First Excursion: Aligarh, Hannah’s Second Post

Written April 19, 2013


To my friends and loved ones in Boston,

I could never have imaged that Boston would be a more dangerous place than Delhi. You are in my thoughts, and I am sending you all love from this part of the world. Please stay inside until this scary situation blows over, and I do urge you to keep in contact. Even though I might be halfway across the world, I am available as a resource for anyone who wants it.

So, I thought I might write a blog post to distract you all from your worries. I apologize for the prolonged hiatus. Computer problems and traveling have stunted my blogging. I know I’m behind on posting, but I’m working really hard to catch up. Be on the lookout for more posts within the next few weeks.

The first excursion, towards the beginning of the program, was to Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. Aligarh is a small village in rural India, known for making quality locks. This was my first time escaping Delhi, and I absolutely loved being away from the crowds, the excessive noise, and the black smog and pollution of the city. Rural India was magical. Fields filled with grains, sugar cane, and drying cow dung (used for fuel) spanned as far as my eye could see. The air was so fresh, that for the first time since being in India, I could take in deep breathes to let my lungs expand.

While we were in Aligarh, it was sugar cane harvesting season. As we drove to and from various locations learning about the healthcare system, I chewed / sucked on sticks of sugar cane. Yummy! The trucks transporting the sugar cane had destroyed the dirt roads, making our travels very bumpy. I enjoyed it though, cause I got to eat my sugar cane!

We went to Aligarh specifically because it is the home of Aligarh Muslim University, one of the premier Muslim universities in India, and the alma mater of two of my professors on the program (basically, my professors have a lot of connections with the university, and connections are everything in India). The purpose of this excursion was to expose us to the various levels of the healthcare system. We spent the week visiting three levels of the system, and learning about the factors hindering its effectiveness.

In India, health is a state subject. Funding comes from the government, but specifics concerning how those funds are allocated and determined by the state. Unfortunately, the government only spends 2% of its total GDP on healthcare, a percentage which is amongst the lowest in the world. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the United States spends over 15% of its GDP on healthcare. Technically, India has a universal healthcare system, meaning that everyone supposedly has equal access to the healthcare system. This is not the case; factors such as caste, socioeconomic status, gender, education, geographic location, political connections, superstitions and spiritual beliefs, and corruption hinder people from accessing care.

Me and my friend Noel in front of the CHC

Me and my friend Noel in front of the CHC

The healthcare system is divided between the public and private sector. The private sector provides care to almost 70% of people residing in cities (the wealthy). The remaining segment, mostly rural populations, depend on the government to provide care. A huge problem plaguing India’s healthcare system, especially in rural areas, is a lack of doctors. Although India produces the greatest amount of doctors in the world, few decide to practice in India. Of the few who decide to stay, very few want to practice in rural settings. The government attempts to combat this problem by making mandatory placements, for new doctors as well as those in need of punishment (usually because of political altercations), in rural locations. Although the government attempts to place doctors in rural locations, most refuse to live in such harsh conditions. Unfortunately, many doctors avoid this “punishment” by paying off government officials. Corruption in India is everywhere. I would say, although its not politically correct, that nothing in India is illegal: some things just have fines.

Health Announcement

Health Announcement

The current focus of public health within India is on mothers and newborn children. There is minimal, if any preventative care available for anyone else. The system is divided into three levels. The first level is the sub-center. The sub-center is “suppose” to cater to a population size between 3000 and 5000 people. The center that I visited provided care to nearly 12,000 people. An Auxiliary Health Nurse (ANM), resides at the sub-center.

Continue reading and see more pictures on Hannah’s blog:

An Extraordinary Six Months – Ellie’s Final Reflection

After officially finishing my semester of studies in Delhi, I can’t help but reflect on the amalgamation of experiences, feelings, and emotions that I have experienced while studying abroad in India. My short six months of studies and travel have flown by, and yet I have experienced such an array of confusion, juxtaposition, and contradictions that have made my experiences in India at times overwhelmingly indescribable and extraordinary. While reflecting on my past six months, one of the only continuities that I can honestly say extended throughout my semester abroad is a sense of inconsistency and unexpectedness that I had yet to ever experience elsewhere. My experience in India was undoubtedly meaningful and life-changing, but above all it taught me to expect the unexpected and adapt to life’s continual surprises.

Our first time dealing with “Delhi Belly”

Our first time dealing with “Delhi Belly”

Despite the countless lessons and understandings that my semester in India has left me with, one very concrete learning experience from my semester abroad is my decision to volunteer at a local NGO called Prayas. The Prayas Juvenile-aid Center for underprivileged is an organization that specifically houses adolescent girls within the Delhi area who have experienced sexual assault, violence, or other traumatic experiences in their lives that prohibit them from returning home safely. This organization provides psychological care, housing, general education, vocational studies as well as sexual health and wellness education for both the Prayas girls as well as local underprivileged slum children. At this organization, I volunteered weekly through lesson planning, teacher assistance, English language and grammar teaching, and academic material preparation in order to help the organization achieve its academic objectives.

A group of students from Prayas

A group of students from Prayas

My experience volunteering at Prayas was by far one of the most challenging and ultimately rewarding experiences during my semester in India. Despite numerous challenges I overcame with transportation, language, culture shock, cultural differences, and more throughout the semester, none of these concerns compared to how difficult it was to volunteer at an NGO in a foreign country. Although I initially predicted difficulties because of my own limited knowledge of Hindi, I never suspected the vast differences I found between NGOs in India and the NGOs I was more accustomed to back in the States- particularly within organization, implementation, administrative corruption, and overall quality of education. Despite these many differences that initially left me questioning my overall place and ability to help improve Prayas’s accomplishments, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was to step back and reestablishing my own goals towards a personal learning experience about Indian NGOs and facilitating the NGO rather than attempting to completely reorganizing the center within a short six months. Through this mindset, I was able to minimize my own imposition as a foreign volunteer and instead focus my own work around how I could best aid the organization in its own pre-established objectives.

Students participating in a game of “Ellie Ketihe” (or Simon Says) at Prayas

Students participating in a game of “Ellie Ketihe” (or Simon Says) at Prayas

Through my weekly visits to the Prayas campus, I learned how to establish meaningful and consistent relationships with my supervisor, the Prayas teachers, and the students despite very apparent cultural and language barriers. While many aspects of the organization were overwhelmingly heavy at times, particularly the living conditions and personal lives of the students I worked with, I aspired to encourage the students towards academic achievement and personal strength towards their futures. On a weekly basis, I prepared English-learning games, activities, and lessons in order to get to know the students better and make them more comfortable with myself as a volunteer. By the end of the semester, I struggled on my own to say goodbyes to the children I had become so close with. On the final day when tears were shed and hugs were dispersed throughout the classroom, I could only hope that my semester of volunteering made some sort of long-term positive impact within their lives and with the organization itself. While my experiences at Prayas spanned from motivational, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking, volunteering during my semester abroad was one of the most significant decisions I made while in India. I only hope that future students hoping to study abroad in India also choose to volunteer at Prayas or another similar NGO, as it was a truly wonderful way to both give back and receive one of the most meaningful foreign volunteer and cultural immersion experiences I could have imagined.

The Indian experience- riding my first elephant!

The Indian experience- riding my first elephant!

In addition to personal growth in my own physical and mental flexibility, endurance, and independence, India has left me with a plethora of uniquely hilarious anecdotes that I will bring with me throughout the rest of my life. From the time I had a bag of Kurkure (Indian-style Cheetos) stolen directly out of my hands by a monkey in central Delhi, the time I was pelted by water balloons while riding in an Auto-rickshaw the day before Holi, or the first time I walked out onto marble to see the magnificent Taj Mahal at sunrise, India has bestowed me with a set of inconceivable, unimaginably funny, exhaustive, and at times overwhelming memories that will always remind me of my semester abroad. My semester in Delhi has been undeniably one of the most significant and extraordinary experiences of my college experience, and I will always remember my infinite memories of confusion, shock, awe, and endearment when I think of the six months I spent abroad in India.

A group of IES students celebrating the Indian holiday, Holi

A group of IES students celebrating the Indian holiday, Holi

– Ellie Kaufman ’14

Update from Ellie Kaufman

Hello from New Delhi! My name is Ellie Kaufman, and I am currently a junior at Brandeis majoring in Art History and Anthropology with a minor in South Asian Studies. I decided to spend my Spring 2013 semester in India through the IES Delhi program. This program allows us to take a variety of liberal arts electives through our program center ranging from “Indian Women in Fiction and Film” to “Indian Classical Music Methodology and Practice”, as well as a few other options at local Indian universities. After our first two weeks of orientation, I decided that my semester course load would include a Survey of Indian Art class through the National Museum Institute in New Delhi and the following classes through the IES center: Yoga Philosophy and Practice, Cities of Delhi, Indian Socio-Economic Development, and Service Learning. One thing that I really liked about the IES program was the amount of experiential learning classes they offer- both my Cities of Delhi and Indian Socio-Economic Development classes include weekly field trips that range from archaeological sites within Delhi to rural village excursions within Northern India.

blogphoto2            For my Service Learning class, we are required to choose a specific NGO we are interested in volunteering with on a weekly basis for the course of the semester. For my service, I decided to volunteer at Prayas Juvenille Aid Center: an NGO in Delhi working with underprivileged children and women within the local communities. This center focuses specifically on issues such as juvenile justice, child labour, trafficking, abuse, and child protection, as well as provision of alternative education and economic empowerment. At this organization, I have done a combination of both hands-on volunteering- such as teaching math lessons and playing English learning games during recess with the children- and a variety of more technical work, such as making a new informational brochure and helping out with their new website.

Through this experience, I have learned so much about the importance of community development and participation in regards to social justice as well as the many ways in which NGOs in Delhi differ drastically than what one would expect back in the States. Something that I think has been the most challenging throughout this experience is the amount of cultural and language barriers that are so evidently present within service learning environments. While I have spent the past two months getting to know the children, teachers, and administrators at this center, I still at times feel disheartened by the amount of additional help I know I would be able to contribute if I was a native speaker of Hindi. Despite this challenge, I still aspire to continue helping these students to the best of my ability- through simple games of “Ellie Ketihe” (the Hindi version of “Simon Says”), English Pictionary, and daily conversations about our favorite hobbies, foods, and daily life experiences in Delhi.

blogphoto3            In addition to weekly hours dedicated to my service learning site, I have definitely found a routine of sorts within my new life in Delhi. Throughout the week, I go from my home-stay in Greater Kailash II, a relatively upper-class neighborhood in South Delhi, to our program center in New Friends Colony. Unfortunately neither my home stay nor our program center is located by a metro stop, which means that I commute every day by way of auto-rickshaw. This transportation, depending on the amount of haggling necessary until we settle on the price of 60 rs, usually takes a short twenty minutes before I make it to our program center. At my home stay, I live in a loft with Auntie Chopra and three other students from our program. My Auntie has lived in her loft for over thirty years, and has four daughters that are all married and living in their prospective homes, from right down the street to all the way in California. While it may seem a bit lonely, there is never a dull moment at the Chopra household. Auntie is always having her daughters, son-in-laws, and grandkids come and visit for weekly dinners and significant events (such as weddings, anniversaries, and religious holidays). Auntie Chopra treats us all as if we were her own Betas (the word for Daughters in Hindi) and eats dinner with us everyday after we return from our classes and daily excursions into the busy city.

For the majority of weekends this semester, I have participated in program-directed weekend excursions and/or planned a variety of independent travel plans around the surrounding areas of India with other students at our program. Within the first two weeks of India, the program was taken on an excursion to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan to see tigers, spotted deer, and a variety of other endangered species. Further into the semester, we also visited Varanasi, one of the holiest Hindu cities located in Uttar Pradesh, and walked along the ghats of the river Ganges. During free weekends, we have planned trips to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur to shop in the Pink City and ride elephants up to the Amber Fort, Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra to walk along strawberry fields, and Alleppey in Kerala to lounge on the beach and eat meals off of freshly picked banana leafs. Three other weekends have been dedicated to rural excursion field trips for our Indian Socio-Economic Development class, where we travel to rural villages and do community-based mapping exercises to analyze and observe the structure of villages in terms of education, public resources, job availability and quality, and caste dynamics in areas of socio-economic distress. For these trips, we have visited Tilonia, a rural village within the deserts of Rajasthan; Chamba, a village within the Himalayan mountains in Himachal Pradesh; and Bulandshahr, another larger village within the state the Uttar Pradesh. Through these class-based field trips, we were able to submerse ourselves into the experience of rural India while also hearing first-hand narratives from the villagers and NGO administrators that we met (thankfully we had our professors to help with the translating).

blogphoto1            Throughout my past two and a half months in India, I have been overwhelmed with a plethora of meaningful- and at times entirely contradictory- experiences. I have learned so much regarding everyday life within the city of Delhi and through my travels around various states, and yet I still feel as though there are so many more places I want to visit and concepts I want to understand before my time in India is complete. What I have learned quite evidently is that India is a place of juxtaposition and uncertainty, sublimity and pollution, fortuity and misfortune, tradition and modernity, and astounding diversity. Through these past few months, I have learned that a little flexibility, determination, and openness has allowed me to experience the truly amazing, indescribable, and multifaceted country that is India.

Namaste, and until next time!


Yoga, McLeod Ganj, and more! – Jeremy #2

(Written March 27, 2013)

Greetings everyone!! I hope the snow has begun melting and some semblance of Spring is showing. I am still here in Delhi The heat has dramatically intensified, the festival of colors–Holi begins tomorrow, and preparations for my Independent Study Project have begun.

jeremy2 I just returned from a week long workshop up north in the state, Himachal Pradesh! HP is my favorite place I have seen so far in India. It is lush, green, hilly, and extremely beautiful. The weather is also much cooler, a perfect retreat from the heat of Delhi. Ten students from our program traveled by overnight train to Pathankot, a northern city in the state of Punjab. By now, I am coming to really enjoy overnight trains and learning to sleep relatively well while on-board. Once we arrived in the morning we took a three hour windy, steep car ride up to Palampur. We stayed in Kayakalp at the Himalayan Research Institute for Yoga and Naturopathy. With the grand snow-covered Himalayas in the background, this facility was an oasis for patients with chronic illness seeking a variety of treatments: Ayurvedic Panchkarma, Yoga and Accupressure, Naturopathy, and Physiotherapy. Technically classified as a hospital, it felt more like an alternative spa resort than anything.

Every morning at 5:30am a man wakes you up with hot water. After downing 2-4 glasses to encourage a “movement”, you make your way to the treatment center for Yoga. Now I am a fan of yoga in the states, but this is nothing remotely similar. We begin at 6am with Yogic Kriyas–methods for cleansing. This includes, washing your eyeballs, nedi-potting your sinuses, forced nasal exhalations, gargling, and if you are feeling super adventurous, quickly drinking a pitcher of salt water to force purging.  Not exactly the most pleasant activities first thing in the morning.

After the Kriyas, we go upstairs to the yoga studio for a series of meditation, chanting, postures, and breathing exercises. This yoga was very slow and deliberative, nothing like the aerobic classes I am familiar with in the states. I would say not necessarily better or worse, just different. The hour and a half session closes with laughing yoga. It sounds kind of strange but it is very fun. We do a series of hand movement and “forced” laughing, which eventually turns into more authentic laughter. I will try to describe my favorite exercise: we first pretend as if we are churning butter with our hands, making a “grrrr” sound, while swinging our arms back and forth. Next we pour the imaginary churned butter into an urn “ha, ha, ha” making a thumbs-down motion. After the butter has been prepared we pretend to feed it to each other, making eye contact with each other while pointing and laughing. I guess maybe you just had to be there–I swear it was really fun!

The facility is primarily focused on Ayurvedic practices and treatments, but also has more modern therapies such as physiotherapy and lab facilities. We met with Ayurvedic doctors, specializing in traditional cleansing methods, called panchkarma. They told us the history of Ayurveda, their diagnosis methods, and descriptions of various treatments that focus on balancing one’s doshas. Doshas correlate to different characteristics unique to each person, such as appearance, bodily functions, personality, behavior, and habits . Daily practices, such as exercise and diet aim to balance these doshas but when they are out of balance, disease occurs. They are Vitta, Pitta, and Kapha. With their recommended treatments, which date back to 2500 BCE, along with yoga, diet, and lifestyle changes, they aim to counter these imbalances and restore people’s health.

Based on my pulse and their observations they said I was a Pit-Kaph. Not sure exactly how accurate or what that actually means, but they did advise me to stay away from spicy and fried foods. Kayakalp was a really interesting place to spend a week learning about this very old, but still functional form of medicine. It made me wonder about the efficacy of these non-invasive, drug-free treatments. Are pharmaceuticals always necessary? Why is America one of the only places where Ayurveda is still seen as an  illegitimate form of medicine?

After Kayakalp we took the journey to McLeod Ganj, the place of settlement for Tibetans in refuge, as well as home to the Dalai Lama. We spent one night there, visiting the temple, eating delicious momos (Tibetan fried dumplings), hiking to a glacial river to bask in the beauty of Himachal Pradesh and the great Himalayan Mountains. It was a bit strange being a tourist for once–not knowing the local language and blending in among the many tourists, but had a very good time. We took another overnight train and arrived back in Delhi Saturday morning. I definitely would like to make my way back north.

jeremyI have only three weeks here before I leave my homestay and embark on my Independent Study Project. Where has the time gone?!?! I still cannot believe how quickly this semester has gone, I still cannot believe that it is already the end of March! Last night, the Jewish students from our program got together and went to a Passover Seder at the Chabad House in Delhi. Although many of the other guests were Israeli, so didn’t speak much english, it was comforting being together with other Jews to celebrate Pesach. We were even served brisket!! To explain, beef is extremely difficult to find in India, as the cow is worshipped as holy by Hindus. The Rabbi’s wife explained that they had brought over 20 kilos of Kosher beef from Israel. It was a great night. Happy Pesach!

jeremy5 jeremy3

Holi, the festival of colors begins today. We have no class scheduled today and tomorrow to celebrate. Holi marks the transition from winter into summer. There is a long Hindu story of the derivation of Holi including fires, magic powers, and wishes, but to avoid butchering it, I won’t attempt to explain it all—that’s what Google is for! Those willing to participate in Holi throw colored powder, or Gulal, at each other. Today, children throughout our block have begun throwing water balloons from their balconies at passersbys. The program leaders have warned us about how crazy it gets, but I am unsure how it will really be. We will see what happens tomorrow! Wish me luck! –Jeremy

 (Pictures courtesy of my peers, Emma Wise and Sophie Ohaus)

Beginning Thoughts – Hannah Diamond

(Originally posted February 16, 2013)

Hello from India!!!


Hi everyone!!! As you are all important members of my life, and communication in India can be a challenge, I thought that I would try and share my travels with you through a weekly update. When I started writing this post, it turned out to be quite long, so I am going to divide it into a few sections. The first one will discuss Indian culture, and my reactions. The following updates will discuss more about my program, what I am have been learning, and my adventures in Delhi. Stay tuned!

It was quite a long journey for me to arrive in India. Danny drove me for 4.5 hours to the Newark Airport from Boston, and then it was another 14 hours to Mumbai, a three hours layover, and then a 2 hour flight to Delhi. The plane left from New Jersey at 4:30 pm on January 30th and I arrived at 11:00 pm on the 31st in Delhi. I am not the biggest fan of flying, so to say the least, it was not the most pleasant experience.

When I first arrived, I was overwhelmed by the smell and the smog. Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world. The best description of the smell that I can give you is that of urine. The smog varies depending where you are in the city. I don’t really notice it anymore, but it was impossible to miss when I first got here.

For the first few days, we stayed in a hotel and had orientation. There are 27 kids on my program, 2 of which are boys. All of the students are from the United States, with the exception of Tobias, who is from Germany. Orientation last for four days, and consisted of lectures that discussed safety, how to stay healthy, how to concur culture shock, culturally appropriate behavior (such as what to wear and proper eating manners), home-stay tips, and activities that familiarized us with Delhi, such as taking the metro. After the four days, which we moved out of the hotel and in with our host families.

My host-family has been challenging. The first few days were very difficult, but it is getting easier with time. No family is perfect, and I am trying my best to work with the family as well as my program to help with the transition. Some of the problems stem from cultural differences, and some from issues within family. Let’s just say that I am so grateful to have grown up with some of the most incredible, nurturing parents in the world. I love you Mommy and Daddy!

This week was our first week of classes. Our schedule consists of an hour long lecture on Hindi grammar, followed by a 15 minute chai break. We then have an hour’s worth of Hindi drills, followed by a half hour break. This is followed by an hour and half lecture on a health based topic. This lecture tends to be more than an hour and a half because the Indian concept of time is very different from ours. At 1, we have lunch, followed by optional Hindi office hours from 2 until 4. Our initial lessons are very heavily focused on Hindi because we will be expected to conduct interviews in Hindi during our independent study just two months from now. It is also important because outside of Delhi, fewer people speak English. Often times, instead of Hindi office hours, we will have a day long excursion. A few days ago we visited a slum in south Delhi. I will talk in detail about that visit in a later post.

Interesting things about India!
The bathrooms: Indians do not use toilet paper. Instead, they use a small nozzle that shoots water or a bucket of water. To wipe, they use their left hand. It is socially unacceptable to use your left hand during meals because it is considered dirty (for good reason). I’m a lefty, and I try my best to remember, but often times I still wind up using my left hand. It is something that I hope will come with time. Also, I use toilet paper. I can’t really get use to the whole hand wiping thing. My home-stay and program center both have western toilets, adding to my level of comfort. I will be experiencing non-western toilets for the first time next week during my excursion to Aligarh. These toilets are basically holes in the ground. I’ll let you know how that goes. Keep your fingers crossed.

The showers: I use a bucket. We are lucky enough to have a water heater. Even then, the water is often lukewarm at best. I have successfully learned to wash my hair with a bucket. With the amount of hair I have, I consider this to be quite an accomplishment!

The traffic: Driving here is impossible to compare to anything in the states. The roads are shared by cars, trucks, lots of motorcycles that weave in and out, cows, dogs, pigs, people, bicycles, and rickshaws. Basically, there are no rules when it comes to driving. Speed limits do not exist. Everyone honks their horn constantly. And the horn sounds are all different. Its sounds like an opera of blaring horns all day long (the horns stop at night because no one travels after a reasonable hour). The smell of exhaust is a constant. When I am not walking, I take either a bicycle or auto rickshaw to get to and from the metro to my destination. After flagging one down, you negotiate a price. There is something called skin tax here. I am charged almost triple the amount that an Indian would pay. After I have negotiated a price and they agree to take me, the ride itself is quite an adventure. On one of my rickshaw rides, the driver went on the opposite side of the road. To say the least, there is never a dull moment!

The dress: In India, it is said that you dress to other people’s liking as opposed to your own. The style of dress is extremely flashy and colorful. The woman’s outfit consists of a kurta (long top), pajamas (bottoms), and a dupata (scarf). The more traditional women also wear sarees. The men also wear long kurtas and loose fitting pants. More traditional people tend to wear the Indian garb, but the modern generation is often found in jeans and a long sleeve sweater (its the winter here). Married women wear a bindi and a nose ring. Most importantly, the dress is influenced by a level of conservatism. The women are always covered. Although it is acceptable to show your midsection, showing leg is an absolute no no. Additionally, India has the second largest population of Muslims in the world, the first largest being Indonesia. This adds to the level of conservative dress. I have bought some beautiful clothing items that I cannot wait to share with you all at home!

The food: The diet is different from what I had expected. They eat a tremendous amount of carbs, butter, milk, and sugar. Every meal, yes, sometimes that includes breakfast, consists of either rice, roti / chopati (tortilla), da (lentils), a vegetable dish (so far it has been mostly potato because we are in the winter season), chai tea, and a few raw vegetables (normally either onion, tomato, or red carrot). The majority of people are vegetarians. The Indian version of vegetarian also eliminates eggs. My family happens to eat meat, but the way that they eat meat in India is very different from the states. Meat is a small addition to the meal, rather than the focus. And it is very very rare. I would say that wealthier families, if they do eat meat, they eat it about twice a month. Beef is never eaten because the cow is considered to be sacred. The punishment for hurting a cow is imprisonment. Cows have free reign of this city.

Also, everything that I eat has to be prepared in a special way so that I don’t get sick. Each item is carefully washed in water that has been treated with bleach. The program center has a cooking staff that cooks lunch for us every day, and then I have dinner with my host-family around 8:30 every night. The food is delicious, but its starting to get a little tiresome. I have a long way to go, so for now, I will be dreaming about a hamburger with blue cheese and caramelized onions and a beer, Chicago deap dish pizza, my Nonny’s spaghetti, my Grandma’s chocolate cake, my mom’s green meat stew….

The noise: I mentioned that people are constantly honking their horns. That’s just the beginning. Indians do not have volume control. They yell instead of talking to one another. When they watch TV, the volume is turned up so loud, it sounds like they are hard of hearing. Occasionally, people will blast pop music and play Indian drums as we are trying to fall asleep. The other day, I went to go and do some work at Cafe Coffee Day, the equivalent of Starbucks in the states. It was impossible to concentrate because the cafe was blaring pop music so loud that I couldn’t hear myself think. At least in Delhi, people appear to be less sensitive to sound than we are in the states.

The Metro: The Delhi metro is the nicest form of public transportation I have ever used. It’s brand new, above ground, and provides a great view of the city. Each time we enter the metro, our bags are scanned and we go through a security check.

The animals! There are dogs, cows, and pigs everywhere! And even the occasional monkey!

Continue reading and view more pictures on Hannah’s Blog:

First Impressions from New Delhi – Jeremy

Greetings from New Delhi, India–only 7157 miles (11517 km) away from Waltham! My name is Jeremy Goodman, ‘14. I am a current Junior at Brandeis, studying Health: Science, Society, and Policy BS. I have decided to spend my Spring semester away from Waltham doing an immersion program through SIT: The School for International Training. Hannah Diamond, another Junior at Brandeis is also here in Delhi participating in the same program. The focus of this program is health and human rights, both huge topics very relevant to India’s relatively recent rapid growth and new found place in the global community. In addition to living with an Indian family in a homestay, there is intensive Hindi instruction, as well as excursions, workshops, and lectures relating to all aspects of health and human rights in India. The culminating component of this program is the ISP: Independent Study Project, a month long research endeavor designed and implemented by myself.

Hannah & Jeremy I arrived in New Delhi, India after almost 24 hours of travel on January 31, 2013. The plane hit the runway and suddenly an odor, difficult to describe but now accustomed to, immediately hit me. The United Airlines flight attendant, with her thick New Jersey accent came on the overhead speaker and dramatically said “Welcome to India. India is the land of enchantment, colors, and beauty.” Definitely not the kind of greeting I was expecting, but what can you get–it was a 14 and a half hour flight! It was night, so there wasn’t much to see. We met up with some program staff, were put in a taxi, and quickly escorted off to a hotel around the corner from our program center. I awoke the next day, still disoriented because of the 13.5 hour time change and the difficulties of spending a day flying in the sky. I stepped out on my balcony, looked around and it finally hit me–Woah, I am actually in India!
Delhi StreetsAfter a week long orientation, including “cultural awareness training”, lengthy discussions of SIT policies and rules, we were assigned and moved into our homestays. After only one night, classes began. I am living with a wonderful family, the Vermas. Bobbyji, the father is a contractor, working in construction. Vandanaji works very hard too, but not in the conventional sense. She stays at home, makes delicious food, runs errands, and takes care of their 13 year old son, Kartik. We live in Govind Puri, a crowded, middle-upper class neighborhood in South Delhi. Dadaji and Dadiji, the paternal grandparents live below our apartment and are always stopping by to say hi and share some chai. Most of the family speaks pretty good english, except for Dadiji (the grandmother). She still talks to me in Hindi although I do not understand. Hopefully in a month or two I will have a better idea of what she is saying. Right down the alleyway from our home is two giant markets.

Selling spicesI have class 5 days a week, 9am to 1pm, with tasty lunch served 1-2pm. The daily commute takes about 45 minutes, which includes walking, taking the metro, and riding on a bicycle rickshaw (complete with daily bargaining for the fare). To get to class, I first walk about 15-20 minutes to the Metro Station. If you ever thought the NYC subway was crowded, try taking a transfer on the New Delhi Metro. I have never experienced so many people in such small confined spaces. It can be really frightening. The system is very modern, with 5 separate color coded lines and 3 more currently being constructed. The first car of every train is reserved for ladies, and as there are 25 women on the program and only 2 guys, I end up riding by myself (and hundreds of other Indian men) much of the time. After only two stops, costing only 18 cents/9 rupees, I arrive at Jasola Apollo and take a bicycle rickshaw or walk about 2 kilometers to the program center. I really enjoy the commute, getting pretty used to it–that is, finding some shortcuts and getting accustomed to the pushing and shoving necessary to make it on and off the train.

IMG_2236This last week the program took us on an excursion to Aligarh, a predominantly Muslim community in the neighboring state, Uttah Pradesh. FACT–>Uttah Pradesh, or UP, if it were its own country would be the fifth most populous in the world! We travelled via Indian Railways, another experience requiring an entire blog post in and of itself. For now, let’s just say it was a unique experience. FACT–> Indian Railways is the ninth largest employer in the world! A very highly respected university, Aligarh Muslim University, hosted our stay. During the four days in Aligarh we visited, observed, and discussed all levels of government health care: a Rural Sub-Center, Primary Health Center, Community Health Center, District Hospital, Women’s Hospital, and a Tertiary Care Facility. In addition we shadowed a UNICEF project primarily aimed at reducing infant mortality rates in UP. ASHAs, women working in front-lines in rural villages, distribute vaccines to newborn children, provide treatment and education for mothers, and raise health literacy within the communities. It is very difficult to describe exactly what I saw and how it made me feel. For now, I will just say that I had moments of shock, horror, curiosity, and joy. I saw some really crazy stuff to say the least.

IMG_2314In India there is free public healthcare, yes I said FREE. however as we have learned from both the classroom and experiencing hands-on, there are many factors preventing everyone from accessing this free health care. In addition, we had several interactions with officials from the University including the Vice Chancellor, Provosts, Deans, Professors, and Department Chairs. I was shocked that they were willing to give so much of their time and attention to a bunch of undergraduate college students from the states. I am very appreciative. It was a great excursion, introducing us to the vast array of health care services and the problems presented in its enactment. From here, we are going to continue to learn about India’s healthcare system, and the social dynamics that influence people’s access to and quality of care. I will be going on another excursion to Udaipur, working with an NGO, and further refining my Independent Project.

Picture 001After three weeks, although I feel like I have been here much longer, I am really enjoying my time in India. The only way I can come close to describing it is as different–It is just very different. At this time I end most of my observations, conversations and discourse with  “it is just different.” I hope that with more time spent here I will get a better grasp of India and be able to make some accurate interpretations, search for explanations, and reach some understanding. Until next time–Jeremy