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Travelblog: Once in a lifetime voyage to the heart of India.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Venting and update

This entry is going to be more candid then I would like, but guess you all should hear about the frustrations that come with living in India--rural or urban.

Internet hasn’t been working at SEARCH for the last 10 days (hence, no postings), so we are in Gadchiroli, the town 20 minutes away, at the only Internet café around. The SEARCH bus drops us off on Sunday’s at 2 and we have till 6 pm. We’ve been here since about 2:15. During this time, the power has gone out, the Internet has disconnected at least 3 times, my flash drive is not being read as there is no driver installed, and my computer has frozen twice. It does remind me of how good we have it at SEARCH. We're lucky enough to have a generator system installed so we don’t have to suffer through the power shortages that occur numerous times a day. I normally write all the emails on my laptop beforehand, and then just post them. I'm unable to post the emails I have on my flashdrive today, which is the source of my frustration (part of it). So here I am writing, hoping the power does not go out before I post.

So a quick update of the last 10 days. Except for the small setbacks, which are expected in India (power issues, and Internet problems), things are great. I’ve adjusted to the “chill” lifestyle, have figured out how to manage the language issues a bit better, and we’ve made lots of progress on the study. We got approval from Dr. Bang this week, finished piloting, made all the revision, completed the protocol and are ready to start. If all goes well, and the rain lets up a bit, we’ll start tomorrow.

Highs and lows:

Playing in the rain and having chai afterwards on the porch with everyone in the village. I love porch culture. It rained five days ago and the temperature has cooled nearly 20/30 degrees. yay! Now we have to deal with some new friends—misquotes, snakes, and scorpions.

-No Internet. Total BK
-I was warned that along with the first rains come scorpions and snakes. I’ ve only had an encounter with one scorpion, but the little champ has instilled enough paranoia in me to ruin every night of sleep since our meeting.

I had pictures to post today, but guess you all will just have to wait. I have to go, the bus is going to leave soon.

Avni--No; promise I'll write a more personal note soon.
Mike- Happy belated birthday old man.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Getting old?

Does the passing of time result in a loss of enthusiasm?

My excitement for meeting new people hasn’t faded, but my drive to learn a common form of communication—language—has nearly disappeared. Marathi is similar to Hindi and Gujarati I reassure myself, it will come in no time. I’ve been here a week and the only words I’ve bothered to commit to memory are ikda (here), tikda (there), mulga (boy), and mulgee (girl)…pathetic, isn’t it?

My first visit to the field was this Monday. On this particular visit I was to learn how the SEARCH health system works. Dr. Bathile, my tour guide who also doubled over as my translator and driver (on a two-wheeler) accompanied me to the field. We conversed with the health worker for some time. She showed us the tool kit, and the education material she uses. Then Dr. Bathile sent us on our way to a post partum check-up ALONE—just me and the village health worker. Up to this point Dr. Bathile translated everything that was being said, but now I was on my own. What, was I supported to be fluent in Marathi after just 45 short minutes? He didn’t seem to care. As we made our way to the house, we attempted to talk. She was telling me all sorts of things in beautiful Marathi. Her sheer speed alone, however, ensured that every word fell just below my compression level. I smiled and gave the Indian side nod. I even responded with questions and comments in Hindi. We went back and forth—Hindi, Marathi, Hindi, Marathi—the entire way. We continued in this manner for the two hours I spent with her. Immediately before leaving after I finished saying something or the other in Hindi, she proceeded to tell me she didn’t understand Hindi (that part I understood). She could have been referring to MY Hindi, but since my Marathi compression or the lack of it didn’t allow me to detect the difference, let us pretend she meant Hindi in general. I had no choice but to laugh. Her acting was even better than mine, I had not idea she understood 0% of what I said.

Before this field visit, I had been told that most people do not speak Hindi, but understand some. Obviously, this is not the case. Flashcards used to be my best friends. In Guatemala, I looked forward to the hours spent at my favorite coffee shop making and reviewing flashcards. The number of hours I spend looking at flashcards in a very condensed time period probably explains why I now abhor them. Languages have always intrigued me and the process of learning a new one has brought a sense of excitement and accomplishment. I’m in Shodhgam, a place everyone speaks Marathi and some understand a bit of Hindi. In the field (the surrounding villages), however, no one speaks or really understands Hindi. If there was ever a situation where I needed to learn at least the basics of the language, this would be it. But I don’t really care to make the effort, especially since I’ll never use Marathi again in life. Is that horrible?

I have to learn some basic Marathi if I don’t want a repeat of Monday’s scenario and if I want to move past discussing weather, directions and food with the people at Shodhgram. My Marathi compression, Hindi skills coupled with their Hindi compression often makes for very confusing conversations. When we are able to understand each other—miraculously—the conversations are limited to the three topics—weather, food and directions. I wake up every morning wishing I could transform myself into a toddler. How kind and forgiving adults are with the young. They will repeat words over and over again so the toddler can learn just one new word. I envy the special treatment the little critters receive. Unfortunately, once you grow beyond 3 feet, there is no hope of finding such compassion. Since adults aren’t willing humor me with repetition and I’m over flashcards, I decided to try the next best thing—a tape recorder. Now I just have to find the motivation… And hopefully, the enthusiasm will magically appear.

The loss of enthusiasm probably has nothing to do with age, but I needed to blame something or someone and the parents didn’t qualify this time.

Seems (CA)…your words have been ringing in my ears every since you said them. Thanks for the reminder—I am and it is. J

Monday, June 13, 2005

I'm a genius...

The saying "hot as hell" has a whole new meaning to me now. The average temperature out here is 115 degrees with 60-70% humidity. It's too hot to eat, talk, walk, read, work and even sleep. The rains were to due about a week ago, but everyone predicts we still have a good week. I'm a genius for choosing the hottest place on earth located in the middle of no where. Speaking of...

SEARCH, or Shodhgram as they call it here is completely differently than I expected. What Dr. Abhay and Dr. Rani Bang have created is phenomenal. Shodhgram means SEARCH village and it is just that, a little gam (village). It is 13 acres consisting of a 40-bed hospital, residential living areas for the staff, guess quarters, accommodations for relatives of the sick, a prayer hall, dining hall, agricultural land, library and administrative buildings. My room is modest, but very comfortable. I have a fan, surprisingly a cooler (praise the lord), a desk, a dresser and bathroom with a flushing toilet. I have no shower; I will be talking bucket baths during my time here. Oh! I have a phone so feel free to surprise me ;). Shodhgram is 20 kilometers outside of the nearest city, Gadchiroli. This place is REMOTE. Driving here, I felt like Sharuk Khan in Swadesh; the scene where he is with the hitchhiker and they are driving through the countryside. The people here are really sweet. I’m sure they would seem even sweeter if communication wasn’t such an obstacle. Everyone here understands Hindi, but the language of choice is Marathi. Often I find myself listening attempting to catch a word here or there. Marathi, to my surprise, is very different than Hindi and Gujarati. My learning curve is going to be a lot steeper than I anticipated. I just picked up a Marathi children’s book cause my broken Hindi is not getting me very far. This place feels like an ashram, it is so peaceful. There are lots of trees, and I wake up to sound of chirping birds. We have community clean up twice a week at 6:15 am and community prayer at 7 pm every evening followed by an information session on a health topic (in Marathi of course). I was delighted to learn we have plenty of water, the phones work and they some how have managed to get Internet out here. Driving here, I imagined living for the next 10 weeks without all these amenities. I’m happy to learn the only amenity I will have to live without is a radio and a television. (I have yet to see a T.V.).

Although today is Saturday and the day is half over, I feel like I’ve done so much. I started my day with community clean up at 6:15 and ended my morning with a meeting. I met with Dr. Bang and Dr. Reddy regarding my study. I’m still in shock that I get to work with this visionary. I have to seriously pinch myself after every conversation I have with Dr. Bang. The meeting with Dr. Bang was fruitful, but overwhelming. I feel like vomiting. Don’t know if it the heat or just the thought of working on this protocol and questionnaire for the 60 millionth time. I really thought my we had addressed any possible questions/problem that could arise. Wrong! Dr. Bang was asking me questions neither one of us had answers to, but that need to be answered before fieldwork can begin. For the next week I’ll be making field visits and doing revisions, yet again.

My number: 957138-255-457

Jesus Christo

As I approached my 15B, my assigned seat for the second leg of my India journey, my heart skipped a beat I closed my eyes for a second and wished to god I would not end up next to a wailing child. I opened my eyes and saw an Indian man resembling a car salesman in his plaid jacket smiling up at me. The man’s name I soon learned was Sam Prashant. Sam was a gold medalist in badminton, a software engineer, an x-policeman, snorer, a social worker, and a proud father. From his random outburst during our seven hour journey from Seoul to Mumbai I gather Sam is also a believer. Even with the volume to disc man turned up I could hear his conversations with the Lord Almighty. Every so often I would catch, “Jesus is the same today as yesterday”, “Jesus you are great”, “Thank you Jesus”, or simply an “.Okay, Jesus”. I only smirked and continued listening to my music. God bless Sam for making the 7 hours amusing. Sam was my high and low (he snored like no other) of the journey. :)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


It is 3:02 am on June 8th, 2005. I just finished packing in true Gargi style . In 12 short hours my Korean Air 747 will be on it's way to Soeul. Yeeks! Considering, I've had three extra weeks at home (due to change in events), I should be better prepared, right? All the extra time, however, has left me in vacation mode and much more apphrensive about this trip. To ease my nerves, I took comfort in the words of a wise friend (thank you Pinki for your fun India stories) one of my favorite books--Dr. Suess book, OH, The Place You'll Go! It calmed my nerves and it reminded me why I'm addicted to this trips that force to leave behind all that is familiar. It is only when I leave my comfort zone, that I come back with unbelievable new expriences and much more comfortable in my own skin. Although, I am still breaking a sweat at the thought of the next few weeks, I'm excited for the unknown that lies ahead.

I hope you walk with me as I discover Marathi, rediscover my Hindi, live the simple life, suffer in the heat, and learn about the challenges of rural health...and much more I'm sure.

As Dr. Suess would say...

I'm off to Great Places!
Today is the day!
My airplane is waiting.
So...I'm on my way!


My final destination this time around is Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. This district is located the eastern most part of Maharashtra 200 kilometers outside of Nagpur. I will be working with Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health, a local NGO, for the next 9/10 weeks. SEARCH was established in the Gadchiroli district in 1986 and has been present in the region ever since. The district of Gadchiroli selected because of its poor demographics and the lack of basic health care. The mission of SEARCH is threefold: 1.) Providing health care to local populations 2.) Training and education in health 3.) Research to shape health policies.

The purpose of this trip is to document the prevalence of 'eating down' in pregnant women in Gadacharoli, Maharashtra. The long-term goal is to use this data to develop effective health education interventions in the arean (the current educational interventions are not working). Eating down is the voluntary behavior of eating less during pregnancy to gain less weight. It is believed that if the woman gains less weight, the fetus will be smaller and labor will be less difficult. This phenomenon is a commonly held belief among the poor people of India and focus group discussions have revealed it to exist in the district of Gadchiroli. The long-term consequences of lower food intake and other nutritional taboos during pregnancy can result in low weight gain. Low, inadequate intake can lead to malnutrition, which can result in low birth weight babies, and even maternal and infant death. In places where maternal and infant mortality are already high, health care services are inaccessible or nonexistent, and food scarcity is experienced for 3 out 12 months, the ramifications are enormous.