Friday, August 22, 2014

Week 7: Lessons from India

In my last week, I'd like to reflect on all the lessons learned from India. It's interesting because I had been to Ghana last year and seen a lot of similar things, but they didn't hit home the same way India did. For example, the levels of sanitation in the Basti were really a concern for public health. It's understandable to see why many get sick in congested areas like this. Improper garbage disposal systems make it difficult for communities like this to stay healthy, and the close contact with stray animals and cattle also cause worry to the sanitation of the community.

Outside of health, I've really had a wonderful taste of the spirituality of India. No matter if one were Hindu, Muslims, or Buddhist, he or she lived a remarkably spiritual life dominated by this religion. One's name, language, and manner of dress were all affected by his or her religion, everyone's lives revolved around worship to one deity or another. They are lives of passion, culture, and devotion -- something I'm really blessed to be able to have seen. I'm so thankful to have seen the faith in the Basti during Ramadan, but also the faith of Buddhists and Hindus in the country.

For myself, I've also learned to be a more patient, understanding, forgiving, open-minded person. I've learned some Hindi Sanskrit and some very important Hindi words. I was blessed to be able to have worked with and interacted with many Indians, who gave me words of wisdom from Herbal treatments to tourist attractions to Hindi lessons. I can't believe I saw the Taj Mahal with my own eyes or donned Indian suits everyday. I can't believe I was able to bargain so well in the market or manage tuk-tuks, rickshas, trains, planes, and the metro the way I did. I'm more confident and I firmly know that I want to pursue Public Health and I can say exactly why. I was able to search through my own past and figure out where the passions started budding and now I've put my passions to work. Thank you India and thank you U of M!

Week 6: Visit to a Hospital on Assignment

Visiting hospitals outside the western world are always such an eye-opening experience. This time, I visited the hospital in order to compare the level of care in India to the United States, and in this way also see how the clinic can improve health care for patients.

First of all, people do not schedule appointments with primary care physicians in India. They appear to form long lines in the hospital that may cause them to wait up to 2 hours before being able to sit down and wait for the proper doctor. Women must indicate a father or husband taking care of them, and must indicate which kind of specialist they would like to see.

The specialists rooms consist of about 2-3 doctors and some interns, and 2-3 patients are served in the same room at the same time in this particular hospital. Doctors visits do not appear rushed, but they only last a few minutes. Patients carry their own records with them but the hospital keeps a patient history copy with them.

On the negative side, hospitals can become easily overcrowded and there may often not be enough beds for sick patients. Patients may be stationed in the hall and all patients sacrifice privacy for care. They appear to be often understaffed because of overcrowding, and patients are forced to stand in long lines for hours in order to receive care. On the other hand, care is only 10 rupees at government hospitals -- completely affordable. And drugs appear to be far more reasonably priced than in the United States.

In addition, by my analysis, level of care appeared to be very good if people could afford it. The hospitals appeared to be sanitary and primary care clinics appear to be well-equipped. Some general doctors appeared to have less experience in certain fields than others, but specialized doctors appeared to be well-trained for their fields and primary care physicians were well-trained for common ailments.

In some ways, I felt that the level of care was better than the United States has provided in past. Here, everyone who needs care is able to achieve at least a primary care visit. The only difficulties appear to be in laboratory testing, which may come as a hindrance to pregnant mothers, tuberculosis patients, etc. in receiving proper treatment and care. However, DOTS treatment for TB patients is free and drugs appear to be completely affordable for the average Indian citizen. The government takes a much more hands-on approach at providing reachable health care for average citizens. However, they work much more strongly on public/preventive health medicines for their people.

Week 5: Eid

The volunteer coordinator also runs the computers and he's on assignment in Switzerland right now, so I expect this to be posted as soon as he returns. This week is Eid in the Basti, one of only two Muslim holidays. The people at the clinic say Eid is a full-week celebration, and it's so cool to see the girls donned in their makeup and elaborate salwar kameezes while the men don either black or white kurta pajamas. Some of the kurtas could be really nice too, if he chose to dress up.

The clinic was closed most of this week but I still attended evening class to work with the kids on English. Of course they wanted to finish early to play so this time I let it slide, for Eid. All the sweet shops are prepared for celebrations with a variety of new colorful sweets that aren't available normally. And there's certainly a festive feel when friends arnd family gather these days.

For my Eid, I visited the Humayan Tomb again and enjoyed the ancient Mughal architecture that appears everywhere in this area. At night I  visited teh famous Dargah in the Basti, which I discovered is so holy because a very famous Sufi philosopher was buried there. If one looks carefully, one will notice that many Muslims from around the world visit Nizamuddin and sometimes come to stay.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Final week at Jeevika

I'm writing this on the Friday before I leave because I will most likely not have internet access this weekend. Therefore, this post might not reflect the overwhelming emotions I am likely to feel on Sunday night when going to the airport.

I have no idea where to even start writing about this experience. Every single part of me was challenged and I've learned more about myself and the world in these eight weeks than in any other period of my life. I feel that living on my own in India, even if it was for a short time, has made me an adult. I have had to make decisions quickly and independently, I have been in many uncomfortable situations, and I have witnessed some truly beautiful and inspiring things.

This experience has also taught me how real life is. Up until this point, although it has often seemed the opposite, I have really had to do minimal planning, as everything in school is usually set up for students. But that was not the case here. Things were unorganized, unclear, and nobody owed me any sort of time or guidance. I am so thankful for all the time and guidance I have received, but I am almost more thankful for the moments that I didn't. In those is where I learned how to live in an environment that is not catered to my success. I've come to appreciate the disorganized moments, as I am often proud of how I handle them. I still have a lot of growing up to do but this has been an amazing start.

This experience not only expanded my horizons but made me focus in on what my life is at the moment. I didn't know how much I would miss my home, my work, my studies, my friends and family, until I opted to exist without them for eight weeks. Being completely isolated from almost everything I know was so difficult but it was rewarding. Existing with myself as the only frame of reference made everything intense. My experiences, my thoughts, my emotions, were all amplified because the only person I could truly experience them with was myself. Everyone back home couldn't truly know what my experiences here were like and everyone here couldn't truly know the mindset and background I came into this with. Even right now I am amazed and remain scared by this.

The work I did here was great, and I got to talk with some amazing people about some serious and complicated issues. The universality of struggle, triumph, and action is truly amazing to me. But the true experience came from India. Everyone who warned me that India is an assault on your senses was right. I have not stopped processing information since I stepped off the plane. I will miss the vibrant colors and constant movement, the never ending mixture of terrible and wonderful smells, the noise coming from man, machine, and animal at all hours of the day, and the scorching heat interrupted by cool rain. Life cannot be as exciting anywhere as it is here.

Now that I've started, I feel like I could write about India forever. But I will end here with my goodbye. Although there were moments where I was unsure about my decision to be here, there were moments where I couldn't believe I had stumbled across an opportunity so grand. Although my body and mind are ready to rest, I will miss India. I have just begun to understand its wonders and truly appreciate the life I have been temporarily leading. Hopefully this will not be the last time I am here. There is still so much I want to experience and so much I am going to miss. Thank you to everyone who made this possible for me.

Jeevika: Week Seven

As I said in my last post, I was sick during this week. Luckily I didn't have anything serious and was better in a few days. I had to miss out on a couple days of work because of this and therefore don't have much to report. The report I have been working on is finally finished. The executive director looked it over and seemed very satisfied. I also conducted my last interview.

This weekend I went to see some of the religious sites around the city. Although Kolkata is not a religious center due to it being a very new city (by Indian standards) it has some really cool buildings. I started at a sikh temple, where I ate lunch, which probably wasn't the best idea. I then went into North Kolkata to see a Mosque. I finished at a Jain temple outside of the city. The places of worship were all so different, it was great to see all of them in one day. Besides that I spent the weekend doing my final round of shopping and relaxing in the city.

I'm really looking forward to my last week. Although leaving will be bittersweet, a lot has happened here and I can't wait to go home and be able to fully process it all. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Last in India

Before I jump into my final blog post while in India, I want to write about something I was thinking about the past few weeks but forgot to blog. I am a little bit ashamed of certain things about America after coming to India. India's trash is a major problem, however, I don't think India has the resources or infrastructure to deal with that problem right now. While American litter is not as bad, we do have the resources to handle that problem. When an Indian litters it is pretty likely that there might not be a trash can around for a long ways. In America, there are trash cans everywhere and there is no excuse for simply throwing trash on the ground. India also does not have the resources to put a great teacher in a decent classroom for every boy and girl. America has the resources to give every child an amazing education but we are failing to do so at the level we could be. If India were to take every person living on the street or in slums and try to put them into stable housing I can't imagine there would be enough room, aside from how they would do it financially. Homelessness in America is something I imagine will never go away, however, again, we have the resources to be doing a better job at it than what we are currently doing.

Now, the final, hoo-ra, big finish blog post while I am India. I remember on my second day here I was overwhelmed by senses. It was loud, the smells were new, it was dirty, people weren't speaking English, etc. I remember thinking, "This is awesome and all but I wish I only had to do it for about 8 hours and then I could take a break from it and be back in the States." As I got used to the sights, sounds, smells, and people, this thought was gone and I forgot about it. That is until a few days ago. I was taking a walk at night, like I usually do, and I thought, "I am going to be happy to be back in America, but I wish I could just transport back to India every once in a while throughout the day." I am certainly going to miss India and it saddens me to not know when, or if, I will be able to come back. Of course there are the friends I have made here who I may never see again, who I will miss. But also, I will miss the food and the ability to buy a feast for about 2 dollars. I think I may actually miss living without the Western necessities of a cell phone and wifi while not at work. Although first terrified by them (sure that their only thought was how to give me rabies), I am going to miss street dogs. I am going to miss riding on a motorbike and the always present thought of,"There must be more accidents the way these people drive, and today is the day I am involved in one of them." I won't miss 115 degree season or monsoon season, but that time right in the middle was nice. I am going to miss seeing something strange every day, even on days where I just go to work and come home. I'm going to miss cricket but not the inability to watch baseball games. I am going to miss getting medical advice that seems to be based on anything but medical research. I will miss shaky elevator rides with the always present thought of, "There must be more accidents with how old these elevators are, and today is the day I am involved in one of them." I won't miss old men staring at me like I have a toe on my forehead but I will miss little kids staring at me like I was the side kick of their favorite super hero. I think I will actually miss not understanding what people are saying when they aren't speaking to me, I have this weird fear that understanding all the conversations around me again will be this overload of information.

So, by and by, I will surely miss this chaotic place, all the people in it who made sure I didn't melt down the first few weeks, and this entire experience in general. An experience which, in the matter of a few hours, will be sadly boxed and put away inside my mind as the memory of the amazing summer I spent in India. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Some Pictures

Here are four pictures that show a few different aspects of my day to day life here! 
Here is the Executive Director of Jeevika at a Protest a couple of weeks ago.

Where I spend all my money. 

Me in front of Dakshineswar Kali Temple. 

Jeevika banner at a community sensitization meeting we had a last week. 

Jeevika: Week Six + Some thoughts on being an Expat

I got sick at the beginning of this week so this post is coming a little late, sorry! I am finalizing the report with my supervisor and will be showing it to the executive director next week. I am also finishing up my interviews and have started writing my lit review and my methods section. I have more work than time but I feel that's always the situation. 

Up until now I have kept my posts to recounting my daily life and work. But I have done much thinking about what it means to be an American expat in India and what problems arise with language that’s used, assumptions that are made, and just the presence of American expats in some situations. I was going to post a very long post about my experiences and how frustrated they have made me and also how eye-opening they have been, both about my own personal actions and about those of others. I have instead decided to post a few short thoughts and spare everyone the rant.

A culture should not be reduced down to its attire, or other aesthetic aspects. A country should not be represented purely by someone’s (mis)perceptions of its religions. A country’s history cannot be ignored when thinking about its current problems, as this leads to blaming these problems on a lack of motivation to change by its current population. Those who are traveling abroad (especially white Americans I feel) should not complain about the way they are treated without acknowledging what they represent. 

These few thoughts mostly represent the frustrating things I’ve encountered being an expat. They cannot fully be described in this small paragraph but this gives you a sense of what lessons I have learned as well as what assumptions are made by some expats. It is hard to know these things when living at home, but I feel a real effort should be made by those going abroad to be as conscious of their position as possible. I have been so fortunate to also meet very many young adults like myself who are more intelligent and aware than I will probably ever be. 


I realize that these thoughts are probably very familiar to many people who have lived lives closely related to these problems. I apologize for having to come to India to learn these things as each week I have realized more and more that I am a walking example of global inequality.  I also recognize that I have most likely perpetuated something that has frustrated me at some point and hope that I can minimize this as much as possible. 

Finally, I would like to motion that the word primitive no longer be used to describe people, their living conditions, or their behavior.