Bihu, or the Assamese new years celebrations, recently ended and after four days of watching butterfly-like dances and eating waaaaaay too many Indian sweets, I am back by the work table. So far, I have managed to conduct three interviews but in between transcriptions it is nice to look back at the Bihu holiday and some more colorful memories.
There are three annual Bihu festivals in Assam and the April Bihu marks the beginning of spring, which in the Assamese calendar also is the beginning of the new year (thinking about it, it makes quite a lot of sense to start the new year in the spring, when everything is blooming again and waking up from the winter sleep). The new year is said to be the most colorful of the Bihus and all over Guwahati, I found open fields full of families, women in beautiful mekhala chadors (the Assamese version of a sari), food stalls and scenes with traditional dances and music.
I went out with my neighbors all four nights to watch the dance shows. Some nights it was easier to find a place than others due to Indian time planning but I had a lot of fun anyway listening to catchy drum beats, wearing a mekhala chador (all attempts to blend in failed, though) and trying to copy the dancers’ graceful moves. Bihu dancing might appear simple but doing it without looking like a chicken just learning to walk is an art!
The day after the first Bihu night (last Sunday) it is tradition to visit the older family members and show your respect by giving them a gamosa (a pretty red and white fabric that somehow resembles a fancy towel and guess what – people actually use it as a towel). In return, one receives an overdose of sweets, tea and fruits. My landlords took me to their relatives to let me experience ”the real Bihu”. For some reason, they did not care much for the dance shows at night but I enjoyed both family visits to hospitable cousins and the drumming and dancing, and I am so happy that I arrived here in time to experience Assamese festivities with my sweet neighbors and landlords!
Food food food food food
Delicious Assamese sweets. Mainly made of rice, coconut and sugar and incredibly diverse anyway!
My sweet landlady and my even sweeter neighbors
Visiting my landlord’s family, wishing happy Bihu.
I have now settled in Guwahati, the biggest city in the state of Assam and my main base for the 10 weeks I will spend on my MFS.
The city is a wonderful chaos of people, rickshaws, fruit markets and (less wonderful) cars. My home is like a little oasis hidden away from the busy streets. I rent an apartment from a couple with a very big house and a garden. My apartment is in a smaller house in the back of the garden almost surrounded by palm trees and flowers and almost isolated from the noisy main road. My neighbors are three super sweet girls and in the main house live our landlords (who we call Uncle and Aunty) and five more tenants. On first floor, there is also a weaving shop with all kinds of beautiful fabrics and an owner who always serves me tea.
So, in terms of social life and accommodation, I have found my happy place to cope with the initial field study-confusion. I am in contact with many helpful people but coming to Assam opened up so many doors that were previously hidden and my idea of what topics are the most relevant in the area is expanding and expanding.
I am still focusing on women’s rights groups and the experiences of activists as it is my main interest. But the longer I stay here, the more I discover the innumerable complex relations in the state Assam. Tribal and ethnic tensions, memories of armed conflict and uncertainty of what is “the Assamese identity” all make for a super interesting but also very confusing place for doing research.
But for now, I just enjoy the hospitality of my hosts and neighbors (who are eager to feed me spicy and delicious Indian food – I think they got worried seeing me heat up the sorry leftovers of yesterday’s potatoes and daal). Moreover, the house is located just around the corner from NEN, a local women’s rights organization, and the staff there is helpful in finding me reports and more contacts. So, my next two months here look promising as soon as the post-arrival chaos has settled.
Photos are coming up soon! 🙂
Now I find myself in paradise. No kidding. Dolphins swimming, palm trees swaying, waves crashing and birds singing. So, once we landed in Arambol we realized what a crazy place it was. Filled with drunken Russian kids, harassing sales men and loud clubbing music. Not really our scene. We succeeded in getting up early to watch the dolphins and hide from these obnoxious masses, but soon they would fill the beach and shopping areas and we were overwhelmed again. In the midst of this chaos I got sick, but was ok with spending my days in my room with AC away from these intense cultural chasms. Agnes hated Arambol even more than I did and took a train from north to south Goa. She said it was a lovely quiet ride and recommends it to future visitors to this south west coast. Once I was feeling better I took a taxi ride down with a frustrating driver who continuously asked me to date him. I lied and said I was married with kids, but this had little or no effect on his advances. In my mind I was ready to smack him silly if he tried anything, but thankfully this was not needed. Soon however I made it to Agonda where a wide white beach, calm sweet cows, more dolphins, and wild horses greeted me in the sun. I felt as if I had gone from party-ville to paradise. Here Agnes and I were able to focus and finish our analysis. It was a complicated procedure since we had 12 pretty individual and long interviews, but we managed after some time to categorize our material and then lay them in themes. If one wants to visit Goa I recommend visiting Agona, its quiet and beautiful. We stayed at a guest house called Monsoon, run by a German guy and a sweet Nepalese family. I made friends with adorable calves who rule the beach and learned to love paneer tikka. After ten days in the Agondan paradise Agnes flew back home and left me to fend for myself in the beach life. I bunkered down for three days and worked until my bum was sore from sitting, and finished my results. Or rather the first draught of part of the results. Then I took a day off, nice. After diving into Agonda it was time to move to my next destination. Little did I know it would be an even more secluded and surreal paradise beach. Its called Little cove beach or Little Cola beach, depending on who you talk too. I met Nina, my fellow nurse colleague, and we have been soaking up the sun, eating yummy food and learning to stand on our heads. I can’t complain. It’s an awesome place to spend the last couple weeks of my India adventure. Also a pretty good place to try to finish this paper before I go back to Sweden. Im hopeful that I’ll succeed even though its extremely tempting to just space out and watch the waves and palm trees. So, yeh, needless to say I recommend coming to this little gem of a place if you like the quiet things in life.
Its been a little while since my last blog and much has happened over the past few days. Diwali, the festival of lights was celebrated with fireworks, tasty treats and festivities in accordance with tradition. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism observe various customs related to Diwali. I enjoyed the candles lit in oil and the sparkly fireworks painting the sky and lighting up everyone’s faces. Another favorite part of the last few weeks has been watching the sun sink into the ocean. Its red turning deeper as it slowly dips into the sea, illuminating the sky into a surreal pink and orange, all while the crescent moon watches from above. Here in India the moon is turned the other way than in Sweden leaving it like a fat grin in the sky.
This week I received the most amazing massage called Abiyangha with Shirodhara. This is a full body oil massage with an oil running on to the forehead. It is the most wondrous experience which turns your mind off, leaving you in a state of utter calmness and satisfaction, I highly recommend it. Between these luxurious moments I have also been delving deeper into the background of our paper, analyzing what communication really is in its multifaceted definitions and usages. I also tried to pinpoint what we really are searching for with our questions and how to foresee all the outcomes and possible misdirection which we may encounter during the interviews. It has been a little surreal to work with Agnes across the different continents, but this week she arrived which has been a great a reality check.
On Wednesday October 25th I drove down from Guruvayur to Aster Medcity hospital in Cochin to meet the doctor and become entrusted the nurses. The hospital is like its own city on an island between marshes and palm trees. All very organized and clean, perfect for the international clientele, yet surprising in the midst of India and its other bustling and busy ways. That night Agnes arrived to our funny and fancy hotel on Willington island, which turned out to be a navy base. So, we are surrounded by military airplanes and military grounds with very little space to actually wander. But its ok right now because it helps us stay focused on our paper, and an excuse to just sit by the pool. Once we’re finished with the interviews we’ll venture out to explore fort Cochin. Yesterday day Agnes and I drove to the hospital again and started our interview process. We met two highly qualified and extremely sweet nurses whom were fun to chat with, and I think we acquired some useful information from the interviews. Today we head back to the hospital for two more meetings and then probably dinner by the pool, watching the bats and crows.
I find myself in the southern most state of India. The beautiful, lush and green Kerala. People here are curious and friendly. Working their jobs, far more hours than we are accustomed to, but still with a smile. Its impressive and thought provoking
My trip over here was long yet good. An eleven-hour layover in New Delhi could have been worse without a Holiday Inn hotel at the airport and masala chai down the terminal.
I have been here for six days now and am so happy to be spending some time on the Cochin beaches soaking up the sun, walking in the hot downpours of monsoon rains and eating delicious food, before we start the interview process. I was also able to watch a theater and dance performance which was fascinating even though I didn’t understand what was happening most of the time. The movements however were beautiful, sometimes terrifying, yet fascinating. One part of our project is looking into medical tourism, not because its a focus of our paper, but because it is a factor in the interviews for our study. Most patients who our nurse participants care for are people from other countries who come to India for medical treatment, this so called medical tourism. While India has very good western medicine they also incorporate other types of holistic care into their healthcare system. So, while Agnes is still back in Sweden finishing exams I am spending this first period of the trip receiving Ayurvedic treatments, another kind of medical tourism. I have so far met people from many different parts of India, as well as people from France, Russia and Germany. Not a bad place to work on the background of our thesis, formulate and reformulate the interview questions, and again contact the hospitals. I have so far reached the supervisor/gatekeeper at the Aster MedCity hospital in Cochin where we will be conducting our interviews and solidified some dates. It feels goo to start setting specific times for this next part of our research even though I know that these plans can and probably will change many times over.
Hej! Det har varit ont om el och internet de senaste veckorna men efter mycket jobb och mindre fritid har jag äntligen unnat mig lite ledigt och har hamnat i Goa. Även om inte många firar jul i Udaipur där jag bor i vanliga fall så är det väldigt svårt att få något gjort under jul, de flesta har ledigt eller åker bort och då blir det svårt att få något jobb gjort. Men de senaste veckorna har varit produktiva och jag har börjat få in min data i SPSS. Skönt med ledigt nu i alla fall!
Goa är fantastiskt, underbart med sol och bad. Dessutom var det väldigt lugnt och skönt på julafton vilket passar mig utmärkt eftersom jag generellt inte gillar att fira jul. Tror att jag har hört totalt tre julsånger och inte sett röken av julmat. Tre andra tjejer från organisationen har också kommit hit så vi är ett gäng som umgås. Goa är underligt på så vis att det är Indien fast det samtidigt absolut inte är Indien. Här finns till exempel sallad (!) och de serverar biff, vilket känns jätteunderligt. Dessutom hör man svenska överallt och det var längesen!
Jodhpur var fantastiskt! Och imorgon eftermiddag verkar det som att jag faktiskt ska få komma iväg till produktionscentret i Badgaon tillsammans med Sadhnas inköpsansvarige. Det ska bli spännande.
I Jodhpur turistade jag tillsammans med en annan svensk tjej, Therése, och tre underbara norskar, Rune, Maria och Lydia. Vi blev ett litet team Scandinavia. Det bästa med resan var nog det fantastiska enorma fortet uppe på ett berg ovanför staden där utsikten verkligen gav en förklaring till varför Jodhpur kallas den blå staden. Vi blev också inbjudna på födelsedagsfest av en jättetrevlig indisk kille vid namn Praveen. Vi fick följa med ut till hans kompis resort ute i öknen och bo i lyxiga tält och lyssna på traditionell musik och njuta av dansuppträdanden med bara en brasa som ljuskälla. Fantastiskt var det! Mindre fantastiskt var färden i så kallad ”sleeper bus”. Trots namnet blir det inte mycket sömn i en sådan buss på sådana vägar. I början var det väldigt kul, lite som en berg-och dalbana, men när klockan börjar närma sig 4 på morgonen och man mest fått whiplash och ingen sömn så är det inte jättekul…
På en översta bilden åker jag och Therése ”sleeper bus”, på den nedersta ser man en del av utsikten från Meranghar fort i Jodhpur.
Den här veckan har varit ovanlig för att det inte hänt så mycket, och det är ovanligt för att vara Indien. Veckan har varit mindre produktiv än de andra, har kunnat åka ut i fält för mitt projekt inom praktiken men min kontaktperson för min studie inom MFS har ställt in alla våra planerade besök fram tills mitten på nästa vecka. Därför har jag bestämt mig för att åka till Jodhpur över helgen och ge mig själv lite semester och komma bort från stressen av att inget händer när man vill att det ska. Jag åker tillsammans med några av de andra praktikanterna så jag hoppas att det blir en kul helg.
I övrigt skulle jag säga att det mesta flyter på, jag har fått in ganska många svar på min enkät och intervjuerna har varit mycket givande. Är nog mest oroad för hur jag ska få in all samlad data i min uppsats och få det supertydligt inom mitt ämne. Men det får bli ett bekymmer sen i vår när jag är hemma igen och ska skriva. Just nu samlar jag bara så mycket material jag kan och hoppas att det blir rätt och bra.
Eftersom det inte hänt så mycket spännande har jag inte så många roliga bilder heller, men jag bjuder på en bild på en man med kamel.
I Indien är allt finfint. Har fått rapporter om kyla och hört att hela Sverige haft ovanligt få soltimmar i November. Här skiner solen nästan jämt. Den här veckan har jag intervjuat Sadhna’s Chief Executive och fått spännande insikter i organisationsstruktur och vad hon anser om Fair Trade som ”marknadsföringsknep” och hur Sadhna jobbar med Fair Trade i olika steg av processen. Nästa vecka ser det ut att bli flera besök till produktionscenter med deras inköpsansvarige. Ska bli spännande att se hur det ser ut där kvinnorna jobbar.
Jag har även hunnit jobba vidare på mitt praktikprojekt, att ta reda på varför folk inte använder sina nybyggda Ecosan-toaletter fast de har dem. Än så länge finns det ungefär lika många anledningar angivna som det finns människor med tillgång till toaletterna. Får se om jag lyckas lista ut något.