Monday, March 11, 2002

Email from India Mar 11 02

March 11, 2002

Dear Everybody,

We thought we would update you on what we’re doing and share some of the things we are experiencing and learning.

First of all, at work, we have finished putting RIDES’s annual budget on a computer spreadsheet for the first time, and we are using that to teach Excel and budgeting on the computer. (I,Hinda, will be learning Excel as well. I keep telling Peter I know how to do it but he is sure I am Excel challenged) We have just finished an evaluation of RIDE’s child labor project, and RIDE will send it to their funders and potential funders. Also doing a lot of internet research for future funding for RIDE. Found several possibilities, and have some preliminary interest from at least one funder that might be a good match. We are also going to help them with a long range plan. Just the other day, RIDE was notified that 25 college students from the University of Pittsburgh will be visiting them next week to learn about child labor, and RIDE’s work. We have been asked to help them develop the agenda for the day and a half visit. They will earn about $250 from the visit. The visits to RIDE from Semester at Sea was set up by some previous volunteers from the American Jewish World Service a couple of years ago. And, we have helped RIDE consolidate their contacts into an Access Data base and are just about ready to send out their first donor letter. We have noticed some management/organizational problems and more informally than formally are beginning to talk about those things with the RIDE top management. The important thing about what we are doing with these activities is hopefully teaching them to do it rather than just do it for them, (which would be easy, but not very effective – you know the story about teaching a hungry man to fish and not giving him a fish every day). That’s what it’s all about for us, so even if we can only accomplish a bit of that it will be ok. It will be another step in the right direction.

We have learned a lot about the medical system here through an incident that happened to Hinda. At first blush, it may not seen like a “system”, but it is. It is different, but it works – at least it did for Hinda. It seems that Hinda developed a bad boil that became infected and required a visit to the hospital. The hospital is owned by a doctor. After waiting in a fairly crowded waiting room (hallway) we are ushered into the doc’s office. In there is the doc, a nice man who speaks English well, another patient or two, another doctor, and a couple of nurse types. The nurse types wear white sari’s and all are barefoot. (Most-many here are barefoot including riding motorcycles and bicycles barefoot.). After examining Hinda, she gets a skin test for a local to see if she is allergic and the nurse draws on her arm with a pen. (I am not a doc so maybe this is normal). Skin test ok, so Hinda goes upstairs to “surgery””” where she has to take off her shoes and take one arm out of sleeve. She has to lie on operating table which has handles for her to hold on to and a man to hold her wrists down so she doesn’t jump too much. Yes, we made sure that the syringes and scalpel were new, but no one wears gloves. After procedure Hinda given prescription for 2 antibiotic tablets and some sterile bandages which we have to cut in half because they don’t have the right size. Because of infection this procedure happens two more times, and each time we can only get two tablets per Rx. The doc doesn’t charge anything because we are here helping Indians. Very nice! You have to get used to a different standard of hygiene here. As we have told you before, it is not a clean country, but we hope that eventually that will change. For the sake of India and for the sake of the larger world as well. Here is a little example. One of the women here a few moments ago wanted to be nice and asked me if I wanted her to throw my dirty tissue away. I said ok and watched her as she walked to the balcony and tossed it into the yard!

Here is a more amusing story. All over India, the male laborers are called “boys”, and our hotel uses them to clean the room. (In the US we used low income women we call maids). In the restaurants also the boys are the waiters, bussers, etc., and then there are the managers who check on the waiters, bussers.

Well, in our hotel at least, the boys aren’t too smart and have a very short attention span. The other night we needed clean towels, toilet paper, (about ¼ the size of our rolls – remember, most Indians neither have western toilets nor use toilet paper), and a mosquito repellent. We called the desk to ask for the above and then we made a bet: How many boys will it take to bring these 3 items. Peter said 3. A few minutes later 1 boy came with 2 towels and soap. We said we don’t need soap (they always bring soap with towels), but we need mosquito and toilet paper. Ok he says and soon another boy comes with only toilet paper and we said we need mosquito and finally a 3rd boy comes with the mosquito repellent.

This morning the boy came to make the bed with clean sheets. He put the clean sheets on the table, stripped the bed and put the dirty sheets on the floor. Then he took the dirty sheets off the floor and wanted to put them back on the bed!

We learned how not to die in a head on. Don’t watch what’s coming. Here’s the reasoning: If you watch what’s coming you will know that there will be a head on collision and you will get a heart attack and die. If you don’t watch, you won’t know a bad thing will happen and if it does you may be lucky and only break some bones. So far, no accidents, but some mighty close calls.

This morning in the restaurant there was an amusing incident. As we have told you, there are usually 4 – 6 waiters, supervisors, etc. doing things. Hinda likes to have chapatti, (flat bread) for breakfast, but it is usually served with some type of masala. However, Hinda wants butter and jam rather than masala. This morning, there were 2 supervisors, 4 waiters, and 2 cashiers trying to decide how much extra to charge for the butter and jam (6 rupees, about 12.5 cents). After I complained that it was too much, they lowered it to 5 rupees.

Another thing we got used to is having the waiter or supervisor test the temperature of our food by touching it with his fingers. If it wasn’t warm enough, he sends it back. We are used to it and it is not a big deal, but still makes us smile.

One of the hotel supervisors speaks with a clipped British accent and whenever we ask for anything says very quickly “wellyessureofcoursesir” - “ Well, yes, sure, of course sir”.

We are eating a lot less than we used to. Here, people eat less. For us it is too hot to eat a lot.

On a serious note, many people don’t get enough to eat. Some don’t eat every day. There is a lot of starvation and malnutrition. One woman told Hinda today that it is common for boy children to be given the preference for food and for the girls not to get any if the food is in short supply. Sad, but true, and all too common. Perhaps 60% of the people here live below the poverty line and suffer from hunger. and the women get nothing. By the way, we have also been told that Indian men expect their wives to see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing and never get a big stomach. The group that we work with is trying hard to change that expectation by forming women’s self help groups, that teach women skills they would not ordinarily learn. It seems to be working.

We are getting along fine, but it is getting appreciably hotter day by day. And once again, Indians are very hospitable, very warm, very friendly and very curious. We are very fond of India and the people we are working with. Most important of all, we feel that we are helping out bit by bit.

Peter and Hinda

Monday, March 04, 2002

Email from India Mar 4 02

March 4, 2002

Hi Everyone,

Hope all is well with you. We enjoy hearing from you, so keep it up. We feel very isolated here, and your emails make the long distance seem shorter.

This is a very interesting experience for us here as you have probably gathered by this time. India is unlike any other place that we have been around the world, but never the less, very interesting, and we are learning a lot.

It is a very complex society. We are just beginning to learn about caste and class which is both very important here and also very rigid. Although it happens, there are few inter-caste and inter-class marriages, and very few “love” marriages – nearly all are arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. And there are many of these arrangements that are made between an older uncle for example and a younger niece. Does it work out? We are not sure, but there is very little divorce in India and so there seems to be a lot of extra marital affairs with both men and women.

It seems that there are 4 main classes and then under that the “Dalits” (untouchables) who have a very difficult time. Casteism is like racism and apartheid. The Dalits do most of the menial labor in this country, although there are some interesting things happening as India modernizes. Keep in mind that India is the world’s largest democracy, but that is because there is a democratic form of government in a country that has 1.2 billion people. However India has a long way to go regarding equality between men and women and between classes and between minorities, (Muslims, Christians, etc.) For example one of the lower classes is now guaranteed a certain number of government jobs which means that it is difficult for higher class people to get those jobs. By the way, these classes are referred to as Forward Class, Backward Class, More Backward, and Most Backward, and then under them are the Dalits. Each of these classes has thousands of sub groups which probably resemble clans. The current problems here that you probably have been reading about regards conflict between Hindus (majority) and Muslims (minority) and has to do with Hindu’s tearing down a Muslim Mosque in order to build a Hindu temple on that site. Originally there was a temple, then a mosque, now nothing, and plans for a new temple. As a result, hundreds have been killed by both factions, many burned alive! Some of the government responses have been quite horrifying, e.g. “They are not people, they are Muslims.” Don’t worry, we are quite safe here. The problem you hear about is in Gujurat way up in the NW and we are way down in the SE. Very far away, and there is a tiny Muslim minority here as opposed to there.

With regard to work here, we are plugging away. The computer classes are very popular and the staff have now all made business cards, both professional and personal. They all love it, and we are having fun teaching them. On a more serious computer issue, we are teaching some of the key staff budgeting using EXCEL which will be useful since the budgets here seem to be on lots of different pieces of paper. But, it is a system. We will teach another system, and then they will have an alternative if they so choose. We are also giving classes in report writing, evaluations, (we just finished evaluating the child labor project – and it turned out very well), fundraising including grant writing and internet research, and we are going to help with a mini long range plan.

This Friday is an all day meeting of Women’s Self Help Groups which we are looking forward to attending. It is National Women’s Day. By the way, we met with a couple of WSHG’s (Women’s Self Help Groups) and they are quite impressive. These are women, some of whom have had children in the looms, and some not, who RIDE has organized to teach them about equality, help them become independent, teach about the value of education and arrange classes in health, hygiene, sanitation, etc. Some of these women can now sign their name for the first time, and some of them have ventured out of the house for the first time. The women have learned new skills, and have received micro loans to start small businesses and become financially independent. Perhaps most important, these women now have the confidence to question things – authority, systems, etc. And even in one village, a men’s group has formed patterned after the women’s group, and even ask the women for advice.

RIDE is doing a lot of very important things, but the enormity of the task is daunting. For each child that they are successful in removing from a silk weaving factory, there are 1 or 2 more to replace them. Yet, with education and patience, they will succeed. Hopefully, we are helping somewhat.

We had an interesting experience this week-end. We went to Mahbillipuram, about 50 or 60 miles from here on the Bay of Bengal (Indian Ocean). Went on a local bus: very crowded, very hot, 2.5 hours each way, 83 cents round trip for both of us, very noisy air horns all the way, etc, and lots of “close calls” (for us, not them). Now we understand what it means here when people “thank God” for arriving safely!

The Bay of Bengal is very warm, although there were some big waves and it is the first time we have swam in the Indian Ocean. The beach itself has nice sand, but to be honest, there is a lot of garbage including human waste. Too bad from an environmental, health, and economic point of view (it must hurt tourism). This coming weekend we are going to a fancy resort on the Indian Ocean so we expect the beach will be much nicer. There is a pool just in case.

Mahibillipuram has lots of touts, but so do most places in the world where there are foreign tourists. Also, as elsewhere in India many beggars, including women suckling infants, old men, and children. One can never forget the poverty, it is everywhere all of the time. In a way, it was nice to go the resort (which was not great) we went to because we were insulated from that for a day and a half.

Well, the whole weekend cost less than $40 for room, food, transportation. Not bad huh!

Here is some interesting info about Indian saree’s. They are one piece of material. The good ones are made of silk, right here in Kanchipuram, (probably with child labor), and can cost up to $50 - $60 if it has a lot of gold and has two colors (only child labor can make the 2 color ones). Some saree’s are 6 meters long and they are just wrapped around the women. We haven’t learned how it’s done yet. Most women wear saree’s and the ones that don’t,wear a “Punjabi dress”: pants that are tight around the ankle, and with a long blouse, down below the knees and a scarf worn around the shoulders and pointing to the back. With all of the dirt and poverty the saree’s are beautiful. The women here in the south have dark complexions and with the colorful saree they are really quite lovely.

Married women wear toe rings, and may have a mark on their forehead at the hairline. The mark right above the bridge of the nose is a bindi and is mostly a stick on, and then there are religious (Hindu) marks on the forehead that both males and females wear.

Some of the men wear “lungees” - a long piece of material sewn into a hoop and then tucked around the waist. To walk more easily, it can be pulled up above the knees like a mini skirt (despite hairy legs).

By the way, these are very handsome and beautiful people, and once again, very friendly and very nice.

This is too long. Talk to you again soon.

Hinda and Peter