Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Year Ago

This time last year I was saying goodbye to my boyfriend and trying to figure out what the heck I was feeling through the sadness, excitement, nervousness, curiosity, and overwhelming fact that I would be gone for almost 6 months. This time last year, I was a completely different person. I changed so much in 2014, and most of it was because of my India experience. Seeing as it is a new year and I've had 6 months at home to process my trip and internal changes, I found it appropriate to reflect on my India blog, starting with IVHQ, moving on to India in general, and ending with myself and where I am today.
     I tried very hard to be optimistic and show the great parts of my trip, knowing I had an audience of all kinds. I made an effort not to publicly display all of my frustrations or complaints.  But the truth is, I left India with a bad taste in my mouth and could not get out of there fast enough. That is the reason for my short Taj Mahal entry: I was over India, and didn't even want to spend the time writing about a great day trip to one of the wonders of the world.  Now don't get me wrong, I had some FANTASTIC moments with IVHQ, some of the health projects, and meeting the wonderful friends I still talk to today.  But as it is with most bad moments, those stuck with me more and put a black shadow over my trip that I can not completely get rid of.
     I feel my trip would have gone better had I actually been making a difference.  IVHQ looked so promising with its tales of volunteering in camps, mobile clinic projects, and ability to work in a wide variety of settings. Plus it was one of the cheapest mission groups I could find for the amount of time I wanted to stay.  The reality? The health project was about 35% shadowing, 15% actual volunteering, and 50% amusing yourself with all of the free time.  Most of the clinical time was spent shadowing doctors in various places, who generally would not translate or explain what they were doing and why.  In one placement, I spent 2 weeks sitting in the waiting room of a gynecologists office waiting for the doctor to decide to let me observe.  During those 2 weeks I got to see 3 or 4 Cesarean sections, and watch a DNC. While that was cool, that still means for 10 days I sat for 4 hours on an uncomfortable chair and watched people come into the waiting room.  When voicing this complaint to my host dad-the coordinator of the health program-he was unbothered and gave the excuse "She has to learn you are trustworthy and dependable, and see you are there ready to learn."  I'm sorry, but that is bullshit. First of all, I paid money to come volunteer, not learn. Secondly, if learning is what I got to do instead, then you need to let me learn! If you are going to run a program, you need to partner with doctors willing to interact and engage with those who are a part of said program. not make the participants sit in a waiting room hoping maybe someday they will be talked to.  In 6 months, the only true volunteering I actually did was the time I spent taking vitals in my favorite slum clinic, the 2.5 slum camp clinics we held in the community, and when I was teaching.  If you notice, I mentioned above that I had to sit for 4 hours on an uncomfortable chair. Only 4 hours. Because 4 hours was all of the time per day we spent at our placements. Even on the days we ran a slum camp, we would get started around 9 and be closed up by 1. Every day of every week we were home before 2 in time for lunch. Then it was free time the rest of the day. got old, fast.  Unless we wanted to go buy something from the market, there was not much we could do between 3 and 7 when we had to be home because it was dark.  To get into Delhi took at least and hour each way, leaving not much time to look around there except on weekends.  I spent A LOT of time reading, which in a way was good because it got me back into my arduous love affair with books, but I did not come to India to read.I came to help.  I had some absolutely wonderful weekend trips to various cities. But I did not come to vacation, I came to help.
     In my reflections on India, I will try not to be offensive or disrespectful to a culture; but I can only write about what I saw, felt, and thought based on my personal experiences. I wrote a blog entry a few months in about my thoughts regarding a few key topics: transportation, religion, treatment of women, and the LGBTQ community. It was very optimistic, with cries of "but things are improving!" following most of the criticism.  I was a little too nice, because the picture I have of India as a whole is not necessarily one full of sunshine and rainbows.  Indian life is full of corruption, from basic day-to-day activities, up to the government. My favorite example to use is that of a young man who paid money to get a motorcycle license made. He didn't take the test, didn't acquire it legally, and told everyone about it like it was not a big deal. Because there it's not. Maybe paying for a license isn't the worst crime in the grand scheme of things, but it shows the flippancy of how people think its okay to cheat their way out of legal processes.  People fake documents and pay their way out of situations....then complain of all the corruption. ?
      In regards to treatment of females, things are the rich areas. Sadly, though, the majority of India lives under the poverty level, and a large percent hold traditional ideas.  Yes the caste system was technically abolished; but families still know what last names belong to which caste, and that caste still makes a big difference in parental permission for marriage, even when the partner in the lower class is educated and successful.  Yes females go to school and can hold careers; but most will still end up housewives chained by duty and obligation, even with Masters degrees.  My host dad had a big stipulation for his wife: he wanted a woman who was not also a doctor, and who was highly educated.....because he wanted someone intelligent who would stay home with their children and be able to tutor them in the house after school.  My host mom, after earning her Masters degree, decided to become a housewife.  She could not go anywhere without her husband, and was stuck in the home.  We invited her many places with us, but even if her husband was home she was required to stay and watch the kids in case he wanted to go out.  I am not shaming a woman who wants to be a housewife; it is a noble and difficult job, and one a woman is allowed to choose.  But it was obvious she wanted something more, and obvious she was capable of so much more.  In being raised by a culture of duty and subservience, many women do not think they have a large enough voice to be independent.  Many also risk being shunned by their family for not being the model wife that culture expects.  At the orientation house, a few girls lived upstairs who were studying advanced degrees and choosing careers. They lived in that house because their families disowned them for wanting to pursue higher education and have that career.  It left the girls with little resources, and made them "unmarriageable to a decent family" because they shamefully went against their parents wishes.  Of course, there is also the big point regarding treatment of women: safety and rape.  India has the highest occurrence of  rape in the world, and a lot of that is due to women still being viewed as lesser, as property, or as a being to be dominated.  Rape isnt okay there, but it also isn't always met with the same reaction one sees in the US.  In my first month, within a few weeks of each other, I read about a white European woman being raped on a bus traveling to Dharamsala, and another who got lost and found herself in a bad part of town after dark where she got raped.  I didnt read about many cases of the raping of Indian women, probably (and sadly) because they were not notable people and its such a disgustingly regular event. The metro has a woman's carriage, and women's crisis hotline numbers are written on every autorickshaw, but women do not enjoy the ease of knowing they will probably be safe. Even if rape is not occurring, molestation does regularly.  I was walking through the bustling streets of Chandni Chowk one afternoon in Delhi, and found myself defenseless against the sliding hands of men around me. They would do it so casually, so even when I jerked in anger and tried to find the culprit to slap him and yell at him, it was impossible to identify the perpetrator. We ended up still being there at dusk that day, and suddenly looked around to notice NO women were in the area except the ones in our group. Women are not found out at night, and its for good reason.  I was never out after dark, unless with a group of males. Even then, it was usually for trips to the local market or restaurants at the mall in familiar Faridabad. Our orientation host Mom also informed us on the first day that women can't buy alcohol.  They legally can, but it reflects shamefully on their family if they are seen doing it, and men will sometimes follow a woman home who buys alcohol because he thinks he can take advantage of her there.  I eventually got to the point in India where I was at ease travelling alone during the day, and it was an exhilarating  experience of independence. But I never shook my uneasiness of being a female out at night.  
      In much the same way, LGBTQ treatment is the richer and more open-minded areas.  As told in my blog entry about culture observations, a transgender or cross-dressing male or female is treated as having a mental disorder.  And contrary to what I was told by the IVHQ staff member, it is NOT okay to be homosexual. In fact, it is illegal and one can face serious repercussions.  In communicating with people on a Facebook travel group, I read that people disagree with that law and will turn a blind eye. Again, though, I think that is just in the richer and open-minded areas.  From what I saw in the small towns, traditional ideas still pervade.  Attitudes towards homosexuality were something I could not find out much information on, since the people I knew who spoke English well enough did not want to discuss it (or would lie about it to make me feel better).
     This lying to make me feel better segues into my biggest complaint with some of the Indians I encountered: the way I was cheated and lied to.  I never knew who was being honest, or what the truth was in any situation.  My trip even started out with a lie: being told homosexuality was allowed.  In between, I experienced racism and sexism in trying to purchase things: I would be told I was getting a good deal, barter it down, then would later find out a typical Indian still pays way less.  When hailing a tuk-tuk, I would consistently be given a price of 300 rupees when I knew the trip didn't cost more than 10.  To many, my white skin screamed "I'm a rich American! Unfairly charge me more!" (as an aside on the different treatment but not a lie, it costs foreigners 500 rupees to see the Taj Mahal vs 50 rupees for an Indian. It was the same in Jaipur for the Amber Palace, and in Delhi for the Red Fort).  My trip ended with a series of lies and shady business: being moved from my house and fed different reasons why every time I called someone out on not telling me the truth. Maybe I was lied to because they wanted me to be happy and not have a negative experience. Or maybe I was lied to because it was just convenient to placate me with whatever idea seemed logical rather than the actual answer to a question or explanation of a situation. Whatever the reason, I was tired of being given the run-around, and sick of wondering who I could actually trust.
    Despite the spewing of my intense dissatisfaction, there is one thing I do have to admit: India is rich in experience and culture. I repeat again, lest you think I had a completely awful time: I had some FANTASTIC moments that I wrote about and included pictures for.  I also realize that generalizations do not mean every single Indian male is out for a piece of tail, that all Indians lie, all Indians hate homosexuals, or anything of that sort.  The trips and experiences were fun, but I gathered so much more internally from almost 6 months away that I wouldn't have gained at home.  The sense of independence gathered on my journey is irreplaceable, and I returned a completely different person mentally. It is said people go to India to find themselves....I didn't need an ashram or meditation, but I have to say I feel that I did find myself to some degree.  There's something indescribable about being the only white person in a smelly cramped train car, and being perfectly okay with it; or hopping on a full public autorickshaw at night and being able to tell the driver how to get you home as the other English-speaking passengers seem confused at why this little foreigner lives there; or just the simple act of getting yourself around town and enjoying the scenery because you have nothing to worry about. I felt free....very free, and I loved it. Something happened in Thailand that I haven't told many people about, in fear of judgement, but that I feel contributed greatly to my self-awareness and independence: I had sex with a stranger.  I am not the hook-up type. Despite many chances in the US, I could never bring myself to have sex with someone I barely knew or had not known but for a few hours.  To me, sex is not necessarily sacred, but it is something I have to have a connection with someone in order to go through with.  Maybe it was the setting of being out in another country, maybe it was my altered feeling of freedom and adventure, but whatever it was I was able to go through with it. And I do not feel bad, guilty, dirty, or regretful after the fact. However, it is something I do not think I will repeat. Even now, being back, I don't have someone I can regularly be with, but I do not feel the need to go find a stranger to alleviate desires nor do I feel I would be able to. A friend brought up that maybe its the social stigmas in the US keeping me from sleeping around. I don't think so, I think it is just how I am. I had my one experience to cross off the bucket list, and I am content with that because it was my decision and on my terms, in the same way whoever I decide to sleep with is my decision on my terms. I also believe, through that sexual experience and other non-sexual events leading to my openness as a person, that I am more open to all aspects of sexuality.  Sex is something beautiful between two people, and you can experience so much with the presence of trust.  I am no longer put-off by ideas or kinks that get labeled as "weird," and the idea of adding a third person in is intriguing. Does this make me some kind of a new sexual freak? No. Will I run out and find someone to do everything with right now? No. But my mind doesn't feel closed to anything, and it is an amazing feeling.

    It is now a new year, and everyone has gone through with their "new year, new me" posts and goals on social media. I feel 2015 is a new year with a new me, but it didn't start at the advent of January 1st, it started in June 2014 when I returned home.  My eating habits are completely different, my outlook on life is different, and my desire for adventure is stronger.   I tried to condense this entry some because there is just so much on so many topics that I could discuss. If you have any questions or want to hear about something further, feel free to send me a message and we can talk more.

     If you have not been away from home for a long time, I encourage you to do so. Pick a time limit that makes you uncomfortable...then extend it. You will feel alone, you will feel homesick, you will wish you hadn't done it.....until one day you will be happy you did. And when you get home, you will be amazed at how you developed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Taj Mahal

So the Taj Mahal is pretty great. We went in general unreserved seating on the train, which was an adventure in itself, then went to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra fort. There's nothing much to say except to try and give you a small idea of what it is like through these pictures. More are on facebook. Enjoy :) 

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Thailand was absolutely amazing and the best vacation I have EVER had! I dont know if it is my favorite country because it is the first place i’ve been to purely for fun and not mission work, but I absolutely loved it! 
My flight from India left at 5:30am, bringing me to Bangkok at 11:20 with my connection to Phuket leaving at 2pm.  I arrived in Phuket at 3:20, got a shared van from the airport, and arrived at our hostel in Patong Beach to meet up with Ariel! I was starving after my day of flying, so we went out to explore and try to find food, discovering that street food sadly didnt exist in touristy Phuket.  The game plan was to take a nap after eating before we went out that night (I didnt sleep at all the night before due to getting to the airport at 11pm so I could take the metro for cheap before it closed), but we also had to plan details of our Chiang Mai trip so that took precedence.  We killed some time planning and giggling and catching up after not seeing each other in months, then went up to the room to get somewhat cute for a night on the town!  Our hostel was specifically chosen because it was a 1 minute walk from both the beach and the center of nightlife on Bangla Road.  Bangla Road is awesome, consisting of more raunchy GoGo Clubs and more bars than you could ever want in a single area.   Due to the varied audience that reads my blog, I am going to refrain from giving details of my night.... lets just say it was one of the craziest and best nights out I’ve had, and sleep didnt occur until around 6 or 7am (message me on facebook if you really want the details).  The next morning we hunted down brunch then threw on our bikinis for the beach.  Of course it had to rain on my one beach day, but it let up enough later for us to get a bit of sun and swim for an hour or so.  The airport van picked us up at 4pm, we departed for Chiang Mai at 8:20, and arrived at our new hostel in Chiang Mai close to 11.  The hostel owner was very nice, staying up to wait for us then walking with us down to the local food stands so we could eat.  25 baht pad thai..... enough said.  We also stopped by this hot milk stand, where you could get the sweet milk base for 5 baht then add in dried fruits and herbs for extra.  Ariel got a milk with these yellow bean things in it, and I got sweet steamed bread with a gooey green sweet dip called pandan mixed with condensed milk.  We also got an order of these long donuts, which we dipped in the milk and pandan mixture.  Thus began our saga of eating.

Chiang Mai was very different from Phuket, as we were prepared for.  Things were cheaper, and even though it was a decently large city, it didnt feel overwhelming at all. On our first full day up in the North, we got breakfast with our hostel owner at a small local shop, then headed to Tiger Kingdom to cuddle with tigers! We got tickets to go into the enclosure with the smallest and the largest cats.  The small ones werent as small as we were hoping for, still the size of a large dog and not able to be cuddled like we had in mind.  They were still really cool though, but  we had to be extra careful since they were young and playful and might scratch or bite without realizing they were hurting someone.  After smallest cats, we went to pet the huge ones! It was slightly intimidating at first getting into the enclosure with this giant predator.  But the big cats were actually the most docile since they sleep most of the day and dont get playful.  The tigers are still dangerous (they are predatory animals so that will never change), but they were raised in captivity and used to humans, so the danger is lessened dramatically as long as you follow the instructions of the trainers (no touching the head or the front paws, firm petting with no tickling, always approach from behind so you are not a threat approaching them head on).  We got some really cool pictures, memories, and a story to tell from the experience.  After Tiger Kingdom, we were hungry (surprise, surprise) so set out to sample some more delicious street food. Not much was open in the middle of the day as far as food, but we did discover a covered fruit market and decided to go on an exotic fruit binge to hold us over until dinner/the cooking class. We bought mangosteen, dragon fruit, jackfruit, mangos, and some small things we thought were lychees.  It was so good eating all these fresh and new fruits (it was my first time eating all of them except mangos).  Shortly after we washed all the sticky fruit juice off, the van arrived to take us to our evening Thai cooking class at Galangal Cooking School.   The first stop was at the local market to explain and buy the ingredients we would be using for the class that night, which was pretty neat.  We got to pick 4 different courses: an appetizer, a soup, a main dish, and a noodle dish.  I chose vegetarian spring rolls, hot and sour tofu soup, tofu palanga, and pad thai.  Ariel chose papaya salad, tofu coconut milk soup, green curry, and pad see ew so we would have different dishes to share and try.  All of us wanted to do mango with sticky rice for a dessert dish too, so even though it wasnt part of the class, the instructor let us all do it together quickly at the end and share it. Everything was delicious, and she even gave us printed copies of all of the recipes offered to take home! I see a homemade Thai food night in my future in the US....  Straight from the cooking school, we went out to walk through the Sunday Walking Market which was a long strip of multiple roads lined with tables selling various things.  I ended up getting a dress, and Ariel got a few pairs of pants.  We had an adventure getting home since we thought we could walk and were being cheap as far as what we wanted to pay for a tuk-tuk.  Turns out 5k isnt fun to try and walk  when youre tired and gross and drenched from the humidity.  Also turns out that if you are 2 foreign white girls who claim they are going to walk, the tuk tuk drivers will all laugh and talk about you amongst themselves and one will follow you from a distance until you stop because he knows it will be a matter of time until you give up.... Which worked for us because we had a ride, and he also took us for cheaper than the others were trying to get.

We were up nice and early the next morning because we were doing a day trip to Chiang Rai, the Golden Triangle, and the long neck village even farther North.  It took about 2 hours to get to Chiang Rai, where we stopped to see the beautiful White Temple.  We couldnt go in, which was very disappointing because the inside is said to be even more gorgeous, but the outside was still impressive.  From the White Temple it was a bit of a drive to get to the Golden Triangle, which is the river delta forming the borders of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Laos.  We didnt do the optional river boat tour, so while they were on the boats Ariel and I walked around to explore the shops and have a snack to hold us over until lunch (fresh pinapple slices, yum).  Lunch at a delicious Thai buffet followed the Golden Triangle, then we drove more to the northwest to the Maesai market sitting right on the Myanmar (Burma) border. It is also the farthest north you can go in Thailand.  We took some pictures, I got my dad some small Thai cigars, Ariel got some small god statues, then we went to a sticky bun bakery for some taro and pandan-filled buns (because lets be honest, eating is what we do best).  Following the Myanmar border was the exploration of the long-neck village.  In this village, the women start off very young adding metal rings around their necks to lengthen them as a mark of beauty and decoration.  We were able to read that the coils dont actually lenthen the neck but rather pushes down the shoulders and ribs to give the illusion that the vertebrae are being stretched.  There were pictures showing the skeleton of an unaltered woman compared to the skeleton of a long-neck woman after 20 years of wearing the rings.  This was the last stop of the day, and we started the 4-hour ride home right after that.  Dinner was 25-baht delicious pad thai again, then we opted for showers and sleep instead of going out anywhere. Our last day in Chiang Mai we didnt do too much.  We had planned on going down to the old town to walk around and see some temples, but the old town was more like boutique shops rather than the traditional feel we were expecting from the oldest part of the city.  It was also incredibly hot, so after seeing 2 temples and a monument, we decided to go cool off in the hostel during the heat of the day.  We were supposed to go get sushi from the Tuesday sushi market around 5 before our bus to Bangkok arrived, but it was raining so the sushi market didnt set up (bummer).  Another market did set up though, so we got a little bit of this and that at different tables and had a picnic dinner at the hostel. We ended up with a fried mixture of bananas and some kind of root, corn on the cobb, savory crepes, a bag of salad, and some slightly sweet homemade rice cakes.  We saved the salad and rice cakes for the bus ride.  At 6:30pm, the bus picked us up then we were off on the 12-hour overnight ride to Bangkok.  Somehow, some way, we were robbed on the bus despite all of our bags being under our legs on the floor.  They took about 1,000 baht from Ariel, and my debit card. Luckily our passports were in different bags, and luckily Ariel had some baht and her credit cards in a different pocket.  I also had $20 on my in a different wallet so I could exchange that at a hotel and have some money for food and transportation.  Unfortunately though, that makes life slightly difficult for the next few weeks since Blue Cross Blue Shield unexpectedly took out the money for the next 6 months of my health insurance which was basically everything left in my bank account to spend in Dubai, on my credit card bill, and on gas money for when I got home. Sarah was going to put money in my account for me to access, but now the card is gone.  I do still have a different debit card and my credit card though, so i will have that to use if needed. 

Bangkok did not impress me. Seriously. If you ever go to Thailand, its safe to skip it. We were told that ourselves so planned our trip to only spend the day of/before our flights in Bangkok.  There is enough to do to keep you busy if you have money, but things cost more than in Chiang Mai which means you will spend a lot on whatever the activity is plus the higher cost of transportation to get through the busy city.  We ate breakfast at a fried rice stand after arriving, got some milk tea and napped a bit at a booth in McDonalds since we were so exhausted, then went to see an absolutely amazing temple about 6km away in the city.  The temple was called Wat Arun, which means Temple of  Dawn.  It has a big connection to cosmology, and is the most distinguishable structure in Bangkok due to its unusual shape and the beautiful details.  We took a tuk-tuk to the riverside, crossed on the ferry to get to the temple, then ooh-ed and ahhh-ed as we walked around taking pictures. Next to the ferry was a small ice cream shop, so lunch became a 3-scoop passion fruit, green tea, and cookies and cream ice cream cup. Walking back out to the road we also saw a stand selling coconuts, and coconut ice cream inside of a coconut, which meant the second course of ice cream lunch consisted of sharing that as well. It was nice to have another taste in my mouth with the coconut ice cream since I also finally tried Durian from a booth on the street.... totally gross, and also something you can feel free to skip while in Thailand.  Shortly after getting back to the hotel where we left our stuff, the guys (who we met in Phuket and were meeting back up with in Bangkok) arrived.  We all went to get a few beers, then back to the hotel room to freshen up before going back out to a club for some more drinking. The beer we got in the bucket was not good at all, and neither was the show. The entertainment was performers singing and dancing to popular English songs, which looked like a train wreck and resembled bad karaoke more than a show. It was a far cry from all of the sexy excitement of Bangla Rd in Phuket, but the company was nice and we all just laughed and talked.  

Leaving Thailand was sad, and saying goodbye to Ariel was the saddest. We had a fantastic trip together and hope to do more in the future J

Much love,


Week 17: Seminars at Miracle Orphanage

I was not going to write an entry for this week because Caleb and I taugh the same material for the same Health class. But I do feel it is worth at least a short entry because the kids were really great.  The previous week we taught at Tagore Public School in a slum near Sainik Colony.  This week we traveled a lot farther to Miracle orphanage and school.  Miracle is a Christian organization run by a very nice man named Jeremiah.  There are around 30 kids at the orphanage who either have no parents, 1 parent, or parent(s) who cant take care of them.  The orphanage is the upper floor of a concrete building, with multiple 6-bed dorm-style rooms, a common room, a kitchen, and 2 bathrooms in a very dirty slum.  The children have devotionals every morning, eat breakfast, go to the school nearby for a few hours, come back and eat lunch, have some recess time, have dinner, then have bedtime.  The school nearby is where we did our classes, and has about 100 students on the roster. The school building is one long concrete building with 4 very small classrooms. 1st-7th grade is taught, with 2 classes sharing a room except for 7th having its own (I believe).  The 7th grade class knew a lot of English so we were able to teach them easily and engage them with the lesson, which went so well because they knew some of the material but didnt know other parts.  The younger classes were a bit harder, but we did have a translator from the 7th grade class come in which still meant they could learn and get the information.  As with the week before, we adjusted the worksheets and information given based on their age. The children at the school were all very friendly and very bright.  By the second day, so many different kids would ask us to come teach their class that day, and wanted to hold our hands during recess and play hand games with us.  They do the same thing with the 2 IVHQ volunteers placed there, and I guess just extended the warmth to us because we were also different. I can definitely see how volunteers get attached to kids while working in an orphanage, because I was starting to care about them after only 5 days. 
            Every day after the school teaching this week, we went back to Tagore and worked on a second project: painting our sign by the bathrooms! The wall was concrete and had dirty paint flaking off, so we decided we needed to make it a multiple-day project and do it right instead of  just painting over it. On the first day, we got some sandpaper and steel wool to remove all of the paint and old plaster on the rectangle we wanted to use.  The next day, we mixed up and spread a layer of new plaster.  The third day, we sanded the dried plaster until it was smooth, then painted a coat of white.  The last day, I got up early before placement and did a second coat of white, then after the orphanage school we came back to actually paint on the words.  We decided to write “Use Soap” in English as well as Hindi; the school emphasizes teaching English but we still wanted younger children and those not good at English to be able to understand. I was complimented on my Hindi writing skills haha. I apparently can copy it very neatly. I was quite proud of our sign, and very glad we got the chance to leave our mark on Tagore Public School.

Much love,


Monday, May 5, 2014

Week 16: Successful Health Seminars!

I was quite pleased with how my project turned out this week! Success! On Tuesday, Caleb and Susan went with me to Tagore Public School and we taught the 3rd and 4th grade combined class.  This was my favorite class from my week of teaching in the past, and I knew they would be good.  It started off a little rougher than desired because of the language barrier, but we ended up getting 2 translators so things went smoothly after that.  I had 3 worksheets for them: one with important aspects of the presentation for them to fill out as the lesson progressed, a matching worksheet  of different scenarios and what they should do in that scenario, then one on vitamins and fruits.  The matching sheet was only pictures so I brought markers and let everyone color it in after they completed it correctly. The kids participated in answering questions, loved the coloring, and seemed very engaged.  I altered the lesson slightly depending on the class: on Wednesday I had 2nd graders, so I gave them the same info on germs but skipped the first worksheet and just did the coloring and the vitamins/fruit worksheet.  On Thursday I had 5th and 6th graders, so we did all of the worksheets and it was at the perfect level for them.  On Friday, I had little first graders so we only did the coloring worksheet.  For the first grade class, I actually walked them downstairs and we all washed our hands together at the faucet next to the toilets because I wanted to make sure they learned and remembered. 

                While the kids were eating lunch on Wednesday, Caleb and I watched to see if they were actually washing their hands.  Pretty much all of them went to the faucet after coming out of the bathroom, but hardly any of them actually used soap! Even the older kids were not using it!  We discussed how we could buy  some soap and donate it, and also wondered  if we could laminate my handwashing chart to post up on the wall next to the faucet.  Then one of us (I forget who) suggested we paint a reminder up on the wall! We asked the prinicpal and his daughter if that would be okay, and they said yes.  The daughter was a bit hesistant and kept asking me if I was sure I would be able to paint it up there.    We talked to Dr. Prabhat, who agreed to get us paint and write out for us in Hindi what we wanted up on the wall.  Hopefully next week we can accomplish that in addition to teaching at a different school J

One month until I am home

Much love,


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Week 15: Spice Market and First World Problems

     Saturday (April 19)'s big activity was Audrey and me going into Delhi to hunt down the infamous Spice Market, something I had been looking forward to for a while. The Delhi Spice Market is definitely a sensation for your nose and eyes, but more so for your nose. As Audrey so aptly desribed: Imagine you are in a giant port-a-potty where multiple people start cooking Indian food then someone starts a load of laundry.  The streets are not lined with booths like you’d imagine at a flea market, but rather everyone’s shop spills out into the street. You walk along and pass giant opened burlap bags of lentils, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, turmeric, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin seeds, fenugreek, ginger, tea, mixes (like garam masala), anise, dried apricot...and so much more. Each shop is the same, yet different. In some of them, you walk into the narrow store and there are prepackaged bags of every spice imaginable linining the wall in little labeled cubbies.  In some, there are strictly the burlap bags and the owner will measure out, weigh, and bag the spices before your eyes.  Some stores even have burlap bags of laundry detergent, should you need to purchase some of that (thus the laundry part in Audrey’s description).  Needless to say, I bought some spices; I was not about to leave this glorious road without some.  The price kind of made me wince at first-650 rupees. But then I realized the amount was just under $11 for 100g of cumin seeds, 100g of fenugreek, 100g of garam masala, 100g of channa masala, 100g of kitchen king mix, and 100g of blueberry tea. I tried getting all of the standard spices used in every Indian dish because I knew I wouldnt be able to easily get some of those at home, and they were much cheaper here than I could purchase them in the US for anyways.  Aside from the spices, the street itself had a very “India” feel:  carts, cars, rickshaws, and people were all rushing around at a pace and density that would make New York City jealous.  Horns blared, people yelled, men hoisted sacks onto their shoulders... all in the normal coordinated chaos of India.   And I loved it.  I even got some street food on our way back to the metro station: an interesting egg wrap of tomatoes and potatoes.

     Monday brought a new week, and a new placement opportunity.   Caleb and I were able to go to the Mobile Clinic project, which is a mobile clinic ran out of an Ambulance by an organization called HelpAge India.  The ambulance goes to 10 different small villages and slums in/near Faridabad Monday-Friday, seeing 2 places each day.  Each village knows which day the clinic comes, and many of the patients are regulars who HelpAge has been providing free services for over many years.  HelpAge India exists to provide the elderly (those over 60) who are living in poverty with primary care and medications for free.  Of course I loved everything about this immediately. Normally the ambulance would only go to one village in the morning, but we went to 2 since they are so close. The 2 sites were small villages outside of the busy part of Faridabad, and took a little while to get to.  It was interesting to see the difference in the impoverished between a rural village and a city slum.  While the rural village is farther away from markets and hospitals, it seemed that the standard of living was slightly better out here: people seemed heartier, and their teeth were not as decayed.  I believe one can actually stay healthier in an outskirt village since they are not living right beside open sewage and an abundance of trash.  Food is also probably more easily grown since there is land they can tend in the village, but I did not see any gardens where we were.   It was actually a slow day, and we only saw about 20 patients before heading back to the HelpAge India home base for a lunch break.  After break, we went to a different site, which was a slum colony inside Faridabad. We saw more people at this site, and I was able to take a few blood pressures for the doctor and ask more questions about the patient and the given medications.  Summer is the season for amplified bacterial growth, so those not receiving refils for pain medication or hypertension were usually complaining of loose bowels and intestinal disease.

      The reason this entry is so late is due to the wifi being out all week.... And on top of being bored with no wifi, the heat is getting intense.  The weather is consistently in the 100s during the day, and only cools to the high 80s overnight. In the next few weeks, we will be dealing with the 110s. With no AC. Yikes! Talk about First World Problems. We made it to cafe's a few times for wifi, but with the 9.5 hour time difference it has been impossible to communicate with people instantaneously (as those of you who sent me messages then waited 24 hours for a reply, then replied back and waited another 24 hours know). 

     After Monday at the mobile clinic I did  not go to to placement since I got my poster supplies for my project! I spent a few days drawing out hand washing and tooth brushing tutorials and making reminder posters of ways to stay healthy. It was quite a task and I was pretty tired of the arts and crafts after 12 posters lol.  I also got my lesson plans all laid out, and worksheets created to be printed.  Tomorrow I will go with Dr. Prabhat to print them and also to buy the multivitamins.  SO excited!

Much love,


Friday, April 18, 2014

Week 14: Check-Ups, Slum Camp, and the Elderly Home

    Monday began as a surprise, with Dr. Prabhat telling Karen, Caleb, and I that we were going to go do check-ups at the local slum school for all of the children.  I was totally okay with this.  Karen is a doctor, so this was her first chance to actually do some work while in India. Tagore Public School set us up in a downstairs classroom, where we saw students 3 at a time. Caleb and I each did preliminary check-ups, then sent them to Karen if anything was wrong or needed a second look.  Most of the kids were basically healthy (or at least their normal level of health) but there were quite a few colds and coughs.  Many of the children were also malnourished and stunted in growth, and one girl had a heart murmur that she needs to get looked at.
     Tuesday and Wednesday were the days of this week's mini slum camp that was set up because Karen was here.  We went back to the same area as the last camp, in the shrine building. The day was slower than the first day of the previous camp, but it was very good. We were able to do thorough checkups then have time to then go see how Karen and Dr. Prabhat talked to them and made their diagnosis. Karen would give me tips of other questions I should ask the patient, and signs and symptoms of various problems they were having.

     Thursday, we didnt do anything because Dr. Prabhat got called into work for an emergency then stuck in a meeting.  But Friday, we went to an elderly home and did check-ups for all of the residents there.  Elderly homes are not very common in India since children live with their parents and take care of the parents when they are older. The one we went to was funded by donations, so the residents do not have to pay to stay there. There is a person who runs the home, a cook, and maids to do laundry and clean.  A doctor comes by every week to check on those who need it or take care of new problems.  Residents share rooms, and I believe there are 40 people total.  The facility was not what we would call nice by Western standards, but neither was it in a condition to be worried about.  We had a table set up in the common room downstairs, with the typical stations of blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, preliminary examination, then Dr. Prabhat.  Most of the residents already saw a regular doctor, but some had new problems or needed more pain medication for various aches and pains.  We were able to see every single resident, which was great :)

     If all goes as planned, next week I will be starting my health classes at the schools. 
    Also... 3 week countdown until Thailand! 5 weeks until Dubai! 6 weeks until I am home. 

Much love,