Friday, September 30, 2005

First week of work

I think my postings will become slightly less exciting as we move forward into this project. More work, less play.

Monday and Tuesday were spent getting background information from the professors Dr. Thammaiah and Dr. Prisan about the governance structures, existing programs, etc. Unfortunately I think there is some universal patterns to governments - some corruption, creating programs from afar that make little sense on the ground, strapped resources. It has been mind blowing just trying to get a handle of how many people and village they have to deal with. India is trying to manage 1/6 of the world population, in a country with very poor infrastructure, water shortages, etc. On top of these problems are the castes, which are alive and well regardless of what people say. Even in rural communities, it is divided into caste neighbourhoods and some are kept from using the good water taps, etc. Hard to get a community participation model when people will not interact with each other. The rural population here is more than 60% -and though they are dealing with similar issues of Canada of urbanization, less education and health, the issues are of such a larger magnitude. Makes some of the problems we concern ourselves with in Canada a luxury.

Beth Lewis, the planning faculty arrived on Wed night - great to have her here. She has given a preliminary presentation of the community planning model to the faculty - trying to read the chemistry of the room I thought they hated it - they afterward we saw great enthusiam and energy about it. Wonderful.

Today (Friday) we went back to Suttur village with Beth so we could all get a better look around. I got a little overwhelmed today, after visiting the school for the underprivileged (imagine 5000 children that do not and will not have the love and support of a family), and waving away children selling junk on the streets (these are the children not lucky enough to be sent to a charity school/food program). So much to do here, so many people in dire, tragic situations - it would take many lifetimes. I get a little fire in the belly hearing about all the corruption, people conning money away from these communities for their own gain, poorly-thought out government programs that waste much needed resources. Some of the women in the Suttur village have organized themselves into self-help groups producing chutneys - one of the good government programs. Problem is that there is no help for them to sell the goods - so ends up wasting all the motivation and enthusiam they have built up to be let down in the end.

Tomorrow we are heading back to BR Hills for a visit - my camera died last time so will make sure I am going with a charged battery, capture some of the gorgeous scenery.

Monday, September 26, 2005

first week complete

What a crazy week!

We ended up not going to a coffee plantation on Saturday. We went instead to an unbelievable buddhist temple (again will post pictures when I get access to XP) - I think every wall was covered in a mural, huge statues of buddha. After that we went to a local forest area for a little hike and a quick picnic (monkeys all over the place trying to steal our food). We then headed out to an elephant reserve. We were all crammed into a little rickey boat to cross the river to the island - I don't think the boat was up to code, if there is a code. We hung out for a while waiting to have an elephant ride. Ends up the elephants were not cooporating that day to take a ride (we did see them in the river), so we left early and headed to our next and last stop. We have found it best to be super flexible here as plans are continuously changing. It was then off to a little local resort for a cultural show - incredibly cheezy but very fun. We got their early so I grabbed at the opportunity to take a quick swim which was so great- BUT I had to wear by an indian bathing suit (a full shirt and long tacky shorts). Got to see some terrible magic, and fairly good traditional dance. The comedy regimes were lost on the canadian contingent as we still don't speak Kanada - but fun to watch the students laughing their heads off. The profs did not come with us, so we saw the indian students much more relaxed, letting their hair down a bit. They were so much fun. We dragged ourselves home around 1130pm - just a little bit tired but a great group building day.
Sunday we stayed in Mysore. ahh, no bumpy car rides. It was nice to lounge around, get some work done. One of the profs, Guruswami, dropped in with some cooking utensils and a little stove - finally we can make our own coffee! We then headed out for a walk to the supermarket - that was fun. Always an experience to shop for food. Our most expensive items were soy milk, peanut butter, and coffee - otherwise most things are around 20-50 cents. Toiletries are suprisingly expensive. A funny occurence - we ran into three americans I think (a couple and then a guy at the supermart)- they all totally ignored us, didn't want to make eye contact etc. Very hippy in their dress. Didn't want to be associated with the likes of us I guess. :)

Today we had the morning to do some internet research on the ministry of rural development, then in the afternoon a presentation (see Lesley, we are doing work). I have reached the information saturation point for the day. Once Angus gets back from the computer lab, we will head off to town to pick up my dresses and a few other things. I still have the only computer (and the kitchen and a deck) - which is the source of lots of ribbing. It is good to be Queen. :) I've tried to have an open door policy so it feels like they are group resources.
So things are moving along. Health is good. Life is good.

Friday, September 23, 2005

trip to dowtown

For the first time, we were given the afternoon off to spend how we wish. After a few naps and downtime, we headed out to the downtown area. We are actually in a kind of suburb, but it has a commerical district sort of area. Most of the stores here are quite specialized, a lot like europe. Tons of bakeries, gadget stores, little resturants.

I went to the tailor and picked up two Salwars - the regular dress here. They are long dresses with pants to wear underneath and a shawl for your shoulders. After lots of humming and hawing, I picked out a blue one with vines and flowers and a white one with . They then took many measurement of me, and they will be tailored up by Monday, ready to wear. Fun fun. I am not super fond of the pants, but while in rome.

For a bite to eat, we went to Green LEaf - one of the students, Yamuna, took us there on Wed or Thurs. Lots of stuffed bread, curries, and actually chinese food is on most menus. A bit thing here appartmently. A quick ricksaw drive back and off to bed.

In half an hour we are leaving for a day trip to a coffee plantation - am really hoping they will offer us a good cup of strong coffee. Otherwise it comes with so much milk and sooo much sugar - hard to tell what you are drinking.

Hope all is well back in Canada. Good luck with the job hunt Amy.

PS- will add photos once I can get to the computer lab with XP software.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

first few days of orientation

We have all enjoyed a whirlwind tour of the JSS facilities and the area. Last few days we have visited with the different affliated bodies and toured their departments and labs. After visiting the water engineering department, the head took us to the biggest Hindu temple in Karnataka - it was gorgeous. We were lead through the temple, visiting each of the gods on the way. We would sit in front of the statue, they would light some incense and ring some bells - then everyone would take turns bathing their faces in the incense smoke, taking the holy water (a quick sip then pour the rest over your head), and then you usually recieve a gift of a chain of flowers. At some of the gods, instead of flowers there was tumeric to dot your forehead. The statue of Ganesh is covered with butter - you are given some to annoit your eyebrows. I think we all felt a little overwhelmed with the whole experience but very thankful we were permitted to take part.

Yesterday we toured the medical facilities and met with the medical heads. They were a bit more formal and the tour of the medical facilites was a little graphic. They showed up some corpses and body parts, that are just out in the open, lots of very graphic pictures on the walls. I am guessing they are more casual about death than we are.

Today was the best day so far with the project. Some of the profs, students and the Canadian team piled into a van and visited one of the rural villages, Suttar. They just passed an ammendment to give the rural communities more control over funds and Suttar is a sort of model village of governance for this ammendment. Basic community information, budgets, and plans are painted on the outside of the local goverment (panchaya) building so everyone can take a look. They could teach the Canadian government something about what transparency really means. They formed an action plan to address some local challenges with outlined projects - presented this to the higher goverment and got the funds. The local village hospitals are primary care and maternal care units - very basic. Streets are full of animals, and equipment, not many cars. Lots of children coming up to us, not to beg, but because they were curious. very fun to take their picture and then show it to them - get lots of giggles. Finally we visited a nearby school that JSS set up for orphaned and impoverished children. I think we are getting a much better sense of what JSS is - a non-profit humanitarian organization focused on community development. Lots of schools, some hospitals, and some water technology. We also saw a local temple dedicated to the man (a buddhist I think) who initiated the JSS organzation.

So life is good. Have yet to get out to a store to get some clothes, etc, but will likely try to get into town this weekend. Food continues to be great and suprisingly not that spicy. Climate continues to be wonderful - breezy, warm and sunny.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Arrived in Mysore after an early rise, flight and rather bumpy car ride.

Beautiful city, quite different from Delhi. Our arrival was the first day of sun - absolutely gorgeous here. Light breeze, cools down quite a bit at night. Much less humid. They have put us up in a 'guest house' which is a series of buildings with apartments. My room is by far the biggest, with a lounge area, kitchen, bathroom, and a little deck off to one side. There are some benefits to being a girl here. The people in this area seems much more gentle, relaxed compared to the people in Delhi. Gekko's and small frogs abound, saw some parrots in the trees.

We had our first meeting today with the Indian team - they are so accomodating and causal, relaxed. Not formal at all. Impossible to remember all the names so quickly, but I am sure it will come with time. The doctor from the medical centre sat beside me during the meeting - seems like a great guy. Invited me to disagree with him whenever I want and is very curious. There seems to be still a bit of ambiguity on both sides about 'the project', but hopefully it will become clearer with time. Their hospitality is slightly overwhelming - they have arranged for lots of tourist activities on the weekends, computers, whatever we need. Everytime we enter a new room, someone comes in with a fresh cup of sweetened tea.

Picture on right is view from car on way to mysore. Some of the road was double-laned highway, some of it was a single lane of dirt road. Huge speed bumps all along the way.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


We have arrived!

The travel from halifax-montreal-london-delhi had a few surprises and security breaches, but all in all was okay. Arriving in Delhi was much easier than I had thought, likely because the other student I travelled with, Matt, had been there before. Quickly through customs likely due to the late hour, got baggage (what a relief to see it!), and hopped into a taxi. The hotel that the project booked for us in Delhi was amazing - so posh. I had a big suite, with a living room, and a huge comfy bed with feather pillows and a down comforter. It was great to be so comfortable after such a long journey. We decided to not go to the Taj the following day - we were all understandbly really drained and it was further than we though - would have been an extra 6 hours or so of travel to spend four hours there. Instead, we had breakfast at the hotel roof top resturant (great vistas of the city), took naps, then headed out on the town.

We went to old Delhi to visit the red fort and a local mosque via a rickshaw - eek. Crazy chaotic traffic. The experience in old Delhi was intense- got followed by lots of little children begging for money and pulling on our clothes. not fun. walking down shared streets with rickshaws, cars, tons of people, dogs, everything.tragic. I was definately one of the few females walking around, even though it was day time. Was constantly started at, people turning around to get a better or longer look. My interverted soul struggled with this but I had read the warnings in the travel books. Am planning on buying some local duds as soon as possible, though I can't really hide the colour of my skin or my height. The three of us, me matt and angus, tower over the populus a bit. good because it is hard to lose anyone in a crowd.

Had a great final evening in Delhi last night, strolling around new Delhi. Very different. Streets have a more even gender balance, with families and couples walking around. middle-upper class. lots of north american stores mixed in with the local places. I felt like less of a spectacle there. We had a great meal at a local chinese resturant, and finished the night with a beer up on the rooftop terrace.

I am having trouble getting the photos off my camera (windows 98 rather than XP) but hopefully will post a few soon.

Hope everyone is doing well.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The planning stage

Planning prior to trip - trying to get information about local area in terms of disease rates, existing technologies, programs, etc. Hard to find region-specific info, but lots of stuff on India.
Have set a day of departure for Sept 15th. We have two nights in Delhi, then on to Bangalore and Mysore. The student group is thus far working out very well - good dynamic. We had a video conference with India and 'met' the Indain partners. They seem very nice and accomodating - I suspect we will be treated very well.