Monday, 21 January 2013

Weekend in Arangabad

January 19-20, 2013

This weekend, our group took a 2-day trip to Arangabad to see the famous Ellora Caves, a silk factory, and the Taj Fort. Our Saturday started off earlier than we would have liked and we sat down to our usual breakfast of white bread, bananas, and hard-boiled eggs. It may be a while before any of us look at these foods the same way.

Amazingly, all 16 of us piled into two large jeeps. They accomplished the goal of driving for 4 and a half hours along mostly paved roads through both mountains and busy downtown streets; but still, all of us welcomed the stops where we could get some fresh air and load up on our Dramamine. We especially took advantage of the random coffee shop/convenient store right off the highway – and I’m sure they appreciated the business too. You’d be amazed how delicious a $1.50 latte tastes after weeks of drinking nothing but water and chai tea.

Just when it seemed like the bumpiness would never cease, we pulled into Arangabad at a small restaurant for a traditional lunch of chicken and rice. We needed our strength to brave the caves, so we didn’t feel too bad about ordering some big bowls of ice cream too.

At the entrance of the caves, we experienced our first monkey sighting. They were relatively tame (probably due to the high volume of tourists that they frequently come into contact with) and you can be sure that we took copious amounts of pictures. One guide even offered us monkey food so they could eat out of our hands, but our vigilant program leader shooed him away before we got the chance. It was probably for the best – I know I’m not up to date on my rabies vaccine.

Then we got a guided tour of the caves. “Caves” may be a misleading term, as this was more of a large mountain that had been carved out hundreds of years ago, with beautiful architecture and statues of Hindu gods and animals decorating the insides. At times it seems as though a large group of white women is more of an attraction than the actual caves – many people were more interested in posing in front of us, asking us to take pictures with them (not OF them), or just plain staring at us. We’ve learned to just accept that we are just too beautiful to not be stared at all the time. Right..?

After our cave exploration, we took another (mercifully shorter) bus ride back to our hotel. We knew it was going to be a step up from our sleep away-camp-style sleeping and bathroom situation, but
we were not prepared to be in a 4-star quality hotel. There was a spa in the basement, a roof with a
stunning view of the city, and a bountiful dinner buffet. We felt like royalty as we ate our good food,
took our hot showers and slept in our comfy beds with REAL pillows. Then, we acted like typical college girls for a few hours as we sat together in one room and played games. It was a glorious way to end our eventful day.

The breakfast buffet was just as good as dinner, and a welcome change from white bread. We also
bombarded the cappuccino/chai tea latte machine like it was our job. As long as it’s included, why not get our money’s worth?

We hopped on the bus again, this time to the silk factory. “Factory” is another one of those relative
terms – it was a big room with tons of equipment, but only one employee was working on a woven
shawl. Watching how laborious the process of making one shawl is really makes you appreciate manual labor and justifies the amount of money you ultimately pay. And next door is where they count on you taking sympathy on the weavers. There was a giant warehouse of various woven garments and furniture decorations: ties, scarves, table runners, placemats, pillow cases, saris – all made with silk (some 100%). Many of us spent at least half of our remaining rupees, but we agreed that it was worth the splurge. Get ready for some luxurious gifts, Moms and Dads!

Our last tourist stop of the day was the Taj Fort. This time “fort” is an accurate description. Stone walls surrounded a large perimeter, and supposedly did a very good job of keeping out intruders hundreds and hundreds of years ago. We saw more amazing architecture, and even walked through a small bat cave. We treated our flashlights as lifelines – it was pitch black and we could hear the ominous squeaking of bats coming from the ceiling. It was an interesting feeling to say the least. Then, we were told that we could walk 300 stairs to get to the top of the fort if we were feeling up to it. Some of us jumped at the opportunity to finally get some exercise, and some of us were just lamenting the fact that we had to wear long pants. We could all agree though that we wished we were at least wearing sneakers (we were told we didn’t need them. Lies.). Many excruciating steps and some dirty flip-flops later, we were face to face with a stellar panoramic view of the whole fort and the outskirts of Arangabad. We could only stay up there so long, though, because it was 2:30 p.m. and our breakfast seemed like a distant memory. We dodged dozens more photo requests from random people on the way back down (they never end!) and were finally reunited with the rest of our group.

We were treated to another tasty late-afternoon lunch at a roadside restaurant. All I can say is that it’s
going to be very upsetting when we get back to the U.S., where bottomless baskets of naan bread are
unheard of. Who says girls don’t eat carbs?

We reluctantly piled into the backseat of our faithful jeeps and mentally (and medically) prepared
ourselves for the long ride back. At least the scenery along the highway is fun to look at, because you’re crazy if you try to read in the back of a bumpy jeep cruising swiftly down India’s questionably paved roads. Nevertheless, we all made it back in one piece and definitely appreciated our weekend getaway.

Continued Learning at CRHP

Friday morning, we finally got to tour CRHP's hospital.  Two of the interns took us around and explained how the hospital works.  The hospital, in line with the Jamkhed model, works to provide care at the lowest possible cost.  Family members are important caregivers while their loved ones are in the hospital.  We got to see the maternity ward, operating rooms, ICU, and both the female and male wards.  There were only five patients on this day in the hospital, yet as the interns explained, some days are extremely busy!  Many families in the area have migrated for seasonal work and therefore this is a slower time for the hospital.

One of the patients we met was a 10 month old baby girl named Nikita.  She came to the hospital a few months ago with a severe infection on her right leg and has had various operations to ensure she will have normal functioning.  She is very sweet and loves to smile.  Another patient we met is named Reshma who has been living in the hospital for two years.  She came to CRHP when 60 percent of her body suffered severe burns and has become somewhat of a poster child for the hospital and visits other patients daily to cheer them up.  She loves to paint and draw and her pictures were beautiful.

In the afternoon we talked about mental health with Shobha which was very interesting because of the differences in problems faced by Americans and Indians in this aspect of health.  We also were given an assignment called Dream Island through which we split into three groups and were challenged with creating our own society from scratch.  The scenario was that there were only 50 people left on an island, and it was our task to come up with an island name, guidelines, flag, national anthem, and spirituality component.  It was a fun activity and more challenging than many of us had expected.

Wednesday and Thursday

Wednesday morning brought us back to work on the compost pit.  With the digging complete, we moved on to building the brick partitioning walls and lining the six pits with plastic.  We got to learn how to lay bricks!  It was a lot of fun and so great to see progress being made.  This compost system will hopefully be used by CRHP as a demonstration site for villagers to come see how things are done so that they can implement similar systems in their own communities. 

After lunch, we had a session with the Young Farmer’s Club and learned about their impact in various villages.  We also learned about CRHP’s system called Participatory Rural Appraisal through which they track village progress and assess the living patterns (this helps them create maps and better understand how the caste system is impacting individual villages.

On Thursday we split into two groups and each traveled with members of the Mobile Health Team to a CRHP village (better known as project villages).  My group was able to walk around with a VHW named Pushpa as she did her daily visits.  We got to see how Pushpa checked a diabetic man’s urine sugar using a simple method as well as see a prenatal check up with a 21 year-old woman who was nine months pregnant.  We also visited the preschool in the village and the primary school, where 43 boys and 43 girls attend school every day.  A few of the girls performed a song and dance, and all of the children were friendly and happy to see us.   We also saw the government’s water truck delivery and watched with awe how people (mostly women and children) loaded their buckets and pails, and then hurried with them carried on their heads to drop off the water at home and return back for more.  Considering the three year drought, this is a really beneficial system and the water truck goes to the village every other day.  The villagers really appreciate this and do a great job conserving the water they receive.

In comparison with the non-CRHP village we visited during our first few days here, this village was much cleaner and the people seemed to be much more productive.  There was less waste accumulation and we noticed less animals wandering freely.

In the afternoon, we sat in on some of the training for the VHWs and observed how they use songs, dances, skits, and visuals as teaching and learning tools.  We were even challenged with coming up with our own dramas and visual tools on the topics of gender equity and mental health.

NCP's Mahila Melava

On Tuesday, we had the special opportunity of traveling to Ahmednagar to attend what we originally were told was a “meeting” with the Tribal Minister of Health for the State of Maharastra. However, we were greeted by hoards of women in sarees under a large grounded tent. We were quickly ushered into the government building, up the stairs and into a conference room where we met Supriya Sule, a congresswoman for the Nationalist Congress Party. She is a big supporter of women’s rights and empowerment, and we shortly learned that the event was actually a rally of over 5,000 women waiting to hear her and other members of the political party speak. After meeting and speaking with Supriya shortly, we headed to the tent to observe the ceremony. Unfortunately, all of it was in Marathi so it was difficult to follow along. Different women put on skits and shared their stories with poems and speeches and the women in the audience were very passionate and vocal with their approval of the program. Topics discussed included the importance of education, female foeticide, and the recent sexual violence throughout India.

About two hours later, we exited the tent to head back to CRHP when we were swarmed by many news crews who wanted to interview us. We were very confused because we didn’t quite understand why they would be treating us like celebrities. Many Indian people were trying to talk to us as we walked through the crowd, and many took pictures with their camera phones. We later learned that our presence was greatly appreciated because in a way, we represent the rights that these women are fighting for and while it seemed strange at the time, we were guests of honor for that reason. The Minister of Tribal Health’s personal assistant found us and took special care to bring us back to the conference room where more Indian staff and visitors gathered to take pictures with us and to wrap our heads in hot pink turbans to represent their appreciation for our attendance at the event. Thinking the day was over, we began to head back to the car but instead were thrown a curveball when we were all led on stage in front of thousands of Indian women to sit behind Supriya as she gave her long awaited speech. All in all, it was a great experience and one that none of us will forget.

On the way home, we stopped for a long awaited lunch at an Indian hotel where we were served traditional foods that were spicier than what we are used to at CRHP but extremely delicious! After  a long bus ride home, we caught the very end of a lesson on holistic/natural remedies by Shobha and went to bed exhausted.

Catching Up...

Sorry it has been a while since we have written! The past week has been very busy and exciting, and WiFi is not always reliable. Here is a recap from where we left off in the last post:

  • ·         Session with Shobha about the purpose and operations of the preschool
  • ·         Visited cattle market in Jamkhed – Saw many decorated cows, bulls and goats for sale.
  • ·         Walked through farmer’s market – Street vendors crowded the market with fresh and colorful produce and goods.
  • ·         Visited CRHP organic farm. Here we learned about the crops and their uses in rural India as well as how the farm is used for rehabilitation purposes for women and families. We witnessed the vermiculture composting (worms) and got a tour of the farm including the fields, animals and facilities. We even got to ride a bull cart and milk a cow! We were also able to meet the very inspirational farm manager, Ratna, who told us her powerful story about her struggle with HIV and how working on the farm has turned her life around.
  • ·         Dined on the rooftop with CRHP director, Ravi. Beautiful view of the stars accompanied by a yummy meal. (With our first sodas in weeks!)

  • ·         Many of us slept in, waking up to find we had missed French toast!
  • ·         Attended morning church service where both Indian staff/villagers and foreign visitors sang hymns together in both Marathi and English.
  • ·         Visited CRHP’s Helping Hands, where women can sell handmade products to support their families. Many of us bought beautiful souvenirs.
  • ·         Went into town to do some more shopping. Visited a shop of Pooja’s friend (the young woman who has done all of our henna) for more clothing. Some of us had our first Indian street food – a spicy potato patty served with bread. Yum!
  • ·         Met with Dr. Prem to discuss the findings of the latest group surveying Indiranagar who observed use of toilets and sanitation practices.

  • ·         Learned about tribal people and how CRHP has worked with them to provide healthcare and community organization.
  • ·         Saw how artificial limbs are made/applied and even witnessed a man who had just received an artificial leg learn to walk! Also toured CRHP’s demonstration site for soak pits which purify ground water after use inside homes.
  • ·         Departed for women’s festival in Jamkhed. We all wore our best saris and Punjabis to visit several temples which were filled with women and children. We were all mobbed with women who applied the traditional dot of red/yellow dye powder to our foreheads and who gave us sugar. The children were very excited for us to take photos of them. This festival celebrates the official beginning of “summer” as the sun passes over the equator into the Northern Hemisphere.
  • ·         Gathered in our room to play an exciting game of Trivial Pursuit.

Saturday, 12 January 2013


Here are some pictures from our time so far - unfortunately the internet is not cooperating to incorporate them into each post, but enjoy!

View from the entrance of CRHP.

A fairly calm part of town.

Temple in the non-CRHP village.

Some children playing at CRHP's preschool.

On the bus to school!

View of a government school from Indiranagar.

Area similar to a farmer's market in the town of Jamkhed.

Lots of Learning

Every morning at 8:30am, CRHP holds an optional worship service.  It is a brief meeting time led by Shobha where we come together to start the morning with prayer and singing.  It is also a chance to hear about the happenings of the upcoming day.  There are a few other groups staying at CRHP currently, so it is sometimes hard to keep track of where we are supposed to be and when!

We spent Friday mostly in the classroom setting, participating in various lectures and group discussions.  Our first was with Connie and the topic was the factors of health.  Going back to the basics, we broke down the determinants of health and discussed what good health looks like, often referring to the villages we have visited as a point of reference.  Following Connie's lecture, we got to be a part of a special ceremony for CRHP.  The Village Health Workers are here on Thursday for training, and spend most of the day on Friday here as well.  CRHP was inaugurating a mobile library to be kept up by staff and the VHWs and to benefit the people of the villages.  This is a project that everyone here is very excited about.

We then had a class discussion about maternal health, and after lunch heard from another VHW named Surekha about her story.  We were all very touched by her journey to becoming a VHW as she had to overcome many obstacles and hardships throughout her life.  CRHP saved her in a way, and she is now working tirelessly to save the lives of those in her community.  We are so thankful to have been able to hear from the VHWs as they are very inspiring.

After this, our Elon group had a personal session with Shoba on Women's Health.  We sort of ended up discussing instead Indian traditions and gender roles for two and a half hours.  It was such an informative and intriguing discussion, and we were all left speechless at times to learn about some of the past and present practices occurring here.  A long day of lectures ended with a game night with the other college students staying here.  We played a huge game of Catch Phrase and some other fun games!