Posts Tagged ‘Udaipur’


Emily: Farewell, Pinky

October 17, 2011

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep – while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?


and as I am in India  I’ve got to include some Rabindranath Tagore…

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”

Ahem, & now for a mouthful of my own less beautiful words…

A few bold stars poke their faces through the haze to listen to the spastic base drum and crackle of fireworks, the splash and clank fuss of nighttime chores, and myriad of beepity-beeps and honk-honks answering the crickets’ chorus far below…low and sweet, a bluegrass tune weeps from Mary’s windowsill, softly whispering ”goodbye, old friend.”  Jaipur lends it no ear, not the slightest hesitation to acknowledge these rolling stones singing farewell, collecting their moss as they prepare to disperse…

Seventy seven days well spent, one more in my pocket, waiting to buy up what it can; the final hours of class time, a trip to the post office, one more family dinner, and perhaps a few hours of sleep.  Beyond that?  Nothing is certain.  “Arrangements have been made” – for me that will mean an internship with a relatively well known NGO (Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti) based in Udaipur, southern Rajasthan.  Where will I be staying?  In the city?  In the middle of nowhere? What will I be doing?  Your guess is as good as mine, so I venture forth expecting nothing and hoping for a little more than that – hoping I’ll be of good use to a small part of the world soon.

Mere Parivar (minus Ayush, Taron, Anol, Vlinda, etc.)

Jaipur, you’ve been a real treat.  I shall miss the familiarity of my neighborhood, the crowded streets of Raja Park that I’ve learned to navigate with ease on my quests for snacks and endless sights, and the sanctuary of my host family’s home…coming home to a sitting room filled with the enchanting sitar’s voice, home-cooked meals warm on the table or packed in my Tiffin, the chuckling Moti (our family servant) flip-flopping round the house on hyper-extended stick-like legs, the refuge of my bedroom and the privilege of a private bathroom – all mine for the puking in.  The repetitive, pointless lectures, the ass-grabbing and cat calls…the easily identifiable Piss Wall……these I might not miss so much.

Perhaps in a week or two I’ll venture back…celebrate the lights and spirit of Dewali with my humble hosts…join them for a family wedding in Agra…if time and new authority figures permit.  I wager time will be made and authority figures will be charmed, if necessary.  Two months snapped by, and in retrospective whiplash all I can muster is that “life is short, but long enough.” In six weeks and some odd change the first semester will be over, zip, ho gaya, finito. I’ll be halfway through my Indian pie….er, samosa.  In the words of Ramaji, “wha-teva, wha-teva.” Christmas in Kerala, New Years in Goa?…ancient ruins, crowded cities, white sandy beaches and maybe a couple surf boards?…aw yea, I smile and nod.  Two and half months have gone by and I’m still not entirely sure I’m awake.

If this blog has left you sourly unsatisfied, perhaps this will hit the spot? – a short celebration of the adventure I’m about to embark upon…


Amanda: Seva Mandir

April 29, 2011

While I lived in Udaipur, I worked as an intern in the education department at Seva Mandir.  Seva Mandir is the largest and most well-known NGO (non-governmental organization) in Udaipur, and one of the most prominent NGOs in Rajasthan.

While at Seva Mandir, I completed a project on children who receive a scholarship from Seva Mandir but drop out of school anyways.  Although I was often frustrated at Seva Mandir because of language and cultural differences, I feel like the work I completed really did matter.  During the course of my project, I visited over 11 villages and spoke to over 20 kids and their families.  I rode jeeps through dry, rocky terrain.  I scaled mountains with my translator and a few 10 year-old boys in search for kids.  My translators gave me tours of villages aboard India’s most common transportation vehicle: a motorcycle.  I drank unfiltered water!  The sun, blazing through cloudless skies, showed my white skin no mercy.  Goats once snacked on my reports while I interviewed a child.  I met women so shy they hid behind their saris, responding to my questions in giggles.  I discovered that poverty, real poverty, has nothing to do with money and everything to do with opportunity.

A high-end clothing company from the UK, Monsoon Accesorize, funds a scholarship for children in villages surrounding Udaipur.  Children must meet several requirements to become eligible for the scholarship.  They must attend at least two 2-month learning camps, be over the age of 9, and have at least a 70% attendance rate at school.  The scholarship is intended to provide children an option to stay in school.  All of the kids I interviewed were eligible for the scholarship but quit school for several reasons: some kids left because their teachers abused them; some left to watch livestock, some kids quit because school didn’t interest them any more; some left because polio crippled their legs, making their walk to school unbearable; some kids left to work at stone mines for the equivalent of $1/day; some kids left after a parent died in order to support their households.

My boss, Sunitaji, was one of the most independent and passionate women I have ever met.  She opted to spend nights at learning camps in order to invest in teachers and children.  She taught me the difference between giving people money and giving people tools for life.  The night before my last day at Seva Mandir, Sunitaji invited me to her house and cooked fish for me!  Sunita let me play with her son and watch whatever I wanted on her TV. Dinner at Sunitaji’s was such a sweet gesture and some of the best food I had in India.

I worked with many other interns from around the world at Seva Mandir, including people from India (of course), France, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the US.  I met friends who could sympathize with being a foreigner in India.  We joked about being white in a country of brown.  We celebrated Holi from a rooftop, took too many chai breaks, and complained about “Indian time” (and in doing so, became affected ourselves by the Indian pattern of time-delay). 

I presented my project to Seva Mandir’s entire education department my last day of work.  I was very nervous to make suggestions about the scholarship program to educational professionals.  Although only about half of the audience knew enough English to follow my presentation, everyone was very supportive of the project.

Working with Seva Mandir was great for me at this stage in my life for many reasons.  I have always been interested in education, but made the decision about a year ago not to pursue a career as a teacher in the US public education system immediately after college.  Through my work, I realized that a good education is a right to all children regardless of the country they are born in or their family’s socio-economic status.  A good education doesn’t end when kids quit school.  An education challenges children for life and teaches them the joy in living intentionally.  In my opinion, education is the foundation for development and is essential for individual empowerment.


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 ?


Jonathan: Rural India

March 19, 2011

I write this evening from the rooftop of Jatan Sansthan in the village of Railmagra, roughly 70 km outside of Udaipur in southern Rajasthan.  Essentially located within cultivated desert, it has been crawling up past 100F each day (around 40C).  Supposedly it gets hotter, but not by much.  And the best part is that men still wear jeans.

I’ve been having lots of amazing and eye-opening experiences, but more on that later.  First, some background…

Railmagra, with a population of 10,000, is located within the district of Rajsamand (a city about an hour and a half by bus with a population of about 5 lakh [500,000] people).  Railmagra, as a medium sized village, is thus an important locus point for the scores of nearby villages that may comprise of just 100 houses or less.  While there is a small market (about three city blocks in US standards) and a substantial network of winding inner streets, fields are always just a 15-minute saunter away.  Rajsmand District is perhaps best known for being an important departure point of migrant laborers to the majority of central India.  Traveling as far as Mumbai (about a 24 hour train ride), these migrants are overwhelmingly male and have an average age of just 14.  These young people are, in many ways, at the forefront of the new India: connected to the village and to the city they are the laborers that support the booming middle and upper classes, they interact with the globalized economy and bring it back home, and they in turn work to either dismantle or reinforce ‘traditional’ Indian culture as it has always been constructed.

Since the time of Ghandi, and largely because of him, most Indians see the village as the center of Indian life and culture.  This is, of course, greatly complicated by the fact that there is not one India but rather a collection of diverse cultures, languages, peoples, religions, cultural mores, and paradigms that construct a diverse nation.  The village is merely an iteration of India, yet Railmagra provides a fascinating case study as to the ways that migration is changing the lives of Indians in economic, cultural, and health frameworks.  Presupposing that migration is intimately connected to globalization, and that it has important effects for the construction of a more nationalized Indian identity, this has both macro and micro implications for the lives of rural to urban migrants.  Yet all of this is yet to be more fully discovered, and I am busy trying to soak in as much information as possible.

India is currently in the second to last year of a major and much discussed health initiative titled the National Rural Health Mission that seeks to provide adequate access to health education and care for all.  This is accomplished through a number of programs both social and structural in nature.  The most exciting and innovative program is abbreviated to ASHA (meaning ‘hope’ in Hindi) that are a collection of women (1:1000 population) who are responsible for the health and wellbeing of women and children in the community.  Selected based on their community acceptability (i.e. current marriage status, children, having married into the community [since those who are from the village may be married out of it or may make other women uncomfortable]), these women have knowledge in basic first said, ante- and post-natal care, and general welfare.  They primarily, thus, act as front line workers in linking individuals up with the formal health care system in a way that is comfortable, culturally appropriate, and to some degree effective.  This formal structure is further delineated by the Mission, which has set up a number of types of health care settings.  In order of size they are Health Sub-Center (with two basic nurses on staff), Primary Health Center (with some nurses, and perhaps one or two generalist doctors), Community Health Center (CHC; beds and some specialists), and finally district hospitals (many doctors, beds, and capacity for major procedures such as surgery). Read the rest of this entry ?


Jonathan: Internship phase

March 15, 2011

I write today from near Udaipur, Rajasthan’s southern oasis of lakes, rivers, and relative peace. After traveling from Jaipur yesterday, comparable to the trip from Paris to Neice given that Rajasthan is roughly the size and shape of France I finally arrived at Jatan Sansthan (literally translated to “The Effort Organization”). This officially ends our classroom phase of the program; for the next six or seven weeks we will be working for an NGO and battling the inevitable question of what it means to be young, American, and ‘working’ even if ones contribution is negligible given the tremendous language barrier, short term reality of the stay, and lack of community acceptability of you as a social activist. These are vital questions, and ones not to take lightly, but perhaps require a separate blog post altogether.

Like so many situations in India, this has thus far been a tremendous comedy of errors.  Important information lost in translation, a general lack of planning, and difficulties in accessing reliable modes of communication.  And as such, I made it to Udaipur, but not much farther.

Jatan works primarily with migrant youth in a small group of villages about 65 km away.  Their regional office is located in the nearby village of Rajsamand (their ‘head office,’ that houses administrative offices, just one or two programs, and me [for the moment] is on the outskirts of Udaipur).  The average age of migration is 14 out of the villages near Rajsamand, and Jatan works at the departure point providing information and knowledge for youth who will travel as far as Mumbai in search of work.  Jatan too runs centers at migrant destinations.  Migrant youth laborers experience tremendous obstacles that are social, political, and physical in nature.  Rather than discourage rural to urban migration, a phenomenon that is ingrained in Indian history, Jatan seeks to provide the greatest number of resources for them.  Providing skill building, photo identification and registration, and health information, Jatan’s work is unique and interesting for India.  With all hope, I will be working on the organizations sexual health education initiatives in Rajsamand, especially because the majority of migrants are at the peak of their sexual exploration phase.  Men, in particular, are over represented, and recorded to engage in a number of sexual risk taking behaviors when far from their villages, families, and support networks.  Furthermore, migrant laborers are viewed as being a community of significance to India’s HIV/AIDS epidemic (third largest HIV sero-positive population [in absolute numbers] in the world, although there is just 0.29% prevalence in India itself – but that’s for another blog post).  To complicate the issue, migrant laborers, significantly including youth, either engage in or purchase commercial sex that is a highly unregulated industry with low rates of condom usage.  If all goes well, I will be working in osme capacity on these issues.  My background in HIV, sexual health education, social work, youth leadership building, community organizing, informal education, and gender studies will certainly all come in handy and I am really excited.  But, like anything that happens in both the NGO world and in India, I am remaining cautious, as change is possible at the very last second (for proof, read below).

Arriving in Udaipur last evening, Jezelle (another student working on a different project with Jatan who will based at the head office) and I were told that we would be spending the night with host families before our final arrangements would be decided today.  Bright eyed and bushy tailed we were excited and waiting.  I was to leave first to stay with the wife of the executive director who is out of town and usually sleeps at the office. Jezelle was to be picked up by one of the board members and walk to his house.  Just one minute away, however, we turned around and went back to the office.  Jezelle was to stay in my original home stay and I was to wait.  As the hours passed it became abundantly clear that I would not be sleeping there.  Soon it was just the office assistant (in charge of chai and sweeping) Pitu who speaks no English and I.  As the clock inched ever closer to bedtime, a flurry of activity began ending in a series of confusing exchanges where I gathered I would be sleeping in a spare room at the office with Pitu.  It was at this moment that it became abundantly clear what lay ahead: gone was the staff with proper British educations and cultural capital.  It was Hindi or bust.  A call to a Jatan employee helped some, but the struggle was evident.  In sum, I am now spending at least two nights with Pintu here, and we’ve begun to develop a strange and broken friendship.  With my broken Hindi and his broken English we quite the motley crew.  We literally have the exact same mastery of the others language.  It is hilarious how tragic it all is.  Yet, we’ve made it work with a bit of pantomime and good faith efforts. Furthermore, we’ve developed a reciprocal relationship of sorts.  He has a beginner’s English book that he dutifully studies for hours that I have come to help him with.  In turn, he corrects my Hindi pronunciation.  The exchange is not perfect: we have about the same skill in reading Hindi (both of us are proficient but we must sound out the words slowly), but it is somewhat mutual none-the-less.  Further, we joke in our weird broken way, go on long walks together and talk about how beautiful the moon is, and cook together.  But ever the good student, it is also an interesting lesson in the construction of non-western masculinity in India.

At my last host family I lived with two middle class young adult men.  My host brothers, at 16 and 19 were both highly westernized.  With this comes a rigid definition of masculinity that includes baggy clothing, little to no emotional expression (other than anger, of course), and a limit of physical contact.  But ‘non-western’ masculinity (or rather, in this globalized world, ‘less-western’) involves many of these things: tight bell bottom jeans, much emotional expression, and an almost oppressive dose of physical contact.  In America these men are immediately labeled as sexually suspect and typically subjected to a lifetime of homophobic taunts, but here they are the hetero-normative masculinity.  As such, my time with Pintu has been enlightening to say the least. For the first time in my life I am not the masculinity outsider, rather I am expressing a gender expression much more similar to the norm.  Together we cross our legs, walk with a similar gait, and dress alike (although I have skinny jeans to his flared bell-bottoms).  To say the least, it adds a new and interesting dynamic to this adventure.

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