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

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Study Part III: Be careful what you wish for.

This past Tuesday we had our 76th interview, the last one in the intervention villages. If we were sticking to the plan B it would mean we were totally done with the one-on-one interviews, and all the data (two more focus groups to do) would be collected by the end of the week. We are now on plan C, which has ANOTHER added component thanks to my big mouth.

Last Saturday, after morning community service, Dr. Bang stopped me for an update. When he asked me how things were going, I told him field work was going extremely well, right on schedule. “I’m waiting for some disruption like a heavy down pour for five days”, I joked. I went on to give him a brief summary of the findings based on which he “suggested” we modify the study to include the control area and terminate the intervention area study early as we have a large enough sample size. He thought it would be interesting to compare the intervention area findings with the control area. Indeed, this would be very interesting, but traveling to the control villages in a nightmare. Average travel time to a control area village is 90 minutes in one direction. And that would be on a motorcycle. Traveling the countryside of India on a motorcycle daily has been awesome, despite the bad hair days that result, but three hours is bit much. The last time we went out to the control area we got caught in a terrible down pour that felt more like hail. It left us drenched, and unable to see straight for days.

The number of interview we have to conduct is much smaller, 25-30, but their hard agriculture season has started, so tracking down women is going to be even harder. We could be done by the end of next week if things go according to plan.

We started data collection from the control area this week and the days have been super long. I’m just grateful I have good company.

There is now also a part IV also now..:), but I'll update you on that another day. I need to just stop talking to Dr. Reddy and Dr. Bang.

My big earrings

I wrote this entry weeks ago, but never posted it. I have modified and updated it in response to Raj’s request for an update on my language issue.

Three weeks ago, Vamil tai, the campus cook, grabbed my face after lunch and proceeds to say something. I gave her the same response I had been giving her day after day—“My face is the same size as the day I arrived, and I’m eating plenty. Don’t worry!” That would have been a great response if she was trying to tell me my face was shrinking, and I needed to eat more as I presumed. On this particular day, however, she had a different qualm. I came to find out with the help of Hemant Kaka who couldn’t stop laughing, that she was telling me she doesn’t like my earrings. She thought they were too big and wants me to wear smaller ones like the ones she has on. She must have really hated them, because she tried to make the point at least three times (I used to wear the same big hoops daily) and every day I thought she was commenting on my food intake, which she does quite frequently as well.

Vimal tai is this feisty, spunky little Marathi woman. Despite the fact that she doesn’t speak much Hindi and I don’t speak Marathi, we have many verbal exchanges. This incident left me wondering for weeks what exactly was being said during our interactions.

A few weeks after this incident we had we had some visitors from Hyderabad staying here for a week. Hyderabad is in the state of Andhra Pradesh, so the two gentlemen spoke only English and Hindi. They tried to ask Vimil Tai something related to the kitchen accounting in Hindi and were unable to get a satisfactory response. They were about to stop trying just as I walked in to get some water. They stopped me and requested I attempt to ask her since it appeared I had no trouble communicating with her. What the? Can you imagine my surprise? I asked her the question in Hindi, and was actually able to get an answer, and understand it.

I gage my progress in Marathi compression based on communication with Vimil tai, as she is one of the hardest persons for me to communicate with at Shodhgram. The length of our conversation has increased and we haven’t had any major blunders to report. In the field, Sanjay translates for me when I want to talk to anyone who doesn’t speak Hindi. With the interviews, Sanjay now only translates responses/answers when I ask. I have a long way to go, but I think that is progress.

Oh! I now wear smaller earring to appease the women who feeds my belly.

Tai—in Marathi means older sister
Kaka - Uncle

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Pictures: Women of rural India

Pictures: The Men of Gadchiroli

Pictures: The Gadchiroli region

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The first week of data collection

We finally started data collection on Thursday using a questionnaire completely different from my original. We need a sample size of 95-100 women and with each survey taking 40 minutes we could easily conduct 10 a day. The only problem is finding women to interview. The whole region is in the mist of harvest season, and every able-bodied person is out in the field for the next 8 days. Then they have a break for 15 days, which is followed by four weeks of their heaviest agriculture work. Our target is conducting five surveys a day, so we can finish just as they are ready to head back to their fields, but finding five women at home has been extremely challenging.

We have been spending 6-7 hours in the field. Most of our time is spent searching for these women, but even that is fun (at least for now). Once we find a pregnant woman, getting her alone is another story. It’s nearly impossible. Within minutes of our arrival the whole village is there. It amazing how fast word of mouth can spread. Someone should do a study on that. Women, normally busy fetching water, cooking, or washing clothes, all of a sudden have nothing but time. They often bring the children, and the mother-in-laws. Every question asked, directed only at the pregnant woman being interviewed, gets multiple responses. These women are so entertaining, especially the mother-in-laws—so verbal and expressive. I have to stop and remind myself that this is not a focus group discussion. We’ve been experimenting with ways to get the woman alone. We’re even gone as far as going out into the rice paddies to conduct the interview. Even that doesn’t work for long. Less than half way through, the husband or the mother-in-law will inevitably come by. Usually, I have to be the mean one and tell them to leave. Sanjay, my translator, has a really hard time telling them to go.

The Study Part II: Life in Gadchiroli, and food beliefs during pregnancy.

I’ll keep this to the basics because the details of the study—as fascinating as they are to me—will bore most of you to tears.

Most families own a plot of land, some buffalo, and hens. The land is used for harvesting rice, the buffalo as the labor to work the land, and the hens for eggs. They keep a years supply of rice for the family and what is leftover is sold. Income from surplus rice and from firewood collected from the nearby forest is their only source of income. The reality is that most families only make enough to break even. Needless to say, their staple is rice. Their diets consist of rice and some type of vegetable dish. Mutton, eggs, and fish are eaten a few times a week. The society is patriarchal, and nuclear families are rare.

In addition to economic constraints, and food distribution, there are many food taboos and cultural beliefs surrounding pregnancy that compromise a woman’s nutritional status during this critical time. To reduce the risk of a difficult delivery, they preferred a small-sized baby. Bigger babies, like bigger (fatter) people, are thought to have less energy. The logic is that a bigger baby is lazier, so the baby will not want to come out and when it finally does, it will make for a more difficult delivery. The have a reason for everything they believe, it’s so fascinating. To have a less difficult delivery, pregnant women, either voluntarily or under pressure reduce their food intake during the later half of pregnancy. They also avoid taking all the iron, folic acid and calcium pills they are given during pregnancy. Additionally, they also have different qualities attributed to food items—hot, cold, and windy. The foods categorized as ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ in this region are based on the effect they have on the body. During the early part of pregnancy one is to avoid ‘cold’ foods, while ‘hot’ foods are avoided during the second half. These traditional beliefs prevent women from eating as many as 49 different food items. For example, eggs, mutton, fish, papaya, and potatoes are all hot while bananas are cold. The practices following delivery are even more interesting, but we’ll save that for another time.

The study questionnaire is to capture all these factors. The extra three weeks were so necessary for understanding life here. I really had no idea. Based on results from the pilot process, we decided to expand the study topic to ‘overall food consumption habit of pregnancy women in SEARCH’s intervention villages’. The prevalence of eating down is now just one component rather than the main focus.

My day in a tribal village

We drove 45 kilometers into the jungle until we reached a small tribal village. When I say small, I mean tiny as in 10-20 homes. The village could not have been in a more picturesque and serene location. It was surrounded by rice paddy fields, jungle and mountains.

I unexpectedly had a light day of work, and there happened to be a SEARCH team going into the tribal area. I tagged along hoping to be able to walk around and observe. I had no clue where we were going and what the schedule would entail. You can only imagine my delight at having the good fortune of joining on a rare day when the team treks out to such a remote, beautiful place. Going to the field is always a joy, but going into a far off tribal area in the jungle where SEARCH is just beginning work is a special treat.

The aborigines make up 42% of the Gadchiroli region. Most of the aborigines inhabit the remote jungles of the area and have remained fairly isolated until recently when roads were build all over the district for their benefit. This isolation has ensured an untouched gene pool, which is reflected in their appearance as well as their language. Most of the tribal speak Gond, a very soft, poetic language like nothing I’ve ever heard. They are also different in appearance from any Indian I’ve seen. Strangely, their look is distinctly African. The majority have very high cheekbones, dark skin, curly hair and flat noses. Their features are striking. The girls are so beautiful.

I imagine they live as their ancestors did. Many of the tribes don’t use any form of paper currency, and the food they eat is acquired from their backyard or the nearby jungle. Surprisingly, a few homes now have television sets, and most villages have one home with a DVD player. This is a recent development—in the last year. Now with the new roads, they can find their way to Gadchiroli (main town) for such purchases. This also attests to state government’s diligence in getting electricity to even the most remote places. Most of the aborigines (in the remote areas) are unable to afford electricity, but at least it is an option.

For most of the day, I participated in the children’s workshop we were there to conduct. The kids were so precious. I wish you all could hear these little kids sing. Their tone was so melodic and they had so much soul—it was mesmerizing. SEARCH was also conducting some informal interviews on food beliefs of women during pregnancy and views on sex discrimination. Unlike the non-tribal area, engaging the women in conversation was effortless. These women were so forthcoming, carefree and fun. The difference in behavior is striking.

The survey so far has revealed that most tribals want not one but two boys, one as back-up. (The maternal mortality and infant mortality is extremely high. How high exactly is not known. In the village we visited and the two subsets, population around 500, they had 9 maternal deaths in the last year.) They want one daughter so she can fetch the water. Boys are valued more in the tribal culture because they are able to work in the fields (women work in the fields an equal amount…Don’t even get me started!), they can hunt, and carry on the family name. The aborigines don’t have the dowry system, so the female child is not perceived as an added burden. The survey on dietary habits surrounding pregnancy (pregnancy till 6 month post partum) revealed that the aborigine women eat everything that is available to them until delivery. After pregnancy the woman is isolated from the rest of the family. She has to cook for herself, and she is not given water for at least 4 to 5 days. She is only given rice and few other starchy products. The belief that certain foods are hot and cold is also widespread in the community much like the non-tribal area.

Monday, July 04, 2005

another failed attempt

Yesterday, Jankana (girl here from N. Carolina) and I got invited to go to this forest reserve with the Bangs. After much contemplation, we decided to give up our Gadchiroli day (i.e. INTERNET, soda/limca, burgee (scrambled eggs) and ice cream day..) to see tigers. We saw tons of deers, wild bores, and even a bear, but no tigers. This area is so incredibly beautiful. The Bangs are really so different, but so cute. Rani Bang is a fire cracker... a trip I tell you. Probably the most opinionated women I've ever met in my life and the biggest feminist as well. She has some pretty radical ideas. That is more of a discussion than a blog entry..a topic I can't wait to discuss with some of you.

I have tons of pictures, but can't figure out how to post them. I also have a whole bunch of entires, but the version of Word I have saved them as is not compatible on this computer, so I can't post them. So much to tell you guys... I'll try again later this week.

Without internet I am really starting to miss home. The remoteness of this place is so real with Internet. Thanks for all the comments and emails..I can't possibly explain how much I look forward to reading them.

Raj and Sam... I will be done here a lot earlier then I anticipated. I would say by AUgust 1st. I will be traveling for two weeks after that with some friends. I'll let you know when things are finalized.

Aarti...happy belated.
Margee... so bumbed you're leaving the west coast, especially so early.

got to go. I think Sanjay, my translator is here.