A candid description of my trip from NYC to rural India and finally to U. of Michigan, Ross School of Business. Go Blue!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

peacock earrings

peacock earrings
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
Namrata and I are selling jewelry and handicrafts that she orders from vendors all over India! Please have a look at the pictures and let me know if you'd like to order anything. Just click on this picture and then it will bring you to flickr. Once there click on the right side section where it says "Jewelry (Set)". From there click the slideshow option to view what is available. If you like the picture of something click on it to get the details (price, description). I will bring back as much as I can carry back in August to avoid shipping costs. Everything except the costume jewelry is real silver at excellent prices (Namrata inspects and buys everything, which is much cheaper than the prices I would get as a tourist at the street shops). The bags and tapestries are hand embroidered and the scarves are 100% silk from Varanasi, India. Email me with your requests!


Saturday, June 24, 2006

First week at PEDO

I have just finished my first week at PEDO, People's Education and Development Organization, and am back in Udaipur for the weekend. I totally needed to come back and the bus ride was actually quite pleasant. It was a rough but rewarding week out in the country! First, there are def. more hours of no electricity than hours where there is electricity. The power goes off around 10:30 in the morning and doesn't return until 6 pm sometimes. Then it also goes off periodically throughout the night- which is a bit scary since I live in my own area above the house. Dungarpur is much hotter than Udaipur, so I am sweating like crazy 24/7. I eat mostly rice, bread and curd to avoid anymore allergic reactions and also my family is Vegetarian. I was dreaming of chicken all week so coming back to Udaipur where there is electricity, working air coolers and chicken has been wonderful! I can't describe what I would do for a nice steak right now. To my friends in NYC, please someone make a reservation at BLT or Dylan Prime for Friday, August 18th!!!!

As for work, it's beginning to get very interesting. PEDO is an amazing organization. It was started by my boss back in 1980. He picked out some land, asked a local village leader for permission to build on it, and then he and my host mom began building the campus brick by brick with their own hands! To win the trust and respect of the people in the villages, they began running unofficial schools for the children. From there they branched into medical treatment services, land flattening and irrigation, microfinance for the women, and various other initiatives. Dungarpur means Land of Hills, and the name says it all. Each family builds a house on a seperate hill, so the area is vast and communication between the villagers is difficult. PEDO has very much brought the people together. There are even employees of the United Nations Development Program who work out of the PEDO offices because the organization is so well respected and trusted in the area.

At the beginning of the week I spent most of my time reading about the organization and their microcredit program. My boss wanted me to have a solid understanding of how it is structured. Basically there are around 7 or 8 Field Centers all across Dungarpur that roll up into the headquarters where I work. From there there are hundreds of groups with thousands of women members who roll up into each Field Center. It's extremeley efficient and impressive. Most of the groups are entirely self-sustaining and managed by the members themselves. Baby (my host sister) told me that a famous Indian director came to PEDO to make a documentary about the program a couple of years ago. It's called "Climb Every Moutain" and she is still trying to find the English copy so that I can see it.

The other night I watched a video of a huge rally that PEDO organized back in March. 7,000 women from the villages met in Dungarpur City to attend the event. It was also sponosred by Bank Borodo and there was an official ceremony where Bank representatives gave out loan checks to some of the women to signify how the poor are finally getting the same access to credit as the rest of the world.

On Wednesday I sat in on some training for the heads of the Field Centers. They had gathered at PEDO to learn some new software that will help them track the lending process via computer rather then notebook. It was quite exciting because after the training they each got their very first computers!

In terms of my project work, I have 2 assignments right now. The first is to interview 14 women from 7 different field centers and write Case Studies covering how the microlending has improved their livelihood. I will then gather all the studies together into one large book that can be used in future grant proposals and promotional materials. So on Friday I went on my first trip out to "the field" to interview 2 women. Baby and her very cool sister-in-law, Shweta, came with me. It was quite an experience and it was interesting to see how far these women have come yet they are still below the poverty line, which is 5000 rupees a year or $112. The second woman I interviewed actually used her loans to build a small grocery store. Before joining a PEDO group, her husband had to migrate for 5 months out of the year to a neighboring state where he was used as a cheap labor source in the factories. Now the profits from their farm and grocery store are enough to sustain them and she plans to expand over the next few years! On the way back I asked Baby if the women's children have a chance at a different life or if they'll be pulled out of school as teenagers in order to work just like their parents and the generations before them did. Baby said absolutely the children, at least the boys, will have access to full education given their own willingness to learn and hard work. Very cool!

I am running out of time at the internet cafe but there is so much more to tell. I will post again tomorrow but in the meantime please leave comments, and someone please work on that steak dinner in August!

Me at Monsoon Palace

Me at Monsoon Palace
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
Here's a few more pictures. It takes a while to upload them all but I'll get them up eventually. Enjoy for now. Cheers

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Picture Time

Qutb Minar8
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
Me looking uber toursity in Qutb Minar. This is everything I have managed to upload so far. Click on this first picture and hopefully it should bring you to my Flickr account where the rest of the pics are kept. It's only Delhi and Agra, so stay tuned for more pics from Udaipur.

Welcome to Dungarpur

Rajul and Payul (the internship coordinators) dropped me off at Pedo (my organization) yesterday. Dungarpur is a little over a 2 hour drive from Udaipur and the actual Pedo campus is located about 1/2 hour away from the city of Dungarpur. At first I was in an extreme state of shock (as well as very tired and sweaty) as this is the real deal... a true Indian experience. My boss and host father is the founder of the organization and he was very soft spoken at first which made me nervous. However, he introduced me to his daughter and things got immediately better. She is 23 and just finished her MBA at a school in northern Rajasthan. She is very smart, nice and speaks fluent English! My host mother was away working in the field all day but she returned in the evening and is also very warm and kind. I live in a seperate area above the family's house. There is a large terrace (apparently where we'll sleep when the electricity goes out at night), a small common area, my bedroom, another guestroom and then a bathroom. There is no shower so I'm bathing with buckets! I also have a dedicated servant boy, which is a little weird but he's very nice. It is extremeley hot and pretty humid here given we are pre-monsoon. Luckily, my host mom put an air cooler in my room. However, the electricity goes out due to old power grids for several hours a day as opposed to just 2 hours a day in Udaipur!

Perhaps the best thing about Dungarpur is the lack of mosquitos. They have some plant here called Neem which is actually used to make malaria medication and it seems to ward off all the mosquitos.

My commute to work is exactly 1 minute long, as I need only take a few steps from the house and I am at the office building! I am sharing an office with the daughter, who everbody calls Baby as she is the youngest of 3 children. There is internet so hopefully I can update my blog often. My host father/boss is a very impressive man. Everybody in Udaipur knows of Pedo and he started the whole thing from scratch in 1980. My host mom said she even built the first building with her own hands. There are pictures on the walls of my boss receiving awards over the years from a few different Indian Prime Ministers. He has been invited to Washington DC and Sweden among other places for all the work he has done. He even eradicated guinea worm from this area, which infects the water supply and causes painful disease in its carriers.

On the weekends, someone will drive me into Dugarpur proper and then I'll take the 2 hour highly uncomfortable bus ride back to Udaipur. Namrata, one of the program coordinators and the designated mom of the group, decided to move me to a weekend host family closer to her since I had so many sickness problems last week. So now I can see her house from mine which is nice because her house and family are great and so much fun. Namrata has been wonderful to me. Yesterday she took me to a trustworthy doctor so that I could get the name and dosage (they don't use prescriptions here) of some more allergy medication before leaving town. Then we spent an hour going from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to find said medication. I felt like a druggie out to score some smack. But eventually we got what I needed....when I use it I have to inject it using syringes like diabetes patients do with insulin!

My weekend family is truly an interesting bunch. Another intern, Shevani, is living with them full time. We get along very well and it's always an advantage to be around Shevani because she is the only intern actually from India and is an excellent translator. The family consists of a husband, wife, grandmother, a son in college and another in highschool. When we enter the house, it is customary that we get down on our knees to greet the grandmother and simulate kissing her feet. She is actually only a few years older than my mother, which makes me realize I probably should be a lot more respectful toward her when I get back to Jersey. The kissing feet thing is def. out though!

The first night at the weekend house I felt like Shevani was the prodigal daughter and I was her "special but slow" sister. Everybody was speaking in Hindi and I was completely lost. However, it didn't take too long for the questions to begin. The father asked all sorts of random stuff like how much money I made at my job and how much Shevani weighs. I answered; she refused! The next day Namrata told me that the family is so impressed with me. They seem to think I am picking up Hindi extremely quickly and are impressed by how well I have done considering my father died when I was still a child. They said I make much more in a year than an entire middle class Indian family. And to think I left all that behind to live in the middle of nowhere and bathe with buckets! :)

I don't know about picking up Hindi quickly, but I am trying my best. Both of my host moms want to learn English so we teach eachother. As for my work, I hope that I can contribute something to this great organization, but am totally fine with just being here and learning. Baby told me that plenty of visitors come through. In 2 days her brother's wife is coming back to live here after a year or so in Russia. I guess I'll have soemone else to struggle in the heat with. Her husband will also return in July, and I think a Dutch girl is also coming around then to volunteer. Finally, my host father said a good friend of his is coming to visit who is a political science professor at Duke. I look forward to some good ACC basketball talk, but will probably avoid the whole lacrosse thing. That's all for now. I'll post again when I have more to tell about my work.

Keep the comments coming...makes me feel loved. Namaste!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Cashew Cometh!

Well the second hindi word I learned after mungfali (peanut) is masala, which means spicy. This particularly pertains to the Chicken Masala I had for lunch the other day. Apparently Indians use cashew nuts to thicken the masala sauce, which I learned shortly after finishing lunch when I upchucked on the sidewalk in front of 10 other interns and a couple of rickshaw drivers! From there I had to be taken back to the hotel where I stabbed myself with an EpiPen. Once that took effect I felt much better. But shortly thereafter, a case of Delhi Belly set in which still hasn't left me. As you can see, it hasn't been all fun and games so far. A couple of other people in the group have felt sick but so far I am the weakest link! Each day I get better and we are busy all the time so that keeps my mind off of the illness.

There are 11 interns total and everyone is great. 4 of us are older and seven are college students. They are all so wise, mature and nice. I am so impressed by each of them. My roommate is Krisitn, a grad student in International Development at American University. Her blog and some others are linked to the right.

Everday for the last week we have Hindi lessons from 10 until 1 pm. After that we break for 2 hours which is usually time to run errands. Over the last few days I've gotten a cell phone and picked out my clothes to be made. For $28 I am getting 3 pants, 4 suit shirts and 2 scarves tailor made!

The late afternoons are spent with our Program Coordinators: Payal, Namrata and Rajul. Usually we have a speaker from one of the non-profits come. Today we are going to watch a Bollywood movie and then head to the light show at the City Palace this evening. We've also been exploring a lot of the Old City, where our hotel is. The Old City is full of winding alleyway-like streets with shops of every kind. Rickshaws and motor bikes honk their way past pedestrians, cows, stray dogs and even the occasional elephant. The interns still tease me because apparently we passed an elephant in the road the first night here and I didn't even notice!

There aren't too many tourists here right now, but in a week the rains come and then as one shopkeeper told me, "on July 15 the Spaniards come!" Apparently that's when the fun begins. The people are all very friendly. Children shout hello and everyone will try to speak with you in English. By far the most beautiful part about Udaipur is the sunset. Yesterday we took rickshaws up to Monsoon Palace, an abandoned palace on top of a mountain, and watched the sunset. It was quite a climb up and one or 2 of the rickshaws couldn't make it! Some of the interns even got out and helped push with the driver.

There are lots of NGOs(non-government organizations) here...an entire street is called NGO row. All of the interns but 2 of us will be in Udaipur. Myself and the other guy will be about 3 hours away, but in opposite directions. On the weekeds we will both stay with the same family in the city. However, it is a 6-day work week here so while you all are relaxing each Saturday, I'll be grinding away!
Tomorrow our stay at our beautiful hotel ends and we will meet our host families (for me I will meet my weekend family). Then on Monday Payal and I will drive out to Dungarpur to drop me off at my site. I am very much looking forward to working with PEDO. I've been reading some material on them and they sound like an impressive organization. I think they've been implementing microcredit iniatives since the late 80's and the founder has received training at Grameen Bank, the most successful Microfinance Institution.

That's all for now. I promise to figure out the best way to start posting pictures soon. Also, PLEASE leave comments/questions/whatever. If you are in NJ, there is an article coming out about me in the Daily Record this Sunday I believe, so keep and eye out for it!


Saturday, June 10, 2006

Udaipur at last!

I have finally reached beautiful Udaipur, the city closest to where I'll be working. I'll be here for a week of training/hindi lesson. To recap this last week of traveling:
Thursday I toured Old Delhi, visiting the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, a famous mosque. In between the 2 sights I had a very scary bicycle rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk. It's a bunch of alleyways full of bustling commerce (food stands, people hanging around, etc) and I probably would have enjoyed it more had someone explained to me first that it was part of the tour. Neither my driver nor the rickshaw driver did this, and so for a while there I was very confused and nervous about the whole activity! But the ride was legit and in the end it turned out to be a good day touring.

On Friday I arranged for a driver to take me to
Akshardom, a new temple just outside the city. It's so new that it's not in the guidebooks yet, so I was the only non-Indian there. However, no cameras are allowed in the temple so it wasn't a repeat of kids running up to me for photographs like I'm Donald Duck at Disney World. The temple was absolutely beautiful and although finished just last year, it is built with interlocking pieces instead of steel, like the temples were built before modern times. From there I toured the rest of New Delhi, including an interactive Gandhi museum that is best left for the children (the best part about it was the AC...not to diss Gandhi), Lotus temple which is beautiful and Qutb Minar- my personal favorite. Qutb Minar is a huge tower that was originally built as a sundial in the 12th century. There's also a few other historical ruins on site that were built and then subsequently torn down by the various ruling parties of Delhi over time.

On Saturday I met up with another intern, Jonathan, and we took my driver out to the Taj Mahal in Agra. It was wonderful! The town of Agra is more congested with traffic than even Delhi if that's possible. Then our driver dropped us off in Mathura, which is a stop on the overnight train from Delhi to Udaipur. The wait for the train was probably the worst experience I"ve had so far. He dropped us off 5 hours early and the station was extremely sketchy. We were the only tourists and people stared at me like it was their job. Thank goodness Jonathan was there as I couldn't have handled it alone. About 2 hours before the train came, the power went out. So there we are huddled together with our backpacks, exhausted and dirty waiting in the dark. However, the beauty of India is that you never know who you'll meet. Some boys on their way to some training for their school, IIT, started talkign with us and the next thing you know we are surrounded by young guys wanting to talk to us (well, mostly jonathan). IF we ever get back to Mathura we'll have plenty of places to stay! the overnight train was quite nice actually and we arrived to our pretty nice hotel in Udaipur early Sunday morning. Udaipur is great and so are the other interns and FSD workers. I'll update more on that later. Please keep reading and please post comments with questions or anything else!

Monday, June 05, 2006

It is a small small world

So I'm walking through a park called Raj Ghat and about to enter the area where Gandhi wasa creamated when I look over and who do I see but a future Michigan Classmate! My friend Ojas, who is famous for tearing up the dancefloor in his "I heart NY" t-shirt at Rick's in Ann Arbor, happened to be in Delhi for the day with family! Although he was flying out tonight, it was so great to see a friendly face and chat for a little while.
Just a recount of my trip so far- I spent most of yesterday sleeping and then met another one of the interns for some shopping/haggling at the local market. Today I toured Old Delhi, tomorrow I will tour New Delhi and then saturday I head to Agra before catching the overnight train to my internship in Udaipur. Delhi has been an interesting experience. The driving is absolutely crazy but the people are very friendly. As a female solo traveler I am heckled everywhere all the time, so going out past nightfall is not an option. Even on the tour today, kids would beg to take pictures with me, like I was a celebrity! It's a good thing they didn't know my name- Jennifer Anderson, often confused in foreign countries with Jennifer Aniston.
I've definitely had my fill of the busy city life and am ready to move on to beautiful Rajasthan. Below are some pictures of the goodbye happy hour. Apologies for not posting them sooner, the pre-trip preparations got a bit hectic.

Keep reading!