Understanding Impact

On June 24th I returned to American after 7 weeks in rural India.  Returning had an odd sensation.  My first thought when I left Hopkins Airport was that America was more quiet than I remembered, my second was that you can tell that America is a relatively young country, my third was that America is not well developed (but these things are all relative).  On the way home from the airport my brother and father stopped at Chipotle.  I don’t know why, but I will never forget that.  Partly because I had not slept for more than spurts of 10-20 minutes for more than 30 hours, partly because I did not anticipate culture shock on the way home, and partly because it seemed odd to eat meat so nonchalantly.  I felt I was moving slowly, even though I had not travelled over 60km/hr in an automobile in nearly 2 months.

Now that I am writing from my “new” dorm room, about 60 feet from my “old” dorm room, where I applied for this fellowship only 7 months ago, I feel compelled to ask “What has changed?” and “What was the impact?” of this experience.  Since the four walls appear the same, what is different inside?

When I applied for this fellowship, I talked about conventions.  I wanted to be able to close my eyes and imagine how differently any given society could be organized.  Not necessarily because I am dissatisfied with the current organization, but so that I could conceive of something better when the time came. So that I do not judge people, my future patients, my friends, on arbitrary distinctions and rules that are no more than an artifact of history, which itself could have gone differently.  What this means, I think, is a more complex a topic than I would ever be able to explain, but I feel that impact.  As a RA this year, I have already felt it interacting with my residents – I don’t feel required to interact or implicitly evaluate them based on the standards of my culture and upbringing, but on how they wish to be viewed.  I can only hope that this forges ties between us, as people, uninterrupted by our own expectations of others.

The following Monday I started a Physics class at Cleveland State with a Swedish professor I have known for a while now.  When I sat across from him, with pages of old loose-leaf physics textbooks littering the ground, he asked about my time in India.  I thought he wanted to know about the differences, so I talked about the food, the bathrooms, the languages, the work week, etc.  I think, naturally, that is something people are interested, how are they are different from us.  But after I spoke, he looked dissatisfied, so I thought I would tell him the truth, “Honestly, we are far more similar than we are different.”  He looked at me again more enthusiastically.

For all the infinite ways life can be organized, we, as people, resemble each other much more than we are different.  While not everyone in India might use utensils, they do have a common place for eating.  While their toilets may be different, many have toilets.  We have families.  We have friends.  We have hospitals.  We eat at similar times.  We have work weeks and weekends.  We have roads.  We have similar values on success and tolerance.  And to me, that is amazing.  I assure you it does not need to be like this. Other forms of life do not have friends or toilets, eat three times a day, have/live with families, or defined weekdays and weekends.  With the ideas of multiverse becoming more accepted, it becomes even more probable that our organization is just one type of an infinite number, and to me, it is a miracle just how similar we are.

Reflections on My Time in Mankundu

When I first returned to Michigan, I found myself in awe of the pristine cleanliness and order of everything around me. Neatly mowed lawns, shiny new bicycles, and smoothly paved streets felt extremely sterile and foreign. I kept having urges to do things like throw my banana peels out the window and was a bit shocked by the amount of skin I saw in all of the summer clothes surrounding me. It took about two weeks before I felt comfortable wearing shorts again. It was such a strange feeling, to be back in my hometown but to know that something had changed in the way that I viewed it.

The Ann Arbor Art Fair took place the week after I returned. As I walked through the streets, I realized something- the hippies in kurti-like tunics and harem pants and the amalgamation of open-air shops and food vendors reminded me so much more strongly of Mankundu than anything else I had seen since being home. I was suddenly seeing this event, which I have been attending every year for as long as I can remember, through an entirely different lens than ever before. Of course there are distinctions between the Art Fair and India, but for the first time I felt more comfortable at this somewhat chaotic street fair than I did walking around my neighborhood.

I have been back in the States for a little over a month now, and I still think about my time in India every single day. My friend will mention something that will remind me of a person I met or a place I visited, and I am mentally transported around the world. It takes very little to trigger these associations, since my time in India had such an impact on the way I view the things around me.

I know that this experience will stay with me for a very long time. Going to a place so different from what I knew has opened my eyes to a whole new way of approaching the world. I think this is true of any interaction with other cultures, especially when one is immersed into the local people and customs as we were. You cannot help but gain a new appreciation for the diversity of both the human race and the natural world.

I already miss my host family, students, and fellow volunteers. The people I met had a huge impact on me and the trip would not have been the same without them. I already find myself planning my next trip to visit them. Just yesterday I was looking up flights to Kolkata for next summer to see how much it would cost (the answer was “too much”). That made me all the more grateful for having been given the opportunity to go on this fellowship.

While I may not have the chance to visit again in the next few years, I know that I will go back. India has such a captivating quality that it is practically impossible not to love it. I cannot wait to visit my host family again and see the progress of the students and the community development projects, and to have the chance to explore the rest of the country. The two weeks of travel that I did at the end of my trip were not nearly enough to see the entire subcontinent.

The biggest impact that this trip has had on me was to solidify my future aspirations. While I still do not know exactly what I want my career to look like, I am sure that I want to continue working in developing areas. The work of Human Wave inspires me. I am passionate about helping to further causes such as women’s empowerment, food security, and education. This is the path that I see my life taking, dedicated to improving the lives of people around the world.

Last reflection on time in India

When I was in India I missed pizza, French toast, clean water and the ability to communicate easily. But now that I am home I miss chaos, paneer with butter naan, bargaining and most of all seeing and learning new things at every turn. While I was in India time flew by and before I knew it I was on a plane back home. Now that I am home I have had time to reflect on my experiences.

Before I left for India I knew that there would be poverty and hardship but I did not appreciate how challenging life can be for Indian women. Since being home I feel very grateful for my life, especially as a women. I can choose whom I marry. I can sit on chairs with my family (around men). I can get medical treatment and go out whenever I want without asking for permission. Finally, I cannot only get a job if I want but it is the expectation of my family that I will be just as successful as my brothers. I have always taken these basic rights for granted and I cannot imagine my life without them. But after this experience I have seen that equality and autonomy for women in parts of the world is a dream, making me appreciate my own life all the more.

I learned so much that I hadn’t expected. I learned how to live through the heat; how to eat spicy food (although I still struggle); how to be flexible and know that things won’t always go as planned; that empowering women takes more than teaching them a skill and some business strategies, it takes generations and people who work tirelessly within the community to change social norms that limit women. And most importantly for my career, I learned so much about conducting research. I can’t imagine a better experience. The good and the bad, the easy and the hard, led me to learn at every turn.

I am so grateful to have had this experience. I not only hope to return to India some day but I hope to travel and learn in other parts of the world too. If I am lucky, I will have experiences as amazing as this one in the near future!

Toh Zinda Ho Tum

Update: 08/09/2015
I watched a Bollywood movie last night for fun and to relive memories.
There was this beautiful poem in it that I needed to share:

“Toh Zinda Ho Tum”

If you’re carrying your restlessness in your heart
You are alive
If you’re carrying the lightning of dreams in your eyes
You are alive
Like a gust of wind, learn to live free
Learn to flow like the waves that make a sea
Let your arms be wide open to every moment you meet
May every moment gift you a new sight to greet
If you’re carrying your wonder in your eyes
You are alive
If you’re carrying your restlessnes in your heart
You are alive

This poem perfectly captures the biggest lesson I learned while in India: to enjoy every moment, to never stop wandering and wondering, to live. Carry a restlessness in your heart, and you will make the most of your life.

To the travelers that fear traveling somewhere, don’t let that fear stop you. Traveling, especially to places that are completely unfamiliar, enlightens the soul and brings new ideas and people into your life. Don’t be afraid. You’ll come out of it all a bigger and better person.

Keep the restlessness in your heart, and you will live your life to the fullest.

That, I can guarantee.

See You Soon, India.

Post-India, I visited my friend from school that lives in Italy. After visiting, I decided to do some traveling on my own. I ran into a lot of things that made me miss India.


The shoreline in Venice… Reminded me a lot of the shoreline in Varanasi!

Found this graffiti in Italy! Made me miss India immediately.

Found this graffiti in Italy! Made me miss India immediately.

I also ran into some women when I was in Venice that stopped me in the middle of my meal to (1) ask about the meal I was eating (it was squid ink pasta, an odd but delicious meal that turns your pasta completely black) and to (2) ask if I was traveling alone.

Squid Ink Pasta... surprisingly delicious!

Squid Ink Pasta… surprisingly delicious!

Realizing I was, they immediately asked billions of questions about my travels–amazed that I had gone to India on my own and continued to travel on my own. One of the ladies happened to lead a group that sent youth to travel outside of Texas, be it a foreign country or the state next over, and told me how she was so impressed by me.

“The parents in my area won’t let their kids go to California, much less Kenya. I’m amazed that you’re not only doing it, but you’re doing it on your own,” she claimed in awe.

This conversation made me realize how truly honored I am to have been able to go on this trip. I e-mailed her later, thanking her again for paying for my meal and for her inspirational and thought-provoking discussion:

Hi, Daria!

This is Morgan Fitzgerald, that random girl you met in Venice that decided to eat gluten free, dairy free squid ink pasta while on her adventures. I am writing to say thank you. Thank you not only for paying for my meal (which I’m sure wasn’t cheap and I still plan on finding a way to somehow repay you), but also for renewing my confidence in my path so far. 
Traveling alone for extended periods of time means you get a lot of time to think… and, with where I am in my life, that means a lot of thinking about my future (AKA what major I should choose — yay college and confusion!). Our chat truly inspired me to look more into the food aspect of my interests (because I realized I’m really not big into politics), and now I’m actually thinking about going into Nutrition. I wanted to thank you again and again for taking the time out of your day to chat with me (and share your water and wine) — everyone in my family and all of my friends have heard the story and think you are an incredible person!! Which you are.
Also, our talk renewed a sense of purpose in my trip. I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a go-getter, so going to India and Italy and France by myself didn’t seem like much of a big deal to me; it was something I’ve always want to do, so I did it. Hearing a different perspective–one where people my age are barely able to leave the state–made me realize how truly lucky I was and made me appreciate my parents not only for letting me do it but also for raising me to have the “go-getter” mentality.
If you ever have students that are nervous about traveling, be it to a third-world country or to the state next door, I am more than happy to talk to them or to be quoted in whatever brochure you give them. Traveling is an amazing experience that gives you not only a more eye-opening view of the world but also of yourself, and I’d hate for anyone to miss out on that experience because of something as small as fear.
All in all, thank you very much!! Your kindness made a huge impact on my trip and I could not be more thankful.
I hope all is well,
Morgan Fitzgerald
What I said was true — traveling really does give you a more open view of the world. I was told over and over before going to India to watch out for this, watch out for that, don’t talk to strangers, the holy men might be political refugees, it’s a third world country so that means it’s extremely dangerous, it’s going to be dirty and you might come down with some mysterious, deadly disease, ect. And while some of the advice is valid — I should be careful which strangers I talk to, I should use common sense and take care of myself safety-wise and health-wise — a lot of it was spoken out of lack of knowledge and experience.
Yes, India is considered a third-world country, which has an extremely negative connotation. On the contrary, though, I experienced almost nothing but kindness from the workers on the farm and from the others I met in my travels. Especially being a woman traveling alone, you have to be wary in order to be safe. But I found that people were more likely to help me than to hurt me. There were people that noticed we had troubling finding a working ATM and spent the next two hours searching the city with us until we found one, only to walk away with a handshake and a “Have a good night!” and nothing more; there were people that bought us napkins when one of the girls in the group wasn’t prepared to use a squat toilet; when I got sick, many workers on the farm stopped by, offering foods and teas and other herbal remedies to help heal me. In a culture that calls each other by the names of brother and sister, aunt and uncle, I couldn’t help but feel like I had been welcomed with open arms into their giant family.
People make a lot of assumptions when they don’t have anything else on which to base their opinions. They’re based on the horror stories they read on the internet, the horrible news that gets international coverage, and other rumors they’ve heard through the grape vine. Most of which are negative, and based on fear. Like I said in my e-mail, I’d hate for anyone to miss out on these beautiful experiences simply due to something as insignificant as fear.
I’m hoping to spread the message of India’s kindness, of how they all welcomed me with open arms and open hearts and how they helped make this trip the greatest experience of my life. Hopefully, this can help some others release their fears and go out there and see the world. Especially India. Because I love it.
Now back in Chicago, I miss India and Navdanya more than ever. The rush of the cars and traffic have nothing on the streets of Delhi; the colors simply aren’t as bright and beautiful; and the songs and meditative chants that once filled the air are sadly missing. I was truly lucky to be able to spend time on the farm, surrounded by such amazing and inspiring people that wanted to make a difference in their communities, countries, and the world. Some of them are still in India, and seeing all of their pictures of their continued travels makes me wish I could just teleport back. Thankfully, I have been invited to dance in an Indian wedding of my friend’s dad’s, or else I would go crazy from lack of Indian culture and experiences.
Missing India as I do, I’m already looking into future programs at the University of Michigan to go back to India to study, research, and/or explore. I found a home in India, and it’ll be nice to return home sometime in the future.
Thank you to this program, thank you, Navdanya, and thank you, India, for being so incredibly wonderful. I’ll never forget the amazing experiences and memories that I made there.

A Week-Long Collection of Indian Adventures

And like Leo said, adventures I did have!

Ariana and I spent three days in Delhi, one in Agra, and three in Varanasi. During this time, I happened to rip my pants five times, spend 15 hours on the lowest train class sweating my butt off, meet more amazing people/fellow travelers, and see another Ganga Aarti (my favorite)! It was the most beautiful week of exploration.

My obsession... the Ganga Aarti. This time in Varanasi!

My obsession… the Ganga Aarti. This time in Varanasi!

I can officially say I’ve been to three Ganga Aartis… three more than most people (even Indians!) get to see in their lifetimes.

The beautiful flowers we tossed into the Ganga for the Aarti.

The beautiful flowers we tossed into the Ganga for the Aarti.

We met some amazing people in Varanasi. Some of them were new to India, some had been here five times before, all were a ton of fun and I am so grateful to have met them.

We made some American friends to celebrate Fourth of July with! And got this auto-rickshaw for 5 rupees total... How? Magic.

We made some American friends to celebrate Fourth of July with!
And got this auto-rickshaw for 5 rupees total… How? Magic.

And, of course, you can’t go to Indian without getting lost in the streets.


Me exploring the streets of Varanasi

Ariana and I spent some time exploring the shores of Varanasi… Almost fainted from the heat, but we got to see some incredible views.

A panoramic view of Varanasi from the shore... absolutely stunning.

A panoramic view of Varanasi from the shore… absolutely stunning.

I asked a street vendor to teach me to make chai so I wouldn’t have to miss it at home. I guess I was pretty happy about it!


I seem to REALLY enjoy my chai…

Got to see a World Wonder!


Ariana and I take on the Taj!

And my favorite activity… visiting temples.


Caught on camera by Ariana–exploring a temple in Varanasi!

Ariana and I visit a Sikh Temple... and get stopped for a picture!

Ariana and I visit a Sikh Temple… and get stopped for a picture!

Leaving, but Not Good-Bye


Today was the day I left Navdanya. I was so incredibly NOT ready. At all. I spent most of the day packing and writing letters to everyone on the farm. I also had to go pick up clothes from the tailor and — surprise, surprise — they weren’t finished. This is common for tailors in the villages. He found my fabric that I had given him a week ago, saw how unfinished it was, and said, “Come back tomorrow.” Unfortunately, my train left that night so I couldn’t. I had to take my fabric and leave. Emily and Leo had come with me, Leo deciding to miss his beloved Twister time in order to come with me to get clothes. Grabbing my fabric and leaving, we picked up some mango lassis and ladoos as well, reveling in my final hour of the village.


Bad quality photo, good lassi, GREAT people (Pictured: me, Leo, Emily)

As I had come looking to discover a bit more about myself and specifically about my future, I realized something: although I thought I would be going into Environmental Sciences, where my passion truly lay is how the food effected my body. The conservation of seeds and the farming was something totally new and exciting, but I had the most questions about what health benefits the different foods had, about the difference between organics and non-organics when it came to my body, ect. Maybe Environmental Sciences wasn’t the field I should go into, but perhaps Nutrition (hopefully paired with International Affairs) is the way to go…

I came back and hand to collect my wet (but clean!!) clothes. After, I delivered all of the messages to everyone on the farm. For whatever reason, I almost started bawling when I gave Christina and Aconcha theirs. It really hit me I was leaving then, and Aconcha was one of the people that I especially felt I didn’t get to know as well as I had hoped due to limited time. Going back to my room to grab my things, I ran into Richa and Annu, basically my motherly figures during my stay here, and, therefore, was especially difficult to say goodbye to them. Basically, I started bawling again.

It was real. I was leaving. And I really didn’t want to.

One last look at the Gazebo... This is where I spent my mornings meditating, my afternoons playing games, and my nights watching the sunset.

One last look at the Gazebo… This is where I spent my mornings meditating, my afternoons playing games, and my nights watching the sunset.

As I loaded on all of my bags on, ready to go to the city, Leo, Aconcha, Christina, and Borris decided to tag along with me.

“We’re going there anyway. We might as well come with you, no?” Aconcha said. She also demanded to sit next to me on the bus, saying how we definitely didn’t get enough time together and how she wanted to know everything about me in these final thirty minutes. We talked about our pasts, our presents, and our hopes for the futures — an incredibly deep conversation crammed into thirty minutes!

Leo, not wanting to part yet, decided to help me find where I had to go to get on the train. We got ice cream (Fig and Honey, by far the best ice cream flavor I’ve ever had) and reminisced. Leo was definitely my best friend on the farm, and it was going to be so weird to leave him.

Telling him about how sad I was to leave, he questioned why.

“Why be sad? Yeah, you’re leaving, but you’re off to your next great adventure!” He continued to explain that whenever he leaves, he just looks forward, appreciating the past yet also looking with excitement to the adventures to come. Liking that outlook, I wiped the tears leaking from my eyes and talked about the adventures to come: Ariana and I traveling for a week through India, visiting my friend in Italy, and who knows what else to come.

Walking me to the train station, we shared the biggest hug, did our awesome handshake, and I stepped onto the train.


We covered our sadness with silly faces!

Navdanya was amazing, and now I am off to my next amazing adventure.

I am Woman, Hear Me ROAR

I came back to the farm and–already–things had changed. Some people had left, more had arrived, some had arrived while I was gone and were about to leave… Here at the farm it is this ever-changing atmosphere of leaving and arriving, and, as sad as it can be sometimes, that’s one of the reasons why it is so wonderful.

Reunited! Decided to make a pyramid. It kind-of worked. Pictured: (from top to bottom, left to right) Kat, Nicole, Maddie, Me, Henry, Claire, Leo, Christina

Reunited! Decided to make a pyramid. It kind-of worked.
Pictured: (from top to bottom, left to right) Kat, Nicole, Maddie, Me, Henry, Claire, Leo, Christina

One girl that had arrived was named Typhaine (all of the Indian workers laughed at this. Pronounced “Tea-Fun,” in Hindi, it translates to “Lunchbox”.) She was from this small little French colony and had been traveling on her own throughout India. We immediately connected and I was so excited to make another really awesome, really inspirational friend. We spent the rest of the day weeding and trying our hardest to communicate between her choppy (but very good) English and my rather impressive charades (due to my lack of French language knowledge). I was rather frustrated with my lack of knowledge of the rest of the world’s languages. To give myself credit, I know Spanish, but coming to this farm where all of these people from around the world (India, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Denmark, and the list continues to grow everyday) know my language, English, but I don’t know theirs is incredible frustrating; frustrating because (1) it’s difficult to communicate and (2) I feel like it’s almost a certain level of respect to know basics of the language of the country you are traveling to. The amount of times I wished I could implant the Google Translator app into my head is ridiculous. Even learning only a few words and phrases–from “hello” to “how are you?” to “it is very hot outside”–makes everyone smile with appreciation. At least you are trying to learn something.

All of this has only pushed me to learn more languages. I’m determined to be able to communicate with more people from all over the world.

It's almost time to plant the seeds for the rice patties! The farm has 700 varieties of patty... Blows my mind!

It’s almost time to plant the seeds for the rice patties! The farm has 700 varieties of patty… Blows my mind!

That night, after weeding and napping and avoiding the sun, we made pizzas! It was one of the interns birthdays and all he wanted, more than anything in the world, was pizza. Seeing as the farm is a vegan farm, we had to avoid the beauty that is pepperoni and sausage (although I’m not really sure where we would find that in India), but one of the other interns at the farm lived in Italy for six months at a pizzeria. We feasted like kings that night.

Everyone preparing the ingredients together for our masterpieces! Birthday Boy is the tall one on the right with the beard.

Everyone preparing the ingredients together for our masterpieces! Birthday Boy is the tall one on the right with the beard.

They even made sure to make me my own gluten free pizza, for which I almost cried out of thanks.

Sitting around the oven, adding veggies and oils and whatever else we wanted on top, it was one of my favorite memories being at Navdanya. Someone snuck out her computer and we jammed to Spotify, playing non-Bollywood music, munching on non-Indian food.

Carl (from Switzerland) creating food art.

Carl (from Switzerland) creating food art.

Giggles and laughs and stories were shared as we all celebrated the Birthday Boy. As the night continued on, Typhaine and I bonded more and she confided with me something that was horribly troubling her.

“He was a holy man, so I thought it was fine,” she began, “but then his hands started trailing to areas that I no longer felt comfortable with.” As she told me about her travels to one of the holy cities, I could read the conflicting emotions in her eyes: “I just feel as if part of it is my fault. Everyone warned me to be careful. And I thought I was… I guess not enough.” I was horrified, shocked, and empathetic, assuring her over and over that it is not her fault, that he should be ashamed for doing anything like that, that he should be ashamed for calling himself a holy man.

In this moment it seemed to click for me about the problems women face here in India, especially with having their voices heard. They aren’t always seen as people with important opinions and thoughts and feelings… that is, unless they are married or connected to a man. Of course, there are exceptions where women are seen as equals or even cherished for being women, but, from my and other’s experience, it’s hard to be taken seriously if you aren’t connected to a man. A woman traveling on her own, like Typhaine, isn’t taken seriously because she isn’t with a man, and, therefore, may be taken advantage of like she was. On matters as simple as booking a hotel, you had to write either your husband’s name or your father’s name in order to get a room. In order to get a phone SIM, you had to have proof of your father’s last name or else you wouldn’t be able to purchase it. A friend of mine would wear a fake wedding ring just so other men would see, “Oh, she’s connected to a man,” and would see her with more importance.

This could be a big reason why there are so few women working on the Navdanya farm. Even on the farm, where international people filter in and out all of the time with their up-and-coming, turn-of-the-century ideas about the economy, environment, and/or society, it is evident that the women aren’t taken as seriously by the men. I wouldn’t want to work in an area that didn’t hold my opinion of importance either!! It’s difficult to change this, though, because it is not a “Navdanya issue” but a “society issue.” As much of a bubble the farm can be, it is not completely sheltered. This is something I’ll be looking to research when I return to see if there is anything anyone has done anywhere to ail this problem.

After a good night of eating and celebrating, we all went to sleep stuffed and happy, simply pleased to be in each others’ company. Despite the troubles we had all faced on our own individual journeys, we had all come to Navdanya to help each other heal. And I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.

Runaway to Rishikesh

On the farm there isn’t any AC. Typically, this wouldn’t be a problem for me — I can stand a little heat (hello, it’s India, it’s to be expected) — but the heat had escalated so high and the electricity, which already doesn’t like to stay on very long, was taking breaks every five minutes, taking the fans down with it. Many of us on the farm were severely feeling the heat, unable to move from our beds we were so hot. One morning (details not for the weak stomach-ed) I even woke up and threw up five times simply from heat exhaustion.

That day we had only spent two hours weeding with Bindu and Sheila, two women that work on the farm, before they saw our extremely sweaty faces and told us to go inside. They usually do the weeding in the fields.
Them and one other woman, whom they call the Seed Goddess for her expertise on the seeds and their varieties, are they only women I have met on this farm (besides the interns). This I find very interesting and slightly disgruntling because Navdanya is supposed to be a woman empowering movement. To me, in a woman empowering movement, there should be a lot of women, no?

Bindu put on some fancy glasses and decided she was a superstar. She even signed my arm!!

Bindu put on some fancy glasses and decided she was a superstar. She even signed my arm!!

According to Dr. Shiva, Navdanya helps lots of women farmers start and maintain organic farms. While that is wonderful, it makes me wonder why her farm itself isn’t an accurate reflection of one of her main goals. This problem of lack of women workers on the farm is one I plan to address in my research.

Why is it that less women farmers work here? Does it reflect a societal norm in the area for women not to work (I mainly see men at the shops working, no women), or is it simply just a coincidence? Is it more typical for women in other parts of India to farm than others (specifically Dehradun versus other areas)? How could the Navdanya environment improve so that more women come to them looking for work?

I digress — one of the other interns knocked on my door and proposed this life-altering plan to beat the insane heat:!what if we went to Rishikesh for the weekend (and booked a hotel with AC)..?

My immediate thoughts: um… YES. Not only is Rishikesh infamous for being an amazing city, but I would also get to beat the heat. What more could I ask for?


This was one of my first views of Rishikesh. I was in love instantly.

Rishikesh is one of the holy cities along the Ganges River and is also famous for being the yoga capital of the world (they say universe, but I say prove it). Tourists

The view of the Ganga cleansing people

The view of the Ganga cleansing people

from all over India as well as all over the world come to explore this city and soak in its holiness, dunking themselves in the River in order to cleanse their souls.

At first it was incredibly overwhelming. Not only were the bazaars packed with people, but they were also packed with people that had a special interest in us five white women walking around the place. Children and women and families and grown men would line the Ganges asking for pictures with us, and of course once one person started asking the whole congregation thought, “oh, I want a picture too!” And so would begin another line of paparazzi.

This monkey wasn't too happy about me taking pictures of its baby...

Speaking of paparazzi, this monkey wasn’t too happy about me taking pictures of its baby…

One man even came up to me and, without asking, placed his baby in my arms and started lining up for a family photo, the grandma adjusting the babies head for the perfect angle. “You know that photo is going to be in their family photo album for generations, right?” my friend Kat joked. How odd is it to think that handfuls of random white people with no connection to the family whatsoever would be in treasured family pictures for eons?
And this didn’t stop here. We went white water rafting in the Ganges (an amazing and incredibly refreshing experience) and the three random men that were also on our boat wouldn’t stop taking pictures of us. Not WITH us, only OF us. One of them even had the nerve to grab my butt when we were under water. Living in a bit of a bubble on the farm, this was my first experience with gender norms I had been warned about before coming. To say the least, I was displeased. Evidently, according to my friend Richa who is from Delhi, the men were from this city that is infamous for producing disgusting and entitled men. Nonetheless, that gave them no right to act they way they did. It was annoying and tarnished our experience; all we could talk about after was how horrible those men were and not how amazing the experience was.
Thankfully we turned it all around with some cold coffee with ice cream and banana pancakes with Nutella, the most popular meal on our trip, and began exploring once again with smiles on our faces. We found little cafes with adorable atmospheres and trinkets for friends and families and we even went to the Ganges River ceremony, called an aarti, at night. This was, by far, the highlight of my entire India trip.


My favorite snapshot of the aarti ceremony.

We walked into a sectioned off stairwell of the Ganges, women were sitting on one side and men on the other. White men in robes came down around 6:30 and started chanting and burning things on little platters, swirling them in circles. We were all handed little bowls with flowers, a small clay pot, and a wax covered cotton ball inside of it and instructed by a nice woman besides us to follow the movement of the men in the white robes. As the sun went down, you could see billions of little flowers being thrown into the River, each one a prayer for the Ganges Goddess. Orange chrysanthemums and purple petals fluttered across the river surface, dancing in the disappearing light. And as the sun went down, we all lit our cotton balls, creating our own dots of light to bring energy to the night sky. All of swung out little lights in circles, chanting words that didn’t make sense to me, but the importance of them filled the air and the souls of the people surrounding us. It felt as if the Ganges really was cleansing our souls, just as it was rumored to do. With each flower thrown into the river, the more pure I felt.
I truly felt as if I something inside of me had surged up and awakened.
I was so overwhelmed and moved by this ceremony that I stayed for fifteen minutes after, despite my friends desires to move along, to talk to the women there. They all splashed around in the River, gripping the chain attached to the land (called a “Ganga Chain”) as the fabric of their saris soaked in the holiness.
Afterwards we went back to our room and I promptly burst into tears. There is this saying in India that’s “phir bhi dil hai Hindustan” which means no matter what we label ourselves as and no matter where we live, we are Indian at heart. I felt the full force of this quote at this ceremony, and it was incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t help but admit that ceremonies like this, so gorgeous and touching, are exactly the reason I love Indian culture.

There is another saying that goes “if you mix the hot with the cold, they fight in your body and you get sick.” This is by Jeet Paul, one of the workers at the farm. I’ve learned that this one is also all too true as all of the cold ice cream and AC fought with the heat and spiciness of India and ended in me having a massive cough and a never-ending stuffy nose.

Despite the never-ending use of tissues, it was all worth it for Rishikesh and all of the beautiful and life-changing experiences it brought into my life!

Last day with Setco!

This past week I have been working on my presentation and report. I have also been helping Sweta (an intern from Mumbai) with her project on menstrual health and sexual education. I have been doing her data entry in SPSS and looking at basic analysis of the data. So far some findings are: none of the girls use sanitary napkins but all said they would if they were cheaper; none of the girls knew about contraception or HIV/AIDS even if they were married; most only change their cloth once a day in the morning; they think the appropriate age for marriage is about 18 and 22 to have kids.
The most surprising fact was that there is no woman doctor in any of the areas Setco serves, so girls are never checked out when they have STDs or other infections. When Sweta found this out she told Salmaben (head here in the local office) that there was a need for a female doctor in the villages. The next day Salmaben went to the local doctor and hired someone to go to the villages once a week. I think that is so amazing! (Although things don’t usually happen that fast here. I feel like more time is spent planning and reporting than implementing.) After Salmaben figured out the doctor situation, Sweta went to talk to the girls as an informal focus group discussion to find out their needs and how often the doctor should come. What was unanimous was the fact that they all wanted a female doctor.
I find it very interesting how Setco involves the community to spread awareness of new programs. First off the health workers in the villages told all the girls to come to the anganwadi and then Sweta told all the girls about the doctor and her workshops that she will be holding. Now their hope is that these things will spread by word of mouth to the rest of the community.

I have witnessed how much work it is to implement programs in communities like the ones Setco works with. It is necessary to be in the field to understand the needs of a community. Things that sounds simple like scheduling are very hard to coordinate between families, school, and times girls can leave the house. The organization has to be careful with what they teach and tell the girls so as to prevent parents from not allowing their girls to keep attending sessions. The one thing that Setco has easy is funding. They get 5% of the profits from Setco automotive. But it’s one thing to have the money and it’s another thing to know where to spend it and how to implement effective programs. It’s also difficult to do everything with only four staff members. I have also learned how hard it is to make a dent in women’s rights and women’s empowerment. Despite the trainings, no change in say in decision making, financial autonomy, social networks, or quality of life were made. It’s ultimately societal norms that need to change before any women can make these changes, even if women are taught skills and how to implement them in a business. Even if women have a graduate degree, when they are married their fate is up to their parents-in-law, who have the power to stop them from doing everything they started. It’s a slow process and I am super impressed by the people who dedicate their lives to making this slow change happen.
I am most surprised about how independent my internship was. I had my project, followed my schedule, and worked on it every day. I almost feel like a contractor hired to conduct this study, write a report and leave. I loved it because it gave me enough time to do everything that needed to be done but in a way I wish I could have helped my colleagues more with their work. However, I feel extremely lucky to have found this non-profit that not only allowed me to conduct research on my own, but also provided me with staff to help me get it done! The best part was that I was able to experience every part of conducting research. I did a lit review, created a questionnaire, conducted interviews, entered all my data, analyzed my data, wrote a report, and did a final presentation! Hopefully my research will give Setco a good understanding of the empowerment of women in the community, the effects and lack of effects of their programs, and project ideas for the future. Overall it has been an amazing learning experience.
I leave tonight to Mumbai! I present to Urja and the entire office tonight (I am pretty nervous..) I will be staying with Nikita in Mumbai for five days, so I will get the chance to continue exploring India! Then I am also traveling to New Delhi, Agra, and Varanasi.
I have decided that I have a passion for research. I find things like SPSS fascinating. I am so lucky to have found this NGO to work for and for the fellowship! Research is so important. It is used to establish the needs of a community and demonstrate if programs are effective. You never stop learning new things. The more questions you ask the more you learn. It’s amazing. And this experience was a wonderful way for me to discover my passion for research while being in a community and with people that I love!
I am so sad to say goodbye!
IMG_7441  IMG_7579 IMG_7587 IMG_7600 IMG_7603 IMG_7641 IMG_7667