Hannah DeLap
Hannah DeLap
India 2011-2012
Originally from Houston, TX, I currently live in Nashville, TN, where I just graduated from Belmont University with my BBA in Economics. I have a passion for other cultures, cuisine, and traveling. I have traveled to many countries including most of Europe and a backpacking trek by myself throughout Central America. Read More About Hannah →

Public Transportation

When travelers come to India, they have different modes of transportation to get themselves around. The most frequently used are the tuk tuks, or rickshaws, and the trains. The tourists more used to traveling in some kind of comfort will choose to fly or hire drivers for their trek around the country.

For me and my fellow interns living here in India, specifically Jodhpur, we generally choose to take the public transportation instead of the more costly options. Due to this, however, our travel time increases, as well as our stress levels. I have talked with the other Americans that work through the same organization as I do, and we have all at some point or another ended up crying on the bus or tempo… Just bad days get heightened when Indians bombard you on the public transportation system.

There are many options to get around the city and surrounding outlying areas: buses, small buses, tempos, or rickshaws. These are just the cheaper options of course and those that are available to people like myself in Jodhpur. The bus routes are numerous and catching the right bus can sometimes be tricky, but most go to specific areas that you can ask for (that is if they understand what you are trying to say). I always take the rural bus from my village to the city and always prefer to sit on top of the bus because the bus is always overflowing with people and there is nothing like the fresh air breezing by you while you have the best view of the surrounding areas. This bus and the larger of their kind are government run buses that pile in as many people in as possible. I don’t mean three people to two seats; I mean in a bus with seats for around 30 people, there are usually around 50 people piled in whether they are sitting or standing. The trick is to get to the spot where they let people on first, that way you can ensure that you have a seat. Next, always get a window seat. When you are on a bus with 50 plus Indians, for a minimum of an hour, all you want is some fresh air, flowing through the ram-shackled windows, washing over you as you pummel down the dirty roads. The best thing though, and it never fails, is when someone, and sometimes two people, turn on Hindi or Rajasthani music on their cell phone so they can break the silence. India is a very loud country, I don’t know if anyone truly enjoys silence here.

The same goes for the buses in the city. On an average day, you will see every bus at the busy hours over flowing with people, and when you think no one else can possibly squeeze in, you will see an old lady get in and miraculously disappear into the mass of people. Tempos are also very common to see in the city. These are rickshaws that are a little bit bigger and generally have two long seats in the back and one in the front. While these would comfortably fit 8 people in any Indian circumstance, these, too, will be piled in where you cannot figure out how many people are actually there until they pile out like a clown car. Even a few people will hang on the back and jump down at their location if they are brave enough.

Paying for the bus is never over 10 rupees to get around Jodhpur, which is the equivalent of $0.20 and I pay 20 rupees to get from the village into Jodhpur. You can’t beat these kinds of prices, especially when tourists pay 1000 rupees ($20) to get to Jodhpur from the hotel in Chandelao. The fact that I do not make money while I am here in India means that I do not like to spend a large sum of money for anything.

Some people use rickshaws but for those who are not on a time crunch and know which bus to get on, it’s just better to get on a bus. The rickshaws are more expensive and wasteful. Foreigners have a hard time getting a good price on the rickshaws. If one does not know how to bargain or how much the ride should be, the driver will ask for at least double what it should be, if not more. Because I live in Jodhpur, well at least close, I know my way around and how much the price should be, but if I decide on the rickshaw, I still have a problem getting the proper price. The curse of being a white foreigner in India…

It is quite funny being here for over 6 months already because the bus drivers know Emily, the other longer-term intern in Jodhpur, and me. In the city, there are certain routes that know Emily very, very well while all the bus drivers and conductors from the rural village area know me very well. I generally hear people talking about me on the bus and there are always plenty of people who know my name and what I am doing in Chandelao and they will tell the curious new comer. I do dread having to ride the bus in most instances though because people never cease trying to talk with me, even if we can’t effectively communicate with each other. When they realize that I can’t understand them, they just start yelling at me and repeating the same foreign sounds to me. They don’t realize that if you yell at me I still won’t understand. I am not deaf; I just don’t speak the same language.

Now then, if you want a realistic representation of how the bus is, and what the village is like that I live in, watch the Darjeeling Limited. This Wes Anderson film was actually filmed in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, nowhere close to Darjeeling, and even has some parts in a rural village very similar to the one I live in. The rural bus featured in the movie is almost identical to the one that has become my weekly ride.

Getting Hot Hot Hot

Other than Holi, the past few weeks have been slow and monotoneous. The only other American left in Jodhpur is my friend Emily and we only see each other once a week when I go to the city on Sundays. At this point I have begun to realize my time is coming to an end sooner rather than later.

I have been a bit sick lately, but being that I get sick about once a month, it’s not that big of a surprise or ordeal. I tend to have stomach problems about once a month on a bigger than average scale but that is because I am still not used to the bacteria in India despite being here for almost 6 months. It has become less frequent though and this time it was coupled with the extreme heat that came on abruptly. Last week it was temperate weather with highs in the upper 80’s but now the sun has gotten extremely strong and within two days the heat is already in mid to upper 90’s. The mornings are temperate still and the nights are agreeable, but once the sun is in full blast, walking outside is like walking straight into wild fires. The sun beats down on my fair skin like a magnifying glass on an ant and even in the shade I start to sweat like I have been exercising for hours.

Unfortunately, here in the Thar desert, this is mild temperatures and as the summer slowly creeps up, the heat will only rise and scorch the earth with it’s harmful yet life giving rays. I am a bit sad that I will be leaving right after the worst and hottest month of the year, May, because I will not be able to see the monsoon season. During the rains, the spirits of everyone in this arid and dry desert supposedly get lifted and renewed as the plants are getting life again. The lakes/ponds in the area are already almost dry and being that the hottest months are still to come, this could be a very bad sign for the livestock and wild animals that rely on the watering holes for relief in the hot, dry sun. Not to mention the villagers that use this water as well.

As for work, I am still waiting to hear back from Whole Foods on whether or not they will place orders for small products to place in their grocery or Whole Body stores. I sent them a marketing package as well as a detailed explanation of the organization and products hoping to secure some orders for the center. I am in talks with a shop in Jodhpur who may order products wholesale to place in their storefront as well. Marketing is hard for products both here in India and abroad because the prices of the Sunder Rang products tend to be more expensive due to higher wages and costs associated with running the center and the over-saturation of both markets with fair-trade artisan products.

I accomplished one of the past interns projects and brought a tailor from Jodhpur to teach the women new skills and help train them in proper skills needed for sewing. Although this was not the exact training the other intern had placed a grant for, I thought it was better than having to give the money back to FSD for not completing the grant. There is a computer proficiency center being built behind the crafts center that is being funded by the Norwegian donor who supported the building of Sunder Rang, which will provide valuable skills to the village. The greenhouse, however, has been halted and put on hold due to extreme heat that is coming on fast. There will be no way to start growing seedling in the summer heat and without having a way to grow there is no point to build the structure until it is closer to a time that growing will be sustainable. This proves a cautious moment though because if I leave without putting a structure in place and teaching the necessary knowledge for the greenhouse, the plans will very possibly be forgotten about and no one will oversee the project.

That is the problem with development though: if no one cares about a particular project and no one in the area is properly trained to oversee it and continue it’s sustainability, there is no point to pursue the project. If there is anything I have learned in the past projects in development I have worked on, it’s that without sweat equity and ownership of the people, a project is likely to fail once the sponsoring organization is gone. This makes me wonder if it is just better to give the money back to FSD from what was given for building the greenhouse. I expressed my concern with my supervisor, but the response was not the same concern. He wants it to be done, but does not have time to oversee the project at all. Although the compost bin has been completed and I have step-by-step directions on how to building a hoop house style greenhouse, I still don’t believe the project will be completed or implemented in a sustainable fashion without someone to pursue it once I am gone.

My job as manager of Sunder Rang continues on a daily basis and the only reprieve I get from working at the center is on Sundays in Jodhpur, which end up being shopping days for the center. I am excited for a tourism trade show that is coming up in April that I will be attending with my host father/supervisor in order to promote the hotel and crafts center to local and foreign tour operators. It will three days of marketing at a trade show but includes cultural activities in Jaipur, including a polo match and visiting historical monuments.

Om… I Feel Enlightened

This past weekend, I had to vacate my room in order for the hotel in Chandelao to use it for guests, so I took advantage of this opportunity and left for a long weekend with Emily, my fellow intern. Being that we have traversed the touristy areas of Rajasthan already, we planned an adventure that would take us to two holy cities of India: Varanasi and Sarnath.

Let me begin by explaining the idea of getting there in and back in four days time. Being that we do not like to spend very much money on travel, because we work for free, the trains are the most economical option. After booking our train rides, Emily and myself would be traveling to Varanasi on a 25 hour train from Jodhpur in sleeper class, the cheapest option with pull down berths, then two more overnight trains to get back to Jodhpur with a day stop in Delhi. This sounded like a good idea, being that the total for all the trains was less than $50 each. Well three out of four nights on trains took its toll that would show up at the end, in the form of unwavering tiredness.

The train ride to Varanasi was not too bad. We left in the morning out of Jodhpur and arrived the next morning in Varanasi, thank God the end of the train was mostly the nighttime or we might have gone crazy. With a large bag full of fresh cut veggies, a jar of peanut butter, and some bread, we started our journey to the holiest city of India. Once arriving in Varanasi, we ventured out into the city, accompanied by the rickshaw driver who would take us around the city for the upcoming two days. The first stop was to find a hotel and take a shower… Oh how we needed a shower. The first hotel we stopped at was full and the second was too expensive for our backpacking tastes, so we settled on one that was within our price range but the equivalent of the terrible room we rented in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. If you don’t remember that one, it was the one with a bucket, an Indian squat toilet, and three beds in need of the prometherin that I brought. Well this room was not much better, but I didn’t bring the prometherin this time. There were two twin beds, no window, a fat lizard scaling the wall, and the bathroom: a half squat toilet, a bucket with faucet, and no sink… Oh well, that is how we live.

After splashing ourselves with some water and soap, we left the hotel to conquer the city. This day was to explore Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus in India where Indians come to bathe in the Ganges River or to die and be burnt in the Ghats. It is very auspicious to die in Varanasi and have your ashes spread in the Ganga. The river, though efforts are being made to clean it up, is a festering river that I would be afraid to touch due to the things floating in it and knowing how the ashes are spread everyday of the recently deceased. The first day though, we spent navigating the city with the tuk tuk and went to the Shiva temple, Hanuman temple, and Dunga temples before getting lunch and getting sucked into silk shopping. The merchants of silk and sarees really know how to sway women into buying their goods. Imagine yourself sitting on a cushioned floor having colors of all shades thrown in your direction from all sides and covering your body like a silky, colorful cocoon; it’s hard to resist once you are wrapped up in it. We didn’t leave the silk factory without a bed spread each in very vibrant colors, and as we left the thought couldn’t help coming making us wonder why we each bought a bed spread without a bed or home to go back to once we leave India. Oh India!

The time had passed by as the silky colors were engulfing our bodies and eyesight, so when we emerged it was time to go see the evening prayer ceremonies in the Ghats. We boarded a small wooden boat that would transport us to the main ghat where we would sit along side a slew of other tourists to watch the ceremonies of the Hindu priests performing puja for large crowds of tourists and Indians alike. A part of me couldn’t help if this has gotten to be more for the tourist attraction rather than true worship due to the influx of Western and Indian tourists in the past few decades. Oh well, drinking chai from a mud cup, slowly rocking in the Ganga waters, and watching the four Indian priests perform puja in flawless unison was a beautiful site to behold. After leaving the river at night, hoping not fall in the river with the bloated dead pig we passed as the boat rocked on waves sent from motorized boats quickly passed the slowly rowing, and preferred, boat we manned, we went to dinner. Like every other meal Emily and myself procured on this trip, we went for touristy non-indian food and had a REAL salad with lettuce (unheard of around Rajasthan) and tuna, then some fried eggplant, and Thai coconut curry. We even went back to the same place for breakfast the next morning.

The next morning came too soon with a 6 am wake up in order to see the sun rise over the Ganga (Indians call the Ganges River the Ganga). And what a sight it was! Beautiful and pastel lighting gave a soft glow to the river and the sandstone buildings along the ghats as we slowly rowed along the river with all the other tourists from countries all around the world. While we are tourists, the preferred trips are those where a white face is few in far between, but in the morning on the Ganga, it felt more like the sinking the Titanic there were so many tourists from Asia, Europe, and American on the surrounding wooden skiffs being propelled by a man with two long bamboo oars. While the spirits of the river and the holy meaning of Varanasi may not have been apparent to us as the river slowly swept us along, the sites where beautiful and awe inspiring.

The rest of the day in Varanasi was spent in the neighboring city of Sarnath. A small town that is one of the four holiest cities for Buddhists due to the history and understanding that the enlightened Buddha gave his first teachings there after becoming enlightened. For me, this city had a strong pull due to my understanding and affinity for Buddhism. I believe, like most, that although Buddhism is considered a religion, it is more a lifestyle that anyone can follow while practicing their own religion. The first stop was of a newly constructed 80 ft. tall statue of a Thai Buddha. Here we walked around the Buddha clockwise, as is done by Buddhists, similar to what Hindus do in temples as well. The next stop was an Indian government museum that, because we did not have high hopes for, blew us away with the preservation of archeological finds from the area.

Once we met up with our guide at the Chinese Buddhist temple, he showed us, rather speedily, around Deer Park that was established to commemorate the teachings of Buddha. In the park, there stands a large temple possessing a large statue of the Buddha in teaching pose and walls covered in frescos painted by Japanese artists. Around to the right of the temple, stood the third generation of the ficus tree that Buddha taught under to spread the knowledge of enlightenment and the eight-fold path. Lastly in Deer Park stands a large Stupa that was built as a memorial for the Buddha’s memory. A stupa is a large stone structure that is to be walked around and used as a remembrance of a time, memory, or relic that may be placed inside. Once we were leaving Sarnath, the last stop was the Tibetan monastery that teaches and houses Tibetan monks and young monks in training. Before entering, we read the words painted outside incriminating China with very biased and strong words, although somewhat true, that explained Tibets current situation.

The rest of the day, we passed by just abiding our time till our night train left to take us to Delhi the next day. After getting Pizza Hut, yes that’s right, Pizza Hut, we made our way to the station and boarded our 3 AC sleeper class car. Thank god we sprang for the extra money on this leg of the journey, due to recommendation, because our train was 6 hours late getting into Delhi. But once we arrived in Delhi, and washed up, we were on a mission that had been planned for a week at that point. Hard Rock Café Delhi, was on the horizon and all we had to do was navigate the Metro and find the mall that housed the American franchise that promised of real beef burgers! After taking a tuk tuk to the wrong mall, why there were two malls with the same name we will never know, the decision had to be made of whether to back track to get a burger… Didn’t take long to decide HELL YES! Finally, reaching our true destination, our own spiritual journey came to an end with nachos, burgers, and apple cobbler, which we ate every crumb of before venturing back to find our night train to return us home to Jodhpur. Oh the glorious holy animal of India serves as a temptation walking down the street to American’s living in India and not able to get beef to eat. But alas, we found a burger that was everything we had hoped it would live up to be.

This week is Holi though so once arriving back to work, there is no work to arrive at. Everything will be closed for Holi on Wednesday and Thursday so I am going to Jodhpur later today to get oil, water balloons, and colored powder in order to enjoy the festivities with friends in Jodhpur.

Rajput Village Wedding

Living in a village has its perks; one being that I have been inducted into the society and they have accepted me as a peer and treat me as such. I was invited to a wedding of one of the girls from the craft center that I am currently managing in the village. Chandelao has had it’s fair share of weddings this winter but this is the first that I have been cordially invited to rather than just being prodded or persuaded to join in due to providing entertainment as the dancing white girl.

I would say the best words to describe the experience are colorful, elongated, solemn, and confusing. The wedding, like most Indian weddings, lasted three days last weekend. The first and second nights are for the respective sides of the family to have their own traditions and ceremonies with the bride or groom, and the third night of the wedding is the main and actual ceremony of the wedding. The first night, Radhika, a friend who came for the wedding, and myself escaped having to go because it was just a night of dancing and the next night would be very similar.

The second day of the wedding, we were invited to one of the bride’s family member’s home to have lunch as part of the weekly celebrations. The family members in the village all commit to helping and to take some of the financial burdens of the family, they have some of the meals for the guests and families at the their house rather than the bride’s home. The bride’s family incurs most of the cost for the wedding and has to cover the wedding ceremony, guest accommodation and board, dowry (still popular in villages though outlawed in India), and gifts to the bride that will actually be taken as gifts to her new family. The groom’s side of the family really just has to provide the son to marry and receives all the gifts and money for taking on a new daughter-in-law.

The second night of the wedding, Radhika and myself ate dinner at home and then went to the wedding around 9 p.m. and were happily invited into the room with the bride. We were being treated specially because Radhika and I were special guests for them. They treated us very nicely as well by allowing us in the family affairs while the bride and her family were given mehindi (henna) and dinner. Since we had already eaten, we agreed to have the sweet that is given at most weddings: lapsi. After eating most of our portion, the ladies all started feeding us bites from their hands, which is a customary way of showing affection. With at least three large bites of lapsi in my mouth, one of the younger girls put in a bite of roti with savji (chapatti and vegetable) in my mouth and made me nearly throw up. Not a good mixture, but I was able to swallow it. Shortly after dinner, the dreaded dancing time came. We both knew that we would have to dance, especially me who had been getting teased all week by the other girls at the center about dancing. Well, not long after walking outside, I was forced to dance to the second song and had to do a traditional Rajasthani dance, which ended up looking more like a hula, or so I think.
The night was full of dancing from family members to show well wishes to the bride. There was also an improv play from an aunt and her nephew and they dressed up like opposite sexes and cracked jokes about marriage, or so I was told. We left earlier than most and went back before it was very late. The next day we knew was the late night.

The saddest night I have had in India was the third night of the wedding. When we arrived at the wedding house, we were once again allowed in the room where the women of the bride’s family were getting her ready. Manju, the bride, was nearly dressed and was huddled in a corner looking like a frightened animal getting ready to meet her end. I have been to other weddings but they were all in the city and I think the couples had at least known each other a short while before getting married. In the village, however, the bride and groom most likely have never met and get introduced as they are being married be a priest. It’s no wonder why Manju seemed so scared. Can you imagine getting married to someone you have only heard a bit about and being ripped away the only things you have ever known: your family, your friends, and your village?

After a while in the room, sitting confused and solemn over the impending pairing of two unknown people, the groom was soon to arrive so most people went outside to see him be delivered on his horse. I watched as a bystander as the groom disembarked from his horse, not so gracefully, and while the priest blessed the groom and performed puja for him and the other male guests of the village, all sitting outside of the marriage home. Once the priest had blessed the male caravan and elders of the bride’s village, the groom once again dawned the courage to get on the horse to enter the bride’s home after the women completed certain rituals of blessing. I retreated to inside of the inner walls to watch the groom enter on his horse and be ushered to an area where all the female and young family members could crowd around and one by one give blessings to the groom.

The commotion died down rather quickly once all the blessings had been given and the groom then retreated to outside of the home again; my guess is to be entertained by the male family members of the bride’s side, most likely by drinking. Once again, the waiting started and being an auspicious community, they had to wait until after 11:03 to perform the wedding ceremony. Once the time reached, the bride was ushered out to meet the solemn and unresponsive groom. The priest then placed their right hands together, the first touch of the soon to be married couple. Next came the promises that each of the fearful quarries had to make to one another and proceeded to walk around the fire built as the main part of the ceremony in Indian weddings. Each took turns walking around the fire first, and sometimes together, depending on the promises they made to one another that they most likely repeated from the priest.

I was told about the aftermath of the wedding on the way home, and the next morning the groom, his new bride, and the males from the groom’s family would make the journey back to the new village for the bride. The bride would spend a few days, five in this case, with her new family and then be picked up by a brother or other male family member to come back home for a short time so as to not get completely shut off from everything she has ever known. The groom’s family would play games and slowly get them used to one another by doing things like putting cotton on random places of the body and having each other remove the cotton. These are ways to introduce each other to one another but also to get them used to touching the opposite sex since neither one has ever had sexual contact with the opposite sex, assumingly.

Needless to say, this was a great cultural experience for me even though I was saddened for Manju and the fear that she couldn’t hide. I cannot imagine having to marry someone I had never met before, but on the other side, I imagine they can’t imagine having the choice to marry someone they had to choose either.

FIRE! and Success

So last night was a surprising and eventful one. After not being able to sleep for most of the night, for multiple reasons, I awoke to a noise coming from converter that I had my computer charging on. Well, subconsciously I hit the charger from my computer and less than five minutes later the whole wall went up in flames! Well, maybe not the whole wall. The converter and wattage box that I had plugged in caught on fire to my surprise and I grabbed the charger out in what I thought till later was just in time. I mean it is not charred and melted like the converter and box, but it is not working. So I am wasting precious time typing right now because I don’t know when I will get a new charger.

Other than waking up in a fright last night, the past week has proved to be a successful week full of meetings and visits. At the end of last week, I visited a crafts center in a village a ways from my own in order to see the large-scale center that exports to overseas accounts. It was amazing to see the ingenuity and efficiency that has gone into creating such a well-oiled machine. First the women are on salary and are only given holidays and a certain amount of days off, versus the lack of accountability on how often the women work at our center. The women are specialized in different areas of the center and work together to produce fine quality products that are then sold in the shop and exported. Nila Moti, the other center, employs 70 women from 9 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. The biggest difference other than size and efficiency was that the organization that started the program is a constant force in the process and sends someone to work there and check on operations multiple times a year. At Sunder Rang, the organization that gave the money and set up the center has left the project to be run and overseen by whoever can help out, and that doesn’t always allow for efficiency and skill sets needed to manage a project. I am hoping that we can find a manager before I leave, because the fears that I have for the center being left behind are an impending doom if no one comes along to replace me.

On to the greenhouse: Sandy, the older volunteer, and myself visited a farm outside of Jodhpur a few days ago and had a superb visit with the farmer. After getting so frustrated over people who claimed to know everything, but really knew nothing, it was a breath of fresh air to find the true expert on all things plants. I was a bit worried that we would not get the information that we needed, but once we arrived, the translator and farmers started answering every question we had with in depth demonstrations around the farm. While we are not planning a large-scale farm like he was overseeing, he still knew how to plant and cultivate in the arid desert of Rajasthan and offered to come to the village and help train when the time comes. I can’t explain the relief that I had when I left the farm knowing that all hope was not lost and that the greenhouse really is possible. The next step, however, is trying to get those involved in the village to actually start the work and get the plans implemented.

First things first, we have to test the soil to the PH levels and salt content to know if we will be able to plant in the soil. We are expecting to have to bring in soil from other areas because the salt level is quite high, or so we have been told. This week’s goal was to start the compost in the hotel grounds so the vegetable scraps and other compostable materials can go straight from the kitchen to the compost bins. Someone at the hotel will have to be charged with the responsibility of making sure only specific items are allowed in the bins while at the same time keeping it moist and turning it over as to not get overheated.

The village has been very loud and busy lately and the center has been just the opposite. Most women are missing from the center for the past week or even up to two months for some of them due to wedding preparations. One of the girls from the center is getting married this weekend and we have all been invited to celebrate! I know I will be the entertainment because they all love to see the white girl dance, but I am excited to go to a village wedding. I don’t know how different it will be from the city weddings I have been to but I am about to find out. Tonight is the first night of the wedding. Well it is the dinner that the family puts on to start the celebrations and tomorrow through Saturday, three days, will be the festivities. All I know is I am going to be decorated and made to dance more than I want, but I just feel special because I was given an invitation like they give to their relatives and friends.

Building a Greenhouse with “Experts”

The word expert evokes a certain degree of respect and awe to most people. It is like the words connoisseur and specialist, they all try to differentiate those who know the most from the others who would like to know more. In India, however, the word expert describes those who at best have a degree, and yet most of the time they don’t. I am not saying that all those who claim a superior knowledge do not possess such, but most do not.

As the long-term intern, coming after two short-term interns from the summer program, I have the duty to complete the proposed projects that were funded. I am working on both getting training for the women at the center and now to build a greenhouse in a village that has no experience in growing small-scale vegetable gardens. In this area of Rajasthan, there are only 5 main crops, mostly grains, which are grown and on a very large scale expanding over the vast desert plains around the edge of the Thar desert. Being a white female in a male dominated society, where I cannot speak the language, I have been in need of help getting the materials and plans for the greenhouse together. There is one specific contact that the past intern has worked with, Mr. Dwivedi, who has agreed to help in whatever way possible, and has great English skills. He also works with the agriculture department and has contacts for certain necessary items.

Mr. Dwivedi has put me in touch with experts who are more than willing to help in the greenhouse endeavor, for a hefty price… That is the kicker. We are building this greenhouse to help people in the village of Chandelao, whether it be directly through job procurement or the availability of fresh vegetables at lower costs. The so called “experts” that have either come to the village or met with us in Jodhpur have expressed interest in building or helping with the greenhouse but only if we can build it larger than we have proposed, so they can make more money. On top of that, they do not seem to know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, in Indian society when a business meeting happens, they all agree on topics that are either not going to work or agree just to agree. After the meeting, however, the plans never get done, because even though they agreed in the meeting, they didn’t really mean their affirmations. I did not realize this until my host father explained it to me. This makes life difficult.

Per discussion with an “expert” on building greenhouses, we visited the CAZRI in Jodhpur. The Central Arid Zone Research Institute is a large-scale research institute where the administrators and scientists do experiments and research on possible uses and growing techniques for dry arid zones, such as Rajasthan. They have other projects as well, but these were the most relevant to what we were looking for. Another volunteer and myself went to check out CAZRI and see the “greenhouse” that the “expert” had built. When we got there, being women, the only person who was spoken to or answered was the older man who is volunteering at Chandelao and helping me set up the greenhouse. I did not feel put out or hurt at all by this because I was used to it, but it is still something I should express to explain the situation.

Walking around CAZRI, we soon found out there was no small-scale greenhouse that we had been led to believe we would get to see while visiting the institute. The greenhouse that was shown to us was a concrete structure with sprinklers and fans built into iron for irrigation purposes. Being that the budget is around $1500, the greenhouse shown to us was out of the question and more of a waste of time. But I was glad to see the center, because walking around we saw the way they have been traditionally teaching others to grow and compost. Being that our original ideas of composting and building a hoop-house style greenhouse still seem most relevant in the arid climate and budget we have to work with, we will not be following the advice from the “experts” and building the cheap version that will work just as well as the expensive and large-scale versions.

Now to implement… Teaching people who have no experience and or knowledge in growing will be a difficult task. That is why I am keeping extensive track of the steps we take to build and run the greenhouse so an operations manual can be written with pictures and descriptions clear enough for the new employees to understand, and hopefully implement in other areas.

Other than the greenhouse, I have been getting quite a few invitations to be involved in the village. The younger girls are always inviting me to chai and the other day even brought me to one of their homes to see a newborn baby. One of the unmarried girls from the crafts center is getting married soon and I have been invited to the 3-day wedding! I have been to multiple weddings in Jodhpur this wedding season, but this will be their first that I have been invited to in the village. Although I am sure that people would have invited me into their wedding if I were passing by, I would not feel comfortable if I did not know anyone at the wedding. This has happened many times in Jodhpur: I walk by somewhere that a wedding is taking place and someone tries to get me to join in on dancing or just coming into the festivities because I am white and a nice addition to the celebration. I am excited for the village wedding and appreciate how much the women are trying to include me in their daily affairs.

Cracking the Whip

This week has been an efficient use of time for the most part. Even though I took off two days in order to go to Jodhpur for Republic Day, which is one of India’s independence days, I have managed to get quite a bit done. The greenhouse, that had been forgotten about until I came poking around for it, has gotten underway and the center is working well, as usual.

Last weekend, after spending some time with the gals in Jodhpur, they informed me that my name had become a verb for multiple uses. What I mean by this is that while doing something that would usually be characterized as something that I would usually do or make someone do, that it was now considered “pulling a Hannah.” My name now has the verb attached to it meaning “to be firm and to ensure the desired results.” Due to take no crap, strong will, and won’t back down personality that I have, the others always make me bargain for things, get us the Indian price, and overall anything that may be a difficult maneuver. It is quite fitting for the way I have started to take care of things lately as well.

Every since getting frustrated with the way things had been going, I vowed that I would make a difference and not be just another intern/white girl in India who ended up coming here and not producing real results. Unfortunately the past interns left me with more work than necessary to complete which makes it impossible to do any projects that would have been more fitting in a rural setting/ impoverished area such as the area that I live in. I have begun to get leeway in both projects that were left in the abyss and forgotten about once the other interns left their 9-week stint in Chandelao this summer. After speaking with my organization and contacting our main office in San Francisco, I am now allocating the money that was going to be used to bring trainers from a nearby village with a large scale crafts center to teach the women, into hiring a tailor from Jodhpur to come and teach the sewing women some specific skills necessary for quality products. This is time consuming, however, because it requires me to rewrite the grant proposal in order to change the original use of the money and to do all the research and development necessary to bring the tailor to the village.

On the greenhouse front, we have begun the first stage, and with much prodding and “pulling a Hannah” the project is actually being implemented. This, like the other grant, was not properly researched by the intern and is now going to be changed quite a bit, though it will be the same usage. After meeting with a man in Jodhpur who works with the Indian Agriculture Department, the plans now seem somewhat concrete and we have a much better idea of the layout and plan for building the hoop-house style greenhouse. He will be helping us along the way and has given us a contact in the city to help find the materials needed for building, which Praduman (my host father) and myself will be meeting in town tomorrow to search for the materials needed at the current moment. Today, after imposing the necessity of starting the greenhouse, a man from the village has come to the plot reserved for this specific usage and has started digging the holes needed for the bases of the poles. The first step will be to dig the 2X2X2 pits and then cement in the bases made from 2” wide PVC pipe and rebar. At least this part of the project is getting underway. The composting is to start soon and hopefully we will get the greenhouse going soon enough.

Other than work, today was quite fun since two of the other interns came to the village to visit me instead of me traveling to Jodhpur. Julia and Emily had not been to Chandelao yet, so they had been wanted to see the village that I reside in before leaving India. Julia stayed the night last night and we relaxed at the hotel while Emily came and joined us this morning. While I still had to work a bit today, with cracking the whip at the pit digger (not really) and a bit of work at the center, I managed to play host quite well and took them around to see the village and points of interest as well as the center and the hotel. Once the bus came that they had to ride back to Jodhpur, it was quite full at 4 o’clock and I convinced them to try my favorite way of riding the bus, especially when it’s full: on top. They climbed up to the top and situated themselves according to my instructions, and much to the bus conductor’s dismay, and my assurances, off they went to enjoy the best views of the surrounding countryside, while not being squished in the ever so crowded rural bus.

The rest of the day was actually spent by me visiting multiple houses of the women/girls who work at my center. In the past, the only times I had visited someone’s home in the village, or surrounding villages, was with someone who spoke both Hindi and English. Even though I think they have asked me to join them before, I could never be sure of what they were asking of me, so I continued to play dumb and not know for sure. Today was different however, and the girls made sure I knew what they were asking and I followed them to their respective homes for chai and a visit. Even though we do not speak the same language and there was a lot of laughing that I was not exactly sure of the reasoning, I had quite a lot of fun joining them with their families for a while and looking over the family photos and being treated as a family guest for chai. I went to three different homes and stopped at others while we were on our way back, all of whom tried to get me in their homes for chai as well. I believe I have now started the trend of getting Hannah to go their homes… Tomorrow I already promised to visit two others. I have really been inducted into the community now, and it is nice to be treated as such instead of a tourist or unfamiliar face.

Laughing, Loving, and Mourning

This past week has been a very long seven days. I feel like last Sunday was more like a month ago rather than just a week ago. Not only did I have a frustrating week at work and have to visit Jodhpur three times, twice for work and once for a personal excursion, but I also had a friends visit the village for two days, witness a funeral in the village, and I have been party to hearing a wedding for multiple nights.

At the beginning of the week, a friend from Jodhpur, Madison, decided to come back from the city on Sunday night and stay in the village for two days. She, like the other American interns in my organization, has no time to herself because she lives in an Indian household where “me time” is not common. Not only is home not a serene place, the city itself offers no refuge due to the noises and bustle: honking cars and buses, rickshaws who won’t take no for an answer, the impoverished street children and women who follow you down the streets, and not to mention the lack of peaceful sitting options inside or outside. Being that home is no refuge; she decided that coming to the village to relax would be the best option at that time. This worked out well, since she came on a Sunday night and we had dinner and drinks with my host brother and his friends whom were in town from college, and the next day she had the day to ponder on life’s questions and challenges that become clear and pressing after realizing that your time in India is almost over. Madison will be leaving in one month and her time has really flown by from the time she arrived to the time that she realized she would soon be leaving.
While Madison was here, I was planning on working during the day, my normal business hours, but a woman in the village passed on and we shut the center for the village to be in mourning. Because one of the women at the center was related to the deceased, she has not been attending work lately due to customs. I have witnessed many things in the village, but this was the first funeral that I have encountered during my time here in Chandelao. Being in a traditional Rajasthani village, rituals tend to be time-honored as well.

The women of Chandelao are not allowed to be a part of the funeral procession as the men walk throughout the village carrying the departed wrapped in linen cloth and covered with marigold flowers. The men carrying the body on their shoulders can surely feel the weight as wooden poles cut into their muscles. Once they reach the lake, they burn the body and spread the ashes while washing themselves in the lake. This is the traditional ritual all over India, but especially in Rajasthani villages. Madison and I happened to be walking around the village and saw from afar the funeral activities at the lake, and although we wanted to go and witness this custom, we thought it would be culturally disrespectful to venture too close. On the thirteenth day after the death, there will be a funeral feast that takes place to the honor the deceased and all family from the village and farther will come to celebrate. During this time, there will most likely be child pairing as is custom with large gatherings, and they will be betrothed for the marriage to take place later in life.

On a lighter side though, during the winter months in India is wedding season. I have observed, been invited to, and even attended multiple weddings at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. This is no exception in the village and there have been quite a few weddings this season. Indian weddings traditionally last three nights and have different practices each night with the third commencing in the actual wedding ceremony. The village weddings are on a much smaller scale then the city weddings I have attended due to the cost and attendance, though they are no less joyful. For the past three nights, I have listened to the loud Hindi music blaring from the rented equipment set up to entertain the guests while they all dance and sit to view the bride and groom. Weddings are a whole other blog to get into, but needless to say, they are a charade that seems to never end. The village only gets electricity for a certain number of hours, and this posed to be beneficial to my sleeping. Around 10 pm every night, the blaring music, heard over sparingly from my window at the hotel, was cut off when the power cut out suddenly. I was thinking what a relief that it was off, since I had been listening to it for over three hours already from different areas of the hotel grounds. Well, that was short lived and the electricity came back on to plague my sanity for another hour until the power cut happened for real and actually kept the electricity off all night.

Since this week has begun, I have a long list of “to-do’s” and I hope I can make a dent in them before the weekend. With the bank account being at the top of the list, I will have to rope in the help of Praduman, my host father, to help me sort the paperwork and open the account in Jodhpur. I have also been asked to start going on the projects that the past interns had left behind, so I need to start the greenhouse project and allocate the money for training the women into finding a different training source than originally budgeted for, which means I have to re-write the grant proposal as well. Needless to say, I have a long week ahead and am already looking forward to a relaxing Sunday…

Tipping Point

So the other day, I was sitting at work in a frustrated mood, for many reasons, and I was thinking about how I have been here for 3 months and only have 5 more here. I know that sounds like a ways off still, but in reality, it will go by really fast. The thing that really started weighing on my mind was that I have gotten nothing productive done and what will happen if I don’t have anything to show for once I am gone. It’s not like I do nothing on a daily basis…

I mean, because the manager left right when I got here, I have been acting manager of the crafts center since my time has begun and most likely will be until I leave. This means that I work everyday and oversee while helping the women make the crafts. Being manager also means that I have to run all the errands outside of the village, because the women either don’t want to leave the village or would not know where to go to get the materials needed. This has proved itself as being one of the hardest things about the manager leaving right after my arrival. Finding the materials needed means I have to go to Jodhpur or other surrounding areas and search for the goods without the means of communication or physical features on my side.

Before leaving on vacation, that is almost three weeks ago, I left behind a bag with two items (key chains and zippers) and a short lists of things that needed to be completed for the center while I was gone. I gave them to my host father and he said that his mother would take care of them while I was away. Now, I don’t know whether she ever got that memo, or who may have ignored or forgotten about it, but nothing on the list was done or bought. This is where my frustrations begin. I have found that if there is something that needs to be done, then the only way it will get done is to hold someone by the hand and lead him or her to the finish. The idea of efficiency is completely lost here. This realization brought about my struggles with figuring out how to complete projects while I am still living here. I have been left with two grants that previous interns proposed and received but never followed through on, as well as figuring out the marketing and business proposals that I have commissioned myself to impose.

Since I have started to realize that things will not be completed unless I am there as a constant reminder, I used this week to compel my host father to work with me on the items I needed his help with. The past two days have been spent traveling to and from Jodhpur looking for items needed in the crafts center that the previous manager had bought from a city much farther away. I took my host father with me to find the products and drive me, because he had errands to run as well. The first day ended up being a never-ending day of tasks that needed to be completed by my host father. The only thing on the agenda for the crafts center that was tackled was getting to a bank in order to open a bank account for Sunder Rang. And I use the word “tackled” loosely because all we were able to accomplish was getting to the bank and having a discussion. Apparently, opening a bank account here in India is harder than going to a doctor and getting prescribed painkillers. They require more paperwork than an adoption as well as three responsible parties, one of which cannot be me because I am a foreigner. Needless to say, we did not open the bank account yet, even though I had papers from the previous manager, who I suppose just gave up on the work. This will require more help from my host father though because all the paperwork is in Hindi, and I cannot read a word of it.

As for the market, yesterday was spent in the market of the Old City in Jodhpur searching for particular items. This was actually a lot of fun, and being that one of my favorite parts of traveling the world is visiting markets, I found it enthralling. It was good that my host father was with me though because he was able to speak the language and receive a much lower discount to start than I would have. While I consider myself a cutthroat bargainer, because they always rip the white folk off, it is much easier to have an Indian when shopping the markets. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told by my Indian counterparts, “Stay here, if you come with me to start then the price will be much higher.” This doesn’t happen all the time, but it generally happens after another Indian is going to show them different shop with the goods we are searching for. Yesterday was a success and the shop owners will now recognize me as the gori angrez that will come back for products the next time.

The new goal is to start working more towards the bigger picture and less on the day-to-day where my time gets slowly vanishes. I now have to implement a grant for training the women, which was not going to happen because the trainers did not agree. I have to rewrite the budget and proposal in order to find new trainers for this grant in the immediate future while working on the greenhouse proposal that another intern left behind. While this time in Chandelao has not turned out the way I thought it would have, I feel if I work towards the big picture I will have made a difference and helped to change the lives of others for the better.

Chennai- Resting Place of St. Thomas?

The past two weeks I have been traveling in the south of India during the Christmas and New Years holiday. While the general plan was somewhat mapped out, we were in for a surprise when our plane leaving Jaipur was delayed. After traveling to Jaipur from Jodhpur at 5 a.m. in order to get a flight in the afternoon, the airline delayed out flight, for no reason that they could explain to us. This put a damper on our first leg of the trip since we were supposed to get into Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and go to our night train that would take us to the hill stations. Well, needless to say, we missed our train due to the 5-hour delay that was so unconfidently placed on our flight plans. And so the adventure begins…

We arrived in Chennai and knew that we would we would be stranded there for the night with no idea of what to do for travel on the following day. I had called ahead while waiting in Jaipur for a hotel, but once we arrived in Chennai they informed me they had given our room away earlier that evening… Thank you so much! Now we were starting to scramble. After an early morning train, laying around an airport for 5 hours, then an plane ride with a stop on the way in Hyderabad, we just wanted to sleep for a while, especially since it was almost midnight. Well, one of my companions decided in frustration that she would just ask the pre-paid taxi gentleman (if you can call him that) to take us somewhere with openings since everywhere I was calling was full. Bad Idea! After driving about two miles from the airport the taxi pulls off on the side and starts going down dark alleyways where all we see are groups of men and trash, which is not a good start. Once we pulled in front of the so called “hotel” we already had a Hell NO attitude… There were two 20-something year old guys with us going there who were also skeptical. The place was amiably named Shiv Transit Accommodation so it really wasn’t a hotel and we felt we were coming straight into the movie “Taken.” Need I even say that we made them take us back to the airport for us to find out own accommodation?

The place we found was too much better but we felt a bit better about it. After waking up in the morning, and feeling like we had been beaten with sticks from the stiff travels, we ventured out into the unknown. We decided on going to the Theosophical Society, but once we arrived we noticed the sign on the gate saying they had closed that day for the Christmas and New Years break. So the next stop ended up being the government museum of Chennai. Well, once there they were also closed, and we found out they were closed on all Fridays. After our first two failures, our rickshaw driver, who I haggled with for a good 10 minutes before our first ride, told us he would take us to the main spots of Chennai then drop us at our night bus later in the evening. So Madison, Emily, and myself rented the rickshaw driver for the day and explored Chennai that ended up being a hidden gem.
Our first stop and most surprising was the St. Thomas Basilica. In case you don’t know (because we didn’t) there are only three Basilicas in the world that were built for Apostles of Jesus. Who would have known that one would be in Chennai, India?

Apparently, Thomas migrated over to India and ended up in Chennai in 52 A.D. and started preaching the gospel to the Indian population in Tamil Nadu. He stayed and spread the news of Jesus while performing unfathomable acts in front of the Indians, also known as miracles. St. Thomas taught until his death in 72 A.D. when he was martyred in Chennai.

All three of us had been to private school growing up and attended Christian colleges in the U.S. and none of us had ever heard of St. Thomas going to and be martyred in Chennai! This was one of the highlights of our trip, along with our wonderful driver who sat with our bags all day, which was worth the fair in itself. After leaving the Basilica, and paying our homage to the tomb of St. Thomas, we headed to the beach and dipped our feet in the Indian Ocean while avoiding the glass scattering the Chennai beaches threatening to cut of a toe or cause some serious damage to a fallen hand… The driver also took us to the see the main temple of Chennai and for a cheap south Indian dinner.