe booklet binding, one of the preparations for the festival, enjoyed by the BuDa team

Post One – By Marlharrissa Lagardere

Disclaimer: I am not a profound scholar or novelist. My biggest goal in life is to simply live and luckily not make any enemies along the way. I have traveled to India in order to fulfill the mandated international experience required for all International and Global Studies majors at my respected university. I chose India on a whim, simply because it was one of the countries that I knew the least about and would possibly give me the greatest cultural experience. And that is what has lead me here: writing a blog about being a brown-skinned woman in a country living in a country once colonized by the imperial strong arm of England and is currently combating systematic hierarchies, deeply rooted with hints of racial separation, such as the caste system that has plagued their country for centuries.

I have never experienced racism. Actually I am lying; in kindergarten, I had accused three white girls of being racist towards me because they did not sit next to me at the lunch table. My teacher’s attempt to address my accusation was to have me to point out all of the people who were my friends and as I single-handedly pointed out people one by one, I was taken back at the end of her exercise when I noticed I had pointed out an astonishing number of white classmates. Even at six years old I had been bested by my own ignorance, an ignorance that would follow me for years to come, believing that racism was simply a white and black issue. It would not be until my second year of college that I would have another run-in with covert racism. One of my professors had taken the liberty to count the number of African American students out loud to illustrate his point of the percentage of students who were not closely related to Neanderthals in contrast to white students, who are the closest related descendants of Neanderthals. As if clearly stating the researched fact was not enough for college educated students to comprehend, counting out the number of brown-skinned individuals had to be added to add a slight flair to his point. Was it even fair for me to count this incident as my professor being racist, I am unsure; but I know that in that moment I had never felt so singled out before. Yet, even then I still believed that racism was a black and white issue because of how the incident presented itself.

I have been in India for over forty days. And within those forty days I have been asked what my “mother tongue” is, if I really was a student studying abroad from America, and generally ignored on a daily basis. I am studying in India with sixteen other students from America and who all happen to be white, expect one Asian student. I am not here to pass judgment on any of my fellow peers but I am here to properly paint a picture of my experience. I have lost count the amount of time that I have subtlety and overtly been overlooked in order to get near my white peers or have the opportunity to have a picture taken with the “white Americans”. I know that this sort of behavior is not specific to just India but in a city who has one of the largest foreigner populations in India, my ignorance of racism and of the heritage of this country made me assume that I would be as widely accepted as my fellow Americans. Instead, I am attempting to understand the still paralyzing effects of the caste system and how it has left me as brown as a common Indian and as African as my very distant ancestors. How I once believed that people saw me is no longer because that would imply that people actually see me. In a country with over one billion residents, it would be futile for me to think that I would be received with open arms and sought after like a rare gem, yet when I have seen almost three white-skin foreigners to my black-skin ones, one cannot help but wonder why the minority is not favored?

Post 1 – By Vasavi Nigam

As I boarded the plane at London Heathrow airport, several different thoughts and questions came running to my mind. I was nostalgic looking back on the beautiful 6 months I had spent studying abroad in London, and as usual excited about going home and being able to see my family in New Delhi. One thing that definitely made me chuckle was the contrast between being back in the scorching Indian heat after about 6 months of dealing with gloomy English weather. Surprisingly, the sky as I flew out of London was actually clearing out and there were beautiful rays of sunshine falling through the clouds on London while upon landing in New Delhi the next morning and heading to work on permits for work, it was in fact raining.

Beautiful Delhi sky.

I looked forward to the heat, I looked forward to the summer in New Delhi and most importantly somewhere, looked forward to reuniting with the beautiful girls I had met last summer during the Phase 1 of my Brandeis India Fellowship in the summer of 2014. Since this was a project where I was working with the Indian government at the largest Government girl child shelter home of the country (which was located inside one of the most secure prison facilities of the country in New Delhi), it took a lot to get past the bureaucratic layers of the system in order to obtain permissions and get verified. Definitely, a more harrowing experience than the Summer of 2014 where the rules were relatively more lapse. Due to having established relations with the Residing Officer/Superintendent of the shelter during my first summer there, the process was a little faster but it did not help that she was getting transferred to a different post the month I was about to start. This meant having to convince the new Superintendent about the benefits of the program and working on establishing a fresh and effective relation with her.

After jumping through the many hoops like a circus animal, I finally had all the permissions and verifications in place to see my girls and start my work for the summer. The only unfortunate thing in this situation was, by the time all this came through, they barely had 15 days left for their summer vacation to end which resulted in me having to reschedule and rework my program plan.

I remember standing outside staring at the half broken rusty dusty board that said Nirmal Chhaya – Girl Shelter, Tihar Jail Complex for a couple of minutes. I had all these apprehensions; I was anxious as to whether the girls would remember me, did they want me back, would anyone come to class or will I be able to make a difference this summer given the limited time I had. But I knew I had to go in to find out, so I quickly gave myself a pep talk and entered through the big grilled doors of the home. After doing my entry in the visitor’s log as was routine, going through a physical check and submitting my phone, as soon as I entered the premises I saw almost all of the girls were standing there in anticipation, waiting! It felt like a typical dramatic Bollywood movie where you see characters reuniting after ages. We ran towards each other and they all flooded me together resulting in a big hug. That feeling of meeting the girls after a year can not be described in words. It was such a happy moment for me and them. In that moment, all my apprehensions were gone, I knew this summer would definitely be fruitful. We chatted for a few hours till their lunch time and with a promise to come back the next day, I left with so much hope and happiness in my heart. Seeing the girls so happy to see me definitely boosted my confidence and made me feel like I somewhere did make a difference. I was all charged to return back the next day and begin phase 2 of my project!!

Settling in at 4000 Meters – By Holly Walters

At 4000 meters, the view is not the only thing that’s breath-taking.

It’s a pun I’ve heard a few times now, but it is more truth than humor. The village of Ranipauwa, where I’m slowly settling in for the next few weeks of fieldwork, is truly a fascinating place. Focused largely on the Hindu pilgrims that frequent Muktinath-Chumig Gyatsa temple (only a few hundred meters outside of the village), the main road of the village tends to include mostly guesthouses or dharamsalas (for poorer pilgrims), a few shops selling water and snacks, and some strategically placed permit checkposts lest you attempt to wander the area surreptitiously. As in Pokhara, there are also a few Shaligram sellers and also just as in Pokhara, they are all Buddhist. I suspect my interest in the kinds of religious syncretism and co-participation common to this region will soon be taking an economic turn. The number of stones sold is surprising, and many stone sellers explain that they have a specific supplier. By the sounds of it, as I suspected in Jomsom when I met a few stone hunters on the banks of the Kali-Gandaki, there are professional Shaligram hunters who scour the river beds for stones that they then sell to Buddhist shops all along the pilgrimage circuit. This is particularly interesting because the Skanda Purana specifically forbids the buying and selling of these stones and yet, I can’t help but conclude that the sheer volume of stones being sold must indicate the Hindu pilgrims are buying them. To Western trekkers, they would be little more than a cheap novelty, if they knew what they were at all.

My insistent questions have also revealed a few other interesting points of order. Firstly, that some Buddhist sellers are no longer content to wait for the relatively rare stones of the river beds to materialize and are now actively mining them from the mountain side. Secondly, these mined stones (which are clearly not rounded and many aren’t even black) are being met with some degree of resistance. Those who buy stones are obviously less interested in “mountain stones” than they are “river stones.” However, many sellers have commented that “the mountain has so many stones” and waiting for river stones is sometimes difficult. Lastly, the earthquake has been both a concern and a boon in this region in terms of stones. While very few tourists have made their way to Muktinath this season, the earthquake does not seem to have deterred many pilgrims, which is providing at least something of a windfall for the economy here. And while the earthquake did not cause significant damage to Ranipauwa, there are several areas where landslides and fault breaks have revealed new stone beds in the mountain side. Many people have already begun digging in these areas in search of new stones.

My hope now going forward is to try and get more time with the incoming pilgrims. Meeting the stone sellers is one thing, but I now need to know more about who they are selling to.

Read more on Holly’s blog.

These raw “Golden Egg” type Shaligrams have been exposed by a recent landslide related to the earthquake.


Finally, a decent picture of the famous Thorong La Pass to Tibet.


The view taken from just outside Ranipauwa.


On our way up to Muktinath Temple..

Breaking the Boundaries of Women’s Oppression in Rural West Bengal – By Sydney Skov

Recently I traveled to a community just outside of Kolkata, to an area called South 24 Parganas, to meet a woman who is promoting women’s rights from the grassroots. After driving through the lush greenery of palms and cultivated fields, a welcome change from the bustle and concrete of Kolkata, I was warmly greeted by a woman named Runu. She led me into a compound of several small buildings with a central courtyard criss-crossed by colorful laundry lines that was home to her and her extended family. I set up a camera and we began an interview that would shed light on the realities faced by women in West Bengal.

The area of South 24 Parganas is well known for being a source of trafficked children, especially young girls. The realities of growing up a girl in a rural environment in West Bengal are still bleak; many girls have no access to education or if they do, they are not allowed to attend because of prevailing beliefs that girls are an unworthy investment (destined to work in the home and be married off to live in someone else’s family) or they are forced to drop out due to social pressures, household responsibilities, or the myriad pressures of poverty. Families living in poverty can be persuaded to sell their children wittingly to a brothel or can be easily tricked by a trafficker, told that their child will be given a productive job in the city. Instead she is sent to sell sex. Girls who remain with their families in rural areas grow up with little exposure to various ways of life and believe that marrying young and working in the home is the only option for their lives. They grow up in an environment in which community members listen to a scene of domestic violence playing out in a neighbor’s house for entertainment.

Runu is an inspirational woman. Not only has she taken charge of and transformed her own life but she is leading community initiatives to help other women in the surrounding communities do the same. Years ago, she was involved in an abusive and violent relationship with the father of her son and was struggling to find a way out to protect herself and her child.

If a woman, alone, approaches a police station in South 24 Parganas and reports that she has been beaten, abused, or raped, she will be sent away. Completely ignored. Enter Jeevika, an organization promoting women’s rights and access to education and legal recourse across communities in South 24 Parganas. Jeevika is a collaborating parter of Kolkata Sanved, the NGO implementing culturally sensitive Dance Movement Therapy sessions for the psychosocial rehabilitation of survivors of trafficking and violence with which I am currently working. Runu came to Jeevika and found a way to file the appropriate legal documents with the support of Jeevika and the community. Now an independent and well established community action group called Alordisha supports women who are in violent or abusive relationships. Runu is now a leading member of Alordisha. Jeevika also conducts rights and gender workshops which offer knowledge of and exposure to other avenues and livelihood options for girls and women.

The video that Runu and I created together about her transformation and her inspiring work with Alordisha and Jeevika will be shown in two weeks time during the NGO CSW Forum. Her voice will be heard alongside those of Jeevika Executive Director, Dolon Ganguly and Kolkata Sanved Founder Director, Sohini Chakraborty during a parallel event titled, Breaking Boundaries, Building Lives to be held on March 17th. The parallel event is part of this year’s Committee on the Status of Women, Beijing 20+ at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. From South 24 Parganas to New York City, we must remember that the fight for women’s equality is far from over. However, I find hope in the stories of powerful and inspiring women like Runu who are shaking the ground beneath our feet.

Saving Lives Through Dance – By Sydney Skov

Nayani and I were wandering the streets of Kolkata, strolling languidly in the heat and chatting in a mix of Bengali, English and emphatic gesticulation. We stopped to purchase vegetable fritters popping in oil and Nayani asked me with an ironic smile what I wanted to be when I grew up. I grimaced self consciously; at 24 I was sure of my seemingly disparate passions for dance and global human rights but was unsure of my path. Without answering, I asked her what she wanted to be. “I wanted to be a dancer and I became one,” she said with a flippant shrug.

This friend of mine lives in a Muslim slum area deep within the crowded streets of Kolkata and was raised knowing that she would not gain an education like her brother and that, as a girl, she could not pursue her dreams. Despite the obstacles, she did it anyway, becoming a professional dancer and skilled dance movement therapist. At 27, I know undeniably what I want to do and what I want to become; Nayani ’s unapologetic confidence pushed me to believe in my passion to move against human trafficking and gender-based violence through dance despite the fear that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. She remains a guiding force to this day. I have returned to Kolkata to work for a second time with Kolkata Sanved, a non-profit organization which uses dance and Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) as rehabilitation for survivors of human trafficking and violence.

Kolkata Sanved’s main program, Saving Lives through Dance, is based on the belief that all individuals should live lives of dignity and respect and that this sense of empowerment can be accomplished through DMT. In 2011 When I first visited a shelter home with dance therapy practitioners from Kolkata Sanved to watch a DMT session, I couldn’t help but be skeptical. I am a dancer trained in the Western cannon; I grew up doing tap, jazz, and ballet with every intention of becoming a professional. Despite my own love of dance, I couldn’t banish the thought that these children would think dance was a waste of time. The DMT practitioners working at Kolkata Sanved are themselves survivors of trafficking and violence and have undergone the organization’s healing and recovery program and engaged in a two year training program to become skilled dance movement therapists, earning livelihoods as facilitators, artists, and activists. They were completely confident walking into the empty, cement-floored room that would be our dance space. As they began to dance, with 40 children copying every movement, my skepticism fell away and I saw that dance was not frivolous. On the contrary, dance was everything.

The organization’s founder, who has worked with survivors for two decades, has a deep understanding of what regional rehabilitation programs for trafficking survivors are lacking: trained counselors and a focus on mental and emotional health. Many programs offer tangible assistance such as food, clothing, shelter, and sometimes education and skills training. What is forgotten is the immense physical and emotional trauma experienced by many of these youth that is locked within their bodies. Especially in cases of sexual exploitation, the body becomes a source of shame; disassociation occurs between mind and body. The power of Dance Movement Therapy stems from the fact that the body is the tool for transformation, helping individuals reclaim their own bodies, build self confidence, and mend the mind and body connection. Through physical, cognitive, and emotional skill building and expression, DMT provides a non-judgmental and non-threatening environment in which youth living in shelter homes can heal and feel free. The use of DMT in group settings and for the express purpose of trauma release and healing is unique in India as well as across the world. Expressive arts therapies are utilized globally and more attention is being paid to their effectiveness as part of holistic healing programs. However, dance and Dance Movement Therapy are rarely mentioned.

Kolkata Sanved’s work is groundbreaking in the fields of rehabilitation, reintegration, social development, and international development at large. As the organization grows, their ability to make a global impact increases.

I don’t see dance only as an art form or as a tool for rehabilitation, I see it as an untapped force connecting humans across the globe that could change the way individuals and development practitioners alike approach empowerment, child protection, and peace building. It is not the academic jargon, horrifying statistics, or nightmare inducing stories of exploitation I hear daily that propel me to work for justice, women’s rights, and social change. It is the happiness, hope, and unadulterated power that dance and creative expression evoke in once victimized survivors of trafficking and violence that show the power of this work to change lives and that this is the work I must do.

Learn more about Kolkata Sanved at www.kolkatasanved.org and my own project based on their work at www.freebodyproject.org.

Kolkata Sanved

Thoughts from Pune: Part 2 – By Katherine Zheng

Hi again,

Previously, I mentioned that I researched tourism in Pune. More specifically, I was assigned to work with the local and only bus tour company, the Pune Darshan Bus Tour, with the help of the development NGO, Janwani. The goal was to determine how the decisions of actors involved in the tour (the public relations officer of the bus company (PRO), tour guides, bus drivers, tourists, and site owners) shaped local history as a tourist commodity, and specifically financial motives such as profit and budget takes priority over cultural heritage and local history. The results were as follows:

For site owners, I got to interview the director of the Kelkar Museum (a museum devoted to the display of Indian artifacts of everyday life, from combs to musical instruments to toys and so forth) and the director of the Ambedkar museum (a museum devoted to the life of Dr. BR Ambedkar, who wrote the Indian constitution).   The museum director was very keen to tell me the operations of his museum and his future plans. He repeatedly emphasized the need for funding from the local government and associated NGOs to update facilites and expand the museum so it could house the entire Kelkar collection of artifacts, most of which are in storage at the moment. Something that stuck out to me was that he specifically mentioned the maintenance of his toilets, that he always makes sure the washrooms are kept clean so that if the “Prime Minister” of the United States were to visit tomorrow and use the washroom, he would notice how clean it is. Curiously, he said that most visitors are from outside Pune, and that few actual people from Pune visit the museum. I asked him if he had a theory as to why and he said that most people aren’t aware of it because it lacks presence as a space. Also he doesn’t know completely why either, and would like to find out. Also, at the end of the interview, he extended an invitation to me as a member of the family of the Kelkar museum and asked if I had had any means of contributing to the museum from the US, I should do so. I don’t know if it is within my power, but it was rather nice of him and I also wonder if he does this to all the foreigners he works with.

For the director of the Ambedkar museum, it turns out that as it is owned by the local college, the Symbiosis society, upon which it is heavily dependent for funds. As the museum is a non-profit institution, they haven’t changed the arrangement of displays and objects since its founding in the 70s.

As with the PRO, it was a shorter interview as he was busy and people constantly came in to have him sign documents and he answered phone calls throughout. Also, a man walked in and talked to him for 15 minutes about salary matters. In asking him about the operations of the bus tour, he disproved my assumptions about the tour being a for-profit business, but rather it receives funding from the government for their services. The inadequacies on the tour wasn’t because they didn’t plan on adding A/C buses or updating the company website for public access information, it’s because there is no funding to do so.

For tour guides and drivers, their main concerns about the tour was the operations itself: sometimes the bus had to be driven without proper maintenance, due to lack of funding, putting stress on their jobs. Also, they cared a lot about local history, citing that that was the reason why they applied to work on the tour, and in addition, the PRO said it was a requirement in hiring. They all said if they were to make any changes to the job, it would be to have better buses with A/C and maintenance, a tv set, and complimentary snacks for tourists.

As for the tourists, they all held middle-class occupations such as teacher or engineer, and interestingly, came from outside Maharastra. The ones I interviewed had a mild interest in Pune, in that they don’t know too much about the city and were “passing through”.

From this, the largest lesson and conclusion I came to draw and learn was that in some ways critical thinking is a first world privilege, or at least it comes easier to those who can afford to have free time and energy to themselves to ponder: the women in Velhe were not taught philosophy, sociology, or literature as we would in our education, and according to my classmates who intern in Pune private schools, the children who attend these institutions are either in the middle to upper class of society or their families are poor and put all that they have so that their son or daughter will have a better life at their expense. Similarly, museums and tourism as institutions can only come about once there is enough money to support it: the Kelkar museum director and the PRO were quite keen on expanding their respective businesses, but cited that funding was the biggest problem. Particularly, the Kelkar museum director said that museums are “not in the blood of Indians” because most Indians just live day-to-day and don’t really think about cultural preservation or history. Ultimately, this serves as a testament to how post-industrial of an institution the museum is.

I suppose if I had more time, or if I could go back again, the scope of this study would include far more representatives of each cohort I interviewed to provide more of a representative picture of tourism in Pune, which I guess I’ll keep in mind for the future. But it’s been interesting.

Cheers again,

Kat Zheng

Thoughts from Pune – By Katherine Zheng

Greetings all,

Over this summer, I had the chance to go Pune, Maharastra to research tourism in the developing world, using Pune as an example. It wasn’t exactly easy, but in all my studies and adventures, I bring the following notable observations and lessons: Billboards and advertisements promising shiny new lives stand next to piles of trash and improvised housing; the Gokhale Institute for Politics and Economics, which is where we studied, there have been power outages despite it being rather clean; there have been minimal restorations to colonial residences and everything is a bit dingy. It’s hard to tell if a structure or building is decaying or being developed sometimes, making an interesting juxtaposition. Most notably, on a visit to the Pune Okayama Friendship Garden, a public park with manicured lawns complete with a lake and a pavilion, there was a slum neighborhood in clear view in the distance overlooking the garden. The slum itself is called Parvati, and consists of bright pastel­painted buildings about the size of Tokyo low­rise apartments (although in Tokyo they would cost vastly more). If you had to have a picture about the aesthetics of development, this would be it. There is poverty, but people still manage to live and thrive despite it, and with support. We went to a village two hours away from Pune, called Velhe. The purpose of this two­day excursion was to give us a look into how “real Indians” lived. The first day, this involved meeting with the local microfinance NGO and a visit to someone’s house in the village. The NGO worked with the local women, loaning them money to start new businesses, or teaching them new skills such as sewing or drawing mehendi so that they could leave the village to start a life in the city if they so wished. Their work in gender empowerment was not without challenges; one of the women had hitmen sent after her by some of the men in the village, and even the head of the NGO had men try to drive her out with machetes. Some of the women, although they received education from the NGO, still had to stay on the farm to work because familial obligations were too strong to pull away from. However, their successes seemed to outweigh all the conflicts, as the organization has held its foothold since its establishment in 2006, and classes have around a 70% graduation rate. Furthermore, as India is largely an agrarian society, most places have access to fresh produce. Some farms don’t use pesticides because it’s expensive. Our idea of the farmer’s market is just regular markets in Pune, which greatly outnumber supermarkets in the city. My host mother would walk to one five minutes down the road daily to buy vegetables. I asked the lecturer for our Contemporary India course, why are there no lawnmowers in India, in reference to the fact that the grass on campus was cut by workers using sickles and no power tools. He replied that it’s because labor is cheap enough in India so that employers can hire a large human staff, and automated devices are expensive by comparison. Maybe that’s partly why familial and communal relations are so strong there, because a lot more people are involved in a workplace? Anyways, the lack of automation was prevalent throughout the trip: back at Velhe, we also visited a carpenter who made tabla drums, almost completely by hand (he had a gas­powered lathe), and our host mother took us to see a glass artist, who shapes small glass sculptures by holding two glass rods over an acetylene flame wearing only sunglasses for protection.

There are street dogs everywhere! More so than street cats. Apparently, they’re protected by Indian law and it is illegal to poison or cause physical harm in any way to them. Also they’re a species of scavenger dogs that have been around for centuries. Not that they seem to live easy lives, though: many have missing limbs or ears, patchy fur, look infected generally emaciated. There was one who slept at the front of our house everyday, that we named Sam. The thing is though, there are owners of actual pet dogs, but the only way you can tell they were pets was that they had a collar and leash. Also, it seemed kind of amazing the way the dogs could just fall asleep serenely on a busy sidewalk, with light­speed traffic whizzing just mere inches from them.

Overall, I would say these observations feed into the larger lesson about travel in the developing world: it’s not so much that things are better or worse than things back home in the States, it’s just that they are different. For India, or at least Pune, I would say that although some infrastructure is missing, life is just simpler.

Happy Independence Day – By Teleah Slater

August 15th, 2014

Happy Independence Day! Today was the day that India finally broke free from Great Brittan back in 1947. It is so interesting seeing how much Independence Day means to the people here. There is so much more patriotic spirit here in comparison to the US. There are flags everywhere and buttons with India’s colors and everyone is dressed up, even the shopkeepers near my house. One of the older girls at the school even helped me put on my sari, which was surprisingly comfortable. I suppose that because India got its independence relatively recently, I mean there are still people alive that remember what it was like when the country was still under British occupation. I tried explaining what the fourth of July was like for us here to the kids at the school, but all I could really think about was barbeque and fireworks.

Even though it was a holiday, students still came to the school I work in but there were no classes. Instead there was an assembly, and the different classes all put on cute performances. There were some songs, some dances, and even some speeches in English! The girls from the hostel, who live at the school, all sang the song they had been practicing for the past two weeks, and everyone loved it! I was so proud of them! It was so nice seeing the joy on their faces! This was definitely my favorite day here.Slater Post 1 Slater Post 2 Slater Post3 Slater Post 4

Starting at the Grassroots Level – By Teleah Slater

June 28th, 2014

After being in India for about two weeks, today I finally started doing the grassroots community work I came here to do. I attended HIV workshop with the rickshaws with my supervisor, Abhinav and the foundation’s event coordinator, Bharat and it was an incredible experience. We traveled to the residential slums of Varanasi early in the morning before most of the men had to leave into the busier part of the city for work. I was informed that the brick and concrete structure I arrived to was very recently built, and up until six months ago the inhabitants of it had been living in essentially an empty lot, camped out there while they were in the city for work. Upwards of fifty people lived in this comparatively small space, with some individual rooms on the ground floor that seemed to be reserved for the oldest among them or those with families, but most of the men lived together in an open space on the second floor that seemed unfinished, as it only had three walls.

Abhinav and Bharat brought T-shirts for the men, which we handed out to the audience of over forty rickshaws. They featured facts about HIV/AIDs and HIV prevention in Hindi and began teaching about HIV by using the information on the shirts given out. The rickshaws reacted very well to this, as the meeting leaders engaged them by having all in attendance wear the shirt and called several up to the front to show what they were saying corresponded with their T-shirts. Even though I couldn’t really understand the workshop or really talk to any of the rickshaws, I was so excited to be there because I actually got to meet the people the foundation serves and witnessed their work while learning about an unique educational technique that I had never seen before. This has been the most satisfying thing that I have done since I got here and I really hope to do more work with it in the future.