Posts Tagged ‘development’


Jonathan: Goodbye, Jatan Sansthan

April 15, 2011

I have reached the end of the second chapter in my story of India.  After six weeks, I am preparing to leave Railmagra and Jatan Sansthan for a quick seminar in Jaipur, followed by nearly three weeks of traveling.  But more details on that at the end of this post, for now it is time to reflect on all I’ve learned and done here.  I’m pretty sure I start every post on this blog with struggling with where to begin, but you must believe me this time — I am forcing myself to somehow summarize and contextualize an experience which is still unfinished.  It is necessary, however, to first explore issues in migration which I’ve come to learn much about, and follow that with a short description of the work I’ve done here, now that my curriculum is completed and in the final editing phase.

Rajsamand District, as I’ve mentioned before, is a community in transition.  With estimates of labor migration as high as 50% in some villages, it is a place that is confronting globalization in a way I have not yet completely understood.  Railmagra, where I have been living, is an interesting case study in this phenomenon.  As an important transportation hub it has developed into a relatively bustling small town with an active fruit and vegetable market, plenty of sari shops, a 2:1 population to juice stand ratio, and most necessities that are unavailable in the smaller surrounding villages.  As a bustling local hub, it has come to develop into an important intersection point between the smallest of villages and, well, the rest of the world.  Globalization and changing patterns of migration mean that many young men migrate to find work (some estimates as high as 48-52% of a village population).

With this, of course, comes a significant number of effects.  In theory, families begin to see increased income (although the realities of exploitation negatively affect this to some degree) and expanded opportunities.  But much more frequently, these (mostly) young men experience injury, poor health, occupational hazards, substandard living conditions, and a number of other hardships.  Their sisters and wives also experience migration.  They may be able to attend school with the added income, and many find their power and control in household decisions expand without men living there full time.  What’s more, the money that they may make if they work outside the home is within their control.  This, of course, is all tempered by the fact that the primary income generator is far from home.  Pregnant women, for instance, may lack any support, emotional or financial, as they attempt to navigate complex systems and structures which they know little about.  They may be forced to work outside the home to supplement an unexpectedly meager remittance or if their husband, son, or father is injured (this, of course, being very different than if they chose to work outside the home).  They may be exposed to STIs including HIV if their husband does not use protection while working far from home or is exposed to an unsecured blood supply after injury.  Both men who migrate and the women in their lives and communities are profoundly affected by migration, and it is irresponsible to make any evaluative statements about it: migration is a part of their lives, improves it, and sets them up for great hardship.

As a testament to our changing world, this is all conducted under the umbrella of globalization.  As men travel outside the home, some just a few hours to Udaipur, others many days away to Mumbai, they come in contact with new Indias.  New clothing, new ideas, new technologies.  This has a curious effect on village life, especially for women.  As George (2006) notes, the increased exposure that is provided to Indian men may change their own attitudes and style of dress, but it too breeds insecurity that they are losing their ‘Indian-ess.’  They thus place their fears onto the women in their life and demand even more strict adherence to cultural traditions.  Indian men confront their own insecurity about loss of culture not by addressing it directly, but rather by focusing even more strongly upon the maintenance of women’s roles.  In a feminist dialogue based around agency and choice, this clearly brings a number of thorny issues to mind. Read the rest of this entry ?


Russell: Flowcharts in Mermoz

September 4, 2010

I am stressed out, confused, and tired. Funny thing is, I’m not physically tired at all. I’ve been really on top of staying healthy in terms of sleep, hydration, and sanitation. But being here is exhausting in many other ways. There is a certain amount of that struggle that “getting used to things” will alleviate. But after being here for 5 days, I think that a large amount of that exhaustion is actually part of life here. One of the domestiques a ma maison, qui s’appelle, Nina, was sitting with her head in her hands this afternoon when I came home. Knowing the amount of responsibility she has, especially after a really raining morning like this one, would make her fatigue understandable. The confusing thing is…she does this every day. And not only that, she’s probably done this every day for her entire life. To show physical exhaustion like that on a day like this, which was rainy but not apocalyptic, blew my mind. Life must actually be as hard as it’s seeming to me—you can’t just get used to things. It’s the little things in life that are difficult and then turn into flaming hellfire encompassing bigger difficulties. They’re constant and persistent and frustrating and make you feel helpless. There is nothing that makes that pain go away.

Even in my short time here, I have found a completely new sense of purpose in studying development. My passion was extensive before, and it remains that way, but I now have opaque blinders on me, and they guide me only to the plight of people. Political pondering is nothing but an obstacle. I still believe in politics, but only because it takes political action to conquer the status quo. The very disciplines of political and social sciences have become an obstacle to simply fixing things. I mean think about it. When you struggle to keep water flowing to your household because pipes are exposed to vandals that pillage just 2 miles away because they want to be rowdy in the cleanest area because the city is dirty and dangerous because not enough planning goes into developing physical infrastructure because contractors have to rush projects in order to make a living because business owners need money for their families right away because their medical expenses are off the charts because their children keep getting diarrhea because they aren’t using sanitary water sources because they can’t get water to flow properly to their household,

…life just sucks. And hey, I got more:

• Bad/inconsistent water –> pipes exposed to vandals –> urban abuse –> fast development –> unsupported/unregulated business –> household poverty –> high costs and poor medical care –> water-borne diseases –> bad/inconsistent water
• Caste system –> certain roles to fulfill in society –> a universal desire to show off one’s physical or cultural wealth –> building houses bigger than your financial and familial means –> being in need of help to take care of basic daily chores and tasks –> housing maid(s) –> becoming lazy –> abusing relationships –> creating a culture of abusing power –> halting social immobility –> caste system
• Religious government –> strong religious majority –> temptation to bypass constitutional precedents –> centralized disrespect for the law –> legislative stagnation –> decentralized disrespect for the law –> more crime and instability –> higher enforcement costs –> advantaged majority –> religious government
• Bugs –> f-ing bugs –> f-ing bugs everywhere

There’s little you can do. Neither is there something for any one individual of the agents involved in this network to do. Either everyone must act, or a higher authority must. And both can be successful, but the problems have to be hit where it hurts. Normally, the most painful spot is right in the middle of these networked maps:
• unsupported/unregulated business
• building houses bigger than your financial and familial means
• centralized disrespect for the law
• f-ing bugs
These hurt because it sucks for everyone to admit the necessity of doing something. No ordinary citizen wants their tax money spent on politicians arguing about some random business near the airport, and neither does that business owner. No person wants to admit that you can’t have a house bigger than his/her neighbor’s, and neither does the builder being paid to construct it. No politician wants to be held accountable to a constitution that they might not agree with that much, because it was drafted under the table by a colonial power. And f-ing bugs. But these things must be dealt with, in the most direct way possible.

I’m not here to change the world, nor Africa, nor Senegal, nor Dakar, nor Mermoz or anywhere else, I promise. I’m just going to keep accumulating perspectives on these and other problems. Maybe in shouldering some of the frustration, pain, poverty, and sadness that strikes people like my maid, Nina, I am, in fact, changing something.

To stray from that poetic statement, I’m also changing the world because I take care of Bebe Verain quand il pleut. That’s one very good thing. This is just about the cutest and most beautiful baby anyone will ever see. And don’t worry, you’ll see him.


Russell: Things I’ve learned

September 3, 2010

I have way more shit than these people. I call it shit because, honestly, when I’m here, it is all shit. It’s not that I am learning that object possession is way less meaningful than I originally thought; it’s that it all has a context. If I don’t have electricity to plug my computer into… of what real use is it? That’s an extreme example I guess… but what about clothing? I’m going to sweat through everything I wear, and so is everybody else. Why would I have the most stylish, expensive clothing? It wouldn’t be showing anything off, not even wealth, because I’d be changing it all the time or degrading it by wearing it. In other words, what I am finding by living in Senegal only for a few days is that material possession would mean a lot more to the local population if certain infrastructural changes were made, or if certain realities didn’t exist. But the realities do exist, and the changes are being made too slowly for me to witness a cultural impact in just a 3.5 month period.

This reminds me of something that always fascinated me about developing countries when studying in school: no matter how low the GDP per capita or what the poverty rate is, everyone purchases alcohol, attends festivals, plans extravagant parties for important occasions, smokes and drinks moderately, etc. Even if people are making less than a dollar a day? Yes. They do. I didn’t know the reason (I mean I guess I still don’t entirely, but I can make a good guess now; why else would I be typing this?) I thought it was just because celebration is a universally important and fun thing, and it takes a disproportionate amount of importance in societies who have less. But then I realized that it may be much simpler than that.

When I want to have fun with friends, I can go drink with them. But drinking with friends is essentially for exactly that—drinking with friends, not for doing business (well…most of the time), or working hard, or purely for the sake of getting out of the house or something. It’s a specific activity for a specific desire. But that’s the case because when I have a different specific desire, like learning more about the people I’m interested in, I go on facebook. That’s also specific, and it caters to a different desire, and in itself constitutes a different context for satisfying my desires.

In Senegal, my brother LouLou doesn’t have facebook, and doesn’t often go on his wife’s computer for any reason other than to look up exchange rates, so there are in fact many more desires and specific thoughts that could lead to going out and drinking with friends than there are for me. In fact, when LouLou wants to meet someone new and get better acquainted, get out of the house to avoid maman’s traditional ranting, have fun in general, or a whole host of other things, he goes out to drink with friends. Hence him bringing me along—it’s all in the context. There is nothing profound about the answer to my aforementioned question; it’s just all about context.

Like how people I meet will avoid speaking to me in length if I suck at communicating, and they will eventually learn to dislike me. Man I am exhausted from thinking. I don’t want to complain, but it is difficult experiencing a new culture, learning directions to and from the places I [need to] go, meeting my American peers and 3 days later needing each other to lean on, staying on my guard physically and mentally, and keeping up with school material, all while learning the two languages in which all of that mess is communicated. Just like a hormonal teenager, I want all the riches of home, but also have a hearty taste for being elsewhere. Likewise, here I am, in “elsewhere,” but it is now called “home,” and I have a hearty taste for being back in Southern California. It won’t go away, and it also won’t get in my way of learning, experiencing, and loving this beautiful place. It’s only a taste for it. Just because Taylor always has an inkling for some good ole’ Tilamook cheddar in front of her, doesn’t mean she always needs it or really wants it, and just because Evan is a metalhead, doesn’t mean he can’t groove to Stanley Jordan.


Eben: I am here

October 30, 2009

In Wolof, the first question asked when meeting or running into someone is “Nanga def?” which essentially translates to “How are you doing?”  The proper response is “Maangi fi,” or “I am here.”  This seems particularly appropriate given that I am, in fact, now here at my internship site, Ngaye Mekhe. After exchanging parting gifts with my family on Tuesday night — I gave them T-shirts, they gave me doughnuts and chocolate spread — I woke up the next morning at 5:30 to begin the next phase of my time here.  I hauled the entirety of my current belongings to school for our 7 am departure at 7:30 am. (This was still more on time than expected.)  After driving in our bus northeast for a few hours and dropping off Jasper and Lisa, we arrived in Mekhe around midday. Waly threw my bags at me off the top of the bus and left me at my family’s doorstep with a wave and a smile.  (Once again I find myself lying. We actually went to my internship site first to meet my supervisor and chat for a half hour or so about my work, and then I went to see where my friend Trina was staying before being left at my new house after a lengthy introduction from Waly.)

The family has been great. Unlike Trina’s new family and much of the rest of the town, they all speak very good French to complement their Wolof and Pulaar, another local language.  The father, Pa Diop, works for a local microfinance organization (different from mine), and the mother, Ma Sow, just opened a small boutique selling printed fabrics and assorted household items.  Pa Diop has a pretty sober demeanor and gives off a general vibe of seriousness, but after a couple days I would no longer describe him exclusively as such.  He’s very interested in my opinions on American and international politics and loves giving advice to his kids.  In news from the Irrelevant Details Bureau, he’s pretty short.  Ma Sow is not.  She’s unbelievably nice (to be fair, I believe it, but she’s nice nonetheless), and so she calls me “my son” and reminds me from time to time how happy she is that I’m here.  I now have a new Senegalese name, Yoro, which she chose for me within 20 minutes of my arrival.  (It’s a Peul name, since she comes from the Toucouleur ethnic group, which is part of the Peul tribe.)

Then the kids, of which there are nine as of my last count.  Some are children of Pa Diop and Ma Sow, while others are nieces and nephews here for unexplained reasons.  I repeatedly forgot all their names the first day, prompting me finally to pass around a notebook and make them write their names down after many jokes at my expense about my memory.  Save for the 5-year old, Adama, they all speak good French and love talking.  But although Adama is the only one I can’t really communicate with, he’s the one who likes having me there the most.  He ran in the door on the first day when he saw me sitting in front of the TV, and he tends to break into dance in front of me whenever any music is on.  I think he’ll be great for my nascent Wolof abilities, as he often tries to speak to me in Wolof and there are tons of natural translators around the house.  There’s a 19-year old, Demba, who is soft-spoken but quite smart and easy to talk to, and the one I talk to most is 10-year old Cheikh Tidiane, who has endless stories about the past Americans who have stayed with the family.

The house is roughly what I expected, with a few minor differences.  Like most houses here, it’s quite open-air, but most of the house is covered instead of being open to the sky.  The main area is defined by relatively dilapidated concrete flooring and walls, and it includes, of course, a TV set.  I have my own nicely-sized room directly off the main area, and otherwise inside on the first floor there is a boys’ room, a girls’ room, parents’ bedroom, and an unused living room.  (It all sounds bigger than it actually is.)  Then outside is a kitchen, a toilet hole, and a shower.  Finally, the roof is used as a petting zoo for the pet rabbits and pigeons.  The pigeons stay up there, but the rabbits love wandering around the house, often going into my room to hide under the bed.  The kids bring their mattresses up to sleep on the roof with the animals now that the rainy season is done.

I may have made the house sound somewhat simple, but the family is far from poor village folk or anything like that.  There are two computers in the house, one in the parents’ bedroom for Pa Diop to use the internet and the other in the boys’ bedroom for them to play computer games.  We get more TV channels than at my house in Dakar, since there is cable at this house.  And like the Mendy family, everyone speaks French, the parents are well-educated, and the kids aspire to go to college.

More so than the Mendy family, though, the Diops very much engage in the “typical” Senegalese manner of interpersonal interaction.  Every family member who enters the house shakes everyone’s hand upon arrival, so Pa Diop shakes his sons’ and daughters’ hands multiple times daily, which is pretty foreign to me.  A few minutes of every conversation are taken up by greetings, which usually consist of the same question asked multiple times by both parties, with full knowledge of the answer to come.  In French or Wolof:

“How’s it going?”
“It’s going, it’s going.  How’s it going for you?”
“It’s going well.  So how’s it going?”
“It’s going well, it’s going well.  How’s the heat?”
“Oh, it’s going a little, but it’s hot.”
“Yes, it’s always hot here.  And your day?”
“It’s going, it’s going.  Yours?”
“It’s going well.”

And so on, until perhaps you start talking about whatever it is that you wanted to talk about, or the conversation might be over after this exchange.  You are not, under any circumstances, allowed to answer these questions by indicating that something is not going. Read the rest of this entry ?

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