Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday, April 2 - In closing

On my last day in Ahmedabad (Wednesday, March 31), I went with Dipika & Bharat to see their farmhouse, which has lots of fruit trees & open space. They have a lot of monkeys that come in the morning & eat the fruits & break vases and decorative pottery, and hang out in the trees, but alas, I didn’t get to see them – they were probably gone by the time we got there. I did see a few camels & a peacock that was on a neighbor’s balcony. We went to a pizza place for a lunch buffet (Indian style) which was delicious, then packed up, had some mangoes & tea, and headed to the airport for my 9 PM flight from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.

All of the flights were full, and security at all of the airports in India was very tight, especially in Mumbai. After getting my baggage (had to re-check it since I was on a different airline from Mumbai), taking a bus to the International terminal, and waiting with a huge mob of people to go through a passport check just to get into the terminal, then a few more security checks, the flight to Amsterdam was boarding. It was a 9 hour flight to Amsterdam, then an 8 hour flight to NYC. I had to get my baggage in NYC & go through Customs, then after a 3 hour layover, the last flight to Rochester. Got back home yesterday, April 1st, around 5:35 PM. It was a long, exhausting trip, but having today & the weekend will help with readjusting from the trip and jet lag. The roads are quiet here (no horns honking constantly) and empty compared to India. The 80 degree weather feels wonderful, and no more snow! Over the next few weeks, my teammate Jim & I need to finish documenting the last couple of meetings, and complete our report, which is extensive.

Several people have asked me how this trip has been life-changing for me. My time in Lucknow, and Ahmedabad, made me realize how much we take for granted. Clean water, like air, is a basic human right, and something we can’t survive without. But in so many parts of the world, you can’t just turn on your faucet (assuming you even have one) and drink the water knowing it’s clean & safe, or take a shower whenever you like. Those that are fortunate enough to have a geyser (a hot water tank) can bathe with warm water. The geyser has to be turned on about 15 minutes before bathing (see pictures below from the geyser in the Lucknow hotel room). Water availability is not 24 hours a day like it is here – even in urban areas, it is available 2 hours a day, and almost everyone has water storage tanks that are filled up and used throughout the day. Everyone that can afford one has a water purifier for the drinking water. Contaminants & water-borne diseases are a huge problem. I heard one of my cousins saying how she had stomach problems because of the water in the village where she lived, but once she moved to a more urban area, she felt better.

The WFP model is one that worked well in West Bengal, and would work well in other parts of India. Providing clean drinking water, hand washing stations, sanitation facilities, and hygiene education to school children is very effective, because they are open and receptive & don’t have set habits like older people, and they take what they’ve learned back home & tell their families & friends. While each of the Watermark teams would like to see the expansion in the state they were in, the need is there for all parts of India. The reports that we generate will help WFP determine where to start first, and we are all honored to have contributed to that decision.

It’s easy to only see the poverty, pollution, crowds of people, vehicles & animals, the noise & heat, but India is rich in so many ways. The culture, history, religions, and mythology are thousands of years old, and have produced poetry & great epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The sense of family & traditions, honor and values, grace & hospitality, is so ingrained in their lives. I saw how close my cousins are to each other (we call our cousins cousin-sisters & cousin-brothers), and how they treat other children in the family like their own, and how they all help each other. Visitors are always welcome, even when dropping in unannounced. I couldn’t help but wonder how my life would have turned out if my parents hadn’t emigrated to the U.S. Our mothers used to put my cousin Anju (see blog update from Tuesday, March 30) and I in the same cradle when we were little. Anju, Dipika, Bhavana & I are all about the same age, and would have grown up together. I was trying to pay Dipika back for some things she had paid for, and she wouldn’t take it. I told her she & Bharat had already done so much for me, and her response was that why wouldn’t she, since I am her sister.

At Dipika & Bharat's farmhouse.

Not too many camels on the road anymore. Most of the hauling of goods is done with large rickshaws or trucks now.

Peacock on a neighbor's balcony.

Instructions for geyser in Lucknow hotel.

The geyser tank, located at top of shower.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday, March 30

Yesterday, Monday March 29th, Bharat dropped me off at my cousin (from my mother’s side) Ranjan’s house. My uncle & cousin Jayshree came on a one-hour train ride from Viramgam to Ahmedabad to Ranjan’s house to see me. My other cousins (Ranjan’s sisters) Anju & Shilpa, and their husbands were also there. It was so good to see everyone. And of course we had a huge lunch, eating traditional Indian style, sitting on the floor & eating with our hands. The only cousins I didn’t see from this group were Hershida (who lives in Mumbai), and Ashwin & Manish (who run the shop in Viramgam with my uncle, selling spices, flours, and grains). The shop has been in their family for 78 years.

After a delicious dinner of a South Indian favorite of mine, uttapum with coconut chutney, at Dipika & Bharat’s, I was off to see another cousin, Sucheta (from my father’s side) where I stayed the night. Today we went to visit the hospital where I was born, then to the school where my cousin (Sucheta’s brother) Dharmesh goes. Sucheta drove me around on her scooter, and I apparently tried to get on before she was ready for me to, and we both fell hard on the concrete pavement, along with the scooter. My right side is very sore, but we were lucky it didn’t happen while we were driving in traffic. An interesting side note: a lot of women cover their faces & heads with a scarf when they ride scooters, to protect themselves from the pollution & the heat, which is intense in the afternoons.

Sucheta dropped me off at yet another cousin’s house, Suresh (on my mother’s side) where Suresh’s sister Bhavana & her husband came to see me. Then in the evening, it was off to Dipika’s sister Aruna’s house in the outlying town of Naroda. We had a huge dinner there & watched cricket on TV.

Tomorrow we’ll go see Dipika & Bharat’s farmhouse, then it will be time to pack up & head to the airport for my 9 PM flight (Ahmedabad to Mumbai to Amserdam to NYC to Rochester, which is about 20 hours of flying time, not counting layovers). It’s been wonderful seeing my family, although there wasn’t enough time to see everyone. Looking forward to getting home. It will seem cold compared to the blistering heat here.

From left, Jayshree, my uncle, me (I went native), Shilpa's husband in the back, Ranjan, Shilpa, and Anju

Elephant on the highway.

Sucheta & I by her scooter (the one we fell off of)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday, March 28

“The best way to find yourself is by losing yourself in the service of others”
“Hands that help are holier than lips that pray”

These are some of the premises of a wonderful place called the Seva Café on the rooftop of a building in the busy shopping district of Ahmedabad, that I went to tonight with my cousins Sucheta & Dharmesh. Seva means service, and the Seva Café, which is run entirely by volunteers who do the cooking & cleaning, serves a delicious dinner at no charge. At the end of the dinner, the patrons can contribute as much as they like, with proceeds going to fund different projects to help the needy in Ahmedabad. There is also a shop consisting of crafts & clothing made by the poor, which allows them to showcase their work & make a living.

I have been staying with my cousin Dipika & her husband Bharat since I got in to Ahmedabad on Friday night. I’m taking a few days PTO to visit my family before flying back home on Wednesday. My mother had 2 sisters & 2 brothers, and my father had 2 brothers, and most of them had large families, so I have many cousins, who have children, and many of them are grown & married with children of their own. The in-laws are also part of the extended family, so it’s easy to see why weddings are so big (Dipika & Bharat’s son was married in February & they had 600 people at the reception!). I won’t have time to visit everyone before Wednesday, but I’d like to see as many of them as I can. And it’s nice to be able to communicate with everyone since I speak Gujarati pretty well – which has surprised some people. I can even read some of the signs.

Another cousin Naina (Dipika’s sister) & her daughter Disha, had picked me up this morning, and I went to their house where I had a huge lunch. Sucheta & Dharmesh picked me at Naina’s house (we went to their house in a rickshaw), and I spent the evening with them. I had some fruit at their house called chicku – they don’t sell it in the U.S. unfortunately. It’s like kiwi, but brown on the inside as well, sweet, and without the seeds. There is a chicku tree at Sucheta’s house. I remember eating a lot of chickus & mangoes when I lived in India as a child.

The purpose of this trip being about water, I had to find out how my cousins get their water. The municipal water is turned on two hours a day, in the morning, and each house has water storage tanks that are filled up. Water is used from those tanks until the next day, when the water supply is replenished. As in Lucknow, every house I’ve been to has a water purifier system for the drinking water. Dipika & Bharat carry around their purified water in plastic bottles when leaving home, just to be safe.

When we were driving from the Vadodara Airport to the hotel last Friday, I had noticed how smooth the roads were & the streets weren’t as crowded as Lucknow. Gujarat has the fastest growing economy in India, and it is evident in Ahmedabad, where there has been a lot of growth in the last few years, with high-rise apartment buildings, shopping malls, and highways (overpasses are called fly-overs); the roads even have signs! There is still poverty & the city is still crowded by U.S. standards, but it doesn’t have the crushing poverty & over-population of U.P.

Dipika & Bharat in their house.

From left, Dharmesh, Disha (behind me), Naina, Sucheta, Disha & Jitesh's son Tanay, held by his Dad Jitesh

Arriving at Sucheta's house in the rickshaw.

The Seva Cafe.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday, March 26

The five of us that stayed at the Welcom Hotel in Vadodara met for breakfast this morning, then we headed off to the ITT India plant,where we met up with the rest of the volunteers who drove in from Ahmedabad. Malove Pandya, who works at the ITT plant in Vadodara, and was teamed with Vikram Nanwani (from Sweden) for Gujarat state for the scoping study, organized our transportation arrangements, meeting room, refreshments & lunch. The ITT India plant (we got a tour), which produces pumps, is an impressive facility that is only two years old.

It was great to meet the rest of the volunteers in person – it seemed like we already knew each other. After the initial introductions, with Jim as our facilitation, all of the teams shared their experiences and challenges. After a delicious Indian lunch in the canteen, and me as the note-keeper, we had an open, lengthy discussion on lessons learned, things that went well, and suggestions for improvement. It’s hard to believe that we are done with the India scoping study assignment (athough most of us still have to complete the report after we get back home). It’s been a life-changing experience, and something we are all grateful to have been a part of.

Some of the team is headed home tonight, and some leave tomorrow. I rode to Ahmedabad with Paula and Vikram where my cousin picked me up. He said it’s been very hot here, about 115 degrees F a few days ago, but is not quite as hot now. After dinner & watching a cricket match (Rajasthan Rangers & Deccan Chargers) on TV, I am ready to get some sleep. I will be staying here a few days to see my family.

Our team in front of the ITT India facility.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday, March 25

What a hectic day. After taking an early walk around the neighborhood, we packed up, checked out & headed to UNICEF for a meeting with Mr. Amit Mehrotra of UNICEF. Mr. Mehrotra is the Water & Environmental Sanitation Specialist, and he had a lot of great information to share. He shared some studies with us that were done by UNICEF on contamination of water supplies, and on hygiene behaviors. He said bacterial contamination of water sources is a huge problem, and hasn’t received much attention. We will be contacting him to get additional information, since he is working in the same areas as WFP.

We dashed off to the airport for our trip from Lucknow to Vadodara, Gujarat (via Mumbai) for our team meeting tomorrow & a tour of the ITT facility. At the hotel, we ran into several of the other volunteers, who we thought were staying in Ahmedabad – Nikki, Debra, and Paul. It was nice to meet other team members in person, and we look forward to meeting everyone else tomorrow, and sharing our experiences. After the meeting, some team members are flying home, and a few others are leaving Saturday. I will be staying a few days to visit my family in Ahmedabad, and will try to update the blog when I get a chance.

Public toilet near the hotel.

Streets are quiet in the morning.

The hotel staff gathered to say goodbye. The woman on the right in the orange & red sari is named Sharmila too!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday, March 24

Today is the birthday of the Hindu God Lord Rama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), and an Indian holiday, called Ram Navmi. Rama’s birth place & home is in Ayodhya, in the district of Faizabad, UP (about 135 km east of Lucknow). This ancient Hindu holy city is described in the epic poem, the Ramayana, which tells the story of Rama and his battle against the demon king Ravana, who abducts Lord Rama’s wife Sita. Hindu temples all across the country, and especially in Ayodhya, had special ceremonies to commemorate the occasion.

We spent most of today working on the interview summaries and the report, although there is still quite a bit of work left on the report, which we will complete from our U.S. homes. Mr. Ojha from the Bio Energy Mission Cell at the Department of Planning (we first met with him on Monday, March 22) came by to talk to us and give us some documents on a study on drinking water quality standards, and a Government of India Program called the Rural Sanitation Campaign.

Mr. Aditya Vidyasagar of the Bora Institute (we went to the school on Friday, March 19) invited Jim & I to dinner with his family at a restaurant serving Lucknow specialities, and also to give us a documents on ground water management, and information on water challenges & potential solutions. He is very active in social causes, and is enthusiastic about spreading his message on improving communications and making communities active participants & stakeholders in managing their water resources. Dinner was late, due to the family going to the temple before dinner for Ram Navmi (it was also Mr. Vidyasagar's birthday), but very enjoyable.

Today was our last full day in Lucknow. Tomorrow will be a hectic day. After checking out of the hotel, we have a meeting at UNICEF, then head to the airport for our flight to Vadodara, Gujarat (via Mumbai) where we will tour the ITT facility on Friday and have a group meeting with all of the teams.

Dinner with Mr. Vidyasagar & his family.

This is why there's so much noise. The backs of rickshaws & buses say "Blow Horn" or "Horn Please" like this one.

One of many shops along the street selling food. As delicious as it looked & smelled, we didn't get any.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday, March 23

Our first meeting was at Oxfam India. Actually we didn’t have a contact name there, so we just showed up – that seems to work pretty well. We have a different driver, one that speaks a few more words of English, and he is much better at finding the offices. Some of the buildings & houses have numbers on them, but many offices don’t have signs out front, and I haven’t seen a single street sign. Inevitably, the driver has to get out, sometimes several times, and ask people where the office is. It is a challenge finding these locations.

We met with Ravi Singh, who is the Finance Officer, and has worked for Oxfam for 11 years in different parts of India. He talked about some of Oxfam’s programs – their biggest one is livelihood, where they provide support for agricultural programs. They are also working on programs for ending violence against women, women farmer campaign (so Indian women can have land in their names), and education for the lowest caste girls (dalits). Oxfam partners with other NGOs to provide emergency relief, including clean water & sanitation. Mr. Singh talked about the challenges of working with many other partners, and how Oxfam conducts financial monitoring of the other agencies because some of them aren’t good at reporting & planning. He gave us several documents, including an Annual Report, Newsletter, and a report on Oxfam’s mission.

Several of our contacts have mentioned that working with school children is a very effective way of changing attitudes & mindsets on the importance of clean water & proper hygiene practices, and that we should talk to someone in the Department of Education. We had a contact name from one of our interviews earlier, so we headed off to find this person. After finding the place, and a comical exercise in going up 3 flights of stairs, then down the stairs to another building, then back to the first building & up the 3 flights of stairs again, we talked to Mr. Ashok Ganguly, whose business card states is the “Additional State Project Director”. Mr. Ganguly talked about the number of schools in UP, and how the rural areas especially need water & sanitation help, and separate toilets for girls & boys. He suggested WFP could start in UP with several schools for underprivileged girls. The Director wasn’t there, but Mr. Ganguly was going to set up a meeting with him for later in the evening, but he never did call.

Statue of the Chief Minister of UP, Mayawati & the Governor, Shri B.L. Joshi. Their pictures, especially of Mayawati, are plastered all over Lucknow.

One of many hand pumps all around Lucknow. There is a public toilet in the pink building behind the hand pump.

Lucknow Convention Center

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday March 21 & Monday March 22

Yesterday, Sunday, March 21, we traveled north of Lucknow (written as लखनऊ in Hindi) to see the landscape & the Buddha Resort in Bahraich where we had lunch. In between passing through villages jam-packed with people, shops, vehicles & animals, there are open fields, grass & trees, the Gangahar river, and smaller rivers that eventually flow into the Ganges.

Kids playing in the river, and cattle grazing.

This cow was trying to lick my face.

We saw many facilities for building bricks and women harvesting crops, including mustard seeds. The majority of the state’s population depends on agricultural activities, and we saw evidence of that in our drive, with people herding cattle & goats, farming & harvesting. The villages were selling a lot of sugarcane, grains, and fruits. We also saw many hand pumps in the villages & people getting water, bathing, washing clothes, and filling up containers.

At the end of this post, there is a 4 minute video that Jim took of one of the villages as we drove through, which will paint a better picture of what it’s like with the crowds & noise. As is the case with other major cities in India, in addition to the many villages that are like what you see & hear in the video clip, Lucknow has major highways & roads, gardens & parks, and beautiful monuments and buildings. The major intersections have roundabouts and major streets have traffic lights, although no one seems to follow them & cars just go through red lights.

The Parliament Building of UP

Monday, March 22, is World Water Day, and another blazing hot day in UP. We met with Mr. P.S. Ojha, who is the State Coordinator for the Bio Energy Mission Cell in the Department of Planning for the Government of UP. Security was the tightest we’ve experienced of any of the offices we’ve visited; we had to get a picture ID and be escorted to see him. Mr. Ojha’s organization is active at the grass-roots level on bio-energy, and is focused on biological sources such as human, cattle, and horticultural waste. He gave us a DVD containing a documentary on a project they worked with UNICEF on for converting waste to organic fertilizer. He also mentioned a project that a U.S. group proposed to treat sewage water for irrigation purposes; this water can be further treated & purified to be used for drinking water. Mr. Ojha is going to coordinate a joint meeting with other government agencies including the Jal Nigam, for Wednesday.

Rest of the day was spent catching up on documenting notes and sending follow-up e-mails.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday, March 20

Today seems to be the hottest day since we’ve been here. As we’ve learned, all businesses are open on Saturday except government offices & NGOs. Our appointment today was with the CEO of Biotech Park, Mr. Seth, who is the former director of the Indian Institute of Toxicological Research. He had put us in touch with the current director who couldn’t meet with us, so Dr. Seth said he would talk to us. He provided a scientist’s perspective of water problems, and said that proper testing needed to be done before an area was labeled as an arsenic contaminated area, for example, and that once solid data is available, it is easier to find agencies to work with, and people that will support those projects. Dr. Seth gave us a book titled "Safe Water for Community Health" which is pretty recent (2009), for which he was one of the contributors. He also put us in touch with a contact at UNICEF, who we’ll go see on Monday.

A woman getting dirty water from the fountain with a DNA sculpture, in front of the BioTech building.

There was some construction work going on in the BioTech park, and she was taking the water to mix with the cement.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a shopping mart that had all different mobile stores, and bought one. Of course the phone is no good without a sim card, which we have not been able to purchase because none of the stores will sell one without proof of Indian residency (a letter stating our stay at the hotel wasn’t enough), so we are borrowing one from a friend of the hotel staff (for a fee of course). After returning to the hotel, Jim went to a nearby store with one of the hotel staff to get a card with a certain number of minutes, and ended up going back to get a validity card, which activates the minutes for a certain period of time. When the minutes run out, you buy another minutes card & a validity card. It is such a convoluted, complex process to get a mobile.

We went to a Chikan store – Chikan is what they call the embroidery that’s done on the Indian outfits. There are a lot of these shops around. When you walk in, there are rows upon rows of shelves going up to the ceiling with different fabrics, colors, and Chikan embroidery. They have some that are ready-made but most people choose the fabric & have it custom made. The more Chikan, the more expensive the outfit. There are wide padded benches that go all the way around, under the shelves. You sit in a chair facing a guy on the bench, and he shows you different fabrics or outfits, with another guy bringing them or putting them away. I picked out a fabric & got measured to have it custom-made for me (only 100 rupees, or $2.50 U.S. for the custom tailoring).

The Chikan store.

We had dinner at a Pizza Hut in the mall (there are a few malls around, but they’re small compared to ones in the States). The pizza was Indian style of course, with paneer (cheese curd), hot red peppers, onions & tomatoes. The mall also had McDonald’s (with a Maharajah Mac), but they wouldn’t let me take a picture of the menu. And now it’s down to work, documenting our notes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday, March 19

We had 3 meetings today, and it was pretty much one meeting after the next. It doesn’t seem like it should take up the whole day, but things move at a different pace here. After breakfast, our driver took us to the first appointment, CARE India, where we talked to Mr. Jeet Singh for over 2 hours. He told us about some of CARE’s programs and vulnerable areas in UP, such as the part of the state bordered by Nepal where flash flooding is a problem, and arsenic in the water in the eastern & western parts of the state. Many of the things he mentioned seem to be common themes we’ve heard from other people we’ve talked to, like the importance of providing sanitation & hygiene education to children because they are agents of change, and they carry those practices back to their families & communities. And the best way to do that is to work with children in the public schools, which is what Water For People (WFP) did in their model in West Bengal.

Next was a meeting with an NGO that our hotel business manager arranged – ANKUR, an organization that works to mobilize rural communities. We met with 2 women & a man (one of the women spoke English very well, and she did all of the talking) who gave us some literature on water & sanitation projects they’ve worked on, and gave us some contacts at the Department of Education, which they said should be the first government agency to work with for programs in the public schools.

Finally, we went to the BORA Institute of Management Sciences, another visit arranged by the business manager. The Executive Director, a Mr. Vidyasagar, had his class of about 20 MBA students waiting in a classroom, and he wanted Jim & I to talk to his class of MBA students to give a little background on WFP, explain the purpose of our trip, and our approach. Anyone that knows me well knows that public speaking is not my cup of “chai”. Jim talked about WFP, and Mr. Vidyasagar wanted me to talk about why I was involved with the project, so I told the students about my background, and how I am from India but have lived most of my life in the States, and that this trip for ITT Watermark & WFP was a wonderful opportunity for me to do something positive in my native country.

The MBA students at the BORA Institute of Management Sciences.

Once again, we had a late dinner. We picked a place out of Jim’s guidebook which wasn’t too far from the hotel. The place offers Lucknow specialties, but since I’m not from UP, I didn’t know what most of the items on the menu were. This was a vegetarian restaurant, so we figured everything was safe. At other places, mutton (we think) is either lamb or goat, and chicken is also an option ; no beef of course. Jim’s selections always seem to come in a little kettle (purely by accident), and I wasn’t sure what my items were, but we ate them anyway. Both of ours meals, including bottled water, came to 245 rupees, which is about 6 US dollars (a couple of nights ago we went to a very nice 5-star restaurant on the top floor of a fancy hotel, and that tab was about 15 US dollars). We even had double-scoop mango ice cream "cons", for about 1 US dollar (the "Chip Chocolate" was tempting though).

The ice cream counter at the local restaurant we went to. Guess they didn't run the spell-check.

It was another long day. We have one appointment tomorrow at the Institute of Toxicological Research, but we will have the rest of the weekend to catch up on our notes from yesterday & today. Maybe even do a little shopping & see some of the city.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday, March 18

The days seem to fly by. Jim & I started the day by checking e-mail & typing up some notes from meetings on Monday. Before we could start writing up yesterday’s meetings, Sanjay came to get us so we could meet with his professor who is the director of the pharmacy school he goes to.

We had a long conversation with the professor, Dr. Subhini Saraf, a very intelligent, articulate woman (another instance of the contradictions in this country where women are considered inferior, but there are quite a few well educated and powerful women) who is passionate about helping the very poor in Lucknow. She does a lot of social work (charity) in many slum areas, and tries to sensitize her students so they will become involved in projects to help people less fortunate than them – and there are certainly plenty of those.

Every day, the children from the slum across from the college buildings come over to the pharmacy building where Sanjay, and sometimes other students, teach them.

Some of the kids from the slum colony. They have so much energy & look at those smiles!

We walked around the complex of buildings containing different schools such as the School of Dentistry, and School of Architecture.

The School of Engineering is behind Jim & I.

Statue of the Hindu God Ganesha in the temple. One of the temple workers gave me prasad (blessed food) which I am holding.

Some interesting facts about the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is called UP here: With an area of 93,933 square miles, it is the most populous state in India, with over 190 million people. If UP were a nation, it would be the world’s fifth most populous nation. UP is considered to be the birthplace of Hinduism, and is the home of several holy cities, including Mathura (birthplace of the Lord Krishna), Varanasi, and Ayodhya (birthplace of the Hindu God Rama), and has much of the heritage from the Mughal Empire, including the Taj Mahal in Agra. Hindus constitute 70% of the state, and the official language is Hindi.

Haven’t had time to go shopping, but this weekend, I’d like to buy a traditional outfit, a salwar kameez, which consists of a long tunic like shirt with slits down the side for greater freedom of movement, trousers (can be loose or tight like leggings), and a scarf called a dupatta. I’ve seen women wearing some beautiful outfits, in rich colors & fabrics such as silk, with intricate embroidery.

I got a little lazy about putting on the insect repellent, and got bit up today. Need to be more vigilant about that. Time to take my malaria pill & call it a night.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday, March 17

Today was another busy day. In the morning we tried to go see the Water Aid coordinator again but he was out sick (probably a good thing he stayed home based on yesterday’s meeting), but we did talk briefly with another person that works there. We came back to the hotel & met with the business manager’s two aunts who are the founders & directors of a grassroots NGO for Women & Children’s Welfare. They were impressive women who have been working for over 20 years on programs for health, education, and women’s empowerment. We’ve learned that networking is a huge part of the people who run these organizations (social capital as they put it), and many of them have worked with other groups or at least know of them. So if you talk to one of them, you’re likely to get additional contact information.

We then went to see the Joint Director of Uttar Pradesh (UP) Jal Nigam, which is the government agency that regulates water supply & sewage services for rural & urban areas. He was helpful and gave us a lot of useful information, and is going to send us additional data in an e-mail. He also gave us another contact, and took us to see the Chairman, who is a by-the-book guy and wouldn’t talk to us until we provide him with a reference from the Government of India saying they are working with Water for People. There were 5 other gentlemen in his office when Jim & I walked in – it was like being called to the principal’s office – yikes.

Coming back from the UP Jal Nigam, I saw an HSBC bank with ATM, so we stopped, and I was finally able to get some rupees.

Near the hotel when we were walking around, check out this picture of a woman filling up a water container at the public water tap.

Holy men drinking water from a public handpump at one of the monuments (Bara Imambara).

Indian people (most of them, anyway) are so gracious & hospitable. Wherever we go, as soon as we sit down, someone brings us water (which we don’t drink unless we know it is bottled water), and usually, Indian tea (known as “chai” in the U.S., but in India, it just means tea) & biscuits or some type of snack. They also don’t mind if we drop in without an appointment, and go out of their way to help. I remember when I was growing up, friends would just drop by, and not only did my parents not mind, they welcomed it. Often times, the guests would end up staying for lunch or dinner, depending on the time. And a unique little Indian quirk – they tilt their head from side to side rapidly, which to foreigners looks like they’re disagreeing or saying no, but actually they’re saying okay or yes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday, March 16

Finally, some progress.

We got a response from CARE, one of the NGOs on our list, and have an appointment with them on Friday. Until then, rather than wait to hear back from the other requests we sent out, and not being able to call from a mobile which we don’t have (got lots of static from the hotel room phone), we decided to just show up at some offices. The first one we went to was the State Water & Sanitation Mission (SWAJAL), a government agency which is responsible for distributing funds for all rural water development for the state of Uttar Pradesh (there is a separate agency for urban water development, and we will try to go see the contact there this week). The woman at SWAJAL, Seema Kumar, was a wealth of information, and provided us with several other contacts to talk to.

We then drove to another part of town to visit the UNICEF and Water Aid offices. No one was available to talk to us at UNICEF, but we were told to come back next Monday. We did find someone to talk to at Water Aid (after our driver, who seemed to have a poor sense of direction, finally found the place), who told us that they funded a pilot project to install 3 arsenic filters in the district of Ballia in Uttar Pradesh, based on the Water for People model in West Bengal, and based on that success, are installing another 310 filters. The Water Aid person was not feeling well, so we are going back to see him tomorrow.

Speaking of not feeling well, I woke up last night with bad stomach cramps. Didn’t feel well all day, between stomach churning (I no longer seem to have the cast iron stomach I prided myself on for so many years) & allergies, I was not at full strength. After some Pepto Bismol & allergy medication, I’m doing a little better, and hopefully will be back to normal tomorrow.

Tomorrow we are going to the AirTel main office to try & get a mobile phone, then off to the Water Aid office. After that appointment, we are meeting with the hotel business manager’s aunt, who runs an NGO for Women & Children’s Welfare.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday, March 15

We worked from the dining room of the hotel in the morning, researching contacts & sending e-mails requesting meetings. Internet connection is much better than it has been, so maybe the IT guy really fixed it.

Jim & I took a walk on the main road that the hotel is on. One of the pictures is from the walk – the boy selling vegetables on the street (many vendors sell fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, and snacks on the street). Another picture is of a cow next to a rickshaw. Cows have the right of way in the roads, and they seem to know it.

We met a young man named Sanjay Kumar who was here to interview with some pharmaceutical companies that are recruiting here at the hotel. Sanjay is graduating in a couple of months; his school in Lucknow is near a slum area where he works with the children, teaching them to read, among other things. Inspired by one of his teachers, he is trying to get the local government agencies and NGOs to help the people in the slum areas, but is discouraged at the lack of response, and was hoping that we could bring some exposure to the residents’ plight. Sanjay offered to take us to the slums to see the living conditions for ourselves. After talking to our hotel security, we hired a driver who followed Sanjay to the slum area, where we saw firsthand how the residents live. They have one water area (see picture of the man bathing and the little boy), and one pump (see slightly blurry picture of the child with the mother & father) for an area of about 400-500 people. The water is turned on for about 2 hours twice a day, when the residents fill up their water containers, bathe, and clean clothes. Sanitation facilities are non-existent – people go out in the open, with different areas for the men & women. Their houses, if you can call them that, are bricks loosely piled on top of each other, no mortar or cement.

All the children gathered around Sanjay, who had them say their ABC’s and numbers (in English) & sing some songs in Hindi for us. See the picture with the children (I’m in back holding a little girl – my eyes are closed unfortunately). The young man with the tie on the right is Sanjay.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at the boys’ hostel (dormitory) where Sanjay stays, and we met his friends who are also pharmacy students. See the picture with Jim & I in one of the rooms. Their rooms are Spartan, and small. The young men were very friendly, and got us some snacks – potato chips, Thums Up (Indian version of Pepsi or Coke), and a mango drink. While we were there, the electricity went out, which the boys say happens often. Jim & I are going to meet with Sanjay’s professor on Wednesday so maybe we’ll get some other contacts then.

Dinner was at the hotel restaurant again. The waiter always seems confused when we order something, and looks closely at the item we ordered, after we point it out to him, and studies it for a while. About half the things we try to order, he shakes his head like we’re crazy & says they don’t have it. The menu is on wood boards, where the carved letters are fading – but at least he put it in front of me this time!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday, March 14

It’s been a frustrating day. We weren’t able to get mobiles & sim cards yesterday because they want proof of India residency to get the sim card, or a letter from the hotel saying we’re staying there. But the shops were getting ready to close so we didn’t’ get a chance to go back, and they’re closed on Sunday.

The Internet is extremely slow & unreliable in the hotel rooms, so we’ve been working out of the business office, which is only slightly better. It’s hit or miss, and usually takes multiple attempts to send an e-mail. We got a driver and drove around looking for other hotels with better Internet connection, trying ATMs (I was unsuccessful in getting rupees at the 4 ATMs I tried), and just seeing the sights.

While we were looking at a couple of historical monuments, several Indian guys stopped us, wanting to take pictures of Jim. They always seem to talk to Jim only – it’s like I don’t exist. One guy was ready to punch in Jim’s phone number on his cell so he could call him in the U.S. (Jim didn’t give it to him). The tourism police (that’s how he introduced himself) wanted Jim’s feedback on what he thought of the monument. And when we had dinner at the hotel restaurant, the waiter gave Jim a menu & papadum (a thin Indian crispy snack), and not me! It’s very annoying, although I know that’s the culture here, and they’re fascinated by foreigners.

And seeing as how we’re here for water & sanitation development, I thought I’d mention a few observations on the bathroom. There is a small step going down into the bathroom, which I always forget about & end up stumbling into the bathroom. There are mothballs in all of the drains, but this is where a poor sense of smell works to my advantage. Above the shower is a water heater, with a switch by the bathroom door, which has to be turned on 20 minutes prior to taking a shower (but only if you want hot water).

Tomorrow is a big political rally for the prime minister of Uttar Pradesh (a woman, ironically). It’s like a national holiday – businesses and banks are closed, and many roads are blocked off. We may just work from the business center here. We were finally successful in sending a few requests out for meetings, and hopefully will hear back soon. We’ll also attempt again to find an ATM where I can get some rupees, and get some mobiles & sim cards (the smaller shops may be open).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm here!

It was a long, grueling trip to India: about an hour to Detroit, then 8 hours on the plane to Amsterdam. I was hoping there would be some empty seats, but the plane was pretty full. There was a Frenchman from Lyons on one side (he works for a company that manufactures parts for Chrysler & goes back & forth between France & Detroit every 2 weeks) – cute French accent. On the other side was a woman traveling to Abu Dhabi to visit her niece. The plane had Movies, Music, etc. on demand. I watched Precious and The Blind Side, but only heard about half of what was side because it was so loud where we were sitting in the plane.

Then another 8 hour flight (also full) from Amsterdam to Delhi. My teammate Jim Fischer, from Water & Waste Water Mgmt in Wisconsin, and I were on the same flights from Detroit. We got to Delhi around midnight on Friday. After going through Customs, we had to find transportation to the hotel, and finally ended up getting a Pre-Paid taxi (a booth where you tell them your destination & pay a flat rate, so you don’t get ripped off), then go to an area for the next available taxi. By the time we checked into the hotel, it was close to 2:00 AM. I hadn’t really slept on the plane, and didn’t sleep well in the hotel either, which is located right on a busy road, with lots of traffic & noise.

Today, we got a flight from Delhi to Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. The weather is in the 90’s and it feels great! I knew the roads in India are very busy & crowded, but it’s still incredible to see – people, cars, bicycles, rickshaws, motorized scooters, and animals (goats & cows mostly) all in the road at once. It’s utter chaos with horns tooting all the time, but somehow it seems to work. And they drive on the wrong side of the road!

People keep talking to me in Hindi, and while I understand a little, I don’t speak it. I find myself speaking in English with an Indian accent though.

The business manager at the hotel has an aunt who runs an NGO (non-government organization) for Children & Women’s Welfare, and she has contacts with other NGOs in this area, so she will be a great resource. We will talk to her tomorrow & try to set up some appointments for next week. We are also trying to get mobiles (what they call cell phones here) & sim cards to make calls while we’re here. The phones are easy to get, but getting sim cards is quite an involved process, and everything requires our passports. Even the hotels make copies of them.

Time to get some sleep. More to come…

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Purpose of the trip

The trip to India is for a mission with ITT Watermark, a corporate philanthropy group that works in partnership with the non-profit organizations Water for People and Mercy Corps to help provide clean water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene education to developing countries. We have several teams going to different states in India to conduct scoping studies to identify potential sites for future Water for People development efforts.

My teammate and I are going to the state of Uttar Pradesh where we will be working from March 13-25.

I am flying out on Thursday - gotta pack!