Time is flying by! It is easy to forget to update! A lot has been going on.. I had my birthday and went out of town for some celebrations. I have managed to complete five interviews all of a sudden. I am also getting more and more comfortable going on the local trains even if the train as such is not a one of comfort. If you are unlucky with the timing in the mornings and evenings when all of Mumbai also want to go on the trains.. yeah.. well, then you do your best to even manage to get onboard. Put your bag in the front, tackle the door from the side, try to get hold of the doorhandle and squeez your way up. And don’t be afraid to use them elbows your mother gave you cos you need them. At least I am a little taller compared to the majority which is an advantage. This week however I didn’t even make it further in the train than just to stand by the door. And here in India the door does not close.. Exciting to say the least… I wanted to take a picture but then it would have been for the price of losing my phone. Anyways, I try to avoid peakhours as much as possible. It is just not worth the bruises and the sweating and the stares I get from looking like the lost tourist that I am. However, I feel pretty proud about managing this good haha!
So as I said.. I have now conducted five interviews and have five left to go. It has been a little difficult to get hold of students and still trying to get the remaining interviews confirmed. I have transcribed two of them and it takes sooo much time. 50 min becomes 11 pages of text and about 4-5 hours of work. The other three interviews have been in hindi where I have had the help of an interpreter. So waiting for her to give me a more detailed translation for the interviews before I can transcribe them aswell. But part from this tedious transcribing all this is fun. To meet people and learn new things. I am so thankfull to be able to do all this!
As part of my Bachelor degree in Social Work at Malmö University I spent five months earlier this year in Mumbai to carry out my field placement (Verksamhetsförlagd utbildning). The internship was with a non-governmental organisation called Vacha which focuses on girls’ and young women’s empowerment and education. Vacha is a term in several Indian languages meaning speech, articulation and self-expression and the organisation work to give the girls a voice and a platform to be able to speak up in their communities and public spaces. If you want to read more about their work in their community centres in and around Mumbai you can follow the link below: www.vacha.org.in
I am now back in Mumbai for a MFS and looking forward to further experience this fast paced and intense life that this city, with a population of about 22 million, has to offer. The people, the food, the sounds and the smells. The culture, the colours and celebrations. The luxury and the poverty. The traffic… well maybe not so much the traffic but at least you always have something interesting to look at while you are stuck in an auto rikshaw. Surrounded by hundreds of other “riks”, cars, motorbikes, trucks, dogs, goats, street sellers, all while in 36 degrees, breathing in the heavenly smell of pollution. How can one not I love it?
India is the fastest growing economy in the world. However, not everyone seems to be onboard the fast moving train of progress. The Indian middle class might be growing but there is, for example, a gaping rural-urban divide as well as a gender discriminations when it comes to economic progress and development. So yes there is a whole bunch of inequalities in this country. Not only economic, but also when it comes to social rights and opportunities. But there is also good things happening:
The above links are just two examples of big top-level decisions. However, on grassroot level great things are happening every day. I have seen this during my internship and I get motivated by these hardworking people that want to see positive change in their communities and country.
So follow me on my two months minor field study to see where it takes me. In my next post I will introduce you to my project and the organisation I will be working with – Men Against Violence and Abuse.
I did not spend many days in Guwahati after coming back from my last trip before I was on the road again. In fact, I spent much of the second half of May taking sightseeing breaks from my writing and analysis work.
First I headed out for the Green Hub Festival at Tezpur University that screens documentaries about biodiversity in India and short movies made by Green Hub’s film students but also hosts a number of panel debates on environment as well as women’s rights. I attended a seminar on women’s security, watched some amazing movies on biodiversity and nature and spent the night in Okum Guesthouse outside Tezpur. North East Network, one of the organizations I’ve worked with here, runs the guesthouse, which is based in a tribal Mising village among bamboo houses, palm trees and paddy fields. Their veranda is probably the best thesis-writing spot I have yet encountered – writing and drinking tea with a view to woods and wild orchids made me incredibly mindful and productive at the same time.
As for many tribal groups of North East India, the Mising women have a long tradition of weaving. NEN also runs a project in the village with 13 women making handloomed products for the organization and thereby earning a little extra money for their households. I talked to some of them about their work and what it has changed for them and tested my own handlooming skills (or lack of the same) with supervision from the professionals.
Just call this product placement but if you get the chance to visit the Okum Guesthouse (which you should if you’re in India anyway), do take home some beautiful hand-made cushion covers, wall hangings or bags and support a good cause!
The heat has arrived in Assam and I’m suffering. Luckily, my landlord’s driver was kind to take me on a one-day escape to the neighboring hill state of Meghalaya. Meghalaya means something like “the Land of Clouds” and the place perfectly suits this name with its fresh green hills, wet but really enjoyable climate and huge cotton-like clouds rolling down the hill sides and turning everything into a misty wonderland or “Scotland of the East” as the tourist agencies say. Even though the clouds blocked the view to Cheerapunjee’s waterfalls and the Bangladesh border, I still enjoyed a day in the highlands with stunning landscapes and really good company. Binoy, my landlord’s driver is one of the most cheerful people I have met and long-distance road trips are just better when you’re travelling with a good friend.
My lovely neighbor Avishka also took me to Sivasagar, the old capital of the Ahom kings who ruled Assam for hundreds of years untill the British arrived. Sivasagar is a small town but with some very pretty ruins of the old castles and temples. It was a nice little tour and even nicer to meet Avishka’s family.
Sivasagar is only one hour from Jorhat so on my way back to Guwahati, I simply had to pass by the town to meet the people from Purva Bharati Educational Trust and the boat clinic again. I did some follow-up interviews with my participants in my field study but also just enjoyed meeting these inspiring people and their friends and families again! I also took a detour to the Majuli island to visit my “family” there again. If you have read my last post, you will understand why I enjoyed being back so much and why I was very sad to leave them all again knowing that I will probably not go back before some time (what is for sure though is that I can never visit India again without passing by the North East!).
My field study in Assam is coming towards the end and I only have few follow-ups and visits to complete before heading out for some more travelling in India and then home to Denmark/Sweden!
I know, I know, I have been quiet recently. Actually, it is not because I am lazy – believe it or not – or because nothing happened. On the contrary, a lot happened and the past weeks have included lots of interesting and inspiring interviews, the classic traveller’s stomach problems, six-hours train rides and bum-hurting tuktuk rides on a muddy river island.
So, how do I cover all this in one single blog post? The easy solution: I don’t 😉 After the bihu festivities, the rest of April mainly went with conducting interviews and transcribing so these days I will just mention quickly. The women activists I have met here are all very informative and willing to talk and I have found a very diverse group of participants spanning from the well-educated middle class lady to the village woman who has seen too much violence and torture during the past decades’ insurgencies in Assam. They have all been incredibly open to talk to me so the past weeks have been busy but effective.
But now, after conducting my interviews and half of the transcriptions, it is time for the fun stuff! The past days I have spent outside my safe base in Guwahati more specifically, in Jorhat in Upper Assam, where I first was introduced to one of the coolest ladies I have met and her organization Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) and later, visited a tea garden and got to meet the strong activists of the local adivasi women’s association. Besides interesting stories, the tea garden visit also included stunning views over green fields and a long-awaited tranquility after one month in bustling Guwahati.
In the weekend, I went to Majuli – a small, but nevertheless Asia’s biggest, river island in the mighty Brahmaputra. The island is famous for its satras (monasteries for monks following the Vaishnavite branch of Hindu religion). One of my participants told me about this form of Hinduism in the interview so I was very excited for experiencing the culture that, according to her, created a more liberal caste system and better living conditions for women in Assam (I have my thoughts about the caste system, including the Assamese, but I will leave that discussion out of the blog).
After arriving on the island, I soon discovered that exploring Majuli and the satras is just easier with your own vehicle and a local guide as both public transport and English-speakers are scarce. However, I tried to make the most of it by hitching a ride on all possible vehicles – scooters, cars and tractors – to make it to the first satra (I also accidently paid 200 rupees for a ride but luckily most people were too nice to take advantage of a confused tourist, who did not do her research before going).
My whole trip changed completely when I was on my way back from visiting the first satra, out of the five I planned to, and a car stopped right by my side. The door was opened and a father, mother and two children gestured at me to make me get in. Few minutes later I found myself drinking tea in the family’s home and desperately trying to understand Assamese chit-chat from the cutest 4-year-old boy, who did not seem to care about my limited vocabulary and confused sign language.
I spent the rest of the weekend with Prasanta and Banalata and their children. After knowing me for approximately one hour, they offered me to stay in their house and show me around the island. Prasanta took me to three more satras and a tribal Mishing village, where one of his friends invited for spicy but delicious lunch and home-made rice beer. I also had the pleasure of meeting Prasanta and Banalata’s neighbors and drinking endless amounts of tea. I was really sad to leave Majuli after just two days but back in Jorhat, the reunion with Smita, Arup and Sinumoni from the awesome PBET crew (and some more rice beer) cheered me up.
I think it is safe to say that the hospitality and helpfulness of Assamese people is the most overwhelming and heart-warming I have experienced yet. Everybody has welcomed me like a member of their own family and shared their home, their food and lots of smiles with me. I am already planning another trip to Jorhat and Majuli just to meet these treasures again and I STRONGLY recommend everyone travelling to India to make a trip to the North East! I simply don’t have enough words for expressing how good the Assamese people have been to me.
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!
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.
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.
Since last time I wrote much has happened. Agnes and I completed our six interviews at Aster Medcity hospital within three days and feel like we got a lot of nice information. Everyone at the ward where we conducted the meetings were curious and sweet and helpful. The following couple days we ventured around and went to Fort Cochin and Marina drive. We took a local ferry for 12kr and was given the grand tour in a language we didn’t understand, it was perfect. We also ate and drank our fair share of dosas and over sweetened tea and coffee, delicious. In southern India there have been monsoon rains and one night we ended up standing in this wet downpour and watching the lightning illuminate the canals. One such bolt struck the water and cracked open just above us, that’s when we realised it was time to go inside. We followed the monsoon to Chennai and arrived to overfilled reservoirs and rivers. We stayed at a nice hotel but the rain came through our windows and made big puddles on the floor. The interviews went great at SIMS hospital and we completed six meetings within two days with extremely qualified nurses from every kind of ward. The director of nursing was very helpful and gave us a tour of the hospital and a meeting with the director of medicine. We felt a bit under qualified for all this attention, but also intrigued by the details in the hospital and the different varieties of patients. After four nights in Chennai we realized that the city is not much fun in the rainy season. There was also flooding around us so we decided to seek out some sunshine instead and bought another flight, with an earlier date that originally planned, to Goa. I was very grateful to get out of Chennai as I’m not so into loud and complicated cities, and felt like I wasn’t able to move or breathe. It’s interesting to come from an extreme Indian metropolis to a very differently categorized bustling beach town with tourists sprouting from every corner. I however really appreciate the ability to walk on the beach alone without feeling like its inappropriate. I’m also stoked about the amount of restaurants and juice places and actually just stuffed my face with a huge fruit and yoghurt bowl. So, now the challenge is to enjoy this sunny place while actually get some writing done. As of now we are in the midst of transcribing and will soon start analyzing. Wish us luck!
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.