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The Center for the Advanced Study of India provides funding and support to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct independent research and volunteer internships in India. Funds for the CASI internships are made possible through the support of Penn’s Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives in conjunction with Penn Abroad and Penn’s Global Internship Program (IIP) and through the generous support of CASI donors.
Updated: 20 hours 23 min ago

Butt Surgery, Bindis, Bureaucracy and more

Sun, 08/19/2018 - 23:47

If you search up the definition of bad traveler’s luck on Urban Dictionary, the first result will be my name. Okay, not actually, but it should be. After getting emergency butt surgery, sitting at the Koramangala police station for two frustratingly long hours explaining how my bag was stolen, then getting pickpocketed in Mumbai, and missing a flight back to Bangalore as a result of the pickpocketing, I think I can count myself as pretty unlucky (shout out to Steph for having to deal with all the second-hand bad luck whenever we travelled as a duo).  However, as unfortunate (and equally dumb) as I was, I never felt like anything was impossible to deal with because I had an amazing support system always ready to help me. So from dealing with bureaucracy to Siddharth’s deceiving facts about India to surprise hospital visits from my coworkers, here are just a few things I’ve learned about India:

  • The sense of community and family is incredible. I was surprised to learn that many Indians call their parents at least once a day if not more (maybe that explains why our Uber drivers are always on the phone). Furthermore, on our very first day of work, all of our co-workers put together various dances and skits to welcome us to Shahi and make us feel comfortable. I’ll always remember when Bopana’s mom cooked us all delicious pork and snacks when we visited his hometown on a work retreat. Or when the migrant workers at one hostel invited us to partake in a small religious blessing. Or when Chitra invited us to her house and for lunch (she probably made at least 10 dishes!)  And most importantly, after feeling overwhelmed and a little scared the night before my butt surgery, I’ll never forget the surprise visit I got from Chitra and Dr. Leena at the hospital right before the procedure, and how Shruti and my co-interns stayed at the hospital the whole afternoon to take care of me.
  • Indian bureaucracy is a nightmare to deal with (think American DMV but more frustrating). For starters, my co-interns and I had to spend the entire day at the Foreign Regional Registration Office to get our exit permit. The trouble with the FRRO wasn’t the wait time (although spending an entire day at the office was a little long), but rather the lack of clear instruction and procedure, so you truly have no idea what to do or where to go. My co-interns and I also joked about how paying a bribe to someone would be the only way to get something done. Turns out that is somewhat true, at least when you’re dealing with the local police (having connections is the other option). So my advice if you’re ever in one of these unfortunate situations? Be assertive about what you what, find someone who has a connection (or pay a bribe, but I have yet to figure out how exactly to do that), and don’t wait more than 10 minutes at a time before when they tell you to wait (or you might end up finding out two hours later that you’ve been waiting for the wrong thing)
  • The lemon slice in your warm water bowl for cleaning your hands after your meal is NOT a loofah for your fingers (thanks Siddharth for the lies)

Our first time using the water bowl to clean our fingers after dinner at Empire

  • The red bindis women sometimes have on their foreheads are not stop signs warning off the sexual attraction of men (thanks Siddharth for all of your incorrect information). It actually has religious significance and is associated with a person’s mystical third eye (thanks Siddharth again)
  • Cows on the city roads are very common. And no, they will not moo-ve out of the way for you.
  • When you need to cross the middle of a busy street street with no crosswalk, just DO IT. Stick out your hand, walk slowly, and don’t stop. You will not die. Cars are used to stopping abruptly for pedestrians.
  • Ask for less sugar in every drink.

    So many juice stands on every street!

  • When you get a call from your Uber driver and neither one of you speak the other person’s language, just answer with your drop location. That’s all they want to know.
  • Chai breaks are a must, and you always have room for another cup of chai or coffee (or 6 cups if you’re Piotr!)

    Chai from a roadside tea stand in Mysore

  • Budget an hour in advance for everything (learned this the hard way) and enjoy the slower pace of Indian time
  • Don’t try to beat the google maps time that it takes to walk somewhere. unpaved, or nonexistent sidewalks will slow you down.
  • Sleeper buses have male and female sections, don’t accidentally book a male bed (like I did!)

    The double “Bed” I was supposed to share with another guy before a kind soul switched me to a single

  • You’re going to get ripped off when you auto, just accept it and note that its only less than a dollar extra that you’re paying.
  • Indian menus are extensive. They are like American menus on steroids. While the myriad of options is great, if you are like me and always have trouble deciding what to get, try looking through a 10-page menu of dishes that you can’t pronounce and don’t recognize.
  • Butter garlic naan is amazing. But buttery, light, fluffy, pancake-like Mysore masala dosas? Or crispy, flaky, but soft-on-the-inside Kerala parathas? They just might be even better.
  • In other street food tips, try kulfis, vada pav, sizzling brownies, pani puri, dosas, and butterfruit milkshakes
  • https://wpcomwidgets.com/render/

  • The Indian head bobble doesn’t always mean yes, or no, or anything. It really depends on the context (which can be so confusing when you’re bargaining and aren’t sure if they accepted your price or not). 
  • And finally, the people around you really make a big difference to your experience. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend me 10 weeks with a different group of co-interns or coworkers. I’ll miss Prem asking us every morning if we had breakfast and sharing his rice with us, Sahana’s keen observations (on Siddharth’s weight gain and Piotr wearing slides to work) and her impeccable fashion sense, Shruti’s kindness and patience when translating anything and everything for us, the entire GBL team for making us feel like a part of their squad and hanging out with us, Chitra’s go get ‘em attitude, Piotr’s fun spirit, Steph’s motherly care and introspective questions, Siddharth’s sweetness (he’ll only occasionally let you see it though), and so many more people and memories that could fill up another blog post.

So how do you conclude a whirlwind of 10 weeks filled with incredible (and unfortunate) experiences? With a very heartfelt thank you, a few tears on the plane ride home, and a sincere “till next time.”

Last day at work

See you later, India!

Sun, 08/19/2018 - 17:16

Growing up, I used to resent India because it was the country that took me away from my dad for 2 years when my mom and I lived in Bangalore. India was the country that took me away from my friends during summer break. My mom generally had to beg me to come with her. The high school and college summers filled with activities had given me a great excuse to avoid going to India for six summers. When I told my parents and friends that I was spending 10 weeks in India, it is safe to say that they were pretty surprised.

This summer has changed India for me. India has become the country that gave me independence. India has given me three unique, new friends. India has shown me its beautiful colors, smells, and experiences. Sure, I was far from home and the people I love, but I found a new home and new things to love. I am dedicating this blog post to all the things that made me change my mind about India. I have a lot to say, so please bear with me.

The people I have interacted with

People in India are amazing. Whether it is the patients in the hospitals who come in barefoot because they can’t afford a pair of shoes or the people we see in what is considered a luxury restaurant, Barbecue Nation that we frequented, they are generous and kind. The moment we reached Delhi at the beginning of this trip 10 weeks ago, all the people were shoving and pushing and not afraid to be in my bubble. I had flashbacks to what the resentful, young Roshni thought about India; the people are pushy and aggressive.

After 10 weeks, my perspective is completely changed. The people here are like people anywhere; everyone has places to be and things to do. The difference about people in India is that they are generous. Our colleagues at work barely know us, but they have invited us into their homes to eat meals with their families and to spend time with them on their 1 day off (we work on Saturdays). My random daily smiles were at first a curiosity to many but they eventually started smiling back and were clearly happy to do so. Whether it is the women who cook and manage lunch in Inspiration (our hostel) or the woman who had just wiped the floor and saw me slip in the lobby, they greet me daily, even if it is just a smile. The people that I have met, not just those native to India, have made me appreciate India far more.

My co-interns

This could have gone in the people section, but I have so much to say about them. When it comes to friends, I tend to have a few close, but strong friendships. Given that I had no role in choosing the people with whom I spent 10 weeks, I am amazed at the bonds we have formed. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been any hiccups. Spending so much time together with just 3 other people is a scary idea, but honestly, I got so lucky. My roommate Liz was the first I met on the trip over; we met at the Frankfurt airport and faced the Delhi heat together and the fearful experience of not being able to find our cab driver at 1 AM when we arrived. Since then, I can honestly say how much we have both grown together. She is strong, brave, and composed. We’ve had amazing and deep conversations and have really seen each other change over the 10 weeks. Madeleine is a lovable and friendly person who gets along with everyone; she brings laughter to everyone around her and exudes confidence. From the moment that I met her in Delhi, I saw how her calm demeanor enabled her to handle most situations. Oliver is a thoughtful person with a good sense of humor. He was willing to do basically what all of us girls wanted to do and I commend him for fitting in so well with 3 girls.

During our time in India, we adopted many of our own traditions that made the time pass so quickly and made it so incredibly fun. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we attended dance classes in Madurai. By far my favorite night of the week, however, was Wednesday night when we ordered Domino’s Pizza and watched the Harry Potter movies in order since Liz had not seen them. We played a lot of card games and watched multiple movies. Of course, food played an important role in traditions. We ate at almost the same 5 restaurants the whole summer (most of our food is provided by Inspiration). Then there were always the Sundays when we roamed the city and fun touristy destinations.

The work experience at Aravind

I have already described my project, but I just want to say that the experience in general at Aravind is one that has changed the way that I look at medicine. In my first blog post, I mentioned that medicine to me had been a lot about research and genes and running gels. While that is an important part of medicine, I have now seen that medicine is all about the people. While genes and proteins can help explain a condition and its root causes, what might actually be more important is considering the individual and his or her background. Medicine is about people; the field exists because people have diseases or ailments. My work specifically targeted the people who have those conditions or may have them down the line. Patient education and empowerment tackled the social aspect of medicine head-on for me. The clinical experiences I got from shadowing and watching doctors and MLOPs (mid-level ophthalmic personnel) showed me the intricacies of doctor-patient interactions in India. Although I have shadowed in the US, I would love to go back and shadow/volunteer even more to further compare the relationship between doctors and patients. Suffice it to say that Aravind has sparked this new curiosity and has showed me that I am really interested in understanding patient behavior and doctor-patient interactions.

Internal Reflections

The distance from family and friends and the time difference has given me a lot of time that I would otherwise spend talking and video-calling people back home. With this time, I have been quite reflective and introspective. I have learned more about myself and my personality and really saw myself change over time into an independent and more tolerant person.

Tea

Although I haven’t had as much tea as I would have liked, Indian tea (the kind with tea powder, not the tea bags) is my favorite. The classic serving has a small steel cup and a bigger one with a larger base and the small cup has all the sugar at the bottom so if you mix the bigger and the smaller cup really well, you’ll get all the sugar (which will make it sickly sweet) but I usually just pour it once and it is perfection. If it was possible, it would be the only beverage I ever drank. I tried making tea at my dorm at Penn, but it could never compete with what I get here or what my parents make at home.

Travel

I tend to be a homebody, so the prospect of traveling every weekend was a little daunting at the beginning of this trip. However, I am so glad that I pushed myself to be adventurous. I realized that I really do like to travel. I had never traveled in India before this experience. When I came to India with my parents, we went to Bangalore and Mangalore exclusively. I have now travelled more in India than my parents have in spite of the fact that they grew up there. I think that’s pretty cool! My favorite trips were to Kodaikanal and to Delhi. Kodaikanal was the first overnight trip for my co-interns and I, and we stayed in this little hotel that was in the middle of nowhere but it was such a bonding experience. It was a beautiful place and the cool weather was a nice change. Delhi was a really interesting experience as well. Since we spent all of our time in South India, venturing into North India for the last weekend showed how different the two parts of India are. As someone who has only ever spent time in South India, I was really comfortable in South India and experiencing some of the discomfort (despite being able to understand Hindi) in Delhi was insightful.

Looking out the window

The landscapes and sceneries in India are incredible. India gets a bad rap for its pollution and its trash (which it legitimately does have), but what people don’t see is the beauty behind it. Going to Kodaikanal and other places, the greenery and beauty of India is apparent. Seeing that beauty is easy if you go to the right places like Kodaikanal or Kerala, but India has other beauty as well.

The people here live such different, and what seem to be, stress-free lives. At some point in early July, when I was talking to my mom, I said, “we should move back to India,” when I was mentioning the stress-free lives of the people here. Although I said it jokingly, there is something very attractive about the way people lead their lives here. It is a minimalistic yet rich life. It is one where people live with just what is needed and are happy with that. It is rich because people have deep roots to their cultures and the people around them. Sure, they have aspirations and goals, but it doesn’t blind them and control everything that they do. Looking out of a rickshaw (another favorite part of India) or a car, you see the beauty in the people as a woman carries a load of laundry in a pot on her head without supporting the pot with her hands or kids come running to you with candy to make you happy.

Dance

I have always considered myself a dancer. Since the age of 4, I did Bharatnathyam dance. Bharatnatyam dance is a South Indian classical form of dance. Although I didn’t get to do Bharatnatyam in India this summer, being in a dance studio after so long was refreshing. My experience with Bollywood is limited and I have never done Salsa dancing before. It was really nice that I was able to embrace new forms of dance while still being in my comfort zone of a dance studio.

Independence/confidence

I have always been really attached to my parents. When in doubt, I usually turn to them for advice. The time difference and just being more than 8,000 miles away from them really forced me to be independent. I handled different issues, like feeling ill or booking taxis or accidentally eating something I was allergic to, without them. With the difficulties I have successfully overcome on my own while being so far away from my family, I have developed a new type of confidence that I hope will remain with me going back to Penn.

Learning

This experience has been filled with learning. Learning about medicine and hospitals. Learning about the eye. Learning about people. Learning about India. Learning about myself. Learning about how privileged I am. Learning about my friends. Learning about my love for noodles. Learning about my boundaries with nature. Learning about traveling. Learning to let go of home. Learning to be a better and more confident version of myself. Learning how to wash my clothes by hand. Learning that the lizard on the wall will leave me alone even if I am panicking (still working on internalizing this one). This has been one of the most productive summers in terms of learning. The things that I have learned are diverse and varied as you can see by the list, but any learning is a step in the right direction.

For all these reasons and many more that aren’t included in the list, India has completely changed for me. I see the beauty in India and its people. I can easily say that India is a place I would not dread visiting anymore. I look forward to going back to India sometime soon. When we were leaving the Taj Mahal, our tour guide said “do not say goodbye, say see you later.” So, see you later, India!

Untitled (at home)

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 10:04

Seeing that I am now eight thousand, five hundred and seventy-two miles (that’s thirteen thousand, seven hundred and twenty-two kilometers) away from stifling Sarjapur traffic jams, trendy Koramangala shops and eateries, meaningless H&M codes of conduct, hazy Indiranagar afterparties, lazy Cubbon park picnics, seemingly oblivious cows on the road, startlingly sweet (but oh-so-satisfying) Richmond Road lemon tea, and almost thinking I could pull off wearing a dhoti without attracting too much attention, I suppose it would do me good to reflect on what I’ve left behind, what I’ve brought back with me, and what has secretly snuck itself into my luggage and stubbornly refuses to stay back on the subcontinent from whence it came (see if you can guess which those are).

I ended up scrapping my project on developing a new visual language for Shahi’s posters and employee handbooks once I realized that none of the factory workers were interested in receiving more printed materials (part of being a designer is being aware of the needs of your client). Instead, I have focused on a broader analysis of the internal communication channels and strategies in place at good old Unit 7 in Bellandur. I found myself really, really regretting not learning Kannada before coming to Bangalore, as it turned out to be incredibly difficult for me to latch onto (I still can barely say “thank you”) and I felt rather embarrassed relying on my senior coworkers to take the time out of their day to not only translate but wholly facilitate my focus groups this summer. My biggest faux pas, though, came when I thought it would be a good idea to buy sweets for my interviewees as a gesture of kindness and to encourage more open responses (after all, what club at Penn doesn’t use food to mobilize participation among the student body?) — my bemused partner later explained the previously unseen (to me) sociocultural factors that turned it into an extremely awkward situation for probably both the workers and myself.

I’m still working on my final, comprehensive report that includes my recommendations for how to get people to be less scared to talk to supervisors and staff (I hope they work). In a lot of ways, though, I was even less open with the workers I spoke to than they were with me. For example, how do you tell a sewing machine operator you’re earning over twenty times as much as they are this month just for conducting this interview?

The first day I got home, I experienced a strange sort of culture shock (the reverse of my experience when I first set foot in Mumbai). WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE?? As I stared out the windshield of my dad’s car, semi-suburban Chicago stretched out before us almost like a concrete wasteland. It was about 4 pm on a Monday, yet barely a soul was in sight; instead, car after car sped leisurely along the straight grid of roads. I had come back with three hundred rupees left over and told myself I should have given them away when I had the chance.

The other day I met up with an old friend at a shopping mall. As we chatted and meandered past stores like Zara, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Tommy Hilfiger, the neatly organized clothing on the pristine racks and shelves gave away no hint of their long journey from halfway around the world. Once I got home, I noticed my mother had made a purchase at Kohl’s. I rummaged through the folds of the fabric to read the tags on the garments: Made in IndiaMade in Bangladesh. I called her over, muttered something about global production and supply chains, and went upstairs to my room.

Before starting to write this reflection, I had been messaging a friend from Bangalore on WhatsApp; I said I miss him and he said he misses me, too. While in India, I had accidentally bent my American SIM card. It’s been nearly four days, though, since I got back, and I still haven’t gone to the Sprint store for a replacement, so I’ve been limited to texting and calling over WiFi. In a way it’s convenient, because school is starting up again and I have a convenient excuse to postpone filling out When2meets and responding to emails with [URGENT: ACTION REQUIRED] in the subject line.

Yesterday morning, I was reading an anthology about Bangalore on the train back from my friends’ apartment (the night before, they had not ceased to make fun of the noncommittal Indian head shake that I found myself making at all of their questions. It’s so convenient: the perfect expression!). I had bought the book as a gift for one of my professors, but I started reading it on my plane back to Chicago and started wondering about how different it would be for someone who hasn’t physically visited the city (I’m still deciding whether or not I should give him something else). I was so engrossed in the text that I didn’t even notice the compartment clear out; fortunately, my stop was at the very end of the line. I exited the train and the weather outside was partly cloudy and pleasantly cool, which, yes, did remind me of Bangalore. How do I find my way back?

Despite trying really hard this summer, I still feel that ten weeks is not enough time to get to know a place so that any impact you make is not only lasting but culturally informed and responsible. I’ve already been wondering how I could go back — I can’t take Beginning Hindi because I’d have to drop URBS 452… and the Kannada department has mediocre ratings on Penn Course Review… Should I take up Malayalam? (I’m an urban studies major, and everyone knows this means I have trouble focusing on a single interest.) I’m already basically taking two courses on water, so that makes sense, though, right?

I know that I have a tendency to overthink, and my work environment this summer has definitely taught me to think simpler and more directly (after all, eating with your hands tastes so much better than the cold metal of a fork). However, I can’t help entertaining all of the different thoughts that have been swirling around in my head since well before my return home. How do I choose what stays behind in the summer of 2018 and what I take forward with me for the rest of my life? Or is that even a choice I’m able to make?

Hindsight at home

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 18:05

It’s now been three weeks since I came back from India, and there are little things that still haven’t left me, like an inclination to drive on the left sided of the road (thankfully I haven’t acted on that impulse!) Coming back to a hometown that was largely composed of white senior citizens was a bit jarring at first, since I was so used to the vibrant chaos of India. This American environment is so different than how I lived in India, which makes it feel like I was there a lifetime ago. I’ve melted back into my everyday routine here in Sarasota, and after all the excitement of the past 10 weeks, it’s somewhat a relief to sink down in my bed and sleep without setting an alarm.

I’m excited to take my memories from India with me to Penn next year, especially all the new clothes and trinkets that I’ve collected. If you’ve read my one of my previous blog posts, you’d have seen that I started a collection of dupattas from every Indian city I visited (which is going to look AMAZING on my apartment wall!!), but I also invested in some postcards to display as well. I love fashion and style and what it says about a society (as evidenced by the aforementioned blog post) and being surrounded by Indian style this summer has shown me that how I choose to express myself doesn’t have to be dictated by Western standards. Although I’ve always loved the loose silhouettes and bold patterns of Indian clothing, these styles were never mainstream in America and I never took the initiative to infuse it in my wardrobe here. I hear so much about European trends, like Scandinavian minimalism and French girl chic style, but there’s a severe lack of influence from the East, and I hope to change that, at least in my personal life. This isn’t just about fashion–there’s so much art and culture from India that the rest of the world misses out on. Despite being one of the oldest civilizations in history, a significant percentage of American art galleries are filled with only European works! And Indian food goes way beyond chicken tikka and butter naan!

10 weeks was a long time, but sometimes it also feels like it wasn’t enough. I know I’ll be back, and I really hope it’s sooner rather than later. Thankfully, however, every time I look at my colorful scarves on the walls of my apartment, I’ll be filled with the memories of an amazing summer.

At Qutb Minar in Delhi! One of the last places Hareena and I visited on the trip. 

 

Assumptions?

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 19:19

The first wrong assumption I had about India was that almost everyone, at least everyone in big, metropolitan cities, spoke English.

Boy was I wrong when my co-intern Steph and I were trying to catch our bus from Delhi to Agra on our first day in India and our Uber driver, not understanding us saying we were already late, decided to stop for gas on the way. Then we couldn’t find the bus stop and the only word the people nearby us understood was “Agra,” so we got directed to (and impulsively decided to board) a random bus headed for Agra that wasn’t our intended one. Then there were the numerous times I threw my phone at my co-intern Siddharth begging him to speak to the person on the phone in Hindi because I couldn’t understand. And then there were communication barriers every time we wanted to speak to a worker at Shahi’s factories. It was especially hard when we went to the migrant workers’ hostel one Sunday to interview them about their experiences moving to the city and working at a garden factory. I really should’ve learned Kannada, or at least Hindi, but I’m a little ashamed to admit that I gave up learning after the first lesson on the free app I downloaded because it was too difficult.

I soon found that my communication struggles persisted even when the language I was using was English. At work, I assumed that since we were interns coming to fix Shahi’s problems, all of the department heads that we spoke to would just open right up and give us all the information we needed. In reality, the questions we asked were met with vague, circuitous answers that sometimes made me wonder if I had asked a different question than I intended.  Here, my American straightforwardness and impatience had no place; I had to learn to navigate cultural differences in communication and openness to get the answers I wanted.

My struggles in conversation also reflected the communication barriers at Shahi between workers and staff and management. My co-intern Piotr and I both found from our research that  information often gets lost in transmission between different levels of people at Shahi because there are not many direct communication channels. In particular, I found there were problems with the grievance system that prevented both workers from reporting their problems and their grievances from being properly redressed. On one hand, some workers were scared to communicate their problems to staff, and on the other hand, some of the work HR was doing to solve workers’ problems weren’t being communicated back to workers. There were even some grievance channels that workers didn’t know about or weren’t familiar with. As a result, small problems that workers had were not fixed in time and eventually blew up into a large crisis in one unit. Thus, after a discussion with my boss Chitra, we decided my project was to:

  1. examine all of the grievance reporting mechanisms, which include suggestion boxes, helpline numbers, worker committees, welfare officers, HR personnel, counseling cells, and help desks
  2. identify the problems in the grievance reporting system
  3. figure out ways Shahi could improve them.

Throughout the experience of conducting a multi-unit survey of workers, analyzing survey results, conducting research on innovative grievance handling methods online, and creating material for workers’ committees, I was able to compile all of my research and work into a report and deliver a presentation for the OD (organizational development) team and Shahi’s Board of Directors on what steps they should take next.

However, the process had its challenges. My third assumption was that I could go somewhere and easily diagnose the problems and fix them in a matter of just two months. I had naively expected that I could come up with ideas and have them immediately implemented and everyone would be on board to improve worker wellbeing. However, in reality, it took a lot of time for ideas to be approved by factory heads because taking workers away from the production line meant time and productivity lost. It was difficult to combat with production people’s profit-driven attitudes, and there were times I felt like the work I was doing was pointless because I could never change attitudes. But what I learned is that I can’t expect to suddenly change mindsets and fix everything in just two months. Solutions take observation and time and reflection, not impatience. The countless trainings and programs the OD team was doing for the benefit of the workers was evidence already that change was happening. My goal is that my recommendations, when implemented, will hopefully make grievance reporting more accessible and simpler for workers so they know where to turn when they have a problem.

So my key takeaways? Clear communication/understanding is really very important, and I should stop making (or at least try to make fewer) assumptions.

Hanging out with Chitra and her family!

 

Reflections and Future Prospects

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 23:43

Now that my internship at Aravind Eye Hospital and the Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology (LAICO) has come to an end, I continue to reflect on the experiences I had this summer and the many wonderful lessons I learned. I undoubtedly shed a few tears on our last day as we picked up our things and said goodbye to the staff members we had worked with all summer. I am known for being an emotional person, but really it was difficult not to be sad as we shut off the lights in our office and took our last walk together from LAICO to our rooms in Inspiration. I reminisced on our times at Aravind as we walked out.

Our work as interns this summer took place at LAICO which is the training and consulting partner of Aravind Eye Care Systems. The purpose of LAICO is to support and assist Aravind Hospitals through management training, research and capacity building. As such, our projects originated in LAICO but were meant to support the Aravind Hospitals. This meant that we had the opportunity to see both sides, the medical and administrative side, of one of the largest eye care provider institutions of the world.

 

When our group arrived at Aravind in May, we were given an orientation that introduced us to the kind of work LAICO does. We met with various staff members that informed us about a few assignments that needed to be completed. All four of us were given the option to choose a project that we felt best matched our skillset and expertise. From there we began our journey of learning to navigate work environments and professional interactions in India, specifically with the people of Aravind.

 

At the beginning of our internship, my co-interns and I always joked around about the free time we had. As Penn students, we are accustomed to always being busy and stressed that whenever our work here seemed to take a pause, we were unsure what to do with our time. We later realized that this free time was only a side-effect of our adjustment period; we were really learning how to be flexible with our schedules and mastering the art of being humbly assertive. As time passed, we adapted to the norm of having some meetings pushed back a day or two and being insistent with our co-workers when we had to meet a deadline. Eventually, we grew comfortable with walking into our supervisors’ office and personally asking questions or arranging meetings right then and there rather than sending an email and passively waiting for a response. Contrary to our belief, it was acceptable to just run into their offices and it helped us get our work done quicker. It took us a few weeks but we just had to get over our perceptions of what was respectful or professional and adjust to what was status quo in this institution.

Celebrating a birthday in the office with some of the LAICO staff

Towards the end of our internship, our “free time” disappeared and before we knew it, our 10 weeks were up. Our last few weeks working in LAICO went by pretty quickly as days began to fly by and we rushed to properly finalize our projects before we had to leave the country. On my end, I was excited (and nervous) to compile all of the work I had completed to explain to the various departments involved why some of the goals of my project had to be reshaped and why the project should be continued beyond my departure.

 

Allow me to offer some background information:

 

The mission of Aravind is to eliminate needless blindness and they seek to achieve this mission by offering accessible and affordable care. With their talent and dedication, Aravind can absolutely accomplish this goal, yet the issue remains that health outcomes depend largely on a patient’s behavior. A provider can offer great service but if a patient does not comply with treatments and does not adhere to medical advice, then the care given by the provider may not be effective. In order to ensure that patients are receiving the care they need and that Aravind if offering efficient services, the staff seeks to investigate how well patients are complying to treatment.

 

A few weeks before my arrival at Aravind, a medical student had just started an investigation on patient compliance in the retina clinic, specifically diabetic retinopathy patients. When she left, she passed on her work to me and my task was to complete the research she had begun while also expanding it to create a project on patient empowerment. As such, my project consisted of utilizing data from Aravind’s electronic medical records system to measure patient adherence to disease-specific treatments while also partnering with the clinic manager and doctors to draft possible interventions that may help raise patient compliance. The investigations focused on diabetic retinopathy patients being that diabetic retinopathy is the most common ocular complication of diabetes and the population of diabetics in India continues to increase. Without the proper care, this disease can lead to loss of vision.

 

Along with measuring the rate of compliance, I was interested in getting a better understanding of a patient’s behavior. Developing interventions to help raise patient compliance means attempting to positively influence a patient’s behavior which requires understanding a patient’s general health-related behavior. In order to do that, I decided to begin a research study that would implement the framework of the Health Belief Model. I was interested in determining what health beliefs diabetic retinopathy patients had, how that influenced their likelihood to comply to treatment and how we could possibly target or influence those beliefs to encourage a patient to be healthier. Fortunately, I received great support from staff to initiate this research and after drafting a survey, I began conducting interviews with the help of a member from the biostatistics department (who helped translate from English to Tamil!).

Some of the nurses I worked with in the retina clinic!

As you can imagine, 10 weeks is not enough to begin and finish such a large study. I was able to complete a pilot during my time at LAICO, but in order to do a full study, I must work from afar. Everyone involved in my research has agreed to partner with me virtually to continue and expand the study and help me collect all the data necessary. For me this means I have the wonderful opportunity to continue working with such an amazing institution even after I finished my summer internship!

 

As I settle back into life in the U.S., I remain focused on encouraging staff to continue expanding on the work I began while I was there. I recently finished some final reports I submitted that outline what I did and suggests how students who come after me can pick up where I left off. I am blessed to have worked with such an incredible institution and I am so excited to be able to remain in contact with my supervisors. I learned more than I could ever have imagined from my work, the staff, the functions of the hospital, my co-workers and the work environment. My time at LAICO is unforgettable.

On a hike with some of our supervisors

Ubering everywhere

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 05:43

My friends and family keep asking me what I think of city life in Bangalore compared to life back home. This seems like a very basic question, yet I have an incredibly difficult time answering it due to one simple fact: the way I experience Bangalore is incredibly different from the way I experience Philadelphia or Chicago.

In many ways, much of it boils down to how I navigate my environment. I would not feel like I belong to Chicago as much as I do today had it not been for the countless hours I’ve spent sitting, standing, swaying, and squeezing into the CTA’s buses and trains. One thing that sometimes keeps me from feeling like a “true” Philly resident is the limited portion of the city that I routinely navigate on foot. Essentially, walking and taking public transportation are two great ways to get to know a city or neighborhood, neither of which have been a large part of my time in Bangalore.

It all starts with my morning routine—as we finish up breakfast, my three co-interns and I all desperately try to secure an Uber that will take us the entire 7 km (a little over 4 miles) from our apartment in Ejipura to our office in Bellandur. The reason we’re trying so hard? No one wants to drive 7 km in Bangalore morning rush hour traffic.

 

Future Shahi interns, if you’re reading this: make sure you stay within walking distance of the office!

While there have been days when we (by some miracle) completed the trip in 20 minutes, our typical commute takes between 40 – 60 minutes. However, the next time anyone in the states complains about traffic, I’m going to tell them about the time it took us two whole hours to drive to work… according to Google Maps, we can walk there in an hour and twenty! Even waiting for our ride to get to our pickup location can take nearly half an hour—something that I could never imagine happening in Philly.

The congested roads have definitely affected where we travel to in our leisure time. If there’s a cool place that we want to go to but it’s far away, we’ll most likely pass and head somewhere closer. Of course, since our commute to work is unavoidable, we’ve all figured out our own uses for the time spent idling in traffic jams. Generally, it comes down to sleeping, catching up on work, or reading; personally, I’ve finally had some time to read some books for pleasure!

Getting work done on the ride to work in the morning.

However, more significantly than deciding where to eat dinner or finding ways to deal with downtime, Ubering everywhere has detached us from the regular pulse of the city. Looking out from within our closed automobile, we roll past a collage of storefronts, barbershops, chaat stands, vegetable carts, shoe stalls, and juice bars. Despite the slow-moving traffic and our relative proximity, the fact that we’ve isolated ourselves inside a car severely limits the extent to which we can interact with and experience the ongoing street life.

Though I realize that in India’s cultural and historical context, my whiteness will always label me as a foreigner, it feels slightly awkward to shuttle from one place to another in a cab that, while very inexpensive for me, may come close to the daily take-home pay of a tailor at the factory where I’ve been conducting my research. And while feeling discomfort regarding this situation is better than feeling nothing, I’m totally unsure of how to confront my obvious privilege.

Even though lunch at my workplace canteen is wholly subsidized for this summer, I can still eat out at any nearby restaurant on any given day without blinking an eye at the $2 it would cost me. For dinner, I have the option of choosing to stop in at a quaint roadside dhaba near our apartment or heading out to a trendy new gastropub in a hip colony of Bangalore (notice that cooking at home isn’t even considered here!). I can almost entirely make this decision based on my current mood or craving, because I came to India with the spending power of the American dollar.

 

For me, getting momos (Indo-Chinese dumplings) at the stand next to where I live or going out on a date to a fancier restaurant like the photo on the right makes the same difference because of my relative wealth.

It’s true that the stipend I received from GIP goes much farther here than it would in a city like London or Tokyo. However, does that give me the right to live a relatively lavish lifestyle of Ubering to dine at a new restaurant nearly every single night? I feel like I’ve still been able to meet many incredible people from a very wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, but my social life in Bangalore has certainly been dictated by my willingness to spend more per week than a college undergrad interning domestically.

And while I’m incredibly thankful to be in this situation and have all of these different opportunities, I can’t help but wonder: do I really deserve this? Am I enjoying my time here too much? Does the work that I’m doing justify my behavior in the slightest? What do other people—my friends, coworkers, shopkeepers, etc.—think of me and my lifestyle here? When I come home… will I keep asking myself these same questions?

Nighttime scene from a busy Koramangala street, where many of Bangalore’s “yuppie” eateries and bars are located. My co-interns and I made the decision to live near here despite many people warning us about traffic we’d encounter during our commute.

 

Knowledge is Power

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 09:12

My co-interns and I have now completed our 10 week internships at Aravind Eye Care System, and it is time I share with you what I worked on. My project involves raising patient education and awareness. Before I delve into the details of my project, I want to point out a key difference between the US and India that makes patient empowerment particularly important in India. When you go to the doctor for a certain problem in the US, you talk with your doctor and ask questions. Most people are engaged in the doctor-patient relationship and have legitimate conversations with their doctors about the issues they are facing. Whether or not you realize it, that brief 5-minute conversation about the side effects of your medication or the possible outcomes of a condition improve your care and make you more willing to take care of yourself since you are given some responsibility over your health.

Many patients in rural India may not have the same level of understanding about their conditions or the same access to resources to learn about their ailments. Health literacy is quite low in many parts of rural India where education and general literacy rates are not high. Furthermore, patients respect doctors to the point that they hand over all responsibility of their health to the doctors. Doctors are so respected in India that we stood up every time they walked in the room (they forgave us when my co-interns and I forgot). While that extreme respect for doctors shows the prestige of medicine in India, it can actually negatively affect some patients’ health outcomes. Since most patients do not put a lot of thought into doctors’ instructions and diagnoses, the opportunity for asking questions and gaining knowledge and information is lost.

I recently had the opportunity to present at the Aravind Journal Club, a weekly meeting in which a research article is presented and discussed. I chose a study that was related to my project about the association between awareness about Diabetic Retinopathy (a condition characterized by damage to the retina due to weakened blood vessels from diabetes) and attendance at eye screening. A somewhat unexpected result of the study that I presented showed that doctor recommendations are not necessarily associated with changes in patient behavior. Rather, what was shown to be important is the patient’s own awareness of their condition; those who were more aware about Diabetic Retinopathy were more likely to attend the screenings.

Journal Club Presentation

In a setting like Aravind where the large volume of patients that each doctor sees requires them to go quickly between patients, doctor recommendations are not necessarily feasible. To address this issue, Aravind has counselors in every department so that patients can seek further advice. Despite this, a large portion of patients do not fully understand the conditions that they face or see that treatment really is essential. If you don’t understand enough about the eye or your diagnosis, you can’t engage with your doctor or counselor about your condition. Your doctor inevitably has power over you and you may not have the opportunity to ask questions to take charge of your treatment. And if you don’t have control over your treatment, you are less likely to care and take care of yourself in ways that are necessary for prevention of progression or for treating your condition.

Enter my project involving raising patient education and awareness. Aurolab, a division of Aravind that is dedicated to manufacturing, has commissioned the production of 100 videos dedicated to patient education and awareness of eye care in honor of the 100-year anniversary of Dr. V’s birth (Dr. Venkataswamy founded Aravind as an 11-bed clinic in 1970). As part of this bigger project, I produced 10 awareness videos. In addition, I am editing patient education materials for the new Aravind website, as well as producing brochures and pamphlets. This is one of the videos I made about CVI, a condition that is not very well-known even among doctors:

The videos that I have worked on involve Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), Awareness for Preterm Screening, Squint, and Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). I also worked with the Eye Bank team to produce videos about eye donation. Once I decided which topic to work on, I met with the relevant team in the hospital and discussed their expectations and requirements for the videos. I mainly used an animation software called Powtoon (which is extremely entertaining and fun) as well as Microsoft Powerpoint.

The work I did at Aravind was clearly outside my comfort zone since all my health-related work so far has been in research labs. Reading articles and looking into cutting-edge research is what I have previously enjoyed. This experience was an adjustment in terms of working with many experts with different specializations. Coordinating between mentors in LAICO and doctors in the hospital to get everyone on the same page without calling a meeting for every little thing was a challenge. However, these challenges helped me grow in terms of becoming better at communication and allowed me to meet so many people in the hospital. My time at Aravind conducting a project on my own about a topic that is highly relevant and meaningful has been rewarding to say the least. I’ve said this in other posts, but this experience has showed me such a different side of medicine, and I am so glad to have had it. I look forward to working hard to complete the rest of my project, and I am incredibly grateful to CASI and Aravind Eye Care System for this wonderful opportunity.

Some other updates:

  • I got to watch a few cataract surgeries and the eye donation procedure which were super cool and interesting.
  • We visited Thanjavur and Thiruparankundram. Thanjavur is famous for its architecture and there is a huge temple that is incredibly impressive. Thiruparankundram has a small cave temple that does not get much attention; we visited with a group called GreenWalkers that works to raise awareness about local monuments that are somewhat lost and forgotten. We went with a few colleagues and then the four of us climbed the whole hill all the way to the Shiva temple at the top.
  • I met one of the two families in Madurai that speak my native language (Havyaka, a dialect of Kannada) and got to visit their home for lunch. Making connections through language is really awesome! I have been slightly self-conscious about my ability to speak Havyaka because the amount I use it has steadily decreased, but I spoke solely in Havyaka with them in all our interactions so that was really exciting.
  • We went to our colleague’s house for dinner and ate some homemade food, which was a refreshing change.
  • We visited Delhi and Agra. At Delhi, we saw the India Gate, the Red Fort, and Humayan’s Tomb. In Agra, we visited the Taj Mahal and got to see a marble shop where they use the same material the Taj Mahal is made from

    At the beautiful Big Temple in Thanjavur.

    Hiking in Thiruparankundram.

    After observing cataract surgeries, one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip!

    The Taj Mahal!

    Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi

     

precious last moments

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 06:36

Driving away from Coorg and this is one of those sweet flash in the pan moments that I want to hold onto forever… “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap pumping from the sedan stereo, driving through winding roads on mountain faces surrounded by the lushest, purest, untouched-by-man greenery and tall thin trees with their wispy dropping leaves and the cool grey sunlight shining from the luminescent sky. And realizing that you may never be back, and even if you do come back, it will probably be years later with different people, purpose, and place. Never again with the generous, warm-hearted co-workers who you will never get to know enough of, or the 3 co-interns who have become your siblings.

It is only in this otherworldly place that otherworldly visions and ambitions can be prophesied and unleashed into the cool, crisp air and find their landing on fascinated ears. Where promises of international recognition, fundamental shifts in business, and explosive growth are not just promises – but realities – all set to the tone of dope beats. 

The Qutb Shahi tombs in Hyderabad

Leaving Coorg is like a precursor to leaving India. This country which saturates the senses with its cacophony of honking horns and weaving scooties and cows flicking their tails on the roads; and women in vibrant saris wading in beaches; and movie poster-esque political campaigns; and fruit sellers hawking their exotic wares. This country steeped in millenniums of history and tragedy and triumph which has maintained its stunning diversity of dress, music, religion, food, film, and more. This country which has captured the iconic landscapes of everywhere from the lush greenery of New Zealand to the mountains of Austria to the deserts of the Sahara, and everything else in between. As someone once said, there is nothing you cannot find in India, and the things you find in India, you cannot find anywhere else.

All the things I will miss

10 weeks, 70 days, 1680 hours, 6 048 000 seconds. 
number of cities visited: 9
number of times i’ve exclaimed at seeing cows on the road: 70
number of hours spent sitting in stationary traffic: 300
number of dosas eaten: 
15.5 and not enough
number of times we’ve broken out in song to kanye’s “mercy”: twice as many as our co-workers or neighbors would appreciate
number of trips to the frro (foreigner regional registration’s office): 2 too many
things I will miss about India: chai breaks, the entire shahi and GBL team, $3 shawls and meals, $1 uber rides, fresh coconuts and fruit juice stands and dosa and biriyani, the iconic head bobble, ola play, the overwhelmingly long restaurant menus, cows on the road, tourists taking photos of Piotr everywhere we go, the generosity of its people, Angela’s extraversion, Piotr’s funkiness, Siddharth’s cynicism, the loose sense of time, the chalta hai and jugaad
things I shouldn’t miss about India but will miss everyday anyway: the cracked pavements, 1.5 hour long bumper-to-bumper traffic commutes to work, walking across 6-lane highways, the sweet smell of the sewage canal by our apartment, communication barriers, the loose sense of time, the chalta hai and jugaad

I take from it a humbled heart, new acknowledgements of the inadequacy of my understandings and considerations, the hypocrisy of my critiques, and most of all – the knowledge that I know nothing and the hunger to know everything. I don’t want to forget the selfless kindness of people here, the incredible nuance in every aspect of life, most of all – it’s beautiful, terrifying, frustratingly awe-some complexity.

Little Memories

Sun, 08/05/2018 - 14:59

Sitting in the Chennai airport, I’ve been trying to gather my many thoughts about the past 10 weeks. Although I will try to write something more overarching about my experience on my next post, I realized many of the things that touched me the most are not grand or picturesque, but instead small things we have seen or people we have met. As cheesy as it may be, I want to share a list of these little moments:

 

At the eye camp

I really enjoyed spending the day with the MLOPs. They laughed at dilating my apparently large pupils with a flashlight and watching them move back and forth, giggled as I struggled to eat with my hands, and shared pictures of their houses and families over Facebook on the bus ride back. My most poignant memory of the camp was when Roshni and I happened to see a woman put on her spectacles (their term for glasses) for the first time. She was over the moon and kept laughing happily with her friend.

 

The long car rides

For many of our Sunday trips, we spent lots of time in a car traveling from place to place. Even though these rides were supposedly the means to the destination, I found myself looking forward to the time spent in the car, looking out the window, talking occasionally but mostly sitting in our own thoughts.

 

Vistas

We were lucky enough to get to travel to some incredible places in South India. Hills and hills of tea plantations, hikes around Madurai, watching the clouds come closer through the mountains of Munnar, and so many other moments made me want to sit for hours just to take it all in.

 

Selfies

From the excessive dubstep at a dance floor in Pondicherry, to the prevalence of Facebook, to the love of selfies, it was fun coming here and seeing how the prevalence of these cultural items is similar to, but slightly different from, what I knew in the US.

 

Paints and portraits

I’m afraid that Philly will seem like a sea of grey and beige after spending so much time here. Every rickshaw has different décor, the trucks are painted with care, the boats are beautiful, and many signs are painted in yellow blue and red. The streets are lined with posters of people, murals, and signs.

 

Food

Although it sometimes betrayed me with stomach cramps, I will miss eating lots of mangoes and kiwis every week, the paperboat and dosas, the butter masala, the interesting but very delicious pizza served at inspiration, the lime sodas, the lassis, the chocolates, and above all, chai.

 

Dance class

Three times a week, we all went to a dance class a few blocks away from our hostel. At the beginning of each class, we loved watching the adorable little kids class bop along to songs like Chihuahua. The other people in the class were very fun and welcoming, and the environment was (thankfully), not judgmental at all. I will never forget master Gopi, with his intense “more attitude” demonstrations, his instructions to go “maximum range,” his sweet salsa moves to Ed Sheeran, and many more little quirks.

 

Roshni, Oliver, and Liz

There are so many reasons I will remember these wonderful people, and so many reasons I am thankful to have spent this time with them. But this is a post about the little things… so I will miss the intense fits of giggles over nothing when we got too tired and had spent too much time together.  I will miss the dance, dominoes, and Harry Potter nights. I will miss playing cards and getting too intense over Egyption rat screw. I will miss the world-cup watch parties, salsa, vine references, late night conversations, and getting to know three wonderful people so well.

 

Coworkers

The part of leaving that tore me up the most was saying goodbye to the people at Aravind with whom we have spent so much time. If I could change one thing about my time here, it would just be to have gotten closer to them sooner. These are a few of my favorite things:

Coming over to Devendra’s house for chai and food, and playing Carrom terribly

Going on spontaneous coffee breaks with Deepa in the middle of meetings

Talking with Siva about current issues in America and in India

Going on a hike the first week and being a part of the Wanderers group chat

Getting advice from Mutu, who ran the lunches at Inspiration house

Talking to all the characters who stayed at Inspiration about their lives back home

Witnessing the kindness and humility of the upper management at Aravind

Eating lots of little treats from the Aurosiksha crew

Seeing the Aurosiksha department make each other gifts and scavenger hunts

When Pradeep brought chocolates over “just to spread the love”

 

And so much more…

The sound of Tamil and people’s reactions when I tried (and failed) at speaking it

The head bobble that can mean so many different things

Being thoroughly confused by Kabbadi

The commentary at a martial arts presentation in Munnar

Teaching gymnastics to a bunch of kids while waiting for a bus

Getting to know our driver Keshevan, and all his playlists

Seeing wild elephants from the side of the road

Being expected to stand up for myself

The stillness of the Ashram at Pondicherry

Getting time to slow down and think

 

Of course, I won’t forget seeing the Taj Mahal or any of the other spectacular things we saw here. But the little things made my experience much more special.

Creating something new

Sun, 08/05/2018 - 14:06

So much has happened over the past ten weeks, from enjoying the Pondicherry beaches, to goofing off in dance class, to playing carom with co-workers, to seeing the Taj Mahal. However, the true reason I came to Madurai was for the privilege of working for Aravind Eye Care Systems. My co-interns have already written about the incredible work done by the people at Aravind. I’ve loved seeing the way this organization works, with all its ups and downs. To be entirely frank, I came into this internship unsure of how much I could actually give back. Aravind is such an impressive organization, unlike any other. However, I was excited, flattered, and motivated by the amount of agency the people there gave us. We took part in structuring our own projects, and these ideas were respected and considered by management. Aravind stays true to its values, including a philosophy of constant innovation. I was somewhat taken aback at first by how open people were to change if you could prove it would significantly help.

For my project, I re-structured an employee training course and moved it online. Aravind must train all its employees on quality and safety standards for the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH). Throughout their employment, employees are re-trained every few years. Right now, HR runs six sessions over the course of several months to teach this material. Attendance and assessments are taken by hand then processed by HR to show NABH auditors that training occurs. Since there are over five thousand employees, manually checking for signatures is logistically difficult, as is training and retraining employees every year with material that is, frankly, somewhat dry. That’s where my project comes in.

To create the content to put on the site, I sorted through the variety of materials currently used and re-structured the organization of the course to better target the interests and needs of doctors. I also organized that content into a database. Then, I took this content and created animated videos, films, and text files accessible year-round by the doctors. For each section I also created a pre and post assessment. HR has gradebook and course completion dashboards where they can view staff results in groups filtered by hospital and department. 52 weeks after completing the course, the system sends an automatic email reminding employees to be recertified. Sadly, I did not finish all the content materials before leaving, so I trained some residents to use the software and upload the rest of the content.

We hope to have the full self-learning course with all the content up by September 30th. Until then employees will be taking the online assessments after in-person training sessions. Eventually, the administration wants to expand this training course to over 5,000 of Aravind’s employees, as well as to open the course to other interested hospitals. I really respect Aravind’s policy of sharing their knowledge and materials to focus on stopping needless blindness, instead of on having a competitive advantage. They have already received requests for this type of system from other hospitals, and I am excited to see its progress in the future.

I am very happy with this project. Coming into this summer, I was expecting to learn more than I gave back. I still feel this way, but I now feel as though I made more of a tangible impact than I expected. Admittedly, I do not think I want to continue to pursue making learning management systems or working with the same material. However, I’ve really enjoyed the feeling of creating something from scratch with a visible product at the end. I’ve also really enjoyed being in charge of my own work. Since there are so many complementary parts of this project, I did not have a head person working on the same project as me, I instead coordinated between all the different stakeholders. Although it was sometimes frustrating not having one single point person, I learned a lot from handling these differences on my own, and getting to see people in many parts of the hospital.

This project was an excellent mix between what I already know and what I want to know. Most of my work so far has been in coaching and tutoring, so I have a generally good understanding of which educational organizational strategies that work better than others. I also really enjoy behavioral science, so it has been interesting thinking about how to make the information as engaging and effective as possible. However, I also really enjoy learning about the technical side of creating platforms like this one. Although I did not get to code this summer, I now know I can teach myself how to use confusing programs and figure it out eventually.

Overall, I feel like I contributed while also learning a lot, from both my project and from trips to places like eye camps, vision centers, and the operation theater. I’ve left this summer feeling capable of creating something and motivated to keep pursuing the more technical side of future projects.

 

The course completion page HR can use to keep track of students.

 

The primary vision center we visited. Each of these centers has their own spectacle shop, as well as a telecommunication system that connects patients with doctors in the tertiary hospitals.

 

Cards used at the eye camp

Being Colombian in India

Sun, 08/05/2018 - 06:42

“Pongase las pilas.” If directly translated from Spanish to English, this phrase means “put on your batteries.” When placed into context (and appropriately translated by a Colombian), it becomes an idiomatic phrase which means “get your act together.” Growing up, I was often commanded by my parents to “put on my batteries” as they consistently reprimanded me for being “dormida” (relaxed or slow-moving) or demanded that I become more “avispada” (sharp or keen). At a young age I was trained to move quick, remain ambitious and always be clever. As an American-born Colombian, the training was essential to my growth and progress.

 

But, why am I talking about Colombian cultural terms and beliefs on a blog post thread meant for discussions about student intern experiences in India?

 

Allow me to explain. I offer these pieces of my culture to preface my retelling of some of the experiences I’ve had during my time in India. I specifically discuss those which have lead me to develop a better understanding of my identity as a first-generation, Colombian-American. You see, when beginning my internship, I didn’t realize how much I would feel disconnected from my Latinidad in a foreign environment and how much that would affect me. Being consistently reminded as a child to be “avispada” meant learning to always defend my culture and proudly uphold my traditional beliefs, especially when I was the minority. Thus, I grew accustomed to sprinkling my English with Spanish words in public and being unapologetically straightforward about my upbringing as the daughter of immigrants. As you can imagine, I was frustrated when I found myself editing my phrases, changing my vocabulary and limiting how often my accent came out during my time in India. I realized I was filtering myself for the benefit of those around me, something I had taught myself to never do.

 

Throughout the 10 weeks of my internship, there were several instances in which I felt homesick, many of those stemmed from my feeling like I was out of touch with my culture and my mannerisms. I spent a large chunk of my free time (when I wasn’t traveling or working in the office) trying to understand what it was that lead me to feel so disconnected from that (besides the obvious physical separation). I had to ponder about the interactions I had in general, but more specicially with my co-interns. We are a very diverse group, all from very different socioeconomic, cultural, academic and religious backgrounds. As you can imagine, this allowed us to learn so much from each other about different perspectives, opinions and biases regarding some very controversial topics. Before you read on, I have to emphasize how grateful I am to have spent my summer with these three other individuals. They were some of the most supportive, loving, kind and intelligent individuals I have ever known and they made this experience even more incredible than it already was. However, to continue my previous thought, there was something about our diversity that influenced my identity crisis (to be dramatic). There were some instances in which, mid-conversation, I felt there was a barrier that kept me from expressing my unfiltered thoughts. You see, I was different than them. I hadn’t traveled to various countries for vacation, I hadn’t seen a world wonder (until this trip), my parents weren’t doctors or business people, and I didn’t know about many common pop or history facts. My whole life, my Colombian identity has dominated over my American identity so I was detached from the mainstream culture and oblivious to many common references. My lifestyle was shaped by the histories and experiences of my immigrant family which meant that I lead a life very different from your average American girl. I was used to being around people who easily understood that fact, and here I was surrounded by people who could never, and not by their own fault, begin to comprehend that kind of reality.

Now it was not just my interactions with my co-interns that were leading me to feel so….”un-Latina”, for lack of a better term. I realized this later when I had an interesting conversation with one of our neighbors at Inspiration, the trainees hostel we were staying at in Madurai. After lunch one day one young lady asked me, “are you Indian?” As I had anticipated, I was asked this question multiple times throughout my stay in India. My physical appearance has always prompted people to try and guess my ethnicity. I wasn’t easily identifiable as a Latina, instead, many asked if I was Indian or in some cases Egyptian. I never saw the question as inconvenient or provoking, but in this instance, when I asserted that I was not Indian, the woman persisted with “then what are you?” For the first time, I found myself struggling to find the words to clearly communicate what I was. I decided to respond with “I’m Latin American, I was born in America but my parents are Colombian”. I didn’t feel satisfied with my answer, something about classifying my American identity made me uncomfortable and she exacerbated that feeling when she concluded the conversation by saying “then you’re American” and walked away.

 

With just one sentence, this woman had erased an entire part of my identity for the purposes of clarification. Then it all made sense. During my entire trip, I was only ever given two options to identify myself; I was either possibly Indian or American, there was no in between. The part of me that was unapologetically prideful of being Colombian seemed to have no place here and I was not used to that feeling.

 

In America, I represent Colombian culture. My skin color, my limited vocabulary, my sometimes Latin accent, and my mannerisms make it obvious that I’m not white or privileged and so I fall in the Colombian, minority category. In India, I represented American culture. My quick English, my embarrassing accent when trying to speak Tamil, my wardrobe, my inability to handle spice among many other things made it clear that I come from the U.S. and so I am categorized as just American. That seems uncomplicated, but the issue is that for me it was a strange, out-of-body experience. In the U.S., I’m not “American enough”, I’m obviously a minority, but here I am in India, playing the role of the “American girl doctor volunteer”.

 

Being American in public and at work was fine, I could get used to that. Being American with my co-interns was different, it made me feel like a fraud. That identity comes with intrinsic pieces of knowledge and worldly experience that I don’t have because I wasn’t raised as a Colombian, so I had to shift when I went from being in public to being in private with my co-interns, but that wasn’t easy to do. I myself got caught up in the role of the “American girl” in public that when we were in private, I forgot to remind myself that there were some conversations I couldn’t contribute to, some experiences I couldn’t relate to, some things I just wouldn’t get.

 

After realizing why it was that I felt disconnected from my Latinidad, I “put on my batteries” and I readjusted the way I was expressing myself. I stopped being afraid to admit when I had no knowledge of certain topics we discussed as a group. I stopped filtering my vocabulary and allowing Spanish words to slip into my sentences. In some instance, I even taught my co-interns some common idiomatic phrases like “no dar papaya”. When we practiced salsa at dance class (we went to a dance class three times a week after work!) I identified the songs that were classics and pointed out the ones that were not salsa at all. They were all so welcoming of my unbounded excitement every time we started a new salsa class. Ultimately, I stopped filtering myself and reminded myself to be the same straightforward, proud Colombian I have always been.

Us at dance class!

As our 10-weeks in India come to a close, I have been reflecting on the experiences I had. Having a better understanding of myself and my identity as a Colombian-American is one of the many lessons I take home with me. I am grateful to my co-interns for the support they offered me throughout the entire time and for allowing me the time and space to discuss these issues and thoughts with them. Being in a foreign environment and so far away from home and familiar faces is difficult, but all of my co-interns made India feel a little more homey. Without them this experience and these lessons I learned would not be the same.

 

To be both American and Colombian can get complex and confusing, but I’ll continue learning to embrace both part of my identity. I’m proud to be both American and Colombian and I’m excited to soon be going home to both my Colombian home and my American friends.  

“I can’t talk right now! I’m cutting fish!”

Sat, 08/04/2018 - 14:38

I have now been in Delhi for a month and my interview project is fully underway. A significant portion of my time has been spent with my Research Assistant making “cold-calls” to people to ask them to participate in the study. As I’m sure you can imagine, cold-calls are not the most fun part of the project. However, participant recruitment is an essential, though less glamorous, part of the research process and dramatically shapes the pool of people included in your study and, as a result, your findings.

My project builds on findings from the CASI Delhi NCR survey which took place almost two years ago. The survey used the electoral rolls (lists of all registered voters and their addresses) as a random sample. The survey data yielded interesting findings about how marriage is changing but left me with as many questions as it gave answers. I decided that in-depth interviews with some of the families which participated in the survey would enrich the quantitative results and allow me to dig deeper into how marriage decisions are negotiated in the family.

The survey respondents gave CASI their phone number at the time of the survey and agreed to be contacted for follow-up study. I identified young unmarried respondents and we began calling.

As you can expect, people are quite skeptical of and sometimes annoyed about random phone calls. Even after explaining the research project to them, some people still didn’t understand what we want from them as many people are unfamiliar with qualitative interview research. Then there is catching people at a bad time. “I’m in the office right now.” “I’m driving.” “I’m in the village.” And our favorite- “I can’t talk right now! I’m cutting fish!”

We found that our approach of calling young unmarried respondents did not yield great results. Often the phone numbers listed were of the parents and they were usually hesitant to hand the phone to their son or daughter. We found people to be especially guarded with their daughters. When we did speak to young women, they often told us that they would need to ask their father’s permission before agreeing to participate. Young women were around 3 TIMES more likely to refuse participation than young men. Given concerns about safety in the city, it is not surprising that so few women agreed to meet us.

So, we tried another strategy. Since parents, and especially fathers, were the gatekeepers then maybe we should contact those people directly. I drew up another list of potential respondents, this time of middle-aged men and women with unmarried adult children living at home. Once we started calling parents, we started scheduling more interviews. Fewer people hung up on us. Also, older respondents tended to be more honest from the first phone call, telling us flatly that they didn’t want to or have time to participate. Younger respondents tended to not give a straight answer, leading us to waste time on follow-up calls which led nowhere.

A lot of people asked me why I was going through so much trouble. They suggested young unmarried people that they knew for me to interview. Couldn’t I just recruit at one of the local universities? Each sampling strategy has pros and cons. Your research questions should guide how you select people to include in your study. One possible drawback to using your social network to recruit interview respondents is that the people we know are more likely to be similar to us and each other. Recruiting respondents from one place, such as a workplace or a university would also only reflect certain types of young Delhiites. But because my interview project is supposed to complement the quantitative findings, I elected to go with a random sampling strategy so that I could recruit a broader sample of people. Drawing from the survey respondents has another advantage- I have a lot more data about each household.

I feel that the hard work of cold-calling has paid off. So far, my Research Assistant and I have completed almost a dozen interviews which highlight the diversity of the city. Our interviews have taken place in all different regions of Delhi, from centrally-located areas to new settlements on the fringe of the city. We have done interviews in fancy malls and homes in congested low-income neighborhoods. This sampling strategy allows us to reach people that may be difficult to find but, nonetheless, remain a significant chunk of Delhi’s millennials like the self-employed, the unemployed, and people preparing for job placement exams.

The best part of the project is the interesting people we meet who have kindly donated their time to talk to us. “Cold-calling” may be frustrating and tedious work but it has helped my Research Assistant and I find people who we otherwise would have never met. Their stories have enriched our understanding of family and marriage in the city.

On Work as Family

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 07:50

It’s 9.30am on a Friday morning and the rush-hour traffic is moving relentlessly in all directions. From afar, a smiling face enclosed inside a green motorcycle helmet drew closer as it stopped outside the local hospital in south Bengaluru. In response to my request for a conversation, Surya* a now-retired engineer and ex-employee had suggested I also meet with his ex-colleagues. They have worked as geologists, engineers, and technical experts, at the public sector iron-ore company established in Kudremukh in 1976. While they’ve currently retired from active work life, some have spent close to three decades working for the company. Surya and I are soon on our way to the company colony that was built to house the employees, which today houses even non-company affiliated residents.

During our conversations, Surya reveals his son works as an engineer at a multinational firm. While the job is well-paying, Surya opines that it lacks the “connection” that he and his colleagues associated with their public sector employer, which was “just like family”. This phrase comes up again when I meet Surya’s ex-colleagues who, like many others in the 1960s and 1970s, contributed first-hand in shaping postcolonial India’s nascent mines and minerals industry in Karnataka, and elsewhere. As the anthropologist Jonathon Parry (2003) has pointed out, under the first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision, heavy manufacturing projects were integral in propelling the newly-Independent India towards “modernity” by strengthening its domestic industries. These industrial projects were also envisioned as spaces that would build “national integration”, as they would employ workers from different geographical corners and linguistic backgrounds to work together towards the nation’s progress.

How does a company become “like a family”?

On one hand, both the family and company units are similar in that they tend to be hierarchical. For instance, in the former, individuals have precise (e.g. breadwinner) and diffuse roles (e.g. care-taker), while roles are necessarily precise and organized in the latter. Yet, in a company, people are necessarily paid for their labor-time through salaries, promotions, incentives, and so on — while individuals are rarely, if ever, paid a salary for the labor of belonging to the family unit. For instance, work by women in sustaining family life through cooking for the house-hold, child-rearing, or decision-taking is not typically compensated. Yet, in characterizing the company as family, Surya and his friends emphasize the affective bonds among themselves as if they were kin.

Recounting their work-life, the ex-colleagues cast themselves almost as a pioneer collective: whether it was huddling under tents during the heavy coastal downpours; or the struggles involved in early iron-ore extraction feasibility tests; working multiple shifts; or even taking on work outside of their official job descriptions in order to “get the job done”. It seems to me that their experiences of daily work performed in Kudremukh’s remote, hilly and challenging landscape, may be one reason why this “like family” solidarity is emphasized. Work and livelihood then, becomes much more than the act of labor that one is paid to do, it is also how employees and workers make claims to identity and belonging.

*Names are anonymized to protect the privacy of my informants.

“Why are you here?”

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 23:53

 

Water, sanitation and hygiene issues are particularly important to girls as they often must stay home from school during their menstrual period and are expose to violence if they practice open defecation. Women are vulnerable to harassment or assault when they travel long distances to fetch water, use shared toilets, or have to defecate in the open. Women and girls often wait until nightfall, which increases the risk of assault. The availability of water and sanitation facilities increases privacy and reduces risk of sexual harassment/assault while gathering water. Women play a key role in sustainable solutions to water and sanitation problems locally and globally. Therefore, WASH projects with positive financial benefits for women will contribute to community development. Women’s full participation in water and sanitation projects is strongly correlated with increased effectiveness and sustainability of these projects. I have  the privilege of working with Nishtha, an local rights-based non-governmental organization, that empowers women to take part in water and sanitation advocacy and human rights training.  As a strong community-based organization or water management and gender equality, Nishtha can improve social capital of women by giving them leadership and networking opportunities and building solidarity. Over 75% of their staff are women and from the remote rural villages. I have also worked with Sabuj Sangha, non-profit non-government development organization dedicated itself improving the lives of less fortunate people in West Bengal through participation and empowerment. Both organizations have nee working towards the advancement and empowerment of women especially in the WASH area.

While meeting with school administrators in a rural school in West Bengal to build better sustainable hand washing facilities and sanitation facilities and proper water supply , one of the administrators asked me “what is your qualification”. He was trying to understand his other question, “Why are you here?”. I said that my family is from an impoverished village like this in Nigeria. The community faces the same school WASH issues. This is my third time working with local NGOs and communities in India. I have two master’s degree in public health and environmental studies. I’m starting an applied PhD in Demography next month. I’m not an expert in global WASH issues but have been learning and growing. I’m a student who cares about people from different backgrounds. I never name drop where I went to school. I never want to be the person who’s only justification to be somewhere is based on where they went to school and not by their own merits.

He questioned why this Black woman traveled all this way to sit in a room filled with Indian men to talk about addressing waterborne disease in their school. This is why I’m getting a PhD. I never asked anyone about their qualifications to be in a certain space. but I appreciate his curiosity and candor. Women especially women of color need to be in included on matters that affect our communities that we live, work and serve.

School WASH

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 22:56

 

This week, I have been working with a local NGO, Sabuj Sangha, one their school WASH intervention. The area that Sabuj Sangha serves are remote village in thee South 24 Parganas District of West Bengal. South 24 Parganas is the largest district of West Bengal and second largest by population. It is also the sixth most populous district in India. The area is rural and the main source of income is agriculture.

We visited two government schools that are in dire need of proper water, station and hygiene (WASH) facilities and education. Over ten years ago, the government helped build the minimal infrastructure of the school pit latrines but not with the maintenance of the sanitation facilities. Due to lack of money, proper management and maintenance system, the condition of the facilities gradually deteriorated. The students and the teachers use the same facilities and have been suffering due to lack of adequate  and proper facilities. The schools don’t have any running water to supply the pit latrine. The schools ground water pumps are broken. Students and teachers use the pond water (inside the school area) for the use of toilets, cleaning, and bathing. Sometimes the boys defecate and urinate in the pond. The school also does not have hand washing station. This is a huge problem during lunch time because students either do not wash their hands or use pond water to wash their hands before and after eating. Water from the pond is unsafe and breeding ground for waterborne parasites and diseases.

Children reading in schools don’t have adequate sanitation and hand washing facilities, hygiene education and suffer from waterborne diseases. Female students face greater problems for lack of proper water supply facility. Girls miss about a week of school during their monthly menstrual cycle. The school doesn’t have money to purchase menstrual pads.

The schools will be working with Sabuj Sangha on five areas of the WASH program: (1) development of infrastructure, (2) management and maintenance system, (3) school WASH committee to monitor the progress of the WASH intervention, (4) hygiene education and (5) financial sustainability though small tariff fees for students and teachers. The needs of female students will be meet through the construction of changing rooms, disposal tools, and supplies of sanitary napkins.

I have been collecting field data to create marketing, fundraising materials and grant writing support to help Sabuj Sangha, school committee and their local partners raise money to build the necessary toilets and handwashing facilities. We collected baseline data on the school’s conditions and will train school officials on how to collect data pre- and post-intervention. A key part of the intervention is the introduction of financial sustainability. After completion of construction the process of tariff collection from the students and teachers will be introduced to generate maintenance fund, which will be used for repair and maintenance in future. In addition, youths from the community will be trained by Sabuj Sangha on repair and maintenance of WASH facilities. They will be paid laborers. Community ownership is encouraged through formation of school WASH Committees with multi-stakeholder representatives to monitor and manage the repair and maintenance of water and sanitation facilities using funds generated by the students, teachers and administrators.

 

A definitive ranking of tourist destinations

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 09:21

One of Judy’s and my goals for this summer was to travel. We wanted to see as much as we could of this country in the 10 weeks that we had here. We started off with a detailed spreadsheet of research and some words of advice from previous CASI interns about where to do and what to go. Filled with wanderlust, we were ready. However, once we landed in Araku, which is three hours from the nearest airport, and where Naandi’s offices had six-day work weeks, this plan was put on the back burner. We embraced the slow pace of life, the long winding roads, and the endless greenery of the Valley, but by the time we returned to Hyderabad at the end of June, we were itching to experience new and different dimensions of India. This resulted in a hectic weekly schedule of full, longer work days on our new project Monday through Friday, and then consistent sleep deprivation Friday evening through early Monday morning. In total, we saw 12 cities in India (plus a day-long layover in Dubai) by the time we returned home. Here’s my definitive ranking of them all:

  1. Pondicherry: We were so lucky to spend our last weekend in India in Pondicherry, which we both agreed was our favorite destination. We stayed right on the beach, and it was one that put other beaches to shame, because it was so clean and yet not overly crowded. Saturday, we went to Auroville, an intercultural community in the north of Pondicherry, and Sunday, we visited the French quarter. Everything was just so pleasant, quaint, and so different from other places we’d been. We felt like we got the best of a beach vacation and a historical experience and some shopping that we needed and everything in between.
  2. Alleppey: We took a day trip here on our Kerala weekend to explore the famous backwaters. We decided to do this via a day-long canoe tour, which included breakfast and lunch and a ferry ride from the city to the backwater canals. The village life around the backwaters is a unique dynamic, with people using the water for cooking, cleaning dishes, doing laundry, bathing, and fishing, and each area was vibrant with color. Lounging on a small boat in the middle of a huge body of water was a memorable moment of blissful relaxation.
  3. Kochi: On our weekend in Kerala, we stayed in the Fort Kochi area, and spent one day in Kochi and the next in Alleppey. Fort Kochi was a quaint and quiet city. The shops were all closed and the streets were all dark and empty by 8 PM at the latest, but it still felt incredibly safe. Everything was within walking distance, and everything was right near the water, so it provided some respite from our weekdays in the city.
  4. Araku: After a month here, it started to get a little repetitive, I will say, but I never fully got tired of life in Araku, and I can’t wait to return. It was incredibly peaceful, and I’ve never seen a place quite so untouched by civilization. The mountain drives were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced, and the people were kind and interested in talking to us.
  5. Ajmer/Pushkar: As you’ve previously read, we got pretty lucky with a friendly and helpful auto driver taking us around the Pushkar area from Ajmer, and we got to see a lot in a short span of time. While Jaipur was a tourist-filled area, in Ajmer and Pushkar, we got to see the desert side of Rajasthan that it is known for. The Ajmer Dargah was also a highlight–it was almost like a small market inside the dargah and so packed with people that it was a beautiful sight to see.
  6. Mumbai: We’d heard a lot about how great of a city Mumbai was, so we squeezed in a one-day trip right at the end of our internship, the day after our last day of work. We only spent time in South Mumbai so that we could move around on our feet instead of wasting time driving around, but there was luckily a lot to see in a small area, from Haji Ali Dargah to the Gateway to India to Dhobi Ghat to Marine Drive. Haji Ali Dargah was a highlight for me, especially the walk to the mosque on a rock bridge through the water.
  7. Jaipur: There was a lot to see in Jaipur and it was beautiful–truly a Pink City. The Amer Fort was a highlight. However, half of the day was spent in a bazaar area that was crowded, hot, and full of people trying to rip us off, but I did come out of it with a few little trinkets and a new pair of shoes
  8. Hyderabad: I got to see a new side of Hyderabad on this trip, one that I don’t usually see when I stay with family at my grandparents’ house on our regular trips to India. I’ve seen the historical and cultural monuments, so I was eager to explore the newer, younger side of town. There was a lot to see and a lot of places to eat, but not quite as much as in a bigger city like Mumbai or Delhi.
  9. Mysore: Downside: The one thing everyone told us was a must-see, the Mysore Palace light show, was canceled due to a forecast of rain that never came. Upside: I had the best dosa of my life here and I will never forget it.
  10. Bangalore: Bangalore was a cool city to walk around, but there wasn’t that much to see in the way of tourist destinations in the city itself. We did get a little bit of shopping done, though, and Judy and I got our ears pierced, which is a nice little memento of our trip.
  11. Goa: We were excited to be at the beach, but Goa’s beaches were way too filled with trash and too much of a tourist destination for us to relax by the water as we had envisioned. It was also a hard place to tour on a budget because of the lack of Ola/Uber/reasonably priced transportation, so we spent most of the weekend relaxing. and not doing much.
  12. Delhi: I have never experienced this much pollution in my life, and it was rough. I’ll also concede that this was the first place that I landed in India so the intense jetlag probably colored my time here negatively.

 

Click to view slideshow.

A slideshow of moments from the above destinations in ranked order

Learning about Indian Feminism

Sun, 07/29/2018 - 16:01

My first inkling that feminism in India meant a very different thing to what I had been exposed to in the West, came from the counseling sessions that were arranged by CASI before our trip to India. There, our director Aparna stated that she herself had had to adjust her version of feminism when visiting India.

And in my limited time and experience here, it has indeed seemed vastly different. Trying to understand what feminism means entails wading through centuries of social conditioning by rulers, seminal texts, and customs — as well as the other cultural aspects which tie into the issue.

My project at Shahi has thrown me directly into this issue. In a country where the garment sector provides one of the few sources of acceptable formal employment for women, Shahi is one of India’s largest employers of female workers. This is especially key given India’s low and declining female labor force participation rate. The garment industry has the potential to be a bastion for female empowerment – but currently, although 80% of the workers in the industry are women, only 20% of them are supervisors. And this is just looking at the supervisor level – the level immediately above the worker level. When it comes to higher management, women are even less present. My goals of these project have therefore been to:

  1. Prove a business case for why Shahi should have more female supervisors
  2. Find out why there are so few female supervisors
  3. Find out how Shahi can get more female supervivors

With women who have undergone PACE, an empowering soft skills training program

To do this, I’ve interviewed female tailors and supervisors, male supervisors and senior management, and talked extensively with our boss Chitra who feels passionately about the issue. And throughout these interviews, it was definitely a struggle for me to refrain from imposing my own Western frameworks of feminism upon the stories that were told to me, and recognize that these frameworks were narrowing my vision, instead of focusing my interpretation.

Western women face glass ceilings and find it hard to climb when “merit” and “leadership” are defined by masculine characteristics. There was also a strong perception that Indian female supervisors were less productive than males, despite them having an equal ability to perform. It would be easy for me to characterize these experiences as being painted by the same brush, but that would also be me erasing the complex nuances behind the attitudes and their causes.

Similarly in the family sphere, Western women face issues related to maternity leave and attaining the mythical “how can you have it all” work life balance. Well, all women have wombs, and Indian women too are stopped from rising because of pregnancy and family issues. Except here, the problems and solutions are different when women in India do 90% of all household work (the highest proportion of all large countries) and social attitudes much accepting of having women in the workplace.

There are a also myriad of challenges faced by Indian women which cannot be encapsulated by comparison to Western feminism, or at least – exist to such an extent that the two can hardly be compared. The safety considerations that are attached to women working late, the social attitudes which keep even educated Indian women at home, the inability for pro-female policies to reach the majority of women who work in the informal market, the intersectionality that comes with caste, femicide and dowry payments, the remnants of colonialism, dress codes, and too many other issues which I have barely scratched the surface of understanding. And Indian feminism itself is such a diverse umbrella, as it must be when the nation is comprised of such a wide range of religions, customs, ethnic beliefs and socioeconomic status.

Angela and I with migrant workers at their hostel

I still have so much more to unpack about the causes and manifestations of these attitudes in India. But something else which is common between Indian and Western feminism, is the strong role models who manage to rise up despite the barriers. From the migrant female supervisor who overcomes language and gender barriers to supervise even male workers, to the female who has risen in a male dominated department to manage the entire thing — there will always be women who overcome challenges and prove their mettle.

 

Agra Experience

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 07:32

Last weekend I went to Agra. Agra’s energy was extremely similar to Delhi, in my opinion. I was immediately approached by rickshaw drivers once I got off the train. By “approached” I mean something more like harassed. As someone who clearly looks like a tourist, I have gotten used to being approached by locals trying to sell me things at an exorbitantly higher price than what locals are paying for the same product. This experience was heightened in Agra though. One man who was trying to get me to hire his rickshaw proceeded to get into my Ola cab with me after I politely rejected his offer. He told the Ola driver that I needed a tour guide and that he had been hired by me. My Ola driver looked at me with a confused expression and then promptly shooed the man away. To say that this experience was bizarre would be an understatement.

Instances similar to this continued to occur as I went sightseeing in Agra. Countless rickshaw drivers and local merchants would follow me for multiple meters trying to get me to buy their products. This has happened in other cities as well, but it was so much worse in Agra. My main mission while I was there was to get from place to place as quickly as possible so could enjoy whatever I was going to see without being bothered.

The most significant example of this haggling was at the Taj Mahal. Foreigners are offered a tour guide as a part of the deal for having to pay INR 1000 to get into the Taj complex. My tour guide was very informative, but once I told him that I was not interested in ending my tour in the gift shop because I was starting to feel a little sick, he yelled at me for being cheap and not supporting the Taj. I was a little startled and decided to just walk away even though he followed me for a bit attempting to apologize. I understand why he was frustrated, but it did not help improve my Agra experience.

My experience in Agra reminded me a lot of my first couple of weeks in Delhi. I didn’t understand how to navigate the city, so I often looked lost and confused. This made me an easy target for merchants who wanted to make east money off of an unaware tourist. As time went on, I was able to see the appeal of Delhi and be more confident in my surroundings.  Being in Agra made me feel like a newbie again. I bet the city is much more charming once you are able to slow it down and really see all of the great things that it has to offer.

Other than being haggled, experiencing the Taj Mahal in person is incredible. I have never seen anything with as much detail as the Taj. It left me in awe. I completely understand what the hype is about now. Everything about the Taj is so detailed and the story behind it is totally captivating.(Me having my Princess Di moment)

On another note, it’s starting to feel very real that my time in India is almost over. I’m not sure if I am excited to go home, or starting to feel desperate to cram in as much as possible before I leave. I have about one week left, so hopefully I’ll be able to see a few more monuments in Delhi and grab some last minute souvenirs. I’m looking forward to being able to reflect on this experience.

 

 

Emotions from the End

Wed, 07/25/2018 - 09:20

I’m sitting here, at my desk at PHFI, on my last day of the internship. In an hour or so, I’ll have to clean up my desk, pack away my things for good (not that I have that much stuff. It’s mostly just a few papers, but it still feels weird), and give a final goodbye to the office and the people I’ve met here.

Me finishing up some work on our last day!

It truly has been an amazing ten weeks here in India, and I have to say I’m quite sad that I have to leave the country tomorrow. Hareena and I had the privilege of experiencing a lifestyle here that we would’ve never had otherwise. Apart from the fact that we’re in India and experiencing a whole new environment, it was also pretty interesting to work in an office setting– the opportunity doesn’t come up often for someone interested in becoming a doctor.

Some of the highlights of the internship were going to meetings and field visits. It was so cool to see the desk research we contributed to translate into actual programs and interventions being discussed with high-level experts and professionals. The discussions we witnessed provided great insight about how work in the public health sector really has to be culturally feasible in order to work in India, which isn’t so easy in such a diverse country. We also had the chance to visit some schools to see the implementation of PHFI’s school health activities, and it was an interesting experience to find the parallels between schoolchildren in India and in the US.

While I’ve always been into public health, my interest had mainly been in the communicable disease aspect before this internship. However, at PHFI, Hareena and I worked in a department that was basically all about non-communicable diseases (NCDs), so it was kind of the exact opposite to what I was most familiar with. At first I was a bit disappointed with my assignment, but now I’m really glad I got the chance to delve into something completely new! After working in PHFI, I feel that I’ve become quite knowledgeable about the NCD situation in India, and with all the research I’ve done and all the papers I’ve written on the topic, it’s a great feeling to have some degree of expertise on a topic.

PHFI was an amazing chapter in my life, and I can’t wait to start the next!