I have forgotten to mention that we share our house with some of the area’s long-term residents. All sorts of bugs and even some reptiles enjoy romping around. Of particular abundance are the ants. Not just in our room, but throughout the entire compound. We have seen ant colonies that are taller than us and everywhere you go you can observe an endless line of ants working to keep their community going. It is also common to see a bunch of these little guys going at a scarab or similarly large insect and we regularly try to save the big guys. Of course, walk back a half hour later and you may see remnants of a shell, if you see anything at all.
On Saturday evening, we went to Berhampur (the closest main town) and took in the sights, sounds, and food. It basically involved avoiding muck from open gutters, buying seriously needed snacks, drinking something cold, buying some alcoholic beverages, and eating Chinese food. It was a good break from our daily routine but the town itself was nothing to be excited about and it was difficult to see how people were living there.
As we were leaving the city by Gram Vikas shuttle, we headed down a narrow road, made worse by the excess of abutting huts. It was really an experience: our large bus pushing past within 6 inches of these slum dwellers’ home entrances. As we passed on particular dwelling, a baby was standing outside screaming and crying for what appeared to be her mother and grandmother. They were on the opposite side of the road, cleaning their bowls in roadside muddy puddle water probably contaminated with all the traffic going by. Once that was done, the elderly woman walked a few feet behind a bush and started relieving herself.
India is a country which spans the entire spectrum of hope and cannot yet find the strength to work for the collective good. The ants around here have figured it out, hopefully the rest of us can too.
P.S. – for more updates, you can follow along with me at http://niluam.wordpress.com
As we boarded the plane to leave Delhi behind, I couldn’t help feel a spark. For so many years I had been behind a desk doing work that I knew was not where I should be, and here I was about to fly to rural India to work with tribal people who are tremendously removed from what my life has been so far. Being in Delhi had afforded us a good transition phase as we had access to anything we needed, from food to internet to air-conditioning. I have no doubt in my mind that Orissa is going to be much, much different.
We still have no real understanding of our project’s aim and I worry about how much time will pass before that becomes clearer. We need to be sure of what we’re doing if we are going to pull the right information in the field and not having a focused agenda may lead to unnecessary inquiries. Are we looking at Gram Vikas’s efficiency? Are we going to assess the impact of the water and sanitation on factors that may not be obvious or at least less well understood (of course, improved water and sanitation would promote a more healthy environment, but how does it directly contribute to pushing folks out of poverty, create gender and caste equality, etc)? Are we here to document successes of the Gram Vikas model, look for holes that could be filled, and then relate these practices to India’s national plan?
We’re going to make a play for leaving on the 29th so that we can have a day or so to meet with folks in Bhubaneswar. I hope we make the most of the short time we have here.
We spent about 2 hours or more after landing trying to get cell phones. After that, we had a great meal that only cost us about $4 including tip…total. The same meal in Delhi would have probably been at least $4 each if not more. Amazing what a 2 hour trip can lead you to. Then we began our 4 hour journey to the Gram Vikas headquarters. I was floored by the differences between here and Delhi. You can see the lack of development all around and while the view was amazing and the air the freshest I’ve ever smelt in India, it was hard to feel comfortable. Maybe that feeling will change over the next few weeks.
We got to the Gram Vikas headquarters and it seemed like a very large compound (200 acres we were later told). All along, the four of us had thought we would be staying in their dorms, but when our driver pulled up to a small house, we all got pretty excited. Yes…we have our own house here: 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a common area, and even a terrace! The three girls are in one room and it’s me by my lonesome in the other. The area is beautiful and we are surrounded by trees, it sort of feels like summer camp. The mess hall takes a few minutes to walk to and dinner was good. Mr. Jacob is the first person we have met here, and I am not sure of his responsibility. I think he is in charge of taking care of guests.
Tomorrow should be interested. We are supposed to meet our contact, Chitra, and hopefully get started. It’s been a long day…
I think it’s what, the 9th now? We arrived safe and sound in Delhi late night on the 7th (well, except for Molly’s bag) and it’s been a whirlwind since.
Yesterday we all woke up at a decent time and had breakfast, booked a car for the next 4 days, visited Dr. Connor’s at the World Bank, ate a snack at the hotel , napped, went to a temple, went to an underground bazaar, went to The Lalit Hotel for a way too fancy dinner (I swear, I didn’t know, it said live music so I suggested it!), came back and discussed our meeting with Dr. Connors and collectively passed out.
The meeting with Dr. Connors was a good one. She did not seem to be acting as a World Bank agent and appeared to be more interested in giving us as much information about water issues in India as she could (and providing contacts where she could not). I cannot say I expected anything from the meeting, although part of me says if we could have met here after a week or at the end, we could have gotten more from her. Hopefully she’ll stay a resource throughout the project.
During our conversation, we brought up the recent flooding in Mumbai, and talked about how there are these recurring problems year after year. She mentioned that in India you have “flash floods and flash problems” and that, while it is a serious issue, folks in India do not look at monsoon problems the same way outsiders do. It is welcomed since it brings cool weather and provides for some entertainment.
I get it…I just don’t buy it as an excuse.
Department of Drinking Water Supply and more World Bank today. Let’s see what they have to say about it.
June 3, 2009
We had our last Capstone class for the summer yesterday night and now all that stands in the way between my team and India is getting the dates from the client and a few other logistical details. It is weird to think how far we have come since this time last year when we were all in a different life and in a different world. I was still teaching seventh grade and was counting down the school year with more anticipation than my students; waiting for my life to start all over again in New York City and at Wagner. I would never have guessed last summer that this summer I would be heading to rural India to study water and sanitation provision.
It has been quite a journey that has brought us to this place. I remember meeting second year students on the bus on the way to the retreat and thinking they all seemed so knowledgeable and looking at them with such awe. And now here I am, in the same place as them. Only now am I truly understanding the wisdom of John Gershman who said in our very first class, my very first day that this work is often like drinking out of a fire hose with too much information. The learning curve at Wagner is very steep but once you are on the other side the view is totally worth the climb.