Thursday, July 3, 2014

Varanasi from my phone

As we got oriented to this crazy, crazy city I didn't want to lug around my larger camera, so here are a few phone pics. We took a boat ride and watched a Hindu ceremony, saw a dead cow drifting downriver, and lit a few candles. This place is magical and absolutely insane.
Typical street
Cricket match next to the river
Kyle got to row row row our boat
Ganges grins
We lit a few candles to set forth on the river

A ghat
A cremation ghat
Visited a silk-making and finishing section of town
Our "friend" T who helped show us around was really concerned when we crossed streets and held both arms up to stop cars (not that it worked)

HEAL Foundation

The real reason for this second trip to India is to get involved permanently with an organization we met here last time. When we worked with them before, we knew them as SAPID, but now we're on the U.S. team and altogether it's called HEAL.

When we were in India last time, we worked with several local Indian organizations, and all of them were impressive, but HEAL was the one I worked with the most. I studied international development and behavior change in college, and they do everything so right! Their work is so grassroots, so empowerment-based, so self-reliance focused. Meera, the organization's head, is easily among the most amazing people I've ever met.

Without getting too much into the details, HEAL's process is to enter a community and just build relationships for 6 months to a year, which allows them to really gain trust and respect so that programs will actually do good. After a little while, HEAL helps communities organize themselves and decide what they want to work on. HEAL helps communities with health education, access to local resources such as hospitals and government ration cards, sanitation, water, women's empowerment groups, and education.

I could go on and on, but I won't. I will probably post more about my favorite programs later (I'm writing up case studies as we speak). For more info, visit - though I believe there will some improvements soon.
What slums look like before HEAL
A HEAL community with gardens and permanent structures
A few of the amazing HEAL India ladies (also known as SAPID)
A woman's group leader telling us about her community and the improvements they've made
A HEAL preschool (I also helped paint this two years ago, so it's extra special)
A health clinic for community members to get free medical advice from doctors (and med students)
This little lady was adorable and wouldn't leave me alone
The mothers here want the world for their babies
Playing with the kids
This woman found out we were married and proceeded to tell us to have a baby. It's quite a funny story actually :)
the HEAL team at a Bollywood movie

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

At work in Hyderabad

We're finally here - the real purpose of the trip. It's so good to be back! I don't have pictures at the moment (I left my SD card at home), but I do want to share a bit of the last few days.

We arrived late Sunday after a few flight delays, and then got straight to work on Monday. We had a sweet reunion with Meera and Urmi from HEAL/SAPID, as well as the rest of the staff. These women are so amazing! They have such an understanding of empowerment and are so dedicated to the communities and individuals they work with.

I haven't explained this well before, but Kyle and I have now joined HEAL - an organization that does work in Hyderabad slums. We're on the U.S. team, which helps with all the non-ground work. So this trip is largely to present some findings from the first official community surveys completed last year, and to improve the survey for this year.

The results are really fantastic. Two BYU graduate teams analyzed the data and the results were overwhelmingly positive. For example, HEAL communities have an average of half the needed vaccinations, verses non-HEAL communities that have 29% - and this relationship holds true with constraints and are statistically significant. That's just one of many really amazing things we've learned from this progress report. I'm sure I'll share more on this later, and the website is being updated so I'm sure it will have them as well.

So we spend Monday having discussions about findings, and then today we went and visited a few different communities. First we met with a women's empowerment group. We learned about the successes they've had with loans they've given to each other, and the other ways they support one another. It's all really inspiring. We'll be getting some case studies next week for the website, so if you're curious I can post more info on that later.

Other communities we visited had impressive strengths in gardening, community cohesion, and income generation programs for women. I am amazed at the work being done!

That's all for now. Going to get some rest for the night! Namasgaram! (Telegu form of Namaste)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Triund: Our little trek into the Himalaya

There isn't much to say that pictures can't tell on this one. Unfortunately, it's taking forever to load photos, so you only get a few. They don't quite do it justice either - it was gorgeous! To think we almost didn't go.

The hike was about 7km (4.3 miles) one-way. All the travel books/blogs we read said it would take 3-4 hours to get up, but we booked it in just under 1:45 (the way down took longer though - trying to save the knees!). The elevation change was about 900 meters (just under 3000 feet), so it was pretty much 100% uphill one-way. Many people camp overnight, which would be pretty neat but we weren't prepared and didn't have time. Plus, we were super quick and it was nice to pack light.

One quick funny thing - we noticed that many Indians liked to take shortcuts. One group of middle-aged adults took a "shortcut" up a really steep hill just to cut off literally only 20 feet of switchback. The climb was so tough that it definitely took them longer. But it was shorter! :)

Most of the path was created by stony steps
On the path (we forgot to get one at the top somehow)
Pack mules bringing up supplies for tiny shops. These shops charged double because of the difficulty (I was surprised it wasn't more!)
A temple at the top
The top, showing some shops and campsites
Kyle enjoying life at the top
When we got back, we headed straight for the restaurant we discovered yesterday and ordered the same thing - except this time we knew to share. So good! The evening was spent relaxing (resting our legs) and then we did a bit of shopping on the street. We said goodbye to our friend Wendy, and we'll be heading out to Hyderabad tomorrow. We were here for just the right amount of time to do all we wanted to do, and at a nice pace. We're sad to see this time end, but also very excited to get to work in Hyderabad!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bhuddist Holiday

The monastery door

To witness the special day today, we re-visited the monastery and the main temple (where the Dalai Lama lives). A the monastery, the monks were chanting in beautiful, low tones. The mantras mixed with occasional gibberish-type noises made for such a soothing and fascinating sound. We sat on the side for a good half hour just listening and watching.
Monks chanting mantras/scripture
Many Buddhists came to pay their devotions. They entered and did prostration movements and then placed money on the altar and gave some to each monk. Some had kettles, and I thought maybe they contained tea until we saw them outside filling candle-bowls with oil. I need to look up more about this practice. Many also carried prayer beads, which we think are pretty neat.

People brought kettles of oil and went around the table to refill these candles/lamps
Many stairs later, we visited the main temple, which was far busier. I didn't get any pictures here because they don't allow cameras, but it was also neat. The biggest difference was that there were many beggars that gathered because Buddhists tend to give donations during this time. We were told by our friend Wendy (who we've been going around with for the past two days) that giving water might be a good idea, so we bought two 2 liter jugs to pour water into cups and hands and mouths. Some didn't really need the water, but some did, and it was nice to have something to give.

Afterwards, we searched around for a restaurant and ended up having an amazing meal. Too amazing - I way overate. It was a Thali - meaning a lunch plate with several small cups of different curries/dishes and rice and bread. Included were a few new things that we found out we LOVE - shahi paneer, dal makhani, and makhani paneer. I think they're more north Indian, and I hope we can find them in the U.S.
The best meal we've had - Bhagsu Thal
We rested for a little while, got cheep massages, and then I went to my cooking class. We made yellow dal (lentils) and aloo ghobi (vegetable dish) along with chapati/roti (bread) - probably the most basic, staple Indian foods. They were delicious, and I hope I can re-create them!

Now we're exhausted. We have been getting up a little after 5am because of the sunrise, but not getting to bed as early as we should with that in mind. Anyway, this morning we walked a few miles to swim in a pool fed by the mountain water. I didn't end up swimming, but Kyle did, and it was cold!

Below are some misc street pictures - finally a quicker upload!
A street view of McLeod
Buddhist prayer wheels in the middle of town
Some street wares

McLeod at night

Thursday, June 12, 2014

McLeod Ganj

This beautiful town is probably most famous for being the residence of the Dalai Lama, and we have loved seeing the beautiful maroon and orange robes of monks and nuns roaming the streets. We've seen a lot more tourists here and we can see why. Not only is it beautiful, but the vibe here is much more chill than in larger Indian cities and there are lots of things to do.

Another view - you can see our pink hotel across the way

So far, we have climbed to a waterfall and played in Himalaya water, visited a Buddhist monastery and a temple, taken a tour of the Tibetan Children's Village, and I've taken a yoga class. Tomorrow is a big Buddhist holiday because it marks the anniversaries of Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and nirvana, so we'll be visiting the smaller monastery again to see what's going down. I'm also going to take an Indian cooking class, and maybe a Tibetan one too. So much to do here, and all within walking distance. It's wonderful.

Visiting the monastery was so interesting. We followed a steep side road down a hill until we came to some stairs. 301 stairs later (Kyle counted), we reached the monastery. Unsure of the protocol, we slowly made our way into their main building. I felt a sort of reverence and wanted to be respectful, but I also realized something that might seem obvious to others - the monk boys are still boys!

Apparently it was a special cleaning day (because of the holiday Friday), so we saw boys finish with drum practice and then haul around a ladder so that widows could be cleaned. Half the time they seemed to carry it just for fun, because they would always bring it back to the same spot afterwards. Another boy came in rolling a small wheel-shaped magnet attached to a string, fixing it each time it fell over. It was just so fun to see them play.
Cleaning day at the monastery

We also met an older monk when everyone came out for lunch, and we got to talk with him for a while. He's the one who told us about Friday, and he answered some other questions we had. His name was Nyima, meaning "sun" in Tibetan. We've met some other Tibetans since and we love how their names all seem to have meaning.

A few-mile walk to the Tibetan Children's Village along a tree-covered road was well worth it. The organization houses and teaches Tibetan children who are orphaned or are from destitute families within India. It was a nice campus, and the children were cute. While there, we met a Tibetan woman and her children who actually live in Austria.

After, she invited us to tea (even though we didn't drink any) and we got to talk for a good hour or two. She had attended TCV as a child, then got married to an Austrian who had been doing service there as a young man. They moved to Austria and she brought her children to attend the school to learn about Tibetan culture. But they were not having it and were in the process of returning home. It was lovely spending time talking with them and exchanging stories. Her 13 year-old daughter was full of fun facts about disgusting foods and world news. Of course, they all speak at least three languages - German, Tibetan, and English. People like this make me want to learn another language!

I'm so glad we have a few more days here!

Inside the monastery
Beautiful monastery doors
Buddhist writings
The water is so clear beneath the waterfall!
On our walk to the waterfall, we watched these two monk boys and thought it was cute how the smaller one kept his hand on the other

To the Himalaya

Delhi has a really impressive metro, which was great for saving rupees getting to the airport. Our plane to Dharamshala was small and nowhere near full and the flight was quick. The landing, however, was the shakiest either of us have ever experienced - we came in so fast and steep we really did hold our breath for a but... but it finally stabilized. Phew.

Now picture an apartment complex down a narrow one-lane dirt road in the middle of nowhere. That's where we found out the room we'd rented was. It was beautiful, but we were absolutely stranded and much further from our destination than we expected. There was no internet and we don't have a phone, and our housekeeper spoke very broken English.
Rice fields with our apartment room in the background
Eventually, we communicated well enough to get to an internet cafe and change our hotel plans. But we were really glad for the mistake, because the walk to the cafe took us through fallow rice fields, a grain mill on a stream, and the housekeeper's residence. We met his family, who lived in a family home along with his mother and brothers and their wives. They had goats and their own little shrine-temple (not sure what it is called). It was so nice out there.
He showed us his mill on the stream running next to their home

But alas, we needed to get up the mountain slopes! So we took a taxi up the winding hillside, narrowly missing oncoming traffic on roads barely barely barely wide enough for two cars (and sometimes not that wide). The drive was so steep! We were amazed that the little taxi we were in could make it, and a little scared on some of the hairpin turns.
Our steep climb up the mountain began
The hassle was all so worth it! McLeod Ganj is a breath of fresh air. It's enchanting staying here at the base of the Himalaya, and it's very different than other parts of India we've visited. There is a mix of Indian and Tibetan culture since so many refugees live here. So far, we have really loved it.

A full post on McLeod Ganj to come. For now, enjoy some phone photos of the views we have from our hotel.

From our hotel roof

These slopes are so colorful!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Favorite people in Delhi

Goodbye, Claire!
On our last morning, we visited the Tibet House with Claire. It was small but really fascinating. We got to see lots of Tibetan artifacts and learned a bit about Tibet and Buddhism. We spent a good hour in the library there, skimming Buddhist books and admiring old Tibetan writings wrapped in cloths in all shades of orange.

Then we parted with Claire (sadly), and headed to the Lodi Gardens - a free park with shrubbery, ruins, and even a running track around it. We saw several couples, and even one getting fresh (a first for us here), so apparently it's the place for dates. The best part of all: there were sprinklers running in one section, and we just happened to stay on that path for a while. It was quite refreshing.

We went to Maggie's mom's house for the evening, and Maggie cooked up an amazing chicken curry! It was wonderful to be in their home, talking and getting to know them better. Maggie and Raju, her husband, are hoping to attend BYU-Hawaii, and we are so excited for them. We felt so blessed by their kindness and generosity-they have such loving hearts. It was by far my favorite experience so far.
Maggie, her son Jeffrey, her husband Raju, and her mother and niece
Lodi Gardens

A Muslim tomb in the Lodi Gardens
Two-liter water bottles are half my size
Headed home