Monday, December 8, 2008

Raphael Lemkin

'Raphael Lemkin asked, "Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of a single individual?" '

Sunday, December 7, 2008

At what point do you stop your silence?

At what point does one stop and take a stand against something that just doesn't sit right with them? You might glare at a parent shushing their children, but would you stand up and say, "You can't speak to your child that way?" Probably not. Would you stop a fight between two people on the street? Doubtful, assuming you didn't know them. How about when you hear about a bombing somewhere? Do we stand up to attention? people say, not anymore, but I am hard-pressed to remember a time when reading of daily bomb blasts in various parts of the world were cause for serious alarm by many people outside the immediate geography of the blast. Shit, most decades of the 1900s have experienced some form of genocide and most people remain complacent, responding the now expected, "Oh the situation in Kosovo, tragic...Afganistan, terrible those innocent people...Tibetans are just so oppressed...its not our prooblem...oh there is just so much fighting in the poverty-stricken Darfur...such tragedy in Mumbai and all that fighting with the Hindus and Muslims...what's happening in Congo again?"

I like to think that we humans are more than the mere brutes Freud deemed our race. I like to think that we care for our fellow human beings, that on some level we see a fraction of ourselves in others (isn't that what stops us from inflicting our will on others at our whim?) But the massive spouts of violence that speckle every newspaper page, for as long as I can remember, make me question my instincts that we are basically good, and above the brutes as Freud views us. How have we, as a people in the world, sat by in unmotivated silence as we safely in our homes reading of the massive killings happening in Sudan daily? How can a government have done so little to ameliorate a genocide happening under our watch?

How can we sit by and do nothing to stop the shocking amount of rapists literally pillaging their way across Congo? Thousands upon thousands of women are raped, and what have we done to speak out against such base violence?

They, unfortunately, are but two incidents out of thousands, of extreme violence in every sense of the word, and we, as members of the human race, are complicit in these acts. We have done nothing, at any meaningful scale, to speak out against these atrocious acts. We have done nothing to educate people. We have found no way to convey the humanity being ripped from people in other parts of the world. We have not connected with others experiencing tragedy in modes most people could never comprehend. And we, as humans, are suffering because of it.

These examples are symptomatic of deep-seeded violence and hatred. Certainly these feeling have existed throughout human history, probably in some degree in most cultures. But in this global world in which we live, how can any excuse of not knowing and not having some mode of communication be acceptable?

We must learn that acts of violence are not just acts against an individual, or even a group. They are acts against us all. His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes the world as an atom. Several have philosophized about similar ideas. But when do we really take notice? When there is an act of violence against a member of our religion? Our neighbors? Our country? Or gender? Our sexual orientation? Just start drawing lines around yourself, and you will find us on a slippery path further away from our abilities to connect with others in the human race.

Grab onto something and see its ability to connect you to others. Realize you have the ability to be a part of groups beyond typical associations. A violent act against a woman is most certainly a violation against her, her person, and her dignity. It is also an act of violence against women in her vicinity, her regional geography, and against all women. once we magnify the ramifications of violent acts, we ultimately realize these are acts against all humans.

It isn't easy to change the world. But there are examples throughout history that shows it can be done. One man changed civil rights in racist America through civil disobedience. Another became a hero in fractioned India. One women wrote the manifesto of women's rights. And such is our history.

As one old sage put it, "first do no harm," and as another one recently wrote, " Imagine if this maxim could be observed just a fraction of the time by a tiny segment of humanity, how much suffering might be avoided."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Terrorism against Women

Op/Ed in the New York Times. Please read it, and be forewarned about some powerfully graphic images.

Women are second class, at best, citizens in many parts of the world, and are subject to extreme and severe bouts of violence regularly. It is imparative for people around the world to be aware of violence outside their personal geographies, as "no man is an island, entire on his own."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tragedy in India

I opened my computer and saw on the NY Times the
terrorist attacks in India. As someone who recently returned from the
country writing to one who has such a long and intimate relationship
with the country, my heart just broke. I know I read every day about
the tragic and consistent terror attacks in Afghanistan, but to see
something so close to home in flames...its like a constant repeat of
terror that seems to follow us around the world. From Israel to New
York to Spain to this horrible war in which we find America, terror
has seemed to crop up at junctures. I know we cannot live in fear, as
that is the goal of a terrorist, to take away people's rights to live
free, free from fear of random and pointless death. Like so many
countries in this world, India has its fair share of deep religious
discordance, and major schisms in understanding of one's fellow
countryman, and more importantly, fellow human being. I saw it daily
living in Israel, and I see it daily in New York, every time we pass a
homeless person on the street and choose not to do some form of help
toward one another.

The only answer is education. People learn what is taught to them.
Be it from wanton poverty, extreme religious beliefs, or bigotry, it
can only be passed on through lessons from other individuals. How
careful we must be when charged with the task of educating one
another! What an awesome responsibility we all carry. Is it possible
to make people see we are first humans, above all else? Hippocrates's
axiom should be held above all else, "first, do no harm."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Political Leaders

It is important to me that we have a leader to whom we can look up, of whom we respect, and of whom the world respects. I do not believe we have that in President Bush. I believe he and Dick Cheney have led this country in a downward spiral in everything from civil rights to unnecessary wars to economic downturns to an all-pervasive culture of fear that permeates all Americans' lives, regardless of our geographic location. I am truly embarrassed to be an American at this time. I am embarrassed that we do not demand excellence out of our leaders, that they are the laughing stock and punchlines to a great many people both in America and the rest of the world, that books and books have been written about what a joke the current president is. He has a disapproval rating that hovers around 70%, something that has been increasing steadily the past several months. We are a country of the world's best universities, a great history of political philosophy, a place of great economic achievement, a place with the largest immigration rates in the world, and we have produced a leader of true mediocrity. Our country has become ambivalent to the importance of electing a leader- and I find it highly embarrassing that more people vote for American Idol than in presidential elections (and that President Bush and the first lady were actually on the show last year).

For over 3,000 years democratic states have failed to demand excellence in leaders. This is no new idea- it is a common theme that runs throughout Plato's Republic (and was recently refitted into an article in Newsweek,

"Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated."
Sam Harris, Newsweek, September 2008

We need a leader we can look up to, one who is smart, and not afraid of intelligence. A person who can tell the American people what they need to hear, not some garbage cheap shot about soccer and hockey moms and gosh darnit, i just don't know. We need a leader who inspires great things out of his/her office, and inspires pride and hope out of Americans. I want a president who I respect, can look up to as a moral compass (regardless of religious ideology), give me hope about the true state of our union, be a vision of progress in all aspects of development, a person who is respected on the world scene. I don't know if either McCain or Obama embody all of those qualities, but I do not think McCain has his priorities on the good of all Americans. While he is heads better than Bush, I can no longer trust his judgment after nominating Sarah Palin as his VP (another discussion entirely). And I want you to recall this: I met John McCain a few years ago in a starbucks in NYC, and when I told you, you said, "Tell him to do more for Israel!" He does not inspire greatness, in my opinion. I think he makes cheap shots at Obama, speaks half-truths, has misplaced agendas, and after his recent choice as a running mate, lacks good judgment. Certainly this can apply to Obama as well, and any liberal or conservative news source will say what is best for their candidate. But we need to demand a level of excellence, achievement and greatness out of our leaders. We do, or else our country will continue to fall downward into a pit of political apathy. McCain inspires nothing out of Americans. Obama inspires some degree of hope and positive change in the future.

De gustibus nom disbutandum est.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The importance of community

What defines community? What does it mean to work in the field of community development? Is a community defined by geographic boundaries? (no) Is a community defined by the beliefs of a group of people in an area? (maybe) Is a community defined by an enclave of some sort? (maybe some are) Are there characteristics we can use to describe 'community' that apply to both the Global North and the Global South- do descriptives exist that describe the communities in the center of Bangkok and the outskirts of Oakland, or the gated communities in Argentina?

I have lived in several different neighborhoods of New York City, but what exactly is the community of the West Village? Hell's Kitchen? The Upper West Side? Morningside Heights? These are geographies with which all New Yorkers, and many others, are familiar, but they encompass large areas, and have strayed quite far from the 'communities' and histories that gave these areas their namesake. Was I a part of the West Village 'community'? A part of the now so cool, nebulous community east of Seventh Avenue, not quite in the chicness of that maze of streets that bisect Hudson and Greenwich. I certainly was no trend-setter, like many of the black-clad, oversized bag carrying neighbors I had, but I loved magnolia and corner bistro, the gems of architecture found in the twisted streets, the sex shops that lined the west side of the Christopher Street subway station, and the homeless man who stayed around the corner from me, and passed his days smoking cigars and sleeping in from of $2 million + brownstones. And oddly enough, when I visit the neighborhood, I feel like I am going home in some sense- some part of me misses the familiarity of the neighborhood, my bartenders around the corner, my deli on Bleeker, the handball courts on 6th Avenue.

The same feelings echo true whenever I visit an old neighborhood of mine in the city. The places emit a quality, or qualities, and I feel a part of it somehow.

What brings this feeling, this sense of place, and what does it mean to someone who is searching for some understanding of the vagueness of 'community'?

1. A sense of place
2. Social Capital
3. Shared Space
4. Commercial Space utilized by those living locally

These are a few characteristics that come to my mind, when I think of neighborhoods in NYC. Does this hold true in Delwara? Could you say these characteristics exist for the Meghwal community? I don't know if the fourth point applies. But to go back a step, I don't know if the Meghwal community, or any 'community' for that matter, views themselves in this foggy notion of community. Can an 'outsider' to a 'community' label a group/neighborhood/geography as a community? What characteristics does this group display that implies some notion of togetherness?

It is an unclear dialogue, but one I believe imperative for people to consider, regardless of their field. A planner should know the area in which they work, and know it beyond statistical reports and quantitative data. The same holds true for a nurse, a teacher, a city councilman, really anyone that works with people in some capacity.

May the thoughts and ideas begin to flow

Basic Curry Recipe


Mustard Oil
Onions (diced or thinly sliced)
Garlic (minced)
Ginger (minced or thinly sliced)
Jeera (Cumin, whole seeds)
Chili Powder
Green chilies (these long thin green chilies add a great deal of heat to the dish, I recommend one chili per person. Chop the chili in pieces about the size of a fingernail)
Tomato (roughly chopped)
Bell Pepper/ Capsicum (roughly chopped)
Salt to taste


Whatever main ingredient you prefer (eggplant, paneer, okra [lady's finger/bhindi], aaloo [potato], etc.)

You will need a wok-like pot and a spoon/flat spatula to stir

Heat mustard oil in the wok-like pot (there should be a few centimeters/about an inch of oil. Use your judgment, as this oil will have to coat all the vegetables you are going to add over the next thirty minutes). Once the oil is hot (you can test this by throwing in some jeera and the oil is ready when the jeera browns), throw in a few pinches of the jeera. When the pieces brown, add in the onions, garlic, ginger, and chilies. Stir until the onions begin to brown. Add tumeric (a few spoonfuls), chili powder (about 2 flat spoonfuls), and corriander (this you can add as liberally or conservatively as you wish). Stir until the spices marry (about 5 minutes). Add the main ingredient and cook until slightly brown or tender. Add salt. Add tomatoes, and after the tomatoes are mixed in, add the bell pepper. Reduce heat slightly and cook until peppers slightly soften.

Best served with freshly made roti and cold Kingfisher. Set up a picnic on the floor and enjoy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

19 August

This will be my final email from the subcontinent. It is 3 in the afternoon, and after a last meeting at the National Foundation for India (a sponsor of Seva Mandir), I will be on my way through a final battle with Delhi transportation and off to NYC.

My last few days in India were filled with the chaos I expected of the country. After I left Kathmandu, I went to Varanasi, one of the holiest cities for Hindus, and then to Agra, to see the famed Taj Mahal. Upon arrival, I thought to myself, where is all of the craziness of India that is supposed to permeate everything in this holy city? Well, little did I know I was actually 20km north of the city- a drive to the central train station changed all of that. It was utter mayhem- people are everywhere, camped out on plastic tarps on the ground, cows roaming in the middle of the crowds, auto and bicycle rickshaws vying for space to enter the parking lot, sadhus (holy men) dressed in white or orange and wlaking barefoot across the rock and sand pack that makes up the parking lot, old women squatting on the ground over their tiffens (stacked containers of food), and off to the side, in a small room, 40 tourists trying to get trains out of the city. It was awsome. I splurged that night on a hotel, Rs500 for a private room with air con and an en suite bathroom, in a neighborhood between the train station and the old city. The next day I woke up early, as I heard the best time to see the old city of varanasi was in the early morning when the pilgrams wash in the Ganga (ganges river). I headed over in a cycle rickshaw, and as we got closer to the old city, the number of people grew. Many were sadhus and pilgrams, making their way to and from the rivers. The rickshaw had to stop, as the roads were blocked (that weekend had been independence day and rakhi- the brother and sister festival, and there were tons of people in the city). So i got out and walked among the throngs of half clothed and mostly barefoot individuals to attempt to find the holy river in this amalgam of people. There was a queue a thousand + persons deep, of men and women holding jugs of water from the ganga, all waiting to bathe with it in a holy temple. I promptly got lost and found my way to the chowk, the main shopping area, but unfortunately i couldn't buy anything because it was 6 in the morning and nothing was open.

I finally gave in to the propositions of men claiming to be tour guides, and one helped to to the river, showed me around the old city, which is a wild maze of tiny streets- streets so narrow vechiles and rickshaws aren't able to get by so everyone is on foot, dirt, mud and flith line everything, piles of rubbish area everywhere, there is no drainage, and everyone (but me) was barefoot). there are very few tourists there now, so it was just me and the thousands of pilgrams and sadhus vying for a tiny bit of space in which to move through the incoherent alleyways of the old city. Nothing I have seen compares to the true apex of disorganization that exists there. The guide took me to some of the temples, helped me arrange a river tour, and of course 'his shop' to see if i wanted to buy anything (varanasi is famous for its silk bengali saris). Because Varanasi is a holy city, many people come here to die. We went to an area next to one of the cremation sites, where we met the manager of the three hospices located on the river. People are cremated here 24 hours a day, and there are stacks of wood all along the water, and piled in huge row boats at the river's edge. I got a blessing from an old woman invalid, and my donation was rejected by her because of the low amount. All along the river people are bathing- men in their underwear, and women more discreetly washing their limbs under their clothing. We went to the main ghat and as we turned the corner to approach the water, I encountered my greatest fear of India- a cobra. thank someone that it was in a pot and i could manage my dread and panic as i nervously followed my guide down an alley of vegetable sellers to the top steps of the ghat. I joined the other tourists and snapped a photo of the river, and then looked to my right and saw another cobra, and decided I had seen enough of the city, and headed back to my little ac-ed room and waited in the coolness until I had to leave for the train station.

I befriended a group of Spaniards while waiting for the delayed train. They invited me to try and get upgraded to their compartment, as I was in sleeper non AC and they were one level above- in an ac car- and were a group of four (and 2 were big guys). So I joined them, and somehow in broken english and hindi conveyed to the conductor that I didn't feel safe in my original seat and that I wanted to sit with my friends. By some grace of god there was an open berth in their compartment- a top berth at that- and we spent the rest of the 16 hour train ride (it was only supposed to be 12-13) to agra together. The train was late getting in, and parted ways with my friends at the station, as they had to arrange for a train to delhi and i wanted to see as much as possible before i booked it to Delhi that evening. I met a tourist at the taxi stand and we shared a cab to the taj. As we got into the vehicle, a bizzare looking 2m tall Brit, in addidas workout pants, a golden kurta (long shirt worn here), 3 piercings in his lip, two more in his upper lip, a mohawk, and psoriasis joined his lost friend and the three of us made our way to india's most famous monument.

I wasn't struck by the taj upon arrival, but after three hours of circling the stark while marble, impeccable craftsmenship, perfect symmetry, and inlay stone work, i realized just how incredible the building really is. I spent my time sitting in the cool marble alcoves, looking at the river, visiting with israelis (in hebrew, no less), and staring at this stellar piece of architecture and the perfect symmetry of the entire site. I also visited the mosque to the left (the taj mahal is only a mausoleum, not a mosque), and the fake mosque on right, built for perfect site planning symmetry. the japanese tourists and i took more pictures of ourselves in front of the building, and i eventually pulled myself away to see some other sites in the city, like the awesome Agra Fort, the Baby Taj, and a few other leeser visited structures, like the tomb of the shah's vizer from persia. I also went to the other side of the yamuna river to see the taj from the 'back.' it was really really cool.

After a nice ride back to delhi and visiting with my seatmates- a man from nairobi getting a ph d in literature in delhi and a young guy from austrailia who is living in kathmandu and teaching english to monks, i entered the horrid crowds of delhi all trying to get rickshaws to their next destinations. after an hour or so in one, i finanly made it to my place of rest for the evening (late night at that point), had a nice cool shower, and slept the best night of sleep i have had, under the cold breeze of the air con unit. After a bit of work this morning, I arrived at a friend's apartment, closer to the city. I have been rather lazy today, and after my meeting will head off to the airport.
My time in India and Nepal has been exquisite. I came here knowing a lot about the country, but no first hand experience of it. It was certainly over-whelming at first, and I had a few, "oh shit" moments, but the shocking culture of India quickly melted away as I settled into my life this summer. There are certainly many shocking differences, food, toilets, showers, roads, transportation, dress, and I quickly have adapted to seeing people sleeping on any surface, seeing cows and animals share the roads with rickshaws, taxis, and buses, people using the toilet where they can, open drains, chai-wallahs, and vegetable carts lining all the streets. It is now ordinary to see people getting water from handpumps, men and women carrying their loads on their heads, seeing trash on streets because solid waste management here leaves something to be desired, and open drains. The colors in the poor country are the most vibrant I have ever seen. No one wears black or brown, and everything people where, women in particular, is brightly colored in all shades and patterns. This color I have observed in many different ways before- as a contrast to the dirt and poverty of the city, and i see it as a pretty bright metaphor for something about the challenges life presents people here. Certainly people don't enjoy getting water from handpumps, taking a shit on train tracks, having to nagivate snakes in high grass, or see piles of trash because there is no one to collect it, but life marches on, and people continue to live here, send their children to school, get married, drink chai, and live in their communities. There is a strage push pull factor here- pushing me out of the country and into the creature comforts all of us have come to expect from living in the west, and a pull back to India, an allure to understanding what works and what doesn't, what is a necessary piece to living a fulfilling and quality life and what is just superfluous, to understanding what a community wants versus an individual...there is something fabulous and wonderful in the midst of the chaos people living here and people who have visited this country understand. India is remarkable on many different levels- the highest office rents in the world and the highest rates of poverty, the bright colors everywhere against the extreme poverty, the gold women wear daily because why hide all of their fine jewelry away under a mattress or in a safety deposit box, the modern versus the tradition, the religous fervor- it is a country to not be missed, and to be experienced as fully as one can. It is not a perfect country by any means, but it works somehow. India has certainly not seen the last of me, as I have barely begun to see it. I look forward to my future visits, and to the new layers the country will reveal with more exploration.

Until I reach the states, a final Namaste from India.

16 August

I have spent the past eight days in Nepal- in Kathmandu and trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas outside a city called Pokhara. Since I last wrote, I bid farewel to Seva Mandir (even though I will continue to work withSadhna, the women's handicraft organization from the States), took my first Indian train (in an overnight sleeper car), and hiked through inaccessible mountain regions.
Our farewell dinner in Udaipur was in an old haveli. The rooftop views were beautiful, and the men playing the sitar (Indian guitar) was a lovely touch. We toasted to a great summer, and had a final round of some of our favorite indian dishes- palakpaneer, naan, dhal, all in the company of 14 people- some workers from Seva mandir and some friends we met along the way. The next day, I somehow managed to cram all of my goodies from Sadhna into my rucksack, hoist it on my back (along with my daypack), andFizzy, Melanie, and I piled into a rickshaw with our bags and headed to the train station, where we only got our seats wrong once,moved, hoisted our bags (a second time) up into the upper berths, and settled in for the 12+ hour train ride to DEelhi from Udaipur. The train wasn't so bad, albeit sleeping with my rucksack wasn't too comfortable. We pulled into Delhi in the morning, and the urban slums along the train tracks that I have been missing were there, in all their emotional glory. It was raining as we pulled into the city. Men in lunghis (a shirt version of a sarong that many men here wear) carrying umbrellas were walking and squatting along the tracks, as the tracks served as toilets for the people living in the slums we passed. They would squat, and justgo to the bathroom right there, with the trains passing. Some men faced the train, others had theirback turned, and it was a bit tough whenI realized what the small yellow mounds I saw actually were.
We dropped our luggage at a friend's apartment,and then headed to Kathmandu. It is a fabulous city, at least now in the low tourist season. We have been eating Tibetan and Nepali food, much more mild than indian food for sure, and withTibetan food, one can see the similarities withsome form of Chinese cuisine. Our hotel, located in Thamel (the new city centre) is about $2.20/night, and ironically is the first place I have been in 6 weeks to have a proper shower with hot water and pressure. I haven't had to use a bucket all week! Anyhow, we saw sights here, including the dramatic Swayambunath (monkey temple) buddhist temple, up several steps and offering a dramatic view of the city. There are monkeys everywhere, jumping around the statutes of Buddha, up and down the stairs, and around the stupa (the center piece mound which ontains relics from Buddha). The stupa was incredibly impressive- a large white mound, spire with buddha;s eyespainted on, a gold dome, and tibetan prayer flags hanging everywhere. the stupa is surrounded by prayer wheels, whcih people spi as they walk around the stupa in a clockwise motion. It was incredible.
We alsowent to Durbar Square, the historic center of town. We went to the KumariGoddess's home (a prepubescent girl is selectedas a living goddess, and is considered such until her first period). We coldn't she her because she is on strike, as her caretakers aren't making enough money (supposedly). We walked through thehistoric town, seeing the seats of government, shrines, temples, vegetable sellers, people hanging outon the old buildings' stoops, and children playing in puddles. After dusk, we roamed all around the narrow alleys and backstreets of the area, dark alleyways punctured with tiny stores, butcheries, and tobacco stands. Every so often we happened upon a square, bustling like crazy in the rain, with people selling vegetables, marigolds and lotuses for people to palce on the many shrines around, bicycle rickshaw drivers vying fr your business, young girl selling salts, men sitting around a counter with carcasses awaiting their purchase, fish being sold for dinners...It was awesome.
The next day we headed for our trek. We took a microbus (think enlarged minivan) to the city of Pokhara, about 5+ hours away on a beauitful (yet nauseating) drive through the moutains. The drive was spectacular- the mountains are brilliant colors of explosive green, and much of the journey was along a river ranging through the valley floor. We got to Pokhara inthe evening, and enjoyed a nice meal at a Tibetan restaurant near our hotel. The next day we headed about1.5 hours away to the head of our trail. We did a 4 hour hike in about 7...we took our time emjoying the lush landscape, and took a swim in a water hole safe from the rapids of the river. It was so refreshing, to actually feel cold for the first time in weeks! The water was freezing because it was from glaciers. It was great and I think all of the trekkers that passed us were jealous that we decided to go in. We stayed that night at a guesthouse perched precariously on a mountain face. We arrived right as the monsoon began. Everything was lit by candlelight, and was really cool. WE climbed upa wooden ladder to our room, ate dinner at long wooden tables, and played cards by candlelight. Our guide, Ajeeb, also sang traditional Nepali songs for us.
We woke up late the next day and didn't hit the trailuntil about 8.15am. This was the most rigorous day of the trek, as it was all uphill. It was also themost beauitful. The mountains are so green right now because of the rains and everything is like an explosion of color. When you look up at the mountains, their faces are pierced with waterfalls. the rivers run over the mountains, and the rice paddies are such a bright neon green it is hard to believe it is real. Along the trail we met an old woman, who sat down with us on a rest and pulled out a picture of two girls, saying they were her granddaughters and that her daughter diedand she needed money to take care of them. It was clearly a sham, but the woman was this wizzened old thing, hiking up these mountains with the energy of a 25 year old. We came across thema again a bit later in the trail, and she was intensely yelling and arguing withthe younger man with her. Turns out she took the younger man's sister and promised her work in Pokhara, but sold her to a hotel proprietor as a cleaner, and when the girl is old enough, she will be sold for sex. She was about 6 or seven. No one knows who is right, but that put a somber cloud over us for a while.
IN the early evening we arrived at our inn for the night, soaked through from the monsoons that pured down all afternoon. It was a wonderful place, on the top of the Ghorepani mountain at an elevation of 2300m, with a supposed view of Annapurna South and Annapurna I (two snowcapped mountains in the himalayas, which include mountains in the range over 6000m)- clouds obscured it. After a much needed and relished warm shower, Melanie, Meg (another Seva Mandir-ite), and I went shoppping-we were desperate as we hadn't shopped in like two days and hadn't seen anything to even buy, save water and lays potato chips. There was exactly one shop that sold anything besides water and snacks, and we all bought lovely sheep's wool scarves, which are wonderfully warm, and smell like mountainy moistness. This guesthouse wasn't crowded, and we sat around a fire sipping hot chocolate until dinner arrived. WE played cards, and made friends witha couple hiking, and talked bycandlelight. WE crashed early that night, around 10 pm, in our second floor room at the top of a wooden ladder. Thin walls made out of wooden planks, no lights, but cozy and appropriate for out setting. Unfortunately we had to skip the part of our hike the next morning, as the clouds obscured the view of the mountains. But wedid glimspe the mighty Himalayas before we had to trek back down the mountains, hiking in 7 hours what it took us 2 days to achieve. by the time we finished we were totally wiped out, and my calves still ache from strenous hike downhill, in the rain. Parts of the trail had been washed away by the monsoons, and we had to fordge ourway over the landslides.
What was even more striking than the beautiful scenery was the fact that our trains was actually the only road in the area. It was a series of stone steps, varying in width and depth, large in some areas and smaller in others. itis difficult for humans to walk- impossible for vechiles to traverse. we saw some horses and donkeys along the road, but anything people wanted was carried in baskets hanging down people's backs from a straparound their foreheads. Many villages or homes we passed were over 30 miutes from any resembling another human,and there are no phones. If someone gest sick, i think four men get together and carry the person down the mountain. School children walk aboutan hourup and down the slopes every day, skipping along like it is nothing. This is the only route by which to reachthis area, and is an unrelenting for the trekker as it is for those who live along its stones. While the trails are overrun with treekers for probably 6+ months of the year, the rest of the time these mountain people live pretty isolated from the any semblance of urban areas. This isolation was so striking and immense, and is quite overwhleming in retrospect.
After a night in POkhara filled with tradiational Nepali music and dancing (we joined in to the best of ouraching bodies abilities), we headed back to Kathmandu, in a crazy and uncomfortable bus ride. At our lunchstop, ourguide said there was bad news- apparently there was as strike on the road to Kathmandu, conducted by a family whose son was killed by a bus a few months ago and was still awaiting reparations. While terrible, leave it to ourluck to be in a country going through intense potical shifts and encountering a totally unrelated strike. Luckily it stopped before we entered Kathmandu.
The next day we went to Bouddnath- a major site for Buddhist pilgrams and monks. Surrounding the area is a Tibetan neighborhood, which has really developed since many Tibetan refugees moved there after the 1959 revolt in China. It was awesome and impressive, with dozens of prayer wheels of many different sizes all around, monks walking around, people lighting butter candles, tibetan prayer flags was awesome. That afternoon, i went to Pashupatinath, the most important Hindu temple in Nepal. Only hindus can enter the temple, but there is a great deal to see outside the structure. It is located on teh Bagmati River, which feeds into the Ganges. It is a site for many pilgrams and because it is a holy spot, many people come here to die. There is a hospice located on the river, and a sliding stone outside of it to slide the body into the water to cleanse it before it is wrappedin whiteand orange and creamted. There were about about 6 or 7 funeral pyres along the ghats (steps that lead to the river for cremation purposes), all lit, while I was there, and I watched the cremations. The Brahmans conduct th e cremations, while the family sits behind the pyre and watches for the 3-4 hours, unti lthe body is burned and the ashes are pushed off the pyre into the water. People also swim in the water. It was pretty intense. Something about HInduism doesn't resonate so well with maybe because I also see the tranquility of Buddhist around, so I went back to Boudhnath for the evening circling of the stupa- monks and people get swept away in circling the structure and spinning prayer wheels. I made it about half way around untili got distracted by banging drums and dancing, and of course a bit of shopping, but finished the circle, and headed backto Thamel for a final night in kathmandu. Off to varanesi today, and Agra the day after. I get back to Delhi on the evening of the 18th, and leave about 24 hours later.

4 August

Dear All,
My time at Seva Mandir is quickly wrapping up, as I have decided to leave the organization a week early, and travel with my two roommates and another volunteer to Nepal (any advice is welcome!) The work I am doing is actually at a good point to wrap up the project, and traveling a week early allows the four of us to travel together. I am working on submitting some final reports, one on getting the community's youth involved in understanding the challenges women in Delwara face, as related to water, a copy of the survey I wrote, and a write up of the stories I have gathered from the various women my translator and I have interviewed.
Like many previous emails, there are two extremes I would like to talk about: A fair honoring the monsoons/season some of the volunteers attended this past Friday in Udaipur, and my experience of collecting water with the women of the Meghwal community in Delwara (which happened yesterday- sunday- and today).
The fair we attended honored the monsoons and the season, as best as we could gather from various people in broken English. It was the ultimate street fair- all the major roads (which are two lane slabs of cement) were closed to vehicular traffic, which wouldn't have been able to move anywhere because of the thousands of people that descended on the city. And I mean thousands- loads of people were here. The streets were lined with stalls selling everything from roasted corn (some made of fires of garbage- delicious), cheap plastic gold jewelry, hankerchiefs, boys underwear, and fired food galore (every food vendor in the city must have rallied his brothers, sons, and cousins to help in the deep frying process of a bunch of food I coudn't really identify, but was most likely a mix of flour, spices, and potatoes). There was also ferris wheels- what fair is complete without one? But this wheel was man-powered: literally. Two men hung from the wheel's center axel and walked on the spokes of the ferris wheel to make it move. I took pictures if you don't believe it, but it was pretty awesome (to watch, ain't a great deal was going to get me into the contraption).
When we entered the madness, there was a man selling fakes beards and mustaches, which my roommate Fiz quickly bargined down from Rs 50 to Rs 10. He donned the amish style beard and giant Indian mustache with pride, and got a lot of cat-calls from his new get-up. Then we bought the festive hats vendors were selling- mine was a lovely number of thin cardboard wrapped in gold celophane, with a brim of gold glitter and multi-colored feathers. Our new looks generated a host of shameless stares, laughs, and requests for photos, including some by newspaper reporters. We actually made it into two of the Udaipur daily newspapers- and one of the photos is in color (mom- i have three copies so don't worry). Actually, 7 foreigners walking around in tens of thousands of Indians at the fair created quite a stir. Ever time we sat down to rest, a group would amass around us, and just stare. It was funny the first two times, but when the police came by and broke up one group (of about 50 gawkers), and a second time when about 70-100 people formed a semi-circle around us, it got a little creepy, and we decided to stop taking a rest. However, we had a great time, as did the people of udaipur, at such a fun fesitval with food, dancing, singing, and general merryment.
It is amazing how drastically experiences can change here. Sunday afternoon I made my way to Delwara, to spend that evening and the following morning with women in one of the Meghwal communities collecting water. I believe I have written about this community before, but they are a sceduled caste and members of the dalit (one of the lowest castes), and this community in particular is separated from the rest of Delwara by a ~1km road. There is almost no running water in this community, terrble road conditions, poor drainage (where it exists), and a great deal of community in-fighting. We went to one of the far wells around 5pm, which is located about 1~2km from the village, over terrible dirt roads pock-marked with giant water puddles (it had rained the day before). To get to the well, you have to climb over a meter high stone wall (imagine doing with with two water pots balanced on your head), and then walk through a farm and down a narrow, winding, and uneven dirt road to a well. Once you get to the well, you toss your metal bucket with a thick rope attached to it into the 30 foor deep stone well, hope the snake on the side of the well won't bother you, and begin to jiggle the bucket in the deep water to fill it up, so you can hoist the thing up, dump it through a filtering cloth, and into one of your two water pots. Once that is all done (to get 25 liters takes about 6 intense and heavy tosses of the bucket down the well), you get to hoist the pots (one made out of clay- keeps the water cool, and one made out of hammered metal) onto your head and navigate through the farm, road, slide over the stone well, and back down the crappy road to your home, which is probably up a hill and the road to get to it is probably unpaved or poorly paved at best. Once you kick off your shoes, you take the pots off your head and sit for about five minutes, before you go and collect water for bathing, as that well water with the occasional snake on the side of the stones is only for drinking.
Now, there are several wells and handpumps one can use for water collection. However, one of the wells is flooded with waste water from the rest of the community and waste water from the Devigarh fort (the former king's former castle cum luxery hotel), made wrose by rain runoff. So that is out for many people. Another well's water is contaminated from the rain and many people won't use it for bathing. There is a handpump at the entrance to the community, but when I entered the area this morning, a man was in his undies bathing. Now, we went to an area at the bottom of the hill where there are pipes in the ground with water in them. There are five ditches, about 2 feet square and 3 feet deep that has a spigot of water pouring in them, and then two shallow dugouts (think of a dugout a child makes at a beach while digging sand for a sandcastle, only this one is in red dirt and snall stones) with small spigots with a small but respectful stream of water coming from them, when you pull out the stopper of a twig with cloth wrapped around one end. You have with you a giant plastic drum, think something like a painter would have when painting a room or house, or for you NYers, the buckets people use as drums at the times square subway station. To fill this up, you squat on the ground and take a plastic container, hold it under the spout, and fill and pour, repeating this until your bucket is full. You ask someone to help you put this on your head (it is probably 20+ liters of water) and you make your way back home, bathe, and begin your day.
Appreciate every drop out of your tap, the luxury we have created of bottled water, and a shower pretty much any time you want it. I know I do more so than I ever have before.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Contrasts in Village Life

Today is a typical Friday here- I almost ran into a cow walking down our alley this morning, watched the children of the dalit (lowest caste) community unload a rickshaw of garbage, sidestepped cow manure and construction material while walking down a street with large homes behind gates, and made it here to the library at Seva Mandir in about 4 minutes time. While this week has been relatively quiet here, I wanted to share some thoughts about the contrasts in the town where I am working- Delwara, about 30 km north of Udaipur, up and down a winding mountain "highway," upon which bikes, trucks heavy with marble loads, jeeps, cows, water buffalo, and monkeys all fight for space.

I have been spending this week interviewing women in the town about their ability to access water, toilets, and soild waste management. I have spoken with women in a few different communties, the Bhoi, Khatik, Yadav, Muslim, and Jain (lowers castes to more wealthy communities), and I can't say any of them have it easy. While better than the Meghwal community I interviewed inititally (no water connections, closest open field for bathroom use is 3km away), I wouldn't call it a secure access to water. As I am learning, having a government provided water connection does not guarantee water access- it can come anywhere from once every 2-4 days, and less frequently in draughts. Some people have latrines, some have to walk to open fields next to the national highway, where the women have to fend off passing truck drivers who often stop to whistle. There are some encouraging moments of resistence to the poor water conditions here- women in one community blocked the national highway until someone from the government came to fix their water pump. But there is still much here to be desired.

So, a few days ago I was a little bored, as my translator had to do some other work, and I just couldn't read any more of my book so I decided to visit Devigarh Fort, an old palace of the king of Udaipur c. 1800s cum luxury hotel. The town of Delwara rings this fort that towers above the village below. The fort is now an exclusive luxury hotel, surrounded by gates and numorous guards, and extremely exclusive to enter, unless you are a white foreigner. Then you can walk right in without a problem. Someone from the office walked me there, and dropped me at the gate, where I was saluted by a uniformed guard and called "madam" and escorted to the next turn, where the same process happened again, and again, until I made it to the dramatic stone steps that lead to the actaul entrance of the hotel courtyard, where a uniformed staff member met me to give me a personal guided tour of the property. It is an exquisite place, perfectly maintained grounds, wonderfully preserved fort with twists and turns, well maintained architecture, and is complete with a spectacular panoramic view of the green "hill-tains" (bigger than hills, smaller than mountains?) that surround the area. I saw a lady's courtyard, complete with an original swing, that guests can still use, the different dining areas (one of them in a place where the king used to receive his audiences) and a private suite, which was pretty fabulous, and complete with a flat screen tv and screened in balcony-gazeebo. There are only about 40 suites in the place, and rooms start at Rs 18 000, and go up to about Rs 58 000.

However, once you look out over the edge of the hotel's balconies, the poverty that rings the fort is all too obvious to miss. One of the familiy's homes I interviewed shared its back wall with the towering stones that supported the fort (this home had 7 members, 4 cows, 5 goats, and one latrine that spared a septic tank with 10 others in the community). I thanked the woman for the lovely complimentary tour of the fort, and made my way out of the (original) enormous wooden doors, which had spikes protruding on the outside of them to prevent elephants from busting into the fort, back to the reality of Delwara. Through the several gates down the hill one can see the homes of Dewara's residents, monkeys jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and kids walking around without shoes. I made my way through the last gate, was saluted, and walked by my friend Bilkish's home in the muslim community, a yellow-painted house whose back fence is the first round of security gates to Delwara. Walking through a narrow alley, with a semi-flooded mud path and littered with trash, up a small the hill and stepping over the open drains, I quickly made it back to the office.

While such stark levels of clashing socio-economic statuses are obvious in this country, and make for shocking observations for many foreigners, it is important to remember that disparate living conditions exist all over the world, including in America. As my professor Dr. Dalton recently reminded me, only 7 subway stops in New York City separate the wealthest congressional district (upper east side) and the poorest congressional district (south bronx) in America, and another friend has reminded me that inequality glares at us in such dramatic terms as India, outside of America. Many people in the world live in conditions that seriously compromise their quality of life, and millions of people around the world, not just in rural Inidia, lack access to basic services, decent education, and viable economic opportunities. We needn't look far for such disparity, unfortunately it surrounds us all.

On the positive side, there are thousands of people and organizations out there in the world looking to address issues of development, and it can be really inspiring to work alongside these people. Everyone here does share the desire to work with different communities to together improve life here, and Seva Mandir, along with many other NGOs in this area, have had a long legacy of social work in Udaipur and its surrounding regions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rethinking the "work" I do

A lot of people have been responding to my emails I have been sending out, and I recently got a note back from a very dear friend and teacher of mine, who said, "I love to see how you reveal deeper and deeper layers of Indian culture,grounding your revelations in details of the glaring contradictions thatare omnipresent everywhere in India. But don't forget that they are here, too. Remember how Jonathan Kozolbegins his book, Savage Inequalities: step on a subway in the upper EastSide, wealthiest congressional district in the U.S., ride just 7 stopsand get off in the South Bronx, the poorest cong.district in America. Thedisparities of wealth that you describe brilliantly there exist in NYC.They are of course more massive in India, given the degrees of povertyand the huge population, but the dramatic contrasts are still apparent." (DD, 17 July 2008).

And I started to think, and talk about it with some fellow workers here in India. I came to India because I thought the problems here were so much worse than in America, that the problems in other parts of the wprld were somehow more pressing and more real. There is certainly an issue of scale- India does have 4 times as many people as does the United States, and its economy is not as strong as many other countries around the world. India faces an pandemic array of public health challenges, everything from accessing potable water to malaria and HIV/AIDS to inadequate opportunities for childhood and adult education. However, DD's comment made me think. There are pressing problems in all of our countries- serious problems that compromise people's abilities to live full, equal, and honest lives. DD is 100% accurate to say that these problems are glaring within a short distance of one of the world's premiere cities, and the problems of accessing basic services, issues of social and economic inequality, and injustice unfortunately exist all around us.

The work any of us do, in any part of the world, that helps people improve their quality of life, is meaningful and important. Working with kids in the South Bronx in afterschool theatre programs, bringing health care to the Appalacian Mountains, being a teacher, making people happy, helping women create economic opportunities for themselves, being a social worker, are just a few of a million things we can do to improve this world, and your location makes your work no more and no less important- I am coming to understand it is the people we help that is important. Wherever there are social injustices, no matter how great or small, attention paid to individuals makes the difference.

I hope this makes sense. It is just a thought I have been tossing around lately, and look forward to your comments.

July 3 email

Howdy y'all,

So I made it safely to India- what a place! It is like nothing I have ever seen. It only took exiting the airport to make an impression on me- the driver's car was blocked in by a van, so instead of finding the driver to the van, my driver just started pushing the van (yes, pushing it) until we could get out (of course, there is no break on the car whe you are pushing it, so it gently rolled into the car in front of it. we pulled out of the space and not 2 km from the parking lot did i see my first animal (an emaciated donkey?) on the road. after a semi-chaotic drive to the apartment> where i have been staying, via driving on a road that better resembles a> sidewalk, i met the very lovely and gracious family that has been hosting me> during my stay in delhi.>> i have spent the past 2 days touring a bit around the city, yesterday's> highlight was Gandhi Smriti, which is the house Gandhi was assasinated in.> The other highlight was the first sighting of a family of monkeys hanging> out on a corner (I was in a car, so not to worry about getting bitten),> which is much more interesting than the mangy dogs and goats that roam> about. Today I went to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and I got
> ripped off by a guy who gave me a tour, after a Rs200 fee for the camera he> charged another Rs250 for his "service" as a guide, most of which he said I> couldn't understand. However, the grand total of Rs450 is less than $10, so> it wasn't a large financial loss. But now I know better- it is like NYC,> you just start to ignore people as they come up to you and try to push> whatever they are hustling- and everyone is trying to sell you somethign.> However, the old city of Delhi was pretty disgusting and filthy, and doesn't> capture a charm I think many westerners expect in older city centers.>> One striking thing about Delhi is the mass amount of people here, sleeping> everywhere, selling everything, and existing all over the place. We have> driven through some informal settlements/slums. It is really a terribly sad> state of existence for the poor living in India's large cities- garbage is> piled in large heaps of plastic bottles, waste material, and who knows what> else, children are bathed on the side of the road, and hoousing structures> are lopsided, but standing. You can't compare it to anything in America.>> I will be flying to Udaipur tomorrow- known as the "most romantic city in> India" because of its beauty. i will be meeting with the ngo i will be> working with for the rest of the summer (seva mandir) and will be able to> begin my work in earnest.>> I hope all is well with everyone, and do stay in touch this summer- a lot> less people speak english than I had anticipated, seriously , what tourist> by choice would be here is this weather (it is like a hosuton summer, minus> he AC), but the lack of tourists makes India much more real.

July 17 Email

Namaste Everyone!

Every day here is filled with new experiences, thoughts, tastes, and colors. We have a new roommate in our flat- a french girl studying in Scotland, who is a riot (doesn't like Indian food, and ordered mac and cheese for dinner last night). I have started seeing herds of goats everywhere, in addition to the multitudes of cows and water buffalo, and monekys about once a week. There are several stories I could share with you, but I wanted to describe my past Tuesday here- I think it perfectly sumarizes many of my feelings toward my experiences in this corner of the country.Tuesday was a typical day. I woke up, had a chai at the "open air cafe" (a guy on the corner with a wooden flatbed cart upon which he boils chai on his gas burner), said t'fliat ha'derech (traveler's prayer, something I find comforting before embarking onto the roads with the wildness of Indian drivers), and headed out to Delwara. While sitting in the Delwara office, the electricity went in and out, a pretty common occurance here. I spent part of the morning working there (in the office), and stepped out into the coutryard, looked up, and saw a family of monkeys in the courtyard's tree, turned around, and saw another two scampering across the balcony of the second floor. Certainly that was the visual highlight of the day- 12+ monkeys romping around this piece of property.Manoj, a local youth from Delwara, who doubles as my translator, and I headed off to the Meghwal community, one of the lowest castes in Delwara (actually, right above the lowest caste- harijan- who are the street cleaners), to continue with our interviews of women and accessing water. We met with two women that day, and both had similar stories to share: neither had a toilet and had to defecate in a field, located over a hill a few kilometers away, while having to navigate the high grasses and the snakes that slither through them, especially after the rains. while this isn't such a bad thing- i hear it is a nice walk in morning, and the exercise is a good way to start the day, problems can become acute if one is ill. The women are also the ones responsible for all water collection (almost no one in this community has piped water in their home), and have to spend an hour a day collecting drinking water, plus making several trips to a different water tank to collect water for cleaning. The "showers" in both homes were outdoors- one behind a stacked stone wall, and the other one on the porch in the family's courtyard.After the interviews, I was invited to one of the office worker's home for a farewell sendoff/birthday party, as it was his last day at Seva Mandir. It was on the family farm. There were about 40-60 people there, lounging on pastic tarps and stone walls amongst the cows and women pulling water out of a well. We sat down in a long oval shape on the ground, on plastic tarps, and men came around with buckets full of bati (a traditional rajasthani bread- a ball of dough soaked in oil and then baken, which resulted in a hard outer crust and crumbly inside), dal (lentils), curry, lali (a sweet dessert), and chach (curd, water, and jeerz- a spice here used in the basics of cooking). Clean up was a cinch- everyone tossed their paper plates and plastic cups in a small clearing behind where we ate.After that full day, I was looking forward to a quite night at home, maybe making some western dish like scrambled eggs or something. However, I ran into my roommates as I approached our street, and was marched around and then into a rickshaw, as we were called for dinner at the home of the family that started Seva Mandir decades ago. We arrived at a wonderfully historic building, and sat in the courtyard, drinking wine (didn't expect any of that for 7 weeks!) and whiskey soda, and many people flitted about, preparing dinner and refilling the bowls of snacks on the courtyard tables. While I was full from the Rajasthani feast, I wanted to try the colorful dishes that lined the dining room table. Everyone gathered plates full of food (mine was a bit more modest than usual), and lounged around the courtyard, under the balconies that surrounded teh courtyard, or sat on the small couches in the dining room. There were people constantly refilling the platters, and walking around offering more chappatti (bread, which doubles as a fork) to everyone. After a lovely dessert of fresh mangos and ice cream, a driver dropped the three of us back home.

Clearly it was a day of different lifestyles. But it is this notion of extremes that is coming to shape my understandings and expereinces in this small corner of India- the country that has some of the most exclusive residential towers adjacent to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the world, a place where it is common to defecate in the open while navigating wet roads from rain runoff and snakes in rural areas, to the better off having the ability to fly in planes over the poor infrastructure that characterizes the country's landscape. It is a country where appearance is very important, where button down shirts tucked into trousers are almost a uniform for all men, regardless of socio-economic class, even if it is the only outfit they might own, and a place where women wear gold and silver jewelery and shockingly bright and colored saris, while walking around the dirt floors and roofless rooms of their homes. My time here is revealing a country of contradition, of these bright optomistic colors people wear mixed with poverty and filth, of a wonderfully falvourful cup of chai made outside on a stove fueled by a fire of sticks and cow dung, while later that day eating a dinner, prepared by family workers and served on fine ceramic plates in the setting of a finely preserved traditional home.

I hope all is well with everyone.

July 14 Email

Namaste Everyone!

I hope all is well with everyone! I have made it 10 days in India, and I am loving it here. Life is quite different than almost anything I have previously experienced, and basic daily practices, such as showering, using the toilet, or driving, are like a shock every time. But I am getting used to having a wash (while there are shower heads installed, most people fill up a bucket with water from the spout, and use a mug to pour the water over oneself), squatting while using the bathroom (I am not quite hard core enough to give up toilet paper, and I am on the search for it this weekend, as the roll I have been rationing is dwindling), and the erratic drivers on the road (while driving merits a separate paragraph in its own right, pretty much everyone is out to advance his place on the road, lanes are merely a suggestion, and vehicles compete for the small amount of paved road that exists).

I am finally getting into the work I am going to be carrying out over the next several weeks. As many of you know, I am working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Seva Mandir, which means Temple of Service. I am working on understanding the relationship between women and water, in the peri-urban (think small town) area of Delwara, a town about 30 \km north of Udaipur. I began my first round of interviews on Friday, meeting with a variety of women from the Megwel community, one of the lower castes in the town. While there are some kinks to work out in the translations, I am beginning to hear from the women about their relationship to water. While this is not a problem in the Western world, for the most part, many people in India do not have viable/reliable connections to potable water, thus resulting in the need to collect drinking water and water for cleaning from various resources, either near or far from their homes. This also means not every home has a toilet, and household members are forced to find alternatives for restroom use. I am studying the issue of water in relation to women, as they are almost exclusively (as is the case in many parts of the world) responsible for tending to the home, cleaning, cooking, thus the responsiblilty of collecting water rests on them.

One of the women I met spends 2-3 hours a day collecting water. She has to walk a kilometer each way, to collect water for cleaning. Then she has to walk another km the other direction for drinking water. The place alloted for women in her community to bathe is 1km away, at the place where she collects water for cleaning, and consists of a 1 meter high wall, enclosed on 3.5 sides, with a drain in one corner to let the used water out into the open sewers. To use the bathroom, she and her family have to walk 3km from their home, over a hill, to an open field. Certainly there is the issues of having to walk over a mile to use the bathroom- couple this with the issues of snakes, the Jain community sometimes preventing the people from a lower caste to accessing the area for restroom use, and poor road conditions when it rains, and releiving yourself becomes a challenge. While there are certain things that culturally are different in terms of daily practice, people do not want to live this way and are looking for ways to improve their living conditions. That is one thing Seva Mandir is working towards- getting proper drainage in the communities, putting toilets in peoples homes, and engaging people in community affairs to create change themselves. I am really enjoying the work I am doing here in India, and I am excited about the next month I have here.

On to other interesting things...On friday, 3 friends and I hopped onto a sleeper bus and made it out to Jaisalmer- a desert town in the western part of Rajasthan, about 100km from Pakistan. Well, I know I just spoke about the discomforts of village life here, but riding on a bus, with no suspention for 13 hours on poorly paved roads that follow the curvature of the hilly landscape leaves sometime to be desired (also note that we were going to a place only 545 km away and it took 13 hours). As Jaisalmer is near a desert, naturally we trekked on camels for most of our time there. We went through sanddunes and scrub, and camped out under the stars. The next day we went through some rural villages, and were accosted by children asking for school pens and rupees (pens here aren't great, and many children ask foreigners for them). We also watched women collect well water (this time only 1/2 km away from their homes). The women wouldn't let us take pictures of them unless we paid them, so we sat and watched them throw old plastic containers with their tops cut off and long ropes tied to them into the well and pull it up to fill their matkas (water container that holds about 15~20 liters of water). Then they would balance the matkas on their heads, sometimes one large one and one small one, and water back to the village.

I decided to come back to Udaipur last night, and took another 13 hr, 40 minute bus ride back (and that was a direct one!) I am really into the work I am doing here, and want to be as productive as possible in the short time I have with Seva Mandir.

I hope all is well with everyone, and that your summers are great!

Urban Cowgirl Jen's First Attempt at "blogging"

After many requests (well...I'll be honest, one inquiry) and some desire on my part to attempt "blogging" (I am not even sure what it is), I figured out how to set up an account (one can do anything with a gmail account), and will attempt to keep this site updated with my thoughts on the time I am spending in Udaipur and Delwara, India, the conditions that exist here, the challenges a foreigner faces working abroad of his/her home country, and some funny comedic cultural clashes that make me stop and laugh to myself. I hope you enjoy, and feel provoked to respond to many of the things I have to say.