Saturday, January 22, 2011

I'm Right Side up in India!

Yes, it has been a while. A year, in fact. Turns out, working full-time while going to grad school is enough of a procrastination tool! Well, and facebook...I have played my life out in 290 character bits throughout the last year.

Most of you know I have a new job, which I've been meaning to post about (short version- I love it, it's great). But I've gathered you all here today because I'm embarking on a new adventure for the next month, in India and while I doubt I'll much time, I wanted to use this forum to share a little bit about what I'm seeing because I'm anticipating it's going to be pretty amazing.

This does relate to my last post of a year ago because I've come to India for a 3 week class (aka subject for you Aussies) in Primary Health Care in a rural setting. I'll be travelling to Jamkhed, a village near Pune, tomorrow, with 19 fellow Melbourne uni students (not all MPH students, though some are) and we'll spend the next 3 weeks at the Comprehensive Rural Health Project. The project was started in the late 70's by 2 US-educated Indian MDs who wanted to do something for their home country upon their return. What began as an initiative to provide clean drinking water (and this was in the days before the term community development even existed) led to the training of local women to educate their fellow villagers on pre- and post-natal care, bringing the infant mortality rate from over 200 deaths/1000 births to below 14/deaths/1000 births in about 20 years which is quite an accomplishment (although India was also undergoing vast developmental shifts during that time that probably also contributed). This in turn led to other projects for the men in the community, micro-fund projects for the community health working women and an adolescent girls program I am particularly keen to learn about.

Over the years, the project has grown and their numerous successes have led them to receive $ from OzAid and USAid to build a training centre so folks from around the world (like our group) can come to learn how they do what they do and then replicate elsewhere. So in the coming weeks, I'll be learning much more about the project and all of it's varied components, so I won't go into that much more now.

I'll just share a few of my initial reactions to India, having been here for about 20 hours so far.

I arrived to Pune at 4:30 Am local time, having travelled for about 27 hours door to door. This is after spending 5 intense days at camp for work- for the new job I love-- so needless to say, I'm exhausted!

I flew Melbourne to Perth to Singapore to Mumbai and from there took a 4 hour car ride to Pune. I had hoped to sleep in the car but I had underestimated the constant braking and honking that would accompany us throughout the whole journey. I dozed a bit but it was hardly relaxing so I was thrilled to lie down on the hard wooden block that is serving as my bed. I feel a bit like goldilocks, having spent the last week at camp on an air mattress that was a bit too soft. I suppose when I get home I'll find my mattress is JUST RIGHT!

I forced myself to rise in time to grab the end of brekkie and set off to run a few quick errands...or so I thought. It was time for my first auto-rickshaw adventure. Pune is a smaller Indian city but certainly no place for the weak. I've decided that you should have to demonstrate a certain number of passport stamps before they let you into the country because I'm feeling overwhelmed a bit and I consider myself a fairly seasoned traveller. I can't imagine what it must be like if this is someone's first stop on their gap year tour!

Traffic rules are more like gentle suggestions and it took me about 20 minutes before I felt confident to cross the street. My tactic is to find locals who are crossing and just draft off of them, muttering a quick Sh'ma under my breath as I go.

I won't bore you with the 2 hour challenge of buying a phone card, only that I had to find a place to get my photo taken and my passport copied...sim cards are very serious business here. I got back to the hotel- this time with a metered rickshaw and realised the previous driver ripped me off (though he did invite me to his kid's birthday party so I'll forgive him) and had a hugely filling and delicious Channa Masala for about $2. Have plans to meet up with a few people from the course for dinner so just have to stay awake until then.

Hope you'll enjoy this journey with me...and I'll try to spare you any details of toilet adventures!!


Maz said...

Hope you have managed to have a decent sleep now. Well done for passing Pune for the rest of the class! Have fun miss you!

chippy said...

I love that I don't have to the leave comfort of my couch... while following your worldwide adventures! It makes me feel like you're doing all the hard work which my lazy ass appreciates!! Looking forward to your next post! Am eager to see where India leads us next...!!
xx, cass

Justin M. said...

Good on ya Sheryl!! You've inspired me to go get a real cup of chai from the indian market down the street, after my yoga class. I feel like we're having almost the exact same experience. Its uncanny.

:) Justin

chippy said...

Justin M: you made me laugh! Thanks!

Cathy said...

Wow, what an amazing experience you had in India!! Love your blog!!