Monday, January 13, 2014

Photo update

Dressed up for our last night at the palace:

Beautiful Jayshree

One more temple:

Peaceful Pramiti and Jayshree:

Left over from a prayer at the temple:

Saying Goodbye

Its our last day here and Ila just left for work.  She hugged everyone goodbye and then got to me.  I saw tears in her eyes and felt her silent sob as we hugged.  We group hugged and then Jayshree walked with her as she left for work.  Its hard to explain how our relationship formed with them.  It happened slowly over the course of the first week.  At first they were our translators and nothing more.  With every interview we grew to trust each other more, and eventually I realized we were really collaborators; partners in this crazy three week journey where they shared with us village by village, interview by interview, what they deal with here.  They shared their clients, their hopes, their dreams, and their amazing personalities.  Last night they shared their saris with us, and we danced in a circle together.  We stumbled over the Garba dance moves, while they moved gracefully with smiles on their faces. 
These two women became our friends.  When I thought about what I expected to happen in India, that was certainly not in the plan.  It happened slowly through nicknames, the inside jokes, the giggling over boys, the tears, the hand holding, and hand squeezing when things got rough, the complex communication methods that combined hand gestures, the gracious translating of Pramiti, and our attempts at simplifying our English so it was understandable, and gifts exchanged. 
And now we are all going to go home together, leaving them here with just each other. It will be back to their normal lives, but I still feel a little strange about our departure. We really came crashing into their lives and shook things up.  We have had several conversations about making sure that we don’t actually leave their lives just as suddenly.  We have exchanged emails, numbers, and we have a lot of ideas for how we can stay in touch and continue to impact their work here. With our research.  I am so grateful for the way they embraced us, and welcomed us even into their own homes and their lives.  I’m excited to continue to work to help their NGO when we get back to the States, and worried that we won’t be able to do enough. 
We have done a lot of conversing and thinking about Global Health and our impact here.  I have learned so much from being here.  There were so many things that never occurred to me before.  Like how harmful it may be to roll into a community with sunglasses and cameras and laptops out.  Like how harmful it can be to roll into a community and ask what we can do to help them.  Things I never thought of before.
It’s possible that this will be my only experience with research outside of the US, and Jayshree and Ila were responsible for most of my positive experiences.  I am so grateful to Dr. Greaves for bringing us here, and grateful for the hospitality we received at the Palace.  But most of all I am grateful for the people we were privileged to interact with.  I am leaving with so much.  I only hope I have left something behind.  It may take a long time to fully process this experience, but luckily I have four six women to do it with. 

Day 14 - Halvad and Sightseeing

Today we headed back to Halvad where we had visited the private school with the florescent light destroyers.  We were all excited for our appointment with one of the moms we had met during our focus groups who had bravely come forward during our focus group to tell her own story as an example of how domestic violence is a problem even for wealthy educated families.  She had agreed to be interviewed for our research and her house was conveniently located near some sightseeing we wanted to do later in the day.   Our ride was uneventful except for a cow standing in the middle of the highway as if trucks and cars weren’t zooming by at 100 kilometers per hour. 
Our survivor welcomed us to her parent’s home.  She was so happy to have us, and we were so happy to see her.  It was our first time conducting an interview in English, and our first time being able to connect verbally with one of our primary respondents. She took all of our contact information, and we hers, and we promised to send her a copy of our report when it’s done. She also got to connect with Jayshree.  An educated financially independent woman like this survivor could be an amazing asset to Jayshree and Ila’s NGO.  We were excited to have helped them make the connection.
Sightseeing consisted of several Jala family hotspots.  First we went to their old palace.  It was built in the 1400s but was abandoned because it was indefensible.  Much of it fell down after an earthquake, but what remains is more than enough to give an idea of the grand splendor that the Jala family enjoyed a few centuries ago.  The current palace is amazing, but the old palace was something else.  Surrounded by a moat on one side and done in the Islamic style, the palace is decorated with intricate wood and stone carvings.  A tall tower in the Islamic style stands in the middle of a sunken garden in the middle of the palace, and one can imagine saris sweeping the ground as women walked along the walkways taking in the sun and air.
We were able to take questionably stable stairs up to the roof where you could look over the moat.  The railing was made of carved concrete couches and chairs.  I imagined them covered in cushions and blankets, although now they are enjoyed only by cats and pigeons.  We also checked out the women’s garden where men were forbidden.  There were living quarters for the wives and concubines of the King and his children.  Some women spent their whole lives confined to the garden.  If a man was caught entering the garden the penalty was death.  Just like at the current palace, there was a procreation room where women would meet with the King when he desired.  It was obvious that the garden had been beautiful, but it was a poignant reminder of a woman’s place in India over the centuries, no matter how gilded the cage.  
Next we headed to the Jala burial ground.  Hindus believe in cremation, so the burial ground consisted of tall monuments to the dead.  Dr. Greaves pointed out how people put gold leaf on the monuments when they come to pay their respects.  He also pointed out the tall skinny monuments with an arm raised over some Hindi writing.  They were everywhere.  Those, he told me, are the moments to the wives who committed Sati, the ancient practice where a wife throws herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.  The Jalas outlawed the practice a long time ago, but the raised arms were everywhere.  Some were a part of their husband’s monument.  Some were on the side of it as if added as an afterthought.  Some wives even had their own monuments, and some men had more than one Sati monument, meaning more than one wife that had committed Sati. 
The sun was setting so we snapped a few more photos before piling back into the van.  For dinner we headed to our yoga teacher’s house where we helped his family make Puri (a fried flat bread) and then sat on the floor of the kitchen as is customary while eating dinner.  We arrived back at the palace late and exhausted.  We hung out with Jayshree and Ila for a little girl time and then it fell asleep immediately despite the loud music and drumming nearby.

Day 13 - Ahmedebab & Ela Bhatt

Today was our much anticipated trip to Ahmedabad to meet with the famous Ela Bhatt.  Wikipedia her if you haven’t already.  She is probably the most amazing person that I will ever meet and have the privilege to talk to.  She started an NGO in India that unionized women who worked for themselves.  The previously undocumented workers could now call themselves self-employed and had a union that provided them with benefits and loans.  She worked with Nelson Mandela, and is all about Gandhi (whom she respectfully and lovingly refers to as Gandhi-gee).  She is an inspirational woman who is highly decorated with awards and honors.  We were all looking forward to it. 
The day started with a bump in the road because Jayshree couldn’t make the trip with us, but we decided to try and make the most of it.  Our yoga guru Mehul was our guide for the day, and showed us around a man-made lake surrounded by various attractions.  We walked around the whole thing and got to see a very different side of Indian culture.  Ahmedabad is a much larger and more modern city that our little Dhrangadhra.  Young couples canoodled next to the lake, and teen agers roamed in packs wearing t-shirts and shirts with signatures on them.  Families took in the sunshine and couples strolled.  As usual people stopped and stared at us, but the highlight was when a gaggle of giggling girls stopped us and asked us to sign their shirts and arms.  It was as usual very strange but we obliged.  They also wanted to take photographs with us on the cell phones.  We again thought this strange but of course obliged.  It was actually sort of nice since it made me feel better about how many photos I have taken of Indian people since I got here. 
Ahmedabad was also different in that there were more people begging for money, and whole families who would try to surround us if we didn’t pay attention while taking a photo of something.  We also ate in a restaurant for the first time, and somewhat enjoyed the terrifying thrill of traffic intersections where they do not seem to be any patterns, rhyme, or reason to how one should cross.  I was sure we would die every time.  At least they seemed to keep the cows out of the way…most of the time. 
It took us a long time to find Ela Bhatt’s house.  She lives in a sort of gated community, and had a lovely front garden/porch area.  We removed our shoes and she greeted us at the front door.  She is quite old but not frail or fragile looking.  She wore a white sari with sunflower yellow gingam and color blocks on parts of it.  She wore her gray hair in a knot at the nape of her neck.  As is customary in all Indian homes, she was barefoot.
She welcomed us with tea and sweet sesame crackers, and told us of her life.  She was in college when Gandhi freed India from the British.  She is a lawyer by training, but also was involved with government as well as her NGO.  She told us of how she at first wanted to work with the poor undocumented workers, and how this evolved to working with just women, and eventually women’s health.  She casually dropped Hillary Clinton’s name while giving us an example of how women have evolved in India.  She told us of how Hillary asked the women at a conference what they are afraid of, and how they told her they weren’t afraid of men anymore. 
She was wise and thoughtful and probably changed all of our lives forever.  I know that sounds ridiculous, especially coming from a person who is known to exaggerate.  But this woman is seriously amazing.  When asked by Dr. Greaves what we could do to help the women of India, she thought for a moment before bluntly responding that we really couldn’t.  They must help themselves.  And then she shared the three necessary things a girl needs to be empowered. 
1)      A girl must know about her body.  If she knows about her body, she must not let anyone abuse it, or abuse it herself. She should do with it as she wants before or during marriage.
2)      A girl should be educated about the democratic system and her rights.  She should also participate in that democratic system.
3)      A girl should know her skills and be educated.  A girl must be aware of and understand her place in the world, but does not need to accept it. 
And then she shared the most amazing simile.  She gracefully pointed her finger at her plain white tea cup and explained, a girl must have a tea cup, or no matter how much tea you pour it will go everywhere.  She motioned her hand as if to show the tea washing away, uncollected by the cup.  For the umpteenth time I wished we were recording her so I could listen to her over and over again until I had memorized everything she said. 
We were there for quite some time.  She shared stories and antidotes from her experiences of working with women.  When I asked for her advice for us and our Gujarati translators and our work with women, she added that women need to organize.  She offered the example of the female half of the generation in the Darfur Region who have grown up in refugee camps.  She told us of how they had to do sexual favors every time they wanted to leave the camp until the organized and forced the system to change.  She also told us about a town where the men were drinking too much and beating their wives.  The woman organized and decided they would lock their front doors at midnight.  If the men tried to come home late after a night of drinking, they were forced to sleep outside.  Because all of the women stuck to the plan, the men were forced to come home early. 
I could go on and on, but I think I have relayed how amazing it was.  We thanked her as we left her quiet house.  The moment we stepped foot in the car, I whipped out my computer and we wrote down everything we could remember about what she had said.  I feel so privileged to have met her.
We met up with a friend of Pramiti’s for a quick coffee, but I ended up going on an earring binge at the store next door.  There were so many affordable beautiful earrings!!!!!  And they took credit cards! As Sara put it…it got a little crazy town in there.  As we drove out of Ahmedabad, the adrenalin from my shopping frenzy left my body.  It had been an exhausting day.  We stopped at a hotel to eat dinner and then headed back to the palace to relieve the palace staff. 
Although the palace is beautiful and amazing and I love the staff, having a staff has gone from being strange to frustrating.  Everything we do impacts so many people.  On this night, no one could go home until we got back, which was quite late.  Also, the staff doesn’t eat until we finish.  We sometimes forget and stay at the table with our dishes in front of us still talking about the research, or our lives.  Finally one of us will remember Jaydeep and Kaldeep sitting behind the serving table and we will gather our plates and put them in the bin so they can clear dinner.  Although I know that the staff is well paid and that this is a great position for them, it is something that I will not be able to get used to. 
We all were exhausted but needed to talk about the day.  After some time we all needed to go to bed, and even my night owl roomie Pramiti went to bed with me! 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Day 12 - Tailor Day

Today was tailor day, and we thought nothing could go wrong.  Tailor day was the day we were supposed to go back to the tailor and pick up our finished garments.  “Tailor Day! Tailor Day!” we chanted on the way to our first interview of the day. 
Our driver slowly navigated the narrow dirt roads, and even did some crazy off roading in order to go under a bridge that a train would soon cross, blocking our way.  We went to one woman’s house, and then our survivor came and brought us to her house.  Her family gathered on rugs on the floor and we sat on cots.  Her story was sad as all the others, but had its own interesting intricacies that highlighted issues we hadn’t hear of yet.  Its very complicated to get away from violence here.  This survivor was lucky because her aunt was a paralegal.  This helped her to leave her husband earlier than she may have.  Her divorce had been going on for years.  When asked what she hopes for, she told us that she just wants to be divorced quickly so that she can get married again. Unlike many of the other woman, she hadn’t lost faith in the institution of marriage.  She clearly felt that she had been cheated not only out of a good marriage, but out of her role as an Indian wife.  We thanked her profusely and left her house only to find that Bilal, our driver, was changing a flat tire.
We added a little brevity to the day when we told our driver Bilal what his shirt said in English .  It was two hands holding up a sign that read: will work for sex.  When we found out that he didn’t know what it meant, we couldn’t wait until our interpreters were willing to explain it.  When we arrived back at the palace they told him.  His face broke into an embarrassed smile, and he quickly headed home to change it before we headed out to the public schools.    
Bilal's Shirt

In the afternoon we had two more schools to visit where Dr. Greaves would present his research and then we would meet with women to ask them about domestic violence.  It was our first time visiting a government, or public school.  They were both very different from the private school we visited.  There were no uniforms and the buildings was simple.  There were no books with photos of dancing and smashing fluorescents, but there was a group of concerned parents who had come to listen to Dr. Greaves’ findings. 
The first school was in Dhrangadhra and he told the parents that he had found that many of their children were too small and didn’t weigh enough.  They didn’t have much of a response, so Dr. Greaves left and we started an ill-fated focus group.  It was too many women, and Jayshree had to spend a long time explaining the concepts of domestic violence.  We learned a lot about what not to do in a focus group. 
The second school was in a village, and we sat on the floor while the principal took advantage of this rare gathering of parents.  He spoke and he spoke, and he spoke some more. Eventually Dr. Greaves presented the same findings, and then the principal again delivered a long sling of public service announcements about the need to educate girls, available scholarships, etc.  Jayshree eventually lost it and had to cover her face in her scarf to hid her giggles.  Eventually the men were asked to leave, and we gathered the women in a circle on the floor.  It may have gone a bit better than the last, but it still ended on a negative note.  One woman at the end angry explained, “People keep coming and asking us what we need, and then nothing ever changes.” There was a lot of discussion later about responsible global health and the way we should be conducting research.  As usual we went into the situation with very little understanding of what was going on and felt frustrated by our lack of control. 
water and plate storage 

Woman's leg at school

driving around


We were a bit deflated by the time we headed to the tailor.  When we got there we checked out my dress and did not like the way he had done the pleating.  Way too 80’s.  There was much fuss over tyring to explain the cor1rect way to do it.  There is still hope! But we shall have to wait until Sunday at 4 to find out what happens!

Day 11 - safe haven

A few days ago, we asked Jayshree and Illa for more information about resources that already exist for women.  They told us of a women’s shelter that has room for 10 women to stay as long as they would like.  They had never been there and didn’t have a connection to it but they thought they knew where it was. We were like….ummm…we need to go there! Today we got to do just that.  We piled into the van and eventually left the paved road. After we stopped to ask for directions several times we found a temple that was attached to the shelter.  The chala (food to be eaten after being blessed) was a sesame ball.  I waited until Dr. Greaves bit into his (W.W.G.E – what would Greaves eat? Is a survival technique I almost always use here except when it comes to dairy) and then chowed down.  The black hard ball was surprisingly tasty!
We put our shoes back on and headed to the shelter.  All we knew about the place was that it was owned by a woman who inherited the land from her father.  We wandered through the gate, hoping we had the right place. The car trip had been noisy, and it took me a moment to allow my senses to drink in the peaceful quiet sounds of wind blowing through the trees.  As we walked towards the house we were greeted by a woman with grey hair who brought us over to greet a very old looking woman.  Jayshree sat down next to her and held her hands, and told us that she was 100 years old.  Her face was amazing and looked like it had seen 100 Indian years.  She seemed to start crying when she saw us, but from happiness.  She wanted us to come in and have some lunch. She stood up with a little help, but then marched her 100 year old body to the house with no help at all.   It was amazing.
100 years old and counting
 When we got to the house we were greeted by the owner.  She had her hair cut short, wore what would be considered men’s clothing in India.  She was very different than any other Indian woman I have met so far.  Besides the fact that she dresses differently, she also carried herself differently, and enjoys the rare privilege of being a woman with property and no husband.  We had arrived unannounced for fear that she would turn down our visit.  But she was happy to show us around the house, and to tell us about its history.  It seems that informal is working way better than formal for us in India.
The house currently houses six women.  Rooms hold two women each. The house was lovey and decorated with posters about equality, Om symbols painted on the walls and other lovely decorations.  It was lovely and safe feeling.  We asked the owner about why she had started the shelter.  She told us that ever since she was nine she had wanted to help people.  She had started by giving away clothes and other small things.  When she inherited the property from her father, she knew she wanted to make a place for women who had nowhere to go.  She houses women who are survivors of domestic violence, old women who have no one to support them, and others who for whatever reason have nowhere to live.   She told us that the women do what work they can to support the house, and they also get donations from her family and other people.  They would like to expand to take in orphans in the future.

Decorations in the House

Front Gate of the House

The House from the front courtyard
We walked out to the barn to see the cows, and then sat on cots and some benches to talk.  There were two survivors there, and both agreed to be interviewed.  We felt that the first one was too mentally ill to record.  The second woman shared her story with us, why she sought help, and what resources she would like for the future.  The owner went and swung on a swing behind us while she talked. 
It was a strange place, and seemed to be out of a dream. 
We left with spirits lifted.  Next stop was a small village that specialized in special shawls and scarves.  We went crazy in there.  Everything was beautiful and very cheap by our standards.  We spent a long time there waiting for the owner of the shop to add up everything we were buying.  Even so, he got some of the addition wrong, and undercharged a few of us.  I’m guessing he’s not used to adding up such large numbers, and that he made enough money to go on vacation for a while. 
On the way back to Dhrangadhra, Carlie had the brilliant idea to stop at a big hospital in Surindhranagar where a doctor at the hospital in Dhrangadhra refers patients who have experienced domestic violence and need more help than he can give.  He most often deals with women whose hemoglobin has fallen to low because they are being starved by their families.  This is a common problem here because women traditionally eat last, after the men.  If there is no food left for them, they are out of luck – and hemoglobin eventually. But when their mental health or their medical problems are too complicated for him, he refers them to a psychiatrist or doctor at this hospital.
Jayshree charmed her way all the way to the psychiatrist and got an impromptu meeting with him.  I stayed outside with the car, but it proved to be a really effective meeting.  They actually screen all women who come to the hospital for domestic violence and he told us that around 1 in 6 patients of his experiences it.  The experience was a victory!

We headed home to the palace feeling somewhat successful for once.  

scarf drying at a person's home

Entering A Village 

Mad Balance

Friday, January 10, 2014

Day 10 - Exodus

It took about an hour to get the two vans packed up and ready to go.  We locked up the palace and packed ourselves into the vans and headed out with our translators, and several staff members including Baila (Jaybapa’s cousin/the man who is managing the palace for Bapa in his absence), Jaydeep (the gangly awkward but lovable 17 year old who serves us food and taught us to fly kites), and Jaydeep’s silent sidekick Kuldeep. We raced towards the dessert, leaving behind paved roads and eventually leaving behind roads altogether.
In the dessert the road is marked by white flags or a pile of stones.  Tire marks go in different directions, and sometimes signs suggest a set to take towards your desired destination.  We road, racing the other van.  One van falling behind, and then overtaking the other again; trading who had to ride into cloud of penetrating dust.  With the windows closed it was hot and stuffy in the back of the van.  The sun streamed in through the windows making it hotter, and we had to keep our heads wrapped it our scarves to keep out the dust; making it hotter.  We had been talking about ice fishing earlier, and Carlie pointed out that the dessert looked very similar to the lake near her house.  Little huts dotting the landscape which would be filled by ice fishermen passing the time.  Only here the little huts are homes. 
We arrived at our destination and spilled out of the car.  Unwrapping ourselves and breathing in the dry dessert air.  Our first destination was the dwelling of a family who spends six months of the year living in the dessert harvesting salt.  During the rainy season the ground below the dessert floods with salty water.  After the rain stops, the families move to the dessert, set up a hut made of straw and wood, and set up their operation.  They create salt pans by making a low wall of dirt in large squares.  They pump water from under the ground into the salt pans, and begin the process of turning it into salt.  Part of this process is dragging heavy rakes through the pans to turn over what has settled on the bottom.  They showed us the pump with the salty water, the pans, and the rake.  Carlie tried on their rain boots, and soon had a posse of young men devoted to her.  We drank milkless chai from saucers, soaked up some sun, and even took some silly pictures. 
Me and the salt pans:
Taking the salt- notice no protective foot wear:
Rain boots for walking through the pans:
The top of the house- also used for storage since it never rains:

I had watched a documentary about this place before we left.  I didn’t need the documentary to tell me that these families live a very difficult existence.  Their work is grueling and dangerous.  Working in the salt pans gives them skin diseases and blinds people.  They live in a little two room hut, which like all other homes we’ve been in is kept very neat and tidy.  From the documentary I also know that this disenfranchised group is not getting the medical care promised by the government, and works for very poor pay even though they produce most of India’s salt.  This is the place that Gandi started his revolution by organizing the salt workers to go on strike.  Perhaps things improved for the salt workers, but its seems that they may have been forgotten since then.
As we headed back to the car, one woman took Sara’s hands in hers.  She spoke to us in Gujarati, but her hands did enough talking.  She lay her calloused hands on Sara’s, and then motioned to cut off Sara’s hands and switch them with her own. Sara exclaimed, “No! your hands are beautiful!” I chimed in, “Cupscaros!” (how I phonetically spell the word I am probably mispronouncing that means beautiful). Another frustrating and confusing encounter where we can’t communicate at all with the people we have supposedly come here to help.
Next we headed to a temple that lies over an oasis with sweet water.  This was a no pictures kind of place and seemed very important to our Hindu staff. The chala (food given to us to eat after we were blessed) was coconut.  I was very confused about what to do with the rind. I think that the chala is considered holy, and I didn’t want to just throw it on the ground.  Eventually Jayshree took it for me and put it in her purse.  I am always so confused here. 
We sat around for a minute and then headed to the back of the temple where our crew set up a picnic.  We sat in the cool shade of a tree and ate our packed lunch.  There were tomato and cucumber sandwiches paired with butter and jelly sandwiches.  There was also an interesting grain salad, oranges and apples.  Cows, a dog and a persistent puppy kept trying to get some water from our bucket or steal a bight of food. 
We began the arduous journey back over the cracked earth, our driver constantly turning around to make sure the other van didn’t fall too far behind our dust cloud.  I kept thinking…just look forward!!!! It reminded me of Bolivia and speeding across the salt flats. I kept telling myself nothing bad could happen to us, but didn’t 100% believe it.  
We were exhausted when we got back.  We brought our chai outside and lay on the cots and finally became facebook friends with Jayshree.  We talked late into the evening about our project and how we can maximize the impact we make with our research.  

Sword stand?
Extreme tree protection is necessary in the desert:
Cows drinking the sweet water the flows naturally from the ground:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Day 9 - Taking Care of Business

We’ve reached the point in the trip where I can really feel how fast it is going, and how little time we have left. The day started with the snake charmer I already posted about. Then I spent the morning doing work while some of the ladies interviewed two survivors.  They were upper class and higher castes.  The first one was being hidden by her family to prevent the embarrassment of the community, so she was reluctant to even use her name.  Video and audio recording was out of the question.  It reinforced the idea that intimate partner violence is a problem for women from all castes, all classes, and all shapes and sizes.  The interviews were long and seemed emotionally draining for all involved.  The second survivor joined us for lunch and our translators seemed to find relief in some time spent with her in a lighter setting. 
I felt refreshed after a morning without doing research, and even got to talk to Josh, Dan and Danya while they snuggled with George in freezing cold Philadelphia.  While I loved talking to them, and missed them, I was not upset to be missing that weather.

My attempt at a turban:
The bracelet work by shepards in the area:
Carlie's attempt at a turban:

The afternoon was one of the most incredible experiences we have had on this trip.  All of us ladies packed in the van, and we rode out to a village to interview the head of a Punch and a prominent Social Worker.  The Punch is a local form of informal government in many of the villages that takes care of problems without going through formal avenues like the court.  As we arrived, we caused the usual stir as children started following our van, trying to get a glimpse of the strange looking foreigners.  Women and children followed us into the house of the Social worker, and everyone settled in the entranceway as we settled on the “cots” that function as couches and beds.  An elderly woman came in, and Sara offered her a seat on the couch.  She shook her head and folded with the agility of an 18 year old into a crouch on the floor, and settled in with the other women to enjoy the spectacle. 
The man we interviewed was tall and stately.  He wore a fantastic embroidered vest made of white cloth and burgundy thread.  His black embroidered scarf stood out against it as it wrapped around his high collar. He sat with his long skinny legs on the floor and talked for half an hour with our translators.  His hands made wide gestures and his face was incredibly expressive. At times women chimed in, but for the most part he sat and described the role of the Punch.  We found out later that he claimed that issues of domestic violence are rare, dealt with fairly, and for a low cost.  This was in contrast to some stories our translators had heard, but leading question after leading question led to nothing helpful.
Next we interviewed the Social Worker whose house we were in.  She had an incredible presence. Children lined the roof of the shed at the front of the house that protected hay as we started the interview. In a booming voice she quieted the crowd.  Later she grabbed a stick and chased the kids off the roof. They scattered as she turned her back on them and re-entered the meeting. Her blue sari blouse stood out against her black and green sari.  Her white straight teeth stood out against her beautiful dark skin.  Her eyes flashed as she sized us all up quickly and unabashedly. She moved to the floor for her interview, her deep voice rang out as her hands darted to tap on the ground, pointed in the air and waved around.   She filled the room.
Afterwards, Jayshree showed us her Social Work certificate that she received after a training with an NGO.  Jayshree pointed to me and told the woman that I was also a social worker.  She looked me up and down three times and then nodded, perhaps in approval.  Then, there was a commotion, and we were heading towards the door.  It was goat milking time!  The courtyard to the house was filled with people, and as we made our way towards the door, the children and teen girls got bold.  Everyone wanted their picture taken.  Everyone wanted to touch our hair.  They were all impressed that I could count to five in Gujarati, and began to talk quickly to me.  I shook my head and held my hands up. 
We were pulled outside to witness the goat milling.  A man squatted behind a goat with a bucket, filling it with frothy white liquid.  The Social Worker then grabbed another goat by the hind leg and swung it into position.  She squatted down and began to work the liquid into her bucket.  She made it look so easy.  Next thing I knew I was obviously asking if I could try.  I squatted down, and looked up at her as she showed me the motion to make with my hands.  I swung my scarf out of the way, and grabbed ahold. 

Sarah being mobbed:
Social worker milking a goat:
Me milking a goat:
Sarah spraying goats milk everywhere but the bucket:

The utter were soft and rubbery feeling; wet and warm to the touch.  As I pulled downward and pressed my thumb downward and into the $$$ a thin stream of liquid came squirting.  I had to be careful not to miss the bucket.  It was hard work! After a minute I gave my goat up again.  It tried to get away, and the Social Worker grabbed it by the leg and anchored it into place.  She got back into the rhythm, and I could see how measly my milk stream had been! With her strong hands, the milk gushed into the bucket, created a thick froth on top. Sarah and Carlie got in on the goat milking action as well, and by the time we left we had taken a picture of at least every child in the village, and perhaps two of every goat.  The village boys chased our car as we drove into the sunset shouting “Abagio (perhaps spelled wrong but pronounced avjo – I think)” meaning goodbye in Gujarati.  It was fun, and ridiculous, and at least it had made Jayshree smile after a touch day. 
We stopped at the tailor on the way back, and discussed the things we are having made.  This was also an amazing experience, and not the first time that I had thought about Memee on this trip.  I’m sure she experienced something similar in Eygpt, but she would have loved how the tailor made a mini version of the dress in green scrap to make sure he understood what I wanted.  She would have been impressed by how he deftly cut some white material and held it up to my chest to make sure that he had the right size v-neck.  The v is pretty scandalous by Indian standards, and he did not look too happy about it, but he got it right.  Memee also would have been impressed by the price: 400 rupees. I’ve been told not to get excited about my $10 handmade dress until I see it.  I’m having a hard time with that. 

Mini dress and Jayshree's hands:
Being measured:

We made it back to the palace for dinner full of smiles and stories for Dr. Greaves.  He was mildly impressed by our goat milking having come from a long line of dairy farmers himself. Dinner was amazing as usual.  Afterwards I enjoyed the company of the lovely ladies with whom I share this adventure.  Indian Public Health Summer Camp is halfway over and I am loving every moment of our late night discourse.  When else in my life will I be living with a group of smart women for two + weeks where we have hour long discussions about research and theory? Gaining access to the homes of community members and survivors is incredible and invaluable.  And with every day we grow closer and closer to our translators, and become more and more motivated to do something important with our research so that we can help them in their mission to help their fellow Gujarati women.  What began as an overwhelming project has taken form and direction.  We leave in eight days.  There is much to be done. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Day 8 - I'm in India, I get it...

Today I stopped pinching myself.  I believe it.  I’m in India.  And I was grumpy.  Anyone who has spent a night with my family will probably get the reference that I kept thinking, “Don’t talk-a-me, I’m in baaaaaad mood.” For those of you who don’t, that epitomizes my little sis when she was grumpy as a child.  And I was grumpy as a child yesterday.  I couldn’t get on the internet, I was tired of the routine, mad at India for its inconveniences, and feeling lost about our research here. Yoga had not been helpful.  We headed out in our little van.  Four people packed into the back seat facing forwards, and three on the bench behind the driver and passenger seat facing back.  I was lucky to be in the back seat facing forward, and hummed one of Jacob Rolf’s songs as we drove around cows on the highway, and passed fields where people tended to precious crops.  “I hear my mother crying….” Not sure why it had popped into my head, but it seemed the perfect tune for my mood and the situation.
All thoughts about my own personal feelings vanished when we arrived at a school where Dr. Greaves had done research over the summer about malnutrition.  The children lined up and gawked at us, giggling and laughing when we waved and said “Kem Cho!?” In Gujariti this is like saying, “How are you?”  We were a big hit.  They shouted back, “Majama!!!”  which means “good!” We hung out in the principal’s office where Dr. Greaves told him about his research.  We were constantly being offered water, Sprite or Chai.  I drank Sprite for the first time in who knows how long.  Its sweetness coated my teeth and I struggled to finish it quickly enough so that I could put my thin plastic cup back on the tray that a man kept bringing around.  We looked at the picture books that the principal handed us.  They were filled with beautiful photos of the students performing dance and plays.  We had to control our alarmed giggles when we got to a page where a teacher was breaking florescent light bulbs over a child’s head (which was covered by a towel), or holding the long tube steady so that a student could punch it like a block of wood. The photo captured the moment where the child’s fist connected with the bulb.  Tiny shards blow outward from his fist as his face scrunches up, hopefully not breathing in. I whispered, “That must be a public health violation.”  Dr. Greaves whispered back, “Oh yes, those contain Mercury,” in his Australian twang.  

We were toted from classroom to classroom where children were given the opportunity to show off their English.  Dr. Greaves cooed at little kids and we waved and repeated “Kem cho!” to every classroom to the delight of the little kids.”
We finally trailed upstairs to a parent meeting where Dr. Greaves presented his data to parents.  He also explained a little bit about what we were doing here now.  Then we had a focus group with a group of women who stayed behind. It was a disaster as far as groups go.  There were no group norms, and it was a rushed hectic affair.  However, in the grand scheme of things for women in India, it was revolutionary.  Towards the end I asked if this was the first time these women had all met in a group to discuss domestic violence.  It was.  I asked how it felt.  They all said it felt great. 
I’ve really started to think about the mental health implications of the research we are doing here.  The stress on our translators is obvious.  The existing resources have limited training.  There is no concept of group therapy or group support.  If our translators got the training center they wanted, there would be no resources for training or implementing support groups there. Therapeutic interventions aren’t even on anyone’s radar here.
 According to our translators, Indians culturally have a hard time being happy.  There is always pressure to look towards the next thing and to never be happy with what you have.  I see this in the survivors we talk to.  They never say, I just want to be happy.  They don’t even want to be single.  They would even be OK with living as a second class citizen in their families because this is normal.  [The Gujarati word for mental abuse is torture.  I am gathering a list of words that don’t exist in Gujarati, like this one.  I hear them during interviews.  It will be like, “blahblahblahblahtortureblahblahblah.” Or, “blahblahblahblahdomesticviolenceblahblahblah.” I’ve been documenting them all.  How can you create a DV intervention when your own language doesn’t even have words for the concepts?] These strong Indian women can stand the torture because it’s better than the shame of leaving their husband and what life will be like afterwards.  Its only when they are abused so badly that they are hospitalized, or that their children become threatened that some finally leave. We’ve heard from several women that there wasn’t any sexual violence because their husbands beat them so badly that there was nothing left to have sex with. Some never leave and end up losing their lives.  Our translators told us that a week before we got here a woman was found dead in a field.  All evidence points to her husband.  Nothing is being done. From the little we have gathered so far, women feel isolated, scared and powerless.  It was amazing to watch some of them embrace the group concept, and to share their story for the first time.  There was even talk about setting something similar up in the future. 
Group therapy really revs my engine, but red flags went off in my head about how dangerous that could be.  Starting a group about a dangerous topic with an untrained or no facilitator is a terrible idea.  I’ve been thinking that perhaps, if nothing else, we can do something to impact the knowledge gap for those who are leading the charge against DV.
Our wheels are constantly turning about where this data can be used and how. When we got back we had several long talks about it.  I am loving this unique opportunity to sit and brain storm with a smart group of women about academics, culture, research and empowerment.  I call it Public Health Summer Camp.  Sometimes I feel like I never want it to end. Until I get too sleepy and then I dive into my bed. 
After our group session we headed back for lunch.  In the afternoon, Carlie, the translators and I went to interview a survivor in her parent’s village.  I won’t share her story because it’s pretty specific, and I don’t want to violate her consent, but it was horrific.  Both she and her mother cried which is supposedly unheard of in Indian culture.  The survivor’s emotions were still raw even though she has been home with her family for 15 years.  She was beautiful and exhausted looking.  She just wanted peace after the most insane ordeal.  She talked loudly, making big gestures. Her mother looked up at me from the floor and stared into my eyes as she spoke to me as if I could understand.  I could feel the agony and pleading in her voice for someone to understand and to help. All I could do was record and nod.

Beautiful water station in someone's home:

Every time I try to look more Indian I just look more like a colonizer:

Wash me:

Our translators Jayshree and Illa on the right. Illa, aka the most bad ass social worker ever, on the left:

The patiyallas I wore today:

Dinner was amazing as usual and I ate too much. The four of us were shaken after our last meeting and we took some time with Jeyshrii to envelope her with our incoherent babbling about all that she is doing.  We circled around her and gave her all we have at the moment: lots of hugs. Afterwards, we all sat in Carlie and Sarah’s room and talked about life, and then sleep came easy.                            

Day 7 - I'm not lucky I'm blessed

Market at night:
There is nothing like starting your day with yoga, a good breakfast, and a trip to the Jala Temple for a blessing.  I left feeling only a little confused, with a Tika on my forehead for protection, a palm full of golden raisins and nuts for my mouth and a rose petal to keep in my purse.  I’d like to go back and experience it without focusing on documenting the experience, but since I did here is what I took for your viewing pleasure:

We had another full day back in the villages.  We got in interviews with a paralegal, a survivor and a midwife.  The houses people live in are fascinating to me.  The animals live in a walled in front yard which is attached to an open room which I would think of as a porch structurally, but which functions as a living room/bedroom.  Seeing as this is the coldest time of the year and the weather is amazing (and it rarely rains) it makes sense that the houses would be so open.  I’m not sure what they do around 6 pm when swarms of mosquitos come out to torture humans.  Other than that it makes sense.
We also played soccer with the guards, ate delicious food as usual, and went to the market for fabric and other impulse purchases that cost no more than a few dollars. I’m going to test how easy it is to have a Western style dress made by a tailor. If it doesn’t work out, it will be no great loss.  The fabric cost $3. 
I would write more but I am exhausted.  No rest for the weary here and I traded my siesta for soccer so I am extra sleepy.  Hope everyone is well at home. 

In Which A Snake Charmer Does Some Magic Tricks

Rolling up the sleeves for some slight work:

Slight of hand:

Palace staff looks on:

Dr. Greaves returns the fake snake:

Done for now. The snake, which is reincarnation of a god, was saved for later:

In my ever increasing cataloging if Indian customs, I learned that today's performance could never have occurred had a member of the royal family been present. Dr. Greaves said that the snake charmer is probably in the lowest caste that we will come into contact with here, and it would have been unthinkable for Jaybapa to receive him here. Lucky for us, we are not royalty and had our magic show delivered to us at home. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Day 6 - The Villages

For the first time since our arrival, I finished dinner and did not feel like I needed to crawl up to my bed immediately and crash.  This was due to a long nap that I took after lunch between three and five. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to strive for balance in my life.  This is especially hard when travelling.  There is so much internal pressure to not waste a moment.  There is even more pressure for that here since we have so much work to do in relatively little time.  When not enjoying India or doing research, there is always my own work that I need to be doing on my capstone project for my MPH.  A two hour nap seemed luxurious and something to feel guilty over, but I clearly needed it.
Of course we didn’t end up doing focus groups with the midwives today, but we did some really interesting interviews.  First we headed out to the villages for the first time.  By the villages I mean the villages that surround Dhrangadhra which vary greatly in size, construction, population and sanitation.  We first went to the house of a midwife who is really involved with an NGO and the government in bringing health education to her village of migrant workers.  She also helps deliver babies.  However, in the past five years the number of babies being delivered at home has gone from over 70% to only a handful per year. This is probably because of some of the education she is giving them.  The migrant population is really interesting.  The caste is known as the Adivasi and works for half the year as farmers and half the year mining and harvesting salt.  They are very uneducated and very poor.  They have a particular DV concern that other castes don’t have.  They have a widely accepted practice that all of the men of the immediate family get to have sex with a man’s wife.  This means that a woman must have sex not only with her husband but his brothers and father.  When asked what resources she would most like to have that she currently doesn’t, our midwife said she wanted to be able to give education to the families so that they will stop this practice. 
Another interesting thing we learned is how differently domestic violence is handled here.  Our midwife told us that when they hear of a case of DV they meet with the women and take a history to see how serious the issue is.  In cases where the woman would like the situation to change, the midwife and people she works with will reach out to the husband and try to do some work with him to get him to stop the abuse.  This seems to involve some education, or “compromise” as Indians like to say.  It should be no surprise that no one we have talked to has had any DV training.  Their practice of reaching out to the man would be looked upon as a dangerous practice by anyone trained in DV in the US. It also doesn’t seem to be working very well.  
Next we went to another village.  I am unsure if it was the snake charming village, or maybe it was the village next to the snake charming village, but either way there is a real snake charming village.  If interested, I can show you a documentary that Jaybapa did on the snake charming caste.  We all heavily hinted that we would like to see a demonstration at some point. 
The village we went to, snake charming or not, was much less developed than the one we had come from.  The buildings were made of mud, and animals were living in the house with the people.  Jeyshrii (our translator) had the men of the family put the bench/bed over an area that looked like it was used as a toilet so we wouldn’t have to put our feet in it.  We waited for the midwife, but she had gone to wash clothes since we were late.  As we waited we played with a little baby with big cheeks and smiling eyes.  The women wore beautiful saris and that they had over their heads.  They used the ends to cover their faces out of respect for the men that were present.  As usual, everyone was fascinated with us.  Heads were poking over walls, staring and then running away when we waved. 
Carlie had to pee and asked about a bathroom.  Illa (our other interpreter) thought and then said, well, there is no bathroom here.  People mostly just go in the street.  Saris make is easy to stay modest while squatting.  Carlie was not wearing a sari though.  Her lovely new tunic and Indian leggings would not have kept her modest had she squatted in the street.  To her horror she was taken to use someone’s shower.  She felt terrible but there was no other way.  Seeing as there was goat poop and livestock in the living room where we were, I’m not sure our own concept of hygienic barriers applied.  However, it still feels like an imposition to pee in someone’s shower. Eventually we gave up and sped back to the palace for a late and much needed lunch. 
Following my two hour power nap we interviewed a doctor that works for the government hospital and sees many women from the lower socio-economic castes in the area.  He had to miss our previous appointment because he had to appear in court for a rape case.  We had a really informative meeting with him.  He also has received no training on DV even though he works with women experiencing it all the time.  We are starting to see a clearer picture about how our research might inform future projects in the area.  I continue to learn more and more every day, but yes, I am still pinching myself. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Day 5 - New Years Eve

Its 9:30 PM and of course the plumber just left.  Dr. Greaves says that you either love India or you hate it and I can see how Indian Standard Time could be a reason why some would hate it.   Another reason to hate it would be that having a hot shower seems to be a herculean feat.  Even so, I find myself loving it here.  Of course there are things I don’t love about India, but I, like Dr. Greaves, think India is amazing.  Still, I spend the majority of my time here being very confused and using vast amount of energy trying to understand, absorb, and learn cultural norms.  Things are so very different here in so many ways.  I’ve begun to appreciate that our interpreters are not only necessary for the language barrier, but in many other ways as well.  I have noticed how different they are with every person we meet with.  They know when and how to speak to different people based on cultural norms that I could only hope to scratch the surface of in my short time here.
New Year’s Eve was really nice.  The staff at the Palace made us a party, and decorated the room with glitzy streamers and laid the table with floating candles and decorations.  Jeyshrii (our translator) made us an ice cream cake, and even tied a metallic ribbon around the knife that she presented to Dr. Greaves to cut it.  After dinner we retired to the yoga room with champagne. 

Our translators joined us (but didn’t drink of course because they are Hindi). We danced a little Bangra, giggled about boys, and listened to music.  At the end of our countdown for New Years, Jeyshrii shook a sprite and sprayed it in the air with a gleeful girlish look of mischief. Us girls from the US sipped on bubbly with pomegranates floating in it, swapped stories and peer pressured each other to stay awake to midnight.  It was difficult but the Bangra helped. 
We obviously took the morning off from Yoga today. I took the opportunity to face time with Josh and the Padres.  I got an unusual pang of homesickness when I saw the faces of my friends at home; tears rolling down my chilled cheeks in the cool morning air.  It was bizarre to hear Josh explain to people at a party that I was at a palace in India instead of home with him.  Yup, still pinching myself that I’m here.
After our slow start we had a busy day.  While Dr. Greaves went to an informative meeting with the head of an NGO in Ahmedabad, we interviewed a health official.  He denied any prevalence of DV and the need to do anything about it.  It was the strangest meeting.  People were in and out and at one point two men came in to hand out religious brochures of some kind.  He seemed unimpressed by our group of women, and did not seem to feel a great urgency to help us out. We also visited a midwife who worked and lived in a compound.  As her husband reviewed the consent form and consented to have her sign it as we sat on benches that bordered the room.  She took a cloth carpet from a couch and unfurled it onto the tiled floor.  Jeyshrii (our translator) and she sat down for what turned out to be a pretty useless interview.  She claimed to have never seen a case of DV in her 24 years of being a midwife. Later, after we thought we were in the clear, we learned we had a meeting with a lawyer.  I stayed at the Palace to work on our Literature Review with Sarah, but the interview seemed to be informative and interesting.  He takes about 10 cases a year.  Unlike the US where the goal of a DV case would be to put the perp in jail for assault, the goal in India is “compromise.”  This often means divorce and cases which can take ten years to finish.
Tomorrow we meet with 9 midwives for focus groups which we are all really excited about.  Enjoy this picture of what we had for lunch today! I have no idea what anything is called, and they do say a picture is worth a thousand words.

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year’s Eve and enjoyed a mostly hangover free day!