Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Last Day in Delhi

So today is it. In about ten hours we will be boarding a plane to Amsterdam and taking our last look at Delhi. We're all trying to soak it in as much as we can while we still can. It may be a little difficult doing all we would like with the monsoon apparently deciding to greet us on our last day. It started raining about an hour ago and hasn't lessened much since. The entire trip it has rained only a handful of times, and each time it has only rained for a few hours at most, so perhaps we will get lucky and be able to go outside without coming back in soaked to the bone.

Thursday most of the day was spend in the office working on a presentation to give to Dr. Lall as a preview of the presentation we will present to the Provost and Board of Directors at USI in the coming months. However Dr. Banerjea made sure we didn't spend the entire day working. She took us to the ruins of a very old campus complex/mosque/tomb in Old Delhi before we ate Himalayan Indian food at a restaurant called Yeti (she has made it her mission to make sure we eat more than just Punjabi food while here, which is the type of Indian food served in the Delhi region). It was very delicious, and surprisingly slightly spicier than much of the food we have eaten.

Yesterday we presented to Dr. Lall and Dr. Banerjea before eating lunch in the office and meeting Dr. Lall's son, who works for the IMF and the World Bank. He is just as highly intelligent as his parents, and provided some very thought provoking discussions on things involving the U.S. and Indian economies.

After lunch Hari and Dr. Banerjea took us around Delhi to see a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple and the Jama Masjid (the biggest mosque in India, or so we've been told).

 The Buddhist Temple

 The Hindu Temple

 Jama Masjid

It is amazing the different cultural groups all living together peacefully for the most part. Each area we visited had its own distinct population and feel to it. That has been one of the best things about India. There are so many different types of people that the term Indian is so general it can't even begin to describe the various people that coexist in this country.

The night ended with us going back to the restaurant at the top of one of the India Habitat Center buildings where we ate the first or second night in India. Dr. Lall, his son, Bachan and Sanje (a man from SDS who helped us translate some in the village in Alwar) all joined us for another night of overeating from the Punjabi buffet. It was all very emotional to be quite honest. Dr. Lall gave a small impromptu speech about how great the trip has been for him and how great it has been to have us there. All of us were very touched by how much he and the rest of SDS have done for us, and were slightly saddened by the thought that after dinner it would pretty much all be over. Dr. Lall and his son drove us back the hotel, where we said our final goodbyes.

Today has basically been spent spending the last of our rupees and savoring it while we can. We fly to Amsterdam at 12:50 a.m., have a three hour layover in Amsterdam until we fly for ten hours to Atlanta. After another couple hours in Atlanta we finally fly back to Evansville at around 5:00 or 6:00 at night Sunday. The next blog post will be from the states.

(By the way, the rain is down to a slight sprinkle now, so perhaps the Indian gods are reading my blog.)


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Starting to wrap things up

Not much to write about tonight. For the most part the last two days since we've gotten back from Alwar have been about comparing and consolidating our data from the talks with the people in the village. We ended up getting quite a bit of information from the short few hours we spent there (although we can't even imagine how much we could have gotten with more time with those people).

Dr. Lall has been helping us get everything together and on the right track while we prepare presentations and papers to take back to present at USI.

Dr. Banerjea finally was able to join us from Calcutta last night. After getting here she took us out for some South Indian food (we have been eating Punjabi Indian food, which is the Delhi area). It was delicious (perhaps it was just the break from the Punjabi food we have been having since we've gotten here, but I'm tempted to say it was some of the best we've had). We had some sort of fried bread folded over with some potato based food inside with several dips (I cannot ever remember the names of anything we eat).

Afterwards we walked down the strip of stores where the restaurant was located called the Green Park Market, stopping for sweets and gelatto.

After work today D.J. and I took a taxi down to the strip of emporiums from all over India where we each got the last of our gifts. It was the first time we had been out very far on our own without the watchful (and hurrying) eye of Bachan, We took an auto-rickshaw back (think green over-sized bumper cars with yellow tarp-like material over the top). Our days in India are quickly coming to an end, so we're trying to get as much done and experienced while we still can.

Monday, July 4, 2011

No Fireworks on the Fourth

First off, happy 4th of July from Delhi everyone. We've got another two hours left until the fifth, and we haven't heard any fireworks all day, so light some extra ones for us.

The last few days have been the best of the trip by far.

Saturday Bachan, the Executive Administrator at SDS (basically he is the guy with all the connections-anything or anyone we need he knows where and how to get it) took us to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

(Bachan, D.J., myself)

It was a pretty long drive (with stops for tea, of course-any drive more than an hour or two usually involves a tea stop about halfway there). The Taj was very crowded, but very beautiful, plus it was nice seeing something so famous and one-of-a-kind in person.

Yesterday we took the same van and drove to Alwar. It was a very long drive on this terribly bumpy road (bumpier than the Lloyd even) through very dry lands with some massive hills (or small mountains).

We went to one of the small villages called Andhwari after checking into the hotel. That has been the best part of the whole trip.

We arrived in this literally middle of nowhere village about 20 or 30 minutes driving from Alwar city. We got out of the van and went up a hill to a small courtyard attached to this man's house.

We we approached we were all given a necklace of flowers and a dot of some sort of red paint on our foreheads that is supposed to be a welcome for guests.

Several plastic lawn chairs were set out for us near a table which we sat at while everyone else sat on the ground in front of us. Dr. Lall and another man, Om Prakash Galav (one of the pottery specialists who trained the villagers to make specialized items), translated for us. Eventually after getting some basic information Amy went off with the women while D.J. and I talked to the men.

It is amazing the progress these people have made since the implementation of Dr. Lall's program. They are charging four to five times as much for their products. 80 percent have TV's (a few even have plasma screens, which we couldn't believe), all have been able to add to their homes, they have improved pottery tools, they have an electric well pump and they get a newspaper everyday.

Once they warmed up to us there was a wonderful cross-cultural relationship. Each of us tried our hand at the pottery wheel (I could use some practice) and the women sang and danced with Amy.

It was and indescribable feeling to be there and have these people open up to us and share so much of their lives with us when they had only met us that day.

I have found this is pretty much how India is. If you give a nod of your head and a smile most people are very friendly and open. I don't think I have really seen anyone back home approach a foreigner with such happiness and willingness to share in their life. This is not to sugarcoat things. There are of course the seedier types that make you wary, but every country has those.

After chai (tea) we left the village to go see the old Alwar city palace. There were a bunch of children there yelling at me "one photo please!" and they were all very excited to see the picture I took. One man came up to me and had me take a picture of his son and said, "Save this one."

"One photo please!"

I'm saving this one and passing it along

We ended the night with some local food on the roof of the hotel.

This morning we walked with Hari, the SDS driver, to a local Hindu temple before we drove to a nearby lake which was huge. Then we went to Om Prakash's shop and spent some rupees on his handmade clay items. We also went to his home and met his family. It was all an amazing experience.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Preparing for Alwar while making some side trips

First off, sorry for the delay in this post. Of course, the hotel room I have been staying in happened to be the one that lost internet connection (this is pretty much the way my luck goes), so I have to wait to steal Amy or D.J.'s before I can do anything, and usually by the time we get back to the hotel we're all so tired I hate taking an hour or two to write this in someone else's room.

The majority of our mornings and afternoons are spent in the SDS offices preparing for our trip to Alwar. Dr. Lall will usually give one or two PowerPoint presentations (with of course the occasional tea break or two, which definitely is a practice which the U.S. should develop) explaining the previous work of the SDS in Alwar, the way life and work operates there and the things we should note and take into consideration. We all feel Dr. Lall is a brilliant man, and his strategies for developing and bettering the lives and work of these poorer people are completely innovative (and so far very effective). It has been a great privilege to be able to learn from him.

Wednesday night he took us to the restaurant at the top of the office buildings here on campus. There were many Indian dishes he kept telling us to try (with the names being so unfamiliar I cannot ever remember what any of them are called). Most Indian food consists of some sort of rice or noodle and a sauce with various spices, cheeses and either vegetables or meat (chicken, lamb or mutton). I have yet to come across anything I have outright hated, and we're all surprised that nothing has been too spicy to handle. By the end of the night we had all eaten so much we got back to the hotel and went right to sleep.

Yesterday after work at the offices Hari, the SDS driver, took us around Delhi to see some tourist hotspots. Our first stop was the Lotus Temple, which is a beautiful structure architecturally (it looks like the Lotus flower in design). The temple is of the Baha'i faith, which believes all religions fall under the same God, and encourages worshipers of all faiths to come pray inside. There were crowds of people walking for a ways (barefoot, of course) up steps and passed the pools of water outside to reach the silent inner sanctuary. I was very surprised that I had never even heard of this religion, despite the fact that so many people were there (perhaps they were tourists like us, but the far majority of them were Indian) and the structure itself so beautifully put together.

After the Lotus Temple we went to the Qutub Minar, which is a tall tower built by a Muslim king back in the 1100's. It was surround by ruins of similar age. There was also a solid iron column about 12 or 13 feet high that was built by a previous Hindu king in the 900's I believe (and it hasn't rusted at all). While there we also seemed to be an attraction to the locals. While I was looking at the tomb (the building in the bottom right corner of the pic) of the aforementioned Islamic king a guy in his late teens or early twenties came up and asked where I was from, and when I said America he had his friends take a picture of the two of us. Amy had a similar experience, but with an entire Indian family. It was quite funny for us, and I'm sure it was even funnier for them.

I'm typing this in the office at the moment (although I just lost the internet connection I was using, figures), so I don't have time to add links to this, and I may have to save this as a word document and post it later, so anything that happens later this afternoon (I think were are going out for some more sightseeing) will be included in my next post. Until then,


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting Settled In

So it was a long day yesterday to say the least. We flew out of Evansville to Detroit at 1:00 p.m. which took around an hour and a half. We were at the Detroit airport for close to three hours, then had an eight hour flight to Amsterdam, where we had another two hour layover. Finally we made our last flight (around seven hours I think) to Delhi, arriving at about 11:00 p.m. local time, which is about 12:30 p.m. Evansville time. So needless to say after almost a full 24 hours of traveling, we were very tired, and by the time we got our baggage, went through customs and checked into our hotel room, it was about 1:00 a.m. before the three of us finally got to bed.

After spending a restless, jet-lagged night at the hotel (I hope this isn't coming off as too whiny, just wanting to give a full account of what's going on-despite the fatigue we're all pretty excited just being here), we woke up to have a pretty good breakfast by the hotel (none of us have any idea what we really ate, but it all tasted pretty good).

We traveled to the campus where SDS has their offices and spent the day brainstorming approaches with the head of this project, Dr. Vinay Lall and getting acquainted with what the organization does and expects from this trip. We found out we will be spending two days in Alwar (Sunday and Monday or Monday and Tuesday). Each of us will have a different aspect and angle to approach how to implement sustainable and resilient approaches to combating poverty while coming up with the best way to not only measure the outputs from these approaches, but the long-term outcomes. Basically the idea is to create programs or provide certain resources in a way that the SDS is not consistently providing these things, but can at some point discontinue while still having the intended growth remain under its own steam. We will be dividing up and focusing on different segments of the population in order to get a broader picture at the end. The first day will be spent interviewing families in urban Alwar, while the second day will be in the rural villages surrounding the city itself.

After all this, we took a brief tour of the campus, followed by going to some of the attractions Delhi has to offer such as the President's Palace and the India Gate (hopefully by the end of the night I can figure out how to get our pics on here). We went to the local marketplace close to our hotel were we walked through the enormously clustered crowds of people looking at some of the local wares. We are all very tired again so that will be it for tonight. (On a side note, I can hear the traffic outside the window as I type this, and in case you weren't aware, Indian drivers are some of the craziest drivers I've ever seen. Lanes mean nothing, even the ones dividing oncoming traffic, and everything is packed together with inches to spare at most. I don't know how there's not more accidents.)


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Five Days and Counting...

Not many people (or perhaps not many I know) get to travel outside the United States. There are the occasional semesters studying abroad in Europe, the honeymoons to Mexico or the Bahamas and the family family cruise from Disney.

I am one of the vast majority of people who has never been outside the borders of home, and I've always wanted to see what else is out there in the world, to explore other lands and immerse myself in a completely different culture (I know this is somewhat romanticizing travel, but bare with me).

That is all going to change as of Sunday, when I fly out of Evansville, Indiana with two other University of Southern Indiana students, D.J. Horstman and Amy Brown. The three of us are part of a research project taking place in India. We will be spending the majority of our time in New Delhi, while the actual research will be conducted in the town of Alwar, which is in the state of Rajasthan. Alwar is about 160 kilometers south-southwest of New Delhi, and about 150 kilometers northeast of Jaipur.

While in Alwar we will be interviewing families who have used the unique approach developed by the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) the Society of Development Studies, and see if their approach did in fact improve these families' lives both materially and socially.

The trip has been funded by the Provost's office at USI, and is in an effort to expand the university's mission of outreach and engagement by establishing some solid foundations for further student trips to India.

I will be posting to this blog as often as I can, keeping you updated on the research and the culture shock of an untraveled American. Once we have some pictures they will be posted to gadget at the bottom of the page (for now, ignore the stock photos blogger has decided to provide me). Until then, wish us luck and stick around.


Chanse Ford