Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Day 3

As usual, day three began with yoga.  Mahal (otherwise known as yogi) taught us the next five moves in sun salutation and added in some breathing exercises. I felt peaceful in the blue light.  I didn’t like the dusty dirty carpet that we dipped our faces during sun salutation. However, one must accept being very dusty at all times here.  Feet are always dusty, my leggings are saturated with dust and our hair tints the shower water brown as we jump around in the cold water trying to get clean as quickly as possible.  After breakfast we interviewed Ila, the only domestic violence case manager in Dhrangadra.  She connects women to lawyers, paralegals and other services.  She also gives them counseling.  She is obviously strong and is also an imposing figure.  If I were an abuser, I would think twice about messing with her.  It was so cool to meet someone who has a similar job to one that I have had in the states.  I’ve never been a domestic violence counselor or case manager, but I’ve done the training and have known many.  I also spent several years as a case manager but I could tell I had nothing on Ila.
Then we had free time and we spent time after lunch in the rose garden chatting, writing and relaxing.  It was so nice to have a break from everything.  This is winter break after all.  Carly and I were beckoned by two of the young men that work in the palace.  We came over and saw that they were flying kites.  They were not the same as the kind we used growing up.  They had small homemade looking kites that were similar to the ones from The Kite Runner.  They pull and loosen the neon pink string and make the kite dip and dance in the sky.  Within 60 seconds of handing the kite over to me, it was obviously stuck in a tree.  Carly did much better and kept it up.  The girls who work at the palace stood at the windows and giggled.  I wasn’t sure if they were laughing at our skill set or admiring the skills of the boys.  It was adorable.  In the afternoon we interviewed a survivor. She was amazing and beautiful and expressive and I loved being there to hear her story.  Although I didn’t understand much of what she was saying during the interview, I could read her body language and feel her pain.  She showed us her scars and where she now has a gold tooth to replace the one he knocked out.  She only cried at the end when we asked what she wanted for her future.  She broke down as she explained that she just wants to be independent.  She doesn’t want to depend on anyone or for anyone to pity her.  She seemed so embarrassed by her tears.  It’s not something Indian women do, she explained. 
A marriage without some form of intimate partner violence is pretty unheard of here.  Even if there isn’t sexual or physical violence there is almost always financial or emotional control.  When we hear about it, all the abused Indian women fuse and become one mass of overwhelming oppression in my head.  Being in these interviews puts an individual beautiful woman’s face on the issue.  And its not just Indian women.  Women everywhere are still experiencing this.  I was talking with Sarah about this.  She is hearing stories like this for the first time.  She echoed my own thoughts about how sad and maddening it is to realize that women have been living like this all over the world, including in our own country, for our whole lives.  And we never knew about it. 

Palace Life

 There is hot water but only for about the first 60 seconds of the shower.  The food is amazing.  For breakfast we have chai tea, hard boiled eggs, some type of spiced omelet or scrambled egg situation. There is also always cereal and milk and toast. Lunch and dinner usually consist of some type of rice (my favorite so far was the basmati rice with pomegranate seeds) two types of cooked vegetables, a soup type situation, and usually two different types of carbs.  One flat-bread that is used to eat the food with and one flat-bread that is crunchy like a cracker. There is also something sweet like this cinnamon brownie with nuts on top or milk with fruit in it.  Bananas are served with breakfast and apples with dinner.  We also had guava and mandarins the other day. We also have chai tea as often as possible and tea time usually comes with snacks like butter sandwiches or cookies.
The only person that lives full time at the palace is Jaybapa mom (Jaybapa is the Temple professor who works with my professor Dr. Greaves).  She was the queen of this palace at one time.  Now her oldest son is kind but he doesn’t like to live here.  He lives in a bigger city (Mumbai I think) and only comes here sometimes.  There are royal quarters for Jaybapa’s family but there are also guest quarters where we are staying.  The palace has a staff of people that cook and clean and keep the grounds.  The Jala family also has always kept stone workers on staff as well who do all the stone work for the palace.   At night the staff goes home and guards.  Jaybapa’s cousin manages the staff and teaches me Gujarati.  He also was a national track star in the 400 and 100 meter events. 
We have two interpreters that arrange for all of our interviews.  They speak Gujarati and Hindi and some English.  Pramiti (my friend from Temple who is also here) speaks Hindi, so she often translates from Hindi to English for us.  It reminds me of when I was learning Spanish.  She is exhausted at the end.  I am exhausted at the end of an interview in Gujarati and I don’t even understand any of it.  Maybe it’s because I am concentrated so much on the body language and trying to understand what they are conveying without understanding a word. This research study is extremely limited by selection bias since the women being brought to us are all women who have sought help with our interpreters.  Our two interviews with survivors were drastically different and very interesting.  One was friends with Jeyshrii and was loud and emotional.  The other didn’t trust us and was terrified and introverted. 
I feel confused here all the time.  The culture is so different, and I am always worried about offending people.  For example, today I asked about the elephant and had to be corrected several times that it wasn’t an elephant.  It was in fact Ganeshji, the son of a goddess who had his head cut off by her husband and was reincarnated when she replaced it with an elephants head.  “Not elephant” the translator said after I made the mistake the second time.  Then we got to hear from Pramiti about how Ganeshji’s mom called upon Kalima, the goddess that devours men and wears a necklace of cut off heads.  Kalima went and devoured the husband’s whole army.  Pretty gruesome stuff. 
It seems strange that there are these powerful female goddesses even though we are told over and over again that the son is everything and the daughter is nothing in India.  We’ve been talking a lot about not judging the place of women here.  As our yogi says, we are only witness.  However, it is difficult to see and hear how women are treated.  We must remember that we are in a rural area and women live very different lives in the cities where it is more of a given that they will be educated.  But they are so beautiful here.  They wear vibrant clothes with fantastic patterns.  They are adorned with gold jewelry, have strong beautiful faces, and great smiles.  The girls and women that work at the palace are so cute.  They become braver every day and even say good morning to us now and ask us to take their picture with ipads or cameras.  They seem to float around in their saris with long scarves enveloping them, brushing walkways and shelling Lima beans. 
We are also getting to know the palace.  It is a living breathing creature with its own eco-system.  Cats chase and eat the birds in the roof.  Bats fly around the entrance room eating mosquitoes, and bees lay dead on the stones in droves.  Dogs lie flat in the road in the sun, and peacocks flirt with one another and run away as we draw near.  It is never quiet.  Even with the siren from the nearby chemical plant and horns from vehicles are silent, the birds erupt in noise as they fly in and around the palace.  The quietest time is at dusk when the settle in to roost for the night.  Even then the call for prayer rises; twisting and turning through the dry air. 
Pramiti and I were just saying that we still can’t believe we are here.  I wonder if I will believe it before we leave. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

India Day 2

I woke up to the six am call to prayer feeling refreshed.  At seven am we met with our yoga guru for our first session.  Our guru is on a one man mission to correct the bastardization of yoga that has occurred in and outside of India. He teaches what he calls traditional yoga.  We went to a room on the third floor of the palace.  It had windows on three sides and was filled with a bluish light from the colored windows.  We left our shoes outside and walked across the dusty floor to the room in the back which contained two wooden carved four post beds, books, and some very dusty blankets.  Set up on these, our guru led his disciples in stretching, breathing and meditation. I felt focused and clear headed which is an unusual pair of sensations in my life at this time.  Supposedly, after our three weeks here, we will be able to practice what we have learned on our own.  At the end we took all of the positive energy we had created and shared it with one another in the form of hugs.  As cheesy as it sounds, it was actually really nice.  

Yoga Guru

The rest of the day consisted of eating amazing Indian food, drinking sweet chai and talking about the project.  After such strange weather in the States, it felt amazing to walk around the palace grounds in the dry mild heat in leggings and a tunic. We met with our interpreters in the garden to discuss the project and what they are already doing here. One of the interpreters then spent over an hour explaining the roles and histories of different goddesses to us.  There are many goddesses.  Some have a distinct purpose, but many can be called upon for various needs.  Our host’s family even has their own goddess which they call upon in time of need.  It is in the shape of two elephants.  Goddesses are prayed to for help with improving or maintaining beautiful, improving fertility (especially for a son), and to provide strength.  There is some irony in the fact that all of the gods we discussed were women, and that many are used to help provide a family with a male child.  Our favorite was the goddess Kali who devours men.  She wears a necklace or belt of the heads of the men she has slain.  As my professor eloquently stated, she kicks ass. It’s easy to see why she is the hero of our interpreters, who worth with survivors of domestic violence on a regular basis.
We also interviewed our first survivor, who also turned out to be our tailor for the trip.  Although we have a protocol, we had no idea what to expect and what would happen when she arrived.  We learned a lot from this first interview.  One of the most interesting things for me is learning how different our cultures are in some ways, and how alike they are in others.  In India, the role of women differs based on what cast or part of the country you are from.  Some women have more power and equality.  However, overall there are things that are very difficult for us to accept.  It can be a difficult mental exercise not to judge things like marrying women as young as 11 or 12.  I asking: who am I to say that this is wrong? Believing it is another thing.
The lions in front of the women's quarters at the palace

The woman we interviewed today was by contrast starved and beaten by her husband for 19 years. You could see the fear in her eyes as she refused to be video or audio recorded. She did acquiesce to an interview.  She had so much in common with women I’ve met in the States.  When asked what she wants for her future she shared that all she wants is to be able to work and live independently.  It reminded me of clients at Chances explaining that all they want is to live a “normal life.”
After our interview was over, we chose from beautiful fabrics that she will turn into “suits” for us.  Here is a photo of me wearing an Indian tunic my friend got me in India to wear on this trip:

Its cliché, but I can’t believe this is only our second day here.  It already feels like we’ve been here for much longer.  It was obvious over dinner that the day had taken an emotional toll on all of us.  The conversation was silly and I could feel my mind wandering, having lost the focus and calm from the morning.  I am excited for what tomorrow will bring.  This project is truly an amazing opportunity that I still can’t believe I am a part of.  And the work we do here is just the beginning.  I anticipate many future weekends being spent putting this data together with my team.  For now I will do a bit of reading and pass the f*&% out.

The lovely lotus fountain:

Sarah in front of the women's quarters

Saturday, December 28, 2013

India Day 1 - Palace Life

The past forty eight hours may have been the weirdest most random in my life, but this present minute seems to have topped it all.  I am sitting on a sort of cot made from four wooden posts with wooden frames that hold plastic strips that are laced into a surface a person could perhaps sleep on, or in my case sit precariously on the edge of and look around as the first rays of light hit one of the palace’s arabesque towers making it’s rusted and discolored stone stand out against the pale blue sky and terracotta roof tiles.  The pink courtyard below, where I sit on a marble platform is just one small part of this sprawling palace.  Birds fly around me, coo and sing out to one another. Wes Anderson could only dream of this place. Or maybe he already has.  It is surreal.

So was the day spent in the consulate, waiting and trying to find the right balance of aggressive begging and gentle pleading that would convince the employees that I was worthy of special attention.  Or even worthy of them doing their job.  It was only when I embraced Carlie on the platform of the A train, met up with the other girls at the airport, and settled in at the bar of an Irish airport bar for our supper that it started to sink in.  This trip was really happening.
The trip to India is long and exhausting.  We stumbled out of the airport into the dark morning, lit by a small crescent moon, into the arms of our waiting professor who stood shoulder to shoulder with the small throbbing crowd of family and taxi drivers awaiting the arrivals.  The sun rose behind us as our van drove past the sign announcing our arrival in Dhrangadhra. We passed through the town and through the gates of the palace just as the tops of the towers were lit by sunrise.  Birds flew everywhere, and we entered the wing that housed our quarters to the dim light of the new day and some bright uncovered light bulbs hanging from the ceilings. 
Dr. Greaves wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the palace had seen better days.  It was built in the late 1800’s.  Wonderful, slightly crumbling bas reliefs depict Hindu imagery mixed with Western symbols of British power show the nature of the times.  Jay Bapa, the brother to the current King of  Dhrangadhra (and Temple Professor of Anthropology who helped organize the trip – Bapa just means brother in Guajarati and is a nickname) and his family have survived centuries of invading hoards by compromising their religious symbols as well as their own autonomy. Jay Bapa’s ancestors are depicted with Western Angel wings as blind justice next to the monkey god and other Hindu symbols.  Large war drums flank the entrance way to the grand hall where they held court – a symbol of the military success that brought his family to power. Peacocks roam the dry grounds and hustle between crumbling pavilions and the well-kept garden in front of the King’s quarters. Parrots flit and fly among the tree tops with other birds.  The sandstone and concrete walls are a wonderful mix of Indian and Western Architecture. Neo gothic archways, beautiful lattice work, and arabesque towers are topped with a Greek looking statue and a flag pole. The newer pool in the back has two beautiful new lotus shaped fountains.

Dr. Greaves brought us into town where unpaved streets are lined with small shops, carts, and trash filled gutters.  The streets were filled with rickshaws carting beautifully dressed people from place to place, mopeds weaving in and out of traffic, cows slowly waddling, and people walking in every direction with a bundle on their head, or pushing a cart ahead of them.

 Adults stared curiously, and bold children waved and some even said hello.  We wandered around looking for a bank to exchange money with our friend who speaks Hindi stopping to ask for directions every so often. 
 Pig Crossing

We ran into a yoga and music instructor that Dr. Greaves knew, and he handed us off so we could go to his house to arrange for future yoga sessions.  Four of us squeezed into the back of a rickshaw, and one of us hopped on the back of his moped as we left the main streets for the quieter sun soaked residential alleys. Our journey was interrupted when we had to get out of the cart to make way for a cow, but eventually we made it.  We met his mother, young wife and children and sipped Chai upstairs as he shared his philosophy with us.  He was on day thirty of a ninety day fast.  He is only eating dinner very limited juices and vegetables during the day.  He played us the modified Indian guitar for a few minutes.  It made a beautiful almost mournful sound.
We took a rickshaw back to the palace.  After a wonderful lunch I finally hit a wall and succumbed to the primal need to be horizontal for the first time in two days and passed out on the hard dusty bed.  We’ve spent the evening hammering out the details of our research.
We get to work tomorrow.  I’m so excited to be with this brilliant group of people and to participate in this project.  More to come!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Julia is getting ready to go abroad again!!!

What better method of procrastination than....oh I know...a blog post! This semester I got to write a few less academic posts (oh yea, I'm in grad school now) and it made me yearn for the days of writing whatever my heart desired.  And now I have an excuse to return to Julia's abroad blog! For abroad I go.  This time though, I will be headed to far away lands very unlike the places seen in this blog.  In 18 days I head to Dhrangadhra in Gujarat state in India! 
After borderline harassment by us for the better part of a semester, a Public Health professor is taking me and four lucky ladies to India to do a project on domestic violence in this small town of around 100,000.  We will be doing exploratory qualitative research, as well as visiting retired cows, temples, and perhaps practicing some yoga.  So instead of writing about stress reduction for women with substance abuse disorder, I think I shall write down some of my expectations for the trip.  
For starters, I am hoping to see a whole lot of mustaches like this:

This is actually a photo of an ancestor of a Temple professor.  We will be staying in his family's home (palace) which according to the internet will look like this:

NO this is not a joke.  Somehow this is real life right now.  Not to mention how excited I am to have the opportunity to do research in a field and on a topic I really care about.  When I think about how amazing the opportunity is I get too excited and it immobilizes me so I try really hard not to think about it too much.  
Ok - so - real expectations in no particular order:

1) massive amounts of bonding time with close friends from MPH program of course
2) to feel the jolt and surreal feeling of being thrust into a culture so unlike my own that I feel disoriented, but in a good way
3) many sad emotions at the poverty and violent stories we will be listening to and recording
4) wonder at the beauty of the place and its people
5) the joy of purchasing power in a land filled with beautiful jewelry and fabrics
6) to get experience collecting qualitative data, and to be a part of an amazing research team
7) form a relationship with a really awesome professor
8) to eat a lot of amazing food and drink a lot of amazing tea
9) to have a lot of tummy aches
10) to feel the rush and excitement of travel, the oddity of looking different from everyone everywhere, and the awesome humbling nature being a stranger in a strange land. 

I leave you with a few photos from the generous internet that have helped me to get a small feel for where we are headed:

The Dhrangadhra Arms

A Temple

Salt Mining - Looks like this might be a major industry 

In preparation for my trip I will try to pre-acculturate myself with documentaries and research.  I have been told by friends that the culture shock will be world rocking and I'd like to be ready.  Can't wait to post my own photos.  Until then, see you in India!