Monday, 20 June 2011

Death, Life, and Inequality

Because class and rotations are over, I assumed that the last week of my trip would have less of an impact on me compared to the rest of my time in India. But the past day has impacted me the most, and it has actually been the first time I’ve cried this whole trip. In span of 24 hours I have unexpectedly witnessed Death, Life, and Inequality all through three powerful experiences that I am sure I will never forget.
Death:  Last night, a few of my friends and I were waiting in the hospital courtyard for some of the hospital staff to join us for dinner. While we waited, we saw a bunch of people gathering and a distraught woman leaving the ER.  At first I acknowledged the situation, but did not think too much of it. As more people gathered I noticed that the nurses and doctors began to come out of the ER blessing and comforting the mother. I was now intrigued, concerned, and anxious. Finally, we see the father carrying out a small girl in his arms with a white cloth draped over her body. Everyone dropped their heads and prayed. He cried and slowly placed the small body in the car to drive home. Watching the father cry with his dead daughter in his hands on Father’s Day was one of the most difficult scenes I’ve seen in my life.  
Dr. Pravesh then came to meet us and when he realized what had happened, he went to give his condolences to the family. Turns out that the family was driving somewhere for Father’s Day and they got into minor car accident. The young girl was hanging her head out the window and suffered a head injury at impact that killed her later that day. Her twin sister sat next to her in the car and seemed to be okay.
Witnessing this gave me a reminder on how fragile life really is. Everyone hears terrible stories of accidents involving young children. The reaction typically is a heavy sigh, a second of reflection, and then on with your life. But seeing the defeat and helplessness of the young girl’s family last night shook me up inside. I found myself up at night, disturbed of the horror this family is facing.
Death is the part of medicine. It is the most difficult aspect and has me a little hesitant about the profession. There are no words to console a mother or father who has just lost a child.
Life: The next experience occurred today, and it reminded me of the benefits of practicing medicine. We were all sitting around when some of our staff announced that there was going to be an emergency caesarian (Sea Section) for a woman with pre-eclampsia, a dangerous hypertensive condition for the mother and baby. The mother came into the hospital in the morning with edema and swelling of the legs and arms. The OBGYN decided it was necessary for an emergency caesarian in order to save the mother and the baby. Once again, I was intrigued and anxious. I was going to be able to see a baby being born! I was very excited. We scrubbed up and entered the Operating Theater. After the incision was made, they found out that the baby was breech, so they had to pull him out legs first. The baby boy was born without any major complications for the mother or baby. It was such a relief to hear the first cry of the baby’s life. It was an amazing and beautiful thing to witness.
Inequality:  I was honored to hear Dr. Sanjay, a professor from Varanasi and director of Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW), his wife, Madhu, a professor in secondary education and gender, and their son discuss their lives leading the state wide campaign stopping violence against women. Their focus is on informing men about the issue of violence against women, a very progressive and socially unacceptable concept for many traditional Indians to grasp. Dr. Sanjay discussed his experience with cases of dowry burnings, rape, and mental/physical abuse. A dowry burning happens often when the groom’s family is not happy with the dowry given by the bride’s family. The groom’s family will place the woman in the kitchen and burn her…it is typically shrugged off by the authorities as a kitchen accident. They also focus on emphasizing to young boys the inequalities between boys and girls in the education system through coloring book. MASVAW has been effective in helping men recognize the inequalities that women face and in changing the hegemonic mindset that society has engrained in their heads.
Dr. Sanjay and his family have an inspiring passion and dedication to the campaign. They have been looked down upon by society and seen as rebellious. Dr. Sanjay told me that he often feels threatened by society and his family. He had to dissociate from his family because they disagreed with how Mandhu practiced feminism and how Dr. Sanjay did not set her in her place. His father would harass Dr. Sanjay’s son about feminism. When we were told this story during the lecture, I looked over at the son and saw him crying.
I loved meeting such a powerful family. They had remarkable knowledge, courage, and persistence to take on such a difficult issue in India. After the talk, I spoke with Dr. Sanjay about how I was taking a year between undergraduate and graduate school. He told me that he would be happy to have me come to Varanasi for as many months as I wished to help work with the program and peers in the universities holding focus groups and qualitative research on violence against women. We exchanged information and promised to be in touch!
So it was quite a day…to top it off, I just returned from a traditional Indian Mundan Ceremony. The ceremony celebrates a baby’s first haircut at age one. The entire town was invited. All the girls got dressed in their best Indian wear and accessories. The boys looked snazzy in their dress shirts, ties, and pants. We ate on the ground, with our fingers, on a plate made of leaves. There was so much delicious food served. Afterwards Mili taught us how to Bollywood dance and all the locals watched laughing/taking pictures.
The past 24hrs was quite the rollercoaster ride and was a lot to digest. I am gaining invaluable perspective here in India that will shape my choices going forward in life.

Jibhi Chai Clinic

My last rotation was in a remote village in the Himalayas called Jibhi! I was very excited to escape busy, smelly Manali for a week.
Jibhi Chai Clinic is a health clinic about 4 hours away from Lady Willingdon Hospital in Manali. It is located in a utopia, on a clean stream in the Himalayas next to a butterfly infested rainforest with a waterfall. Even the beds felt like clouds. Rinya, a social worker, lives there and manages the health workers in the region. Charlie, a small yellow lab puppy lives there too!
During our stay we attended the Health Mela (health fair) with the staff. A health mela is held once a year for each council of remote villages. The idea of the Mela is to bring the education and clinic to the remote villages for school aged children. They generate awareness through the street play called a kalajata promoting healthy eating and nutrition. The most prevalent medical issues referred and treated were malnutrition, typhoid, UTIs, scabies, pica, anemia, and infected wounds. One of the days we hiked up the mountain with supplies, a doctor, a dental hygienist, social workers, and medicines for over an hour until we reached the village. We saw around 115-160 children each day. We were allowed to take pulses and pictures for the staff. We were exhausted, but we felt it was important to bring the medical care to the villagers who typically cannot make it to the doctor safely.
Rinya discussed with me the importance of reaching out to the remote villages that cannot access medical care or health education. She also emphasized that both health education and clinical medicine are equally as important to the people of these remote villages. One without the other does not sustain the community health. Clinical medicine treats the immediate problem/pain but does not prevent the problem from reoccurring. Basic health education (nutrition, hygiene) teaches but does not treat the immediate problem or relieve from pain. Both clinical medicine and health education are crucial to improving the health of these communities of Northern India.
This topic really sparked my interest in possibly doing a joint degree in a Masters in Public Health and Physician’s Assistant. A MPH would help me to understand how health care works on the large scale. Being a Physician’s Assistant, I would be able to treat patients and work clinically. Both of these degrees would work well together and broaden my perspective on health. I also decided to do my research project for this trip on the Health Mela and its social/medical benefits for these remote villages.
Another reason I really enjoyed Jibhi was because we were able to work with people from India our own age. One of the doctors was young, and the two social worker interns were our age. We had a small cultural exchange with them, we taught them to swim and they taught us to Bollywood dance! We had such a wonderful time together. We also went swimming in the waterfall!
Not having internet for the week was refreshing. It was good to just get away from everyone and everything and focus on where I was at that moment.

Hospital Week

This week my rotation was at the Lady Willingdon Mission Hospital in Manali.  I spent my time observing surgery, rounds, the outpatient clinic, and the antenatal clinic.
Our day began at 8:30am at Devotion, where the staff gathered daily for singing, a prayer, and announcements.  Dr. Philip Alexander (the hospital’s superintendent) would speak about decision making, kindness, and how doing the right thing isn’t always easy. This was a very peaceful and refreshing way to start the day, no matter what religion was being practiced. I found this to be a great way to remind the staff, and myself, of the sole purpose behind practicing medicine: compassion, healing, and as a way to give back to the community.
There are so many people who are sick in India, and only so many hands and resources available to provide treatment. Because of this, I noticed different dynamics in the hospital that I was not used to seeing in the US. First being, the hospital’s mission is to make the sick healthy without the concern of profits and gains for themselves…
During devotion, Dr. Philip made it clear to the staff that he is doing his best to give them an annual raise, but it is difficult because there is such a need for medical supplies and a new ambulance. He does anything he can to keep a balance between the happy staff/healthy patients. The staff calmly accepted and did not complain or roll their eyes. Everyone was there for the same purpose and that was to treat the patients. Dr. Philip and his wife, Dr. Anna (an American doctor from Louisiana), live on site and are available 24 hours/ 7 days a week if needed. They pour their heart and souls into the hospital, and it shows in how the staff, patients, and community respect them. They are both amazing individuals, we could use more of them on this earth.
This is a stark contrast from medicine that I have witnessed back home. There are a lot of medical practices and hospitals available for people to choose from in the US. Because of this, there seems to be more of a concern for competition, profit, and productivity compared to what I have seen here at the hospital. Another difference that was noticeable was that in the US, many patients take medicine for granted…I know I am guilty of this. From what I could tell this week, every individual who walked onto the hospital grounds was appreciative and grateful of their treatment no matter what the outcome.  It was great to see the sincere efforts of the staff and in return, the appreciation of the patients.
Because of the lack of resources and money, the hospital was very inventive when it came to making due with what they had. Some examples include: using a mosquito net for a gastric surgery instead of the expensive material used in Western hospitals, taping a plastic chair to wheels for a wheelchair, and using poles with a sheet between it to transport patients.
                The cases I saw really blew me away. There was a significant amount of recurrent cases of TB, ischemic heart attacks, and COPD. Seeing this emphasized to me Dr. Philip’s reasoning for wanting the group to do research on TB. Many of the patients were young and had severe pulmonary TB. We also saw a significant amount of extra-pulmonary TB, which was very interesting.
                I really loved this part of the trip and I am a little sad that it is over. I learned so much about myself and why I really want to go into the health care field.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Community Health Rotation

My first week’s rotation was in the community with the health care workers and a doctor. We visited day schools for children under 5, where their monthly heights, weights, and basic medical exams are taken. We saw anemia in almost every child, ring worm, a potential TB diagnosis, severe respiratory illnesses, and many complaints of diarrhea/fever.  It was very interesting to see how the health of the children was correlated to their living conditions. Daycares closer to the towns and main roads tended to be unclean, crowded, and less healthy.  In the mountains, the more remote villages had cleaner and smaller daycares with significantly healthier children. Most of them still had anemia, but they were not as sick the others.
Some children’s conditions stuck with me:
1.       Lucy (one of the med students from New Zealand) flagged a few of us over to listen to this boy’s lungs who was about 3 or 4 years old. We could hear his lungs without the stethoscope, they crackled every time he took a breath. We found out that he has been sounding like that for over a year and they hadn’t done anything about it. He was immediately referred to the hospital for a same day visit. When we left, we discussed how most of the children who are referred never show to the clinic. Most people can’t afford the hospital fees or the time away from the fields to trek the kids to the hospital.
2.       Another girl, around the age of 2 or 3, was severely anemic and had been seen eating mud for the past 2-3 weeks. The doctor diagnosed pica, a condition where the individual eats dirt/mud when lacking iron due to anemia. Anemia is extremely high in India because the majority of the population is Hindi and does not eat meat, therefore they lack iron in their diet.
Baby waiting for his check up in the village.

In the community, we were not able to be as helpful as we had hoped. The doctors encouraged us to practice taking vital signs, but with few translators and little room we were unable to contribute as much as we had wished. So, we let the Doc and the health workers do their thing. This was extremely frustrating at times because I want to help anyway possible. But there are times when you have to just let it be. It’s a difficult concept to grasp. With little direction and miscommunication we were unsure of our place in the community. We see these sick children, and we know there is not much we can do as undergraduate students to help. So we sit with them, play with them, and make them smile.

I found a cuddler :)

Saying goodbye

I have learned a lot about the health care system in India through observation. The most noteworthy problem that I have notices was the lack of education and service available for the large Indian population.  *a very matter of fact story of how many of the villagers don’t understand the human body* Dr. Kathleen shared with us a complaint from this very concerned man that his wife had white fluid coming from her genitals:
 When did it start?...When we married. //Are you sexually active?...Yes//When do you see it?....after sex.
He didn’t know what ejaculation was… basic physiology. Now imagine the other types of infectious disease, non-communicable disease, and ailments that occur in an underdeveloped country. This place is a medical mess due to: lack of education of simple health and cleanliness (hygiene, nutrition), environment, and resources.
I am grateful for my health and education that I have received growing up as a kid. As an American growing up as the doctor’s daughter, I have taken health and medicine for granted. These couple weeks in India have completely shifted my view. In many of the villages I saw this week, it was a miracle to be a healthy, well nourished child. Gives me a lot of perspective.

 I am excited to begin my hospital rotation in the morning. We have heard some very impressive stories so far, I’ll be sure to keep note of mine so that I can put them in my blog! We also had our new supervisor arrive, Lis, who we are all very excited about! She loves to trek and brings a great dynamic to the group.
The orphanage was amazing. Clean, educated, happy children.

Some of the kids from the orphanage.

PS: I love the students in my group! We all get along very well. Some fun things we have done so far…
-a 6hour trek uphill through the meadows. Very beautiful views…sore legs.
-a trip to Naggar, a neighboring village, where we had some sweets, sandwiches, and milkshakes!
-many many walks to Old Manali. Dylan’s is my favorite café so far. It has paintings of Bob Dylan lyrics all over the walls, hippies lounging, and the aroma of sweets fills the air. The best warm chocolate chip cookies and real black coffee!
The group got lazy on the trek...we hitched a ride.

Woman knitting near the river during our trek

The boys looking epic on the trek.
the incline!
good sweaty fun
the view

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Goodbye Delhi, Hello Manali

I have been so terrible about getting online. I finally got to Manali and met up with the rest of the students. We have been busy getting situated and getting to know each other! I have been keeping a Word Doc that Ive been jotting down what we have done each day in Manali, so that is what Ill post here. I didnt  have time to blog about my last day in Delhi, but here are some photos from the day:
Humayun's tomb

Humayun's Tomb

Raj Ghat, Gandhi's cremation site

Gandhi Smriti, Gandhi's final footsteps before his assasination

 Lotus Temple, one of seven Ba'hai Temples in the world

Saying goodbye to our wonderful staff at Alpina Hotel at 2 am

Jesse, the best cab driver in Delhi
Day 1 Manali:
Jake and I woke up at 1:20 to check out and go to the airport. We said our final goodbyes to the hotel staff, took pictures with them, and hopped in the car with Jesse. Jesse explained to us that Manali will be very different from Delhi: less crowded, cooler, beautiful, and full of hippies.  We got to the airport about 2 hours before we were allowed to check in, so we set up camp against a pillar till 4am. One of the guards offered Jake a baked good, but we discretely threw it away. We survived Delhi Belly for 5 days and we weren’t going to let it get us in the last 3 hours of being there.
Around 4am we started to wander a little looking for any signs of our Study Abroad Group, we found them 25 feet away sleeping in this glass enclosed “Visitor Waiting Area”. We couldn’t enter, but we were just happy to know we had 15 more people along for the journey. Once we checked in, we caught up with the group and I was able to meet everyone. They were all jet lagged from their flights, but they were awake enough to ask a few questions about my trip so far and what they were getting themselves into.
The flight to Kullu was beautiful and the drive to Manali was even more spectacular. We travelled through the large peaks of the Himalayan Mountains in 5 jeep taxis with our luggage tied onto the roof. The immediate mountains were lush and the distant mountains were snowcapped. The road winded along the Beas River, which was full of white water rafters and fishermen. We saw many animals in the middle of the road, people in the towns, and an abundance of marijuana growing on the side of the road (hence the common name “weed” grows like a weed here). We were reminded that we could get in a lot of trouble if caught, and to steer clear of individuals that sell it.
We arrived in Manali and were driven to the center of town to our humble abode for the month, Hotel Kanchan Grey. It is conveniently located around the corner from the Lady Willingdon Hospital, one of our volunteer rotations for the trip. The Hotel Kanchan Grey is very simple: spotty electricity and internet, bucket baths (mine are cold), a western toilet (yay!), and two hard mattresses that take some getting used to. We were told that we would be living the simple life for the next month, and to not be totally thrown off if you see some bugs in the room (I can see a big one right now, actually). This hotel was a sharp contrast from the Four Star Alpina Hotel, but I wanted to stay positive and flexible. I’ve learned that being accepting of the situation, makes things much more pleasant. I want to be accepting of this culture and be able to look around and take in the beauty of Northern India.
Side story: I turned in my dirty Delhi clothes to be washed, but Mili grabbed me and told me to take out all undergarments (underwear and bras) because the men may be inappropriate (Jake told me that earlier in the day he saw the men dump out laundry on the ground, find panties, and wave them around inappropriately, who knows what else they would do with them). I took out my undergarments, sat on the steps, and hand washed them in a bucket. Katlyn, one of the other students came out of her room with her notebook and took notes of our surroundings. She laughed at the little things that make India such a different place than America. While washing, I saw a monkey climbing on our roof! I think it’s a girl monkey and I think she lives there.  We have our own little monkey for the month.
 We spent the day working on getting the group acclimated and getting rid of any kinks in the hotel that were preventable. Everyone was pretty cranky given the fact that they had been travelling for over 24 hours, without a hot shower, or internet. They were all experiencing the uncomfortable culture shock that Jake and I experienced, but not in the comforts of a 4 star hotel…I felt for them.
At our briefing breakfast/lunch, we had some sort of mixture between quesadilla and bread while we learned about what we would be doing for the next month. My roommate is Ariel Strumpf, my friend from club lacrosse. We broke the students in the program into 3 different groups, each group doing a different rotation each week. My first week’s assignment is with Heather working in the outskirts of Manali doing a community health project. My second week’s assignment is with Mili working in Lady Willingdon Hospital. My third week’s assignment is with Dr. Judy working and living in a clinic in Jibi, a town ~ 40km away. The last week we will all be together again working on a research project either at a clinic or in the hospital. Our typical day will consist of us volunteering clinically from 8am-2pm and taking class from 3pm-5pm. Weekends and nights are free time for the students.
We walked around town a little, and it was just as Jesse described. A less crowded, much smaller, cooler Delhi. The shops sell similar things, but there is a difference in the clothing. Instead of silk, they tend to sell more wool because we are in the mountains. They speak less English and more Hindi. There is also a lot of Chi Tea. Manali is a touristy town for other Indians because it is cooler, beautiful, filled with adventure sports, and there is Hashish growing naturally. Mili, one of our trip directors was very helpful being that she speaks fluent Hindi. She plans on taking us shopping tomorrow. I need to re-vamp my wardrobe…I took like an outsider/I cannot wear western clothing while volunteering.
I feel like I can find my way back to the hotel if placed in the market area of town, which makes me feel good. Most people know where the “mission hospital” is located, so if I ever get lost, I can ask someone. Should be an interesting month, I think I will learn a lot. Once everyone is acclimated it should be more fun and ill get to know more people in the group.
Its thunderstorming, and we just lost power, so this post will have to be posted later tomorrow… haha this place is crazy. Time for bed!
Home Sweet Home for the month

The Hotel is between a school and a temple. This is the kids saying the National Anthem before the school day begun. Pretty cool, can be seen from my balcony.

Beas River that runs along Manali

It is everywhere.

Mili suggested that we give the child beggars some food instead of rupees. Typically the children will take the rupees and use them for bad habits like smoking. I took this girl to the closest store and bought her a bag of chips. She looked confused. haha

Fruit Stand, wish it were safe to eat it all!

Day 2
Got a lot of shopping done today! I went to the fabric shop, picked a few patterns/fabrics then had the tailor measure me to have two tunics/pants made. We need to wear traditional clothing while working in the hospitals, so Ill have a bunch of new Indian outfits to model when I get home J Went to Old Manali and got a pair of pants that I LOVE. The jewelry is phenomenal here. I am in heaven/want to buy everything/need to wait to buy anything so I don’t blow all my money. Old Manali is beautiful.
Day 3
Woke up early for a run with Guarav and Ariel to Old Manali! We found a stairway that led up to some great views. So we jogged back and told the group at breakfast (where we ate an abundance of pronthas). We discussed some of the cases we may be seeing at the hospital. Dr. Judy visited the day before, and said there were a few anthrax cases showing up in the hospital/area. All the students were very alarmed, but Dr. Judy ensured us that it was okay because it was mainly contracted by the shepherds in the area. We should be seeing some interesting things this trip…
Me and a few others went on a walk up to the highest point via road. We got a better view of the waterfall, and of the snowcapped mountains. There were several gardens filled with colorful roses and walkways. We also made a few dog friends along the way. They seemed to follow us wherever we went. I just wanted to play with them, pet them, and fix their ailments…but I don’t want rabies, so I resisted. There were several men who followed us up the road attempting to gives us a massage with their magical oils. They were insistent, but we ignored them and said no about 25 times. They finally left us alone. After walking around, we met with the rest of the group at a café near the river and enjoyed a few glasses of lychee juice!
After lunch we got to meet Dr. Alexander, the head doctor at the Lady Willingdon Hospital, a missionary hospital (there is a website if you want to google it). We went over our rotations in more detail, got a tour of the hospital, and got to meet some of the staff. They allowed us to view the ICU and many of the other sectors of the hospital. We learned briefly about the Tuberculosis research we would be doing, and that our mapping will require trekking around the mountains. We will be working closely with the busy doctors who see approximately 250-350 patients a day! WOW. We are allowed to be on-call at night if we wish, will be able to observe birthing, emergencies, surgeries, basic care, and infectious disease. This made me so excited. The hospital is very different from the ones in America. They are makeshift and unsanitary. For example, the wheelchair was a plastic chair with wheels taped on the bottom! They do their best to accommodate as many people as they can, so they must be creative.
After our hospital orientation, we naturally gathered outside and discussed how we felt about what we saw. An excellent conversation was brought up about what they would do in the case of a cancer patient or someone with a long term illness (only 50 beds available in the hospital with no oncology unit/specific vaccines or meds). We were told that in towns like these, unless you have a lot of money for other care, individuals diagnosed with potentially deadly diseases will typically accept death early on in the diagnosis. The majority of the people in India are very religious; they accept their fate and don’t fight it. This is extremely different from home.
After the hospital visit, we went to another café in Old Manali and had two things I haven’t had this trip: chocolate cake with ice cream and coffee! We want to go back for some food and drinks. 
So here I am eating some Indian sweets, listening to Bollywood music (we requested dance classes: screw the lightbulb pet the dog), and speaking with ash on gchat. Trekking tomorrow! Better get some shut eye.
Stray dog begging for attn. Noah skeptical.

Sarah and I in a garden.

The beautiful views  of Manali

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A GRAtifying trip to AGRA: Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, & Surroundings

Day 3:
We woke up at 5:45am to a phone call from the front desk: “Your taxi has arrived mam.” Jake and I shot out of bed and quickly gathered our things for the 4 hour car ride to Agra. We were relieved to know that Jesse would be our taxi driver (same man who picked us up at the airport).
I attempted to sleep, but could not due to the fact that we drove through villages the entire way. I was taken aback by the busy streets, schools, and farms. We saw monkeys, cows, mules, camels, pigs, dogs, and an elephant. The most painful thing to witness was the man who was walking on his hands with his broken/tangled legs dragging behind him.
Camel in the shade

Street Barber shaving a man's beard
After a long car ride, we made it to Agra where we picked up our tour guide for the day, Mr. Ashish Gupta.  Ashish seemed to know everyone in town. He was about 30 years old, and dressed in business attire. When we saw him, we knew that the day would be a breeze. With Ashish, we didn’t have to worry about beggars, safe food/water, or trying to learn all the history on our own.
Taj Mahal: The history of the Taj was amazing: It took 22 years with over 20,000workers to build. It was built purely due to love. Queen Mumtaz Mahal’s last wishes of her husband, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, was for him to 1. Never marry again and 2. Build a beautiful building in her honor. I’d say emperor Shah did a good job… The building was phenomenal. You could look at a single square inch of the white marble building and be impressed. The marble was skillfully carved from massive slabs into delicate and feminine lattice work. It was lined with colorful stone, including: cornelian, mother of pearl, Indian jade, coral, turquoise, and lapis lazuli. There were four pillars surrounding it, a mosque at the west end, and a fake mosque on the east end built purely for symmetrical purposes.   
Stone work of the Taj Mahal

Attempting to take a tacky jumping picture.

Marble and Stone Demonstration: We went to view a demonstration on how the stones were inlayed, without error, into the white marble of the Taj Mahal. The family who inlayed the stones on the Taj passed on the secrets of the trade to the men in the family. We were able to see the current generation carving, buffering stones, and placing them into the marble. They gave me a bindi made of lapis lazuli, a blue stone. I was told the Bindi (the dot in the middle of the forehead) typically represents marriage, but that it also represents beauty, so I let allowed them to place it on my head. We purchased a few items each for a high price, but it was worth it, beautiful work. Charli, the owner, was a pleasant man. We spent about an hour with him, and he told me the following “I love you and you should come back to Agra and be a visitor in my home.  Tell your father to give you more money to come back to India.” I laughed, took a picture with him, and went on my way. Sorry Charli, you’re 40yo and my father wouldn’t approve.
Stone workers and the bindi on my forehead

Charli  and I. Note: intense hand grab at the waist.
Beautiful work. So many tiny stones in top quality marble.

Agra Fort: a massive fort made of red sandstone located on the bank of the Yamuna River. It was built by  the Emperor Akbar (grandfather of the emperor who built the Taj Mahal) in 1565. It was huge, covering  ~3km. Jake, being a religious studies major, was in heaven. There was a sampling of architecture from Hindu and Islamic traditions. It was an enormous place, but did not lack detail. Truly extraordinary. This is the part in the day where the heat, dehydration, and lack of sleep started to get to me.  We left for some cold water and food.
Agra Fort Entrance

This dog has the right idea.

Little baby at Agra Fort with his bum hanging out.

Diwan-i-Am in Agra Fort: the public audience hall

Riao: a local restaurant and had a traditional Indian meal. Very good food: garlic naan, rice, and murg botiwala (a chicken dish). The server laughed at the bindi stone on my forehead asking if I was really married. When I responded no, he asked me who had put it on my head. I removed it from my head in embarrassment feeling like a total tourist.

Fatehpur Sikri: an abandoned city ~37kms away from Agra. The Mughal Emperor Akbar planned this to be the capital city when it was built, but the shortage of water compelled him to abandon the city. Proof that history repeats itself…we had to abandon the city because we were thirsty, tired, and feeling uneasy from the food. In the time that we were there we saw beautiful architecture that was a blend of various religious influences. There was a lot of interesting history that would have been more interesting if it weren’t 105F and humid.
Homeward bound: on the way home we went a different way that passed through villages that represented the simple life that most of India lives. Once we got back on the highway, we found what is equivalent to a rest stop. It had a gas station, a coffee shop, and a McDonalds. Jesse got some dinner while Jake and I got a coffee. Out of curiosity, Jake and I looked at the McDonalds menu.  Some of the food included the Mc Paneer Sandwich and the veggie burger. When we got back in the car, Jake was a doll and moved to the front so I could curl up in the backseat and sleep.  I slept for about three hours to find that we were still far from Delhi, that I missed a crazy street party, and that Jesse was sick of driving through traffic. Eventually we made it home, and I had my first solid 8 hour sleep here in India…refreshing.
Cows cooling off and Gas train

Village children having fun while hearding the goats.

Peacock (spotted by him)

Cow grazing. This pic is a good representation of the amount of trash that you typically see on the side of the road.

Boys playing cricket.


Monday, 23 May 2011

Busy First Days in Delhi

I have never had a blog or thought of getting one, but I also never thought I'd go to India. So what the hell... here it goes!

Day 0 (21 May): After many immunizations, research, and packing I finally said my “Goodbyes” to my worried mother and hopped on the plane for Delhi, India. The flight was long and exhausting, but we arrived around 8pm (India time). I was experiencing jet lag and culture shock. The first few hours were intimidating: transportation problems, difficulty communicating, machine guns, stray dogs, beggars, AND a thunderstorm. Even though I was expecting it, I was thrown off when there was a beggar with a sick baby pressing against my cab window within yards from leaving the airport. Unforgettable and humbling. I survived my first taxi ride through India, which was a feat in itself. The driving here is reckless, there is a complete disregard to all traffic laws & safety. I was relieved when I got into my hotel room where there was A/C, a bed, and a shower.

Day 1 (22 May): New Delhi: Jake and I mustered up enough confidence to explore the city. We hired a full day cab to take us to Dilli Haat, Lodi Gardens, Kahn Market, Parliament, and India Gate. Our cab driver was a smelly man, but he had our best interest in mind, so I liked him.
Crafts from Dilli Haat

First stop, the Dilli Haat: a large crafts and food market representing goods the different states in India. I quickly learned that bartering is a must-do and that Indian market owners are pushy and eager to sell. I bought a colorful scarf and a stone/pearl necklace. The owners were busy shooing away flies and stray dogs from their stands while attempting to lore in customers. The temperature rose as it got later in the morning (100F) and the market began to bustle. I went into my first Indian “washroom” to relieve myself…and found a hole and a hose. No TP. Hmm.
Bada Gumbad (left), Sheesh Gumbad (right)

Lodi Gardens: a free park filled with beautiful gardens, tombs, a mosque, and a lake. It was hot, but not because we were in Delhi…because it was a love fest. There were young Indian couples scattered throughout the garden, a romantic setting. Jake and I kept our distance from each other, making it clear that we were not there for that reason. We ventured over to the Sheesh Gumbad (“blue dome” in Hindi) which is a tomb named for its architecture & blue tiles from Pakistan. It holds 5 unknown individuals. All the Muslim/Hindi graves in India have the individual’s head at the north with head & eyes turned facing east towards Mecca. You can distinguish if the individual in the tomb is male/female, married/unmarried, children/no children by the tomb’s shape and detailed stone work. In the same area was the Bada Gumbad (“big dome” in Hindi) where there was a guest house and a mosque. Here an Indian man approached us an insisted on giving us a history lesson, so we accepted and paid him a few Rupees in exchange for his knowledge.

Kahn Market: a mixture Western shops and Indian shops. Lunch time! Ate at Latitude, a busy restaurant with amazing food. I ordered Kerala pepper chicken and Jake ordered Udon Noodles with mushrooms. Afterwards we stopped in at Sugar&Spice, a bakery/convenience store when I bought Imported Gatorade (Imported to avoid drinking India’s water and Gatorade for electrolytes) and Jake bought cookies! Yum-o.
Boy sweeping near fountain at India Gate.

Parliament and India Gate: The further North you go in Delhi, the closer you get to Old Delhi which means a significant increase in trash, beggars, people, and smells. It was getting windy/about to storm, so there were wind tunnels of trash and dirt. The area leading up to Parliament reminded me much of Washington DC’s Mall. Several Indians were sleeping on the grass, selling popsicles, playing cricket, and playing in the fountains. Driving into the Parliament gates we found several men squatting on the walls relieving themselves. Inside the gates we spotted a few American kids that were on our flight over, but then again, American’s aren’t hard to spot in India. Next our driver dropped us off at India Gate which is at the other end of the grassy area opposite Parliament. There were a lot of people gathered here. Jake and I ran outside to snap a few photos in front of the gate. I took one of Jake, than Jake took one of me. Little did I know- I had a little fan club of Indian teenage boys anxiously waiting to take pictures of me and with me. White girls are a rare breed here. After they were done, I had a woman and her son come up to me and ask for a picture…not of them, but with them. I should start charging THEM rupees to take my picture.
Lots of love for the white girl.

After a successful Day 1, my confidence in the trip was boosted. I had already seen/learned so much and was finally feeling like I would make it out of India alive.

Day 2 (23 May) Old Delhi/North Delhi: After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we went on our way to Qutub Minar Complex and Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid, and Karims for lunch.

Day 2 was the best day yet! Exposed to history, culture, religions, and conditions that I’ve never experienced. (***But it is getting late, Jake is already asleep, and we have a big day tmrw travelling to Agra. So this blog day will be short and to the point. Look at Jake’s blog post titled “sheep heads” at he summed it all up really well)

Here is a brief account and a few pictures from the day:

Qutub Minar complex: Tomb of Iltutmish

Oh boy...

Stray pups at Qutub Minar Complex
Qutub Minar Complex: a city landmark with detailed architecture made of red sandstone and white marble. It includes many structures some of them being India’s first mosque and Delhi’s tallest tower (236ft). More teenage boys wanting pictures with the white girl, adorable stray puppies (I wanted to bring them all home), many women dressed in colorful saris, guards, and history.

Chandni Chowk

Lychee fruit

Where is the Indian BGE? Wires down, RED ALERT

Mosque II

Sari Time!

My new sari! He taught me how to put it on, but had difficulties when I got home. :/


View of Delhi from tower at Jama Masjid


Karims buttered chicken (curry sauce) and Naan

Chandni Chowk: (the real India) a very congested unpolished street in Old Delhi crawling with religion, poverty, dead street rats, unhealthy conditions, shops, beggars, and very few tourists. We entered 2 mosques that were filled with worshippers of religions that were foreign to me. I was hesitant to enter at first, but Jake insisted that we go in: excellent choice. At one mosque we turned in our shoes, covered up, washed our feet, and entered. I stood in the background of a remarkable scene discretely taking photos and a video from underneath my scarf. People were chanting, giving offering to their Gods, and praying on the ornamental rugs. Yellow flowers were used to mark the foreheads of worshippers, and were used as offerings, along with oil lamps, to the various shrines located around the mosque. We left the mosques to the bustling streets of Chandni Chowk. We were taken back by the health conditions of many Indian people on the street. Several had missing, broken, and dislocated limbs, little nourishment, and were living in horrible conditions. The infrastructure was poorly built and there were dangling power lines. This was quite an experience.

Jama Masjid: a large principle mosque located close to Chandni Chowk. We were dropped off ½ a mile from the entrance of the Jama Masjid, so we hopped into a rickshaw! It was a fun experience; we passed chicken coops, meat shops, tire shops, electronic shop. The Jama Masjid had an entrance fee, a shoe fee, and a garment fee. I was covered in a dirty cloth, barefoot on red sandstone (hothothot), in 115degree weather. Needless to say, I was sweating like crazy. The mosque was grand and red. It had a tower that we paid another fee to climb where we had an amazing view of Delhi. Other Indian men sat a top the tower, cuddling as Indian men do…they stared at the white girl, asked me to take their picture, and wondered if I would come sit with them. That was our cue. We headed back downstairs and I got my dirty garment off. It was time for lunch! We went to a famous kebab restaurant called Karims in the back streets near the mosque. It was ranked one of Asia’s top restaurants by Time Mag. The restaurant was small (maybe 10 tables) with delicious food. We had buttered chicken, naan, and a lamb kebab. We shared a table with two Indian doctors in their late 20s who are studying for the boards to practice in America. They said that India has a 1doctor:1700patient ratio. It’s a stressful life for the doctors here, they have little time to see all the patients and there are many sick people.

I’ve found that I need to pinch myself about every 2 minutes reminding myself that this is real life. It’s unbelievable and difficult to grasp. I thought I had prepared myself for what I would witness here in India by watching documentaries and reading books. But it is not until you are experiencing the overwhelming senses Old Delhi offers: its smells, busyness, poverty, and heat that you can really see how different it really is from the Western World. This is going to be an amazing trip that will stay with me the rest of my life.

Well…that post was longer than intended. Now it’s 3am. I need to go to bed. Taxi gets here at 6:30 for the Taj Mahal!