Thursday, June 28, 2007
For the past couple of nights we have been eating dinner at the canteen, the university's dining hall. We made friends with a large group of Indian girls who were very cute and excited to see us. They were telling me how much they love ice cream and were astounded when I informed them I wasn't a big fan of sweets.... And they took delight in me trying to sing some songs in Hindi and trying to do the dances associated with them. They were also fascinated to learn that being skinny and tall is considered gorgeous in the U.S. For many of them, being in a university in Delhi was the first time they had ever left their homes - with OR without their parents. Most of them were studying to be airline hostesses.
I feel like when I get back to the US it will be a sort of culture shock, seeing all the waste and unappreciation... petty worries.. the luxury of toilets and toilet paper.. .and being able to eat whatever i want when i want (well, almost), being able to drink clean water without getting sick...
I find my interviews with the MIT girls very interesting. They're pretty informal because I've gotten to know them well, and I've spent a lot of time with them so a lot of things they mention I was there to experience. It seems like such a short amount of time when I count the days that have passed, but I feel so comfortable that it feels like it has always been this way. Some of the girls have been convinced by this experience that they do NOT want to be physician and others that they do NOT want to work in a developing country (that they'd rather work to help a developing country, but in america). They find the change is too much for them. I get the opposite feeling, where I'm even more convinced that my "calling," if you will, lies in traveling and visiting different people and helping them in person and making their words heard. (The tricky part is being a good mother and a good wife while doing this since I do want to have a family.)
I was able to also interview community members in the camps via translators. The main question I asked is if there is one thing they could change about their lives or their childrens' lives, what it would be. Their answer was predominately that they want their children to get a good education and "be something," but when asked more specifics, they didn't know what to say. They did not know what they would need to give their child a good education (besides money) and they did not know exactly why getting a good education got their kids to "be something."
From the results of the surveys the groups are doing, I gathered that 2 of the main problems in these camps are the waste disposal system (both of human waste and product waste) and of getting a good education. The community members do not realize that the quality of education matters. Overall, one of the greatest problems seems to be that people don't know how to fix the problems. They are of such grand scales that it seems impossible to fix. The Indian government has given up on trying to improve the living conditions of the camps, and instead have begun to build new camps to relocate the inhabitants. They are in such dismay that it would be more cost-efficient and effective to build a whole new camp. However, this is very slow and does not seem to be progressing. None of the people that I interviewed.. the MIT students, the Indian students, the NGO staff, the community members... none of them seemed to have any concrete solutions or even little steps that we could take to help improve the living conditions or quality of life. There are so many problems of such grand scales that it is a daunting task to figure out what CAN be done. And then to get it done. I hope to take one step into this and produce a comprehensible source from which many problems can be seen and potential plans for solution can be taken to be attempted (I apologize if the wording on that was a bit confusing.. I will clarify in a later post).
Interviewing the Musheer and Dharani, the 2 male Indian students in the groups was an interesting experience as well. They found the biggest problem they've encountered working on this project to be the gender difference. Any conflict or difference of opinion within the group they thought was due to the gender difference versus the cultural difference (India vs. America). The MIT students on the other hand thought the conflicts and difference of opinions due to the cultural differences. I brought this up during a delicious lunch of vegetable noodles, and the group came to a consensus that it must be the 2 combined. The cultural difference of the genders is a big part, as neither of the boys had EVER worked in the same group as even a single girl. The whole idea was new to them.
On Saturday, we visited some tourist attractions and had an amazing day with awesome food and architecture. We went to Agra Fort, the Taj Mahal, and Fahtipur Sikra. In Agra Fort, we even got to see the Sheesh Mahal (Glass Palace) which was the sultan's favorite wife's bathroom. It is not open to the public, but our tour guide said if we paid him extra we could see it, so we did, and it was amazing! The room is made up of reflective glass mosaics and if you shine a candle in one corner, the entire room starts shimmering with the light. Absolutely gorgeous. We also saw the dungeon where the sultan would put one or more of his hundreds of concubines if they "misbehaved."
The Taj Mahal was built by another sultan for his favorite wife who he had FOURTEEN children with. That was an astounding work of architecture and made me remember why I had almost switched to course 4 (Architecture).... the magnitude, the white marble, the intricate designs, the angles and curves.. definitely worthy of being a World Heritage Site.
We hit some bumps along the road on our way back to the campus (we had rented a cab complete with a driver for the day). We were driving along when we got stopped by the Indian police... a strange occurence since the traffics laws seem so lax and the driving is well.. chaotic. Apparently they stopped us merely because we were foreigners and they wanted to get money from us. Musheer and Dharani, the Indian group members, explained the corruption within the Indian government/police. The policeman started out by saying that we needed to pay 500 rupees, and then realized that the cab driver wasn't driving a van with the correct licensce, and so decided to charge us 400 rupees more. Apparently they would have just kept asking us more if we hadn't been with the Indian boys. In the end, we got to subtract that cost from the cab rental fee, and we were up another story, so all ended well.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Friday was painful. The heat was suffocating in the camp we went to, the flies were everywhere, the smell was nauseating, disease was widespread, pain screamed out at me from eyes of children, and scornful eyes burned into me from some of the older women who spit upon the foreigners marching in with their expensive looking cameras taking pictures of their poor state of living conditions. We were welcomed by most, but today was definitely a different experience. I guess I haven't been drinking enough water, because I nearly fainted, so I will start drinking more. But I just wish I could do something to help the people that are suffering. It is unfair that I was born into a life of loving parents that will most likely (and hopefully) live to see their great grandchildren, with plenty to eat - able to eat what i want when i want, a roof over my head that doesn't leak green toxic water... Most of the people in these areas don't live to be too old. Children crowd the streets, 4-7 children on average it seems per family... Women my age have children, and women slightly older have grand children. The legal marrying age isn't until 18, so they have children before marriage... but apparently the father stays with them for the most part, so that is an interesting cultural difference.
Drinking from bottled water as the kids ran barefoot through green, slimy water, wearing my fairly new, good quality clothing as they wore hand-me-downs that don't fit them quite right... dabbing the sweat off my face as kids with hundreds of bumps from skin disease run around as if nothing is wrong... Their eyes were just so sad. The camera made them smile, for some it even made them smile brightly, like those other smiles that I saw. But even then, there was something missing... And most of the eyes showed suffering. Just looking into them... I wished I could switch lives with them, give them everything I have.. and then felt worse because I didn't want to live there either. If I were given the choice to switch places with one of these children.. to give them a chance to live in the comfortable life full of opportunities that i've lived in... would I do it? What if I could trade 2 of them for 1 of me.. what about 3. I'd like to think that I would, but would I? Could I? And if I can't.. what does that say about me? Would you be able to do it? Some say because I'll be a doctor, its better that I stay healthy and that I get a good education... because I will be able to help more people that way. But what if one of those children that I could have switched lives with were going to discover the cure to cancer... or find the solution to world peace? Would I switch then? Would you? I would like to think I would... but would I - could I actually do it?
On a bright note, tomorrow we're taking the day off to visit some tourist attractions. Waking up bright and early to go see the taj mahal and some forts and perhaps some mosques. I'm excited, but at the same time.. The money that I will be spending on just one day tomorrow could feed an entire family for a month. I'll be spending their month's salary. in one day. for what? To see some tourist attractions for my own pleasure.. but then you can't just give them money... you have to "empower" them... but then what's empowering them? how can we be sure its not actually corrupting them. The kids were still cute today.. despite the tears in their eyes. They tugged at my clothing, calling me "dede," which is "big sister" in Hindi. That was very endearing. There were 2 children who kept on following me around but didn't want their picture taken. One girl about 8 I'd say and a little boy about 3. Their eyes seemed to beg me to take them away to where I came from... to let them get a taste of my life... I wish I could save the world. I've only seen a miniscule fraction of the suffering... I can't even imagine seeing all of it. It would be unbearable. And here we are in the United States, myself included, complaining about MIT's bland food, the lack of a flattering dress to wear to formal, getting a B in a class, or not having that tall, handsome knight in shining armor... having a hard bed, no enough closet space... not enough sleep, the list keeps going. How many times do we just stop and think about what we do have, thanking each other for their friendship, thanking our parents for all their time and effort, not to mention their lives devoted to us. Thanking our teachers for sharing their knowledge, thanking our fates for giving us plenty of clean food and water... and a roof over our heads.
My uncle sent me an interesting email after reading one of my posts about how sincerely happy the community members seemed to me. Here is an excerpt....
"I think I have a different perspective on the paradox that you mentioned that people appear happy and content with what they have. But I think what you maybe missing is a perspective of time. They appear to be happy--especially the kids. If the world they live in is all they have ever known, what would they have to compare to know even not be happy. Perhaps its the innocence that you see.
But what you will not see in your short stay is the misery they will experience over time. You will miss the suffering of husbands who lose their wives and babies during child birth because the care for complications is simply not available--child birth has traditionally been the main cause of death for women. You will miss the suffering of parents who lose their child because they can't provide simple medicines like antibiotics to cure them. You will miss the suffering of children as their parents pass away in their 30s, 40s, and 50s because low life expectancy due to poor diet, preventable disease, and harshness. You will miss the emptiness in young kids heart as they will never feel the joy of being loved by grandparents (think of Darren never having the joy of his grandparents) (Darren is my 5-year old cousin, his son, who spends a significant amount of time with our grandparents every day).
You will also miss the desperation created by poverty, where parents sell their children into slavery and prostitution to survive. You will miss the de-valuing of human life as death becomes routine.
You will miss the opportunity lost to humanities, both for
Don't let their acceptance of their fate equate to happiness. "
I agree with my uncle's perspective on many aspects, there is a lot of pain that I will not see. I do not doubt that even that the community members that I saw and described as truly happy, suffer every day. It is not their acceptance of fate that causes their happiness, but rather that it helps them be happy. They acknowledge their problems, many even work to solve them (one for example studied in these horrible conditions and after many many years... he has only one exam left until he becomes a certified M.D.), but the difference I saw was that they were able to be truly hospitable and welcoming and shined in a way I don't often seen people shine. There are many ways to approach your problems. Most that I have seen sulk or accept their fate and sulk or work to escape their problems while sulking. I use the term sulk very loosely, either being sad and constantly having it bother them, complaining constantly and taking time away from trying to change it, giving up and just accepting it but not enjoying life... but they seem to accept their fate, work to live the best they can and at times to change their current conditions, but at the same time appreciate what they DO have. This ability to look at the bright side of things despite things looking dark in every direction is what astounds me. Even in just the heat and humidity, the stuffiness and filth... the energy is sucked out of me... And I'm only here for 2 weeks..
Friday, June 22, 2007
I want to clarify that I did not mean that the camp inhabitants did not need help. From our point of view, of course they need help. The stench of the camps is bearable, but very unpleasent, especially in the heat, and the flies that are attracted to all the garbage and the filthy water surround us and use us as their restroom every second. The flies are literally everywhere. We need to be careful that they don't fly into our eyes or our mouths... Can you imagine living in a place like that? On top of that, it is already a scorching 105-115 degrees F, the air is humid and stuffy, pollution and dust are dense in the air all around you, there are no bathrooms... could you even stay in a place like that for 1 full day? After several hours of photographing with a towel around my neck to wipe away the dripping sweat, I am exhausted. In today's heat, I had no energy left, my entire body felt limp, and my clothes were drenched in sweat.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to one of the camps with only 2 Indian students and 2 community mobilizers from Deepalaya. With only one foreigner in their midst, the community members acted much more naturally and seemed to feel more comfortable. There was one 22.5 year old girl who i connected with (she spoke some english) and she pulled me away from my group to her favorite spot on a ledge (with a group of children trailing along with us) and we joked around and talked about our different cultures and she translated other people's questions for me. We teased a boy that was taking a shower right behind us and I took some pictures as the little crowd that had formed started to laugh as the boy started posing with a wide grin on his facae. It just really felt comfortable and I felt so welcome; I fit right in.
Sadly, I also saw a lot more sadness yesterday. It was mostly in the children. I saw more sick children which partially explains it, but even the ones that weren't visibly sick just didn't have that sparkle in their eye. They seemed to realize and not like the flies covering them and the raggedy hand-me-downs hanging off of their shoulders. Their eyes showed experience and understanding beyond their years and the sorrow was heavy in their eyes... I wished there was something i could do. Sitting on the ledge, I told them about my goals to become a nonprofit physician working in developing countries, and that I would come back to see them again. They were delighted and told me they would look forward to that day.
I was surprised to find out later that this particular camp is one of the better-off camps financially. Perhaps this is why they had so much sorrow.. they had a taste of what money could get them... some of them had an old digital camera, one of them had a motorcycle... but little else.
Later on in the day, I also saw a family with 4 little children, probably ages 1-4, and a young mother (she looked no older than me). They were playing on a ramp of a construction site with dust covering their skin and torn up clothes. Their faces showed such anguish that I couldn't even muster up the courage to go up to them to get a close shot. It was worse because they were right outside a Mcdonalds where I was eating dinner... and I wanted to just buy all the kids meals, but i didn't want the mother to be offended so i just let it be. In retrospect, i wish i had bought even just one thing of fries to share. I think it might have been alright since i took a photograph... an exchange rather than an act of charity.
Today, we went to an area where the children seemed extra rowdy. They started to fight, physically, to get the photo taken, and it became dangerous so we stopped taking photographs. Julie had her point and shoot camera so she took pictures and then showed the kids the photographs (I decided that wasn't a good idea in this area, so I didn't let them know that mine was also digital). She was surrounded by kids in an instant and was overpowered by them. It was faintingly hot and everything seemed to go by like a blur... it almost seems like a dream versus a memory...
Capturing the problems that exist on camera is proving to be very difficult because (1) the people are so smiley and happy, (2) they're even more excited because of my camera and the foreigner in their midst, (3) the problems that this group is investigating is the effectiveness of the NGO, Deepalaya in providing education and healthcare to these communities, (4) many of the diseases that these community members do not have visible symptoms, and (5) the visibly sick children seem to be kept inside when we are around, only coming out if we stay in one place for a longer period of time...
Every time I have my camera out, everyone gets even more excited and even strike poses.. I consulted B.D., a previous photojournalism professor of mine and he suggested that i just need to stay with them and keep shooting until they get bored and then i can get the pictures of them actually doing stuff rather than posed shots... unfortunately because i don't have the freedom to move around on my own, this is difficult to do. Pete, a friend of mine from MIT, recommended that I use a long lens to "snipe" photographs from a distance so that I could get the community members in their natural setting. However, this is also difficult due to me sticking out like a sore thumb and obstructions such as wires, low power lines, laundry drying outside, random branches, and the like.
The last 2 communities that I've visited (today and yesterday… more on that later) have had many more sad eyes.. some that are so heartwrenching that its difficult to take a photograph of them as they look up at me in tears. I have not been able to cut out my feeling of impoliteness and completely just let go of any inhibitions, something that is necessary to get the most moving photographs at times. I am working on trying to take photographs of these subjects after making eye contact with them and getting a nod or a movement from them that indicates they understand and will not mind if I take their photograph. I find it difficult especially to shoot older community members because I do feel like I am invading their privacy or taking advantage of their poverty situation for the sake of my project. I am consoled to a certain extent because my purpose for this project is not to make money or to get fame, as I am getting neither, but rather to educate others about the issues and to motivate them to help fix these problems. Still, I was raised to show respect to my elders, mostly speaking when I’m spoken to (unless I’m very comfortable with them), and putting them on a bit of a pedestal, not to be treated as I would treat my peers. When speaking to many other photographers, they explain that respect is necessary, but that you have to just take the photograph and show that you respect them despite having taken a photograph of their life, rather than first getting their ok. This is an ethical issue that I have always struggled with and find harder to deal with because of the language barrier. When my subjects speak English, I am more comfortable snapping a photo without their initial permission because then I can explain to them and win them over with my (hopefully existent) charm… but with the language barrier, I don’t want to offend them and leave them feeling that way...
I drank pretty much the entire liter in the matter of about 10 minutes, a big feat for me who rarely drinks one liter in several days... (though I've been much better about it here), and my stomach felt like it was going to explode, but it didn't so I continued to shop. The market place reminds me of a Korean market place. Everything is open air, but there are inlets and underground interiors in tight alleyways filled with kurtis, kurtas, saris, more americanized clothing, bangles, fabrics, spices, toiletries, and more! I bought a beautiful green skirt with gold trimming which I'm not sure if I'll end up ever wearing because its full length and poofs out.... but it was so pretty that I just had to get it! Plus I hadn't brought any long but cool pants or skirts which I need at times here, so at least I will wear it here. :)
A full day passed, and I felt fine, and now I think 2 days have passed and I have not developed jaundice as a far as I know nor have I had any intenstinal problems... in fact the sickness that I had been feeling from food earlier seems to have disappeared too, so I feel very healthy! It seems if there was any bacteria in that iced tea... I diluted it out enough. (knock on wood)
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Granted I am not visiting the poor of the poor. There are many Indian citizens that live in shacks or lean-tos or even just under a tarp on the side of the road. And there are those that live in isolation on an island in the road, naked and deranged, unable to do much of anything at all. However, I have been visiting the slums where filthy, greenish water trickles through the narrow alleyways between the stone structures where people live. There are no bathrooms, people defecate on the side of the road and in the immense heat, the smell can get quite pungent. Children run around mostly in worn out clothing, often torn, or with barely any clothing at all. The photograph to the bottom left shows their playground, barren land with broken shards of brick and trash. Many are barefoot, and the interiors of their abodes are barren with little to no electricity. Despite these living conditions which would put many Americans in a depressed state, the people are so happy! They do not seem to "realize" that they are "in the slums," making me question if they really need any help at all. NGOs, caring volunteers, and myself go in with this concept that we're going to help these poor people living in these dirty places and not getting a good education. Yes, their quality of life may be enhanced significantly should they live in a cleaner area and get a better education, but then again, maybe not. We put so much emphasis on education. Perhaps this is because our society has turned into one where you can't be truly happy unless you have a good job and have a significant amount of money.. and you can't get to this position generally unless you have a good education. But really, the wide, authentic smiles from the adults, the children, and the elderly were smiles with sparkles in their eyes.. much more than most of the smiles I have seen in my entire life. How is it possible, I began to wonder, that these people who in our standards are poor and need of help, seem happier and more content with their lives than people with so much more possessions and opportunities in the United States?
At Deepalaya, a school walking distance of these slums, I wandered through some of the classrooms by myself while waiting for the project groups to finish their group meetings before starting off to the slums to talk to the community members. In one of the open spaces between classrooms, there were children of all ages crouching on the ground. One of the older ones spoke a little English and explained to me that it was a game. It seemed a lot like freeze tag to me. Sadly I only captured a couple pictures of these excited children as they soon became intrigued by my camera (I was able to get the photograph to the left, motioning for them to group together so that I could capture them in thanks for having captured me!). Carefully holding onto the camera to make sure it didn't get damaged, I started teaching the children how the camera worked through body signals. Due to the language barrier, it was a little difficult, but body signals work magic! Soon I had a crowd of children around me, both older and younger, wanting to get a turn taking a picture and looking at it. They took great delight in taking my photograph, and flattered me continuously with one English word they did know, "pretty." The older ones also knew, "How do you do?" and to shake my hand, doing so several times. The little ones brought me candy in appreciation and though I tried to deny it, they insisted and so I later shared my gifts with the project members. An older boy knew how to speak English fairly well, and was able to inform the children that I had to return to my friends for a project but that I would return the next day. The children followed me all the way to the door, waving goodbye, and repeating, "tomorrow?" over and over again, as I nodded yes in assurance. As I was leaving the school for the slums, I saw several of the children, and we had made that connection through the camera. They waved to me and through eye contact, gave me a huge smile with big sparkling eyes that I could read said, "Thank you, and please come back tomorrow." I can't explain the feeling enough... it was an amazing experience that I would never have dreamed would make me feel that way. The power of the camera to connect me to the children... and the way that with a look, I could understand some of the things they were trying to say (though of course, it was only a few things, and of course it is possible that I was incorrect..... but I highly doubt it, it was like instinct). One child lived in the slums we visited, and upon seeing me by his home, followed me around for a bit and then back to Deepalaya when we returned after talking to the community members.
In the slums, children and adults alike followed me with their eyes and their bodies, saying "photo," an English word they knew. Many of them would tap on my shoulder and point to themselves, asking me to take a photograph of them. I would comply and then show them the photograph, bringing a huge smile to their faces and giving them something to boast about to their friends. Some would push their friends in, indicating they wanted me to take a picture of their friend. Some held up their hand in front of themselves, laughing and being a bit bashful about being a subject. Again, I felt the similarities of just being human. I may as well have been back in the U.S. The willingness of the community members to speak to us and to welcome us into their homes was astounding. How many people in the U.S. do you know that would gladly welcome a stranger into their home and let them take photographs of them and their family? Not many.... How many would smile beemingly and make jokes (though i couldn't understand them, the Indian students were able to translate for us) with strangers?
I took a photograph an elderly woman who was sitting gracefully outside. She responded (via Dharani, one of the Indian students) that I should have come when she was in her teens when she was more beautiful to take her photograph. I responded that she was still very beautiful and thanked her for letting me capture her in my photograph. A man was selling popsicles off a cart, and teased me when I tried to take a picture by covering up the tin containers with the popsicles as I raised my camera, then quickly uncovering them with a mischevious smile as I began to lower the camera, and then covering them again as I was about to take the shot. He finally laughed and gave me a twinkling smile, pulling back the fabric so that I could get a picture. Later as I was leaving, he ran up and handed me a popsicle. I tried to refuse because I knew I could not eat it anyway, but he insisted, and so I accepted. None of my project members felt comfortable eating it either, so I gave it to one of the children on the streets once we had walked out of sight of the ice cream man. His ice cream cart was complete with a hand-bell that he rang to indicate to the children that he had arrived. I was told that it was about 1 rupee, but I saw him giving away the popsicles to the children without charge. Perhaps there was a tab, or perhaps he was just being Santa for a day.... but he definitely was bringing smiles to the childrens faces (or intense looks of concentration as they devoured the popsicles before they melted in the heat).
I also scared some children by accident. I stooped down to the level of some children that were scrounched down on the ground playing some sort of card game. They were so absorbed in the game that they must not have noticed me, for when one of them peeked over his shoulder and saw me, he jumped up immediately in shock, making the other kids jump up, grabbing their cards that had been on the ground, and running into the alleyway behind them. Slowly they began to peek out at me, and seeing that I was harmless, came out curiously. An older man pushed the children together, telling them to pose for a photograph. I took the hint and captured the beaming faces with my camera.
In a matter of a few minutes, I was able to bond with these children. I taught some of the older ones more detail about how to use my camera, not able to communicate via speech as the students that were able to translate were busy talking about their projects, but with body signals. I held the camera up for them and pointed to certain things and let them see how the photograph changed when I pressed a certain button. They were fascinated, and I was fascinated at our ability to communicate and to bond.
After today, I have to ask myself, are they really the ones that need help - Or are we. Our society has become so wrapped up in individual "success" where success means getting a high powered job, making a lot of money, having a steady income, having good food to eat, teaching your kids every instrument and every sport on the planet..... but more and more, the basic human lessons, those of respect, happiness of just being alive and being with those you love... those seem to be more and more forgotten. It ties in with our "work like there is no tomorrow" attitude I was speaking of earlier. As a whole, our society is very much get-everything-done-now-as-quickly-as-you-can, make-as-much-money-as-you-can, and more... but what happened to (forgive the cliche) stopping and smelling the roses along the way. We have to remind ourselves to stop and smell the roses.... but so many of these people that I've met recently smell the roses every step of the way. Despite their roses not being as clean or as abundant as ours. Perhaps that's the problem. Perhaps we have too much, and can only see what we don't have.... can only see what others have that we want and must work hard to get. I've always prided myself in not wanting too many material posessions or wanting a lot of money. I would be content if I was able to eat, be healthy, have shelter, and have a camera and a piano (ok, so the last 2 are not essentials and are pricey.... but that's all i'd need!) But then I think about all the things that I have so much beyond that... and about all the times I've been down about different aspects of my life. I definitely have not appreciated what I do have every day... often getting sidetracked by things that are going wrong in my life. But now I stop and think about all the good things that I have. And how good they really are. It is above and beyond what I absolutely need. It is above and beyond what these bubbly, happy people have... I hope I can bring back some of the carefree happiness despite hard conditions to MIT and other people around me. We have so much to learn.
Monday, June 18, 2007
We decided to stay on campus today because it is pouring outside and noone wanted to leave the building. It is questionable whether monsoon season has started or not. The newspapers say no, but many of the Indian citizens say yes. Who knows! But it certainly is cooler when it rains. The first rainfall was called acid rain and happened on Friday. It is called acid rain, and as tourists, we were advised to avoid contact with it for all the pollution and chemicals in the air are caught by this first rainfall of the season and can be dangerous.
I definitely wish that I had a waterproof case for my camera so that I could go take pictures in the rain, even if it IS just of the campus since it is too dangerous for me to leave campus alone.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
There are several large cultural differences which I find hard to accept, the main one being the aggressiveness and forwardness of the people. There are no lines or right of way, it’s whoever makes it to the front first, and whoever can be the most forceful to get their way first. People blatantly stare and solicit, being very persistent and just hanging around until they finally give up and leave. There is a lot of cat whistling and honking, people defecating anywhere they please, and no women on the streets. What also surprised me is that there are few places that have been modernized. Speaking with the students about their experiences, a prominent response, and something I noticed myself was the lack of progress within the society. As one of the up and coming leading technological powers, we would expect
Conversely, I find the culture exciting and captivating. From the movies to the outdoor markets to the food (which has made me sick, but was very good while on my taste buds..) to the enthusiasm that the students and staff I work with show, I feel honored to have this opportunity to immerse myself in this experience. The wildlife intrigues me and the people that I have had the chance to get to know and speak with have made me laugh and taught me so much. Their enthusiasm and overall wonderful, carefree persona are definitely characteristics that I can learn from. (The picture to the left is of a barber, working on the sidewalk. I took this photograph from the auto rickshaw, an open-air-pressurized-gas-powered-vehicle that I was taking back to campus.)
I, myself, have already experienced so much in my first couple of days here. Me, the girl that hates it being hot, has adjusted to the humid climate, though I was lucky enough to arrive a couple days before the rain began, cooling the temperature down to about 100 degrees F. My stomach is still adjusting to the food; my first experience of getting sick from the food was last night, and though unpleasent, definitely not as bad as it could have been. The observation that has surprised me the most and really helped put things in perspective is what I've mentioned before - people in the slums with so little, living amongst flies and with little to no money to support their families, are so happy and so welcoming! The children are just like the children in the U.S. Despite cultural differences, they still run around giggling, teasing each other. They still love to be the center of attention, beaming and making silly poses in front of my camera and bursting into giggles when I put my camera down and give them a smile. It is as if we've developed a secret through my taking a photograph of them. The connection that I've been able to get through taking pictures of the people here is incredible. I've always felt that the more I understand my subject, the better the photograph turns out and the more meaning it holds both for me and an unbiased viewer. However, I think this is the first time that I've felt such a strong connection from taking a portrait photograph. It is like an unspoken secret or connection that the click of the shutter has created. Through our eyes, we have crossed the language barrier and the cultural barrier where the core of who we are is all that matters. The human connection is a strong one, and the power of the camera to create this connection has surprised me. I have been struggling a bit as well in trying to gage when it is appropriate to take the photographs. Had I been a freelancer not representing any organization, I would have felt a lot freer, but as a MIT representative, I feel more obligated to be extra careful about not leaving behind any negative feelings. This has gotten in the way of my photography, leading to only a few photos that I actually love. It gets better everyday, and hopefully in the next couple of days, my tentativeness to move around and get the angles that I want will subside.
Despite the Indian students assuring me that I should feel free to move around and take whatever photographs I would like, I do feel a bit intrusive constantly moving around taking photographs, afraid that they will feel like I'm taking advantage of their poor condition or that I am disrespecting them with my constant movements. Because I do not understand the culture completely, it is something that I think only time will cure. But I am rapidly getting better and growing more confident. Another problem is that I cannot take out my camera whenever I want to take a photograph. Due to crime and the lack of females on the streets, not to mention lack of people of my color, I am a prime target and am constantly harrassed to purchase this and purchase that, and have to be on the constant lookout for thieves. The Indian students informed me that yielding my camera in certain locations is dangerous at it makes me an even greater target, so sadly I have found myself not as able to snap the best photographs. It makes me wish I was able to shapeshift into different ethnicities and between genders. Being female, I feel that I am able to be better accepted in peoples' homes and to be able to form a connection with my subjects more easily without them being skeptical. However, it is definitely more dangerous being female.
Lock (to lock my things up and to lock my bags)
Stuffed animal (personal preference)
A bag with lots of zippered pockets to help not get things stolen
More hand sanitizer
more socks and undergarments
granola bars, oatmeal, other stuff thats small but good for snacking/breakfast/when i'm sick
mini versions of all my friends that wanted to come.... though they may have died in my luggage. maybe i could have put them in my carry ons. :D
Saturday, June 16, 2007
As the woman gathered her final bags and went through customs to find her parents, someone tapped me on the shoulder and i turned to find my friend Daniel from MIT! I had forgotten that he was flying in on the same day, so it was exciting to run into someone i knew. I had originally planned to document his work in Lucknow, India, but the community he was working with had requested not to be photographed, so we had cancled our plans. However, due to automobile transportation to RAI Foundation at Meadows where Daniel would also be staying for 2 days, we had planned to take same-day flights: and then forgotten to contact each other about meeting up. Luckily, we happened to arrive at similar times, and happened to bump into each other!
After exchanging money ($250 for 9910 Rupees) in the airport where the exchange rate is supposedly one of the best, and by far the most convenient, Daniel and I got through customs without a glitch and found a RAI Foundation staff member awaiting us with a sign! Stepping outside of the airport, we were hit with a wave of even stronger humidity and heat, but were relieved to find that the car had air conditioning. :)
As we were driving to campus, and in my first couple days here, I think what amazes me the most are the things that are so similar to things I've seen before. We went to a school assembly yesterday, and it could have been an assembly of a U.S. high school. except for the whole speaking in hindi and me not really understanding anything thing.... :) There are stray dogs walking the streets as in Korea (a certain breed that directly translates to "poop dog" is also found here!), and the traffic is not as bad, but the driving is crazy! Apparently they put lines in recently, but noone bothers to follow them and street signs and stoplights are rare. There is a lot of honking and "dipping" (known as "high beaming" in the U.S.) and these are used regularly to tell someone that you're going to pass them or to "get out of the way because I'm going to keep going and I WILL crush you to get by if I have to." The people wear different clothing and have different colored skin, but they take pictures in front of monuments, eat at McDonalds, gossip, and play basketball just like we do.
There are, of course, many new and exciting things. There are monkeys walking around the campus (the first one I saw, I yelled out, "Oh My GOSH! THERE"S A MONKEY RIGHT THERE," providing amusement for those around me who pointed out all the other monkeys that were casually strolling around). Cows randomly walk along the street, and shacks and lean tos can be seen between concrete buildings and more permament structures.
I am lucky to be in a room in the guesthouse of the university along with the students that I am documenting. I am in fact rooming with one of the students, Catherine, and they accepted me in right away as part of their group, incorporating me into all their activities and explaining what they have already learned. My best friend, Jess, is also here, so that's an extra bonus! The guesthouse has doubles with bathrooms and showers, cable internet access (not so reliable, but its here!), and AC! What a luxury. The room is simple but clean and much much more than what I expected. The doors are very interesting because they require a separte lock and key as a simple pole lock keeps the door closed. There is a television, but every channel has the same game on it... There is a refridgerator and a little store nearby that sells bottled water which we have been buying in bulk at 12 rupees per bottle. What a bargain! I will leave you now with some photographs as I am wiped out from a day of a bit of touring Delhi, but will tell you all about it in my next blog :)
Friday, June 15, 2007
hope you like them! I can already tell that my photography skills are going to increase dramatically throughout this trip, the constant changes in lighting, photographing with respect, knowing what equipment to carry and how, becoming comfortable shooting in a new and different environemnt, and judging when it is and it isn't safe to be seen with the expensive equipment. I have learned so much already and have many thoughts to share... but all tomorrow. :)
oh and if you were thinking, why's she so tired its only 3 in the afternoon.... keep in mind that here in delhi it is currently 1:04 am. From Boston time, you add 9.5 hours. Why the .5? I'd like to know as well. :)
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Once in elementary school, I learned a lot about
I met an interesting couple on the plane who told me about an interesting experience they had in the airport; the conversation started because I saw the woman crocheting and this surprised me because my own crochet needle had been taken away in the security check in a previous flight. The couple told me (and they could have been pulling my leg for I tend to fall for things easily... hmm) that they had actually been caught by security, but they had stabbed the guard three times to show him that the crochet needle was not at all sharp or dangerous and thus should not be considered as a "sharps." Having been hit but not hurt, the guard let them through!
I also discovered something new, I bought a postcard from one of the stores, and they conveniently had a stamp so that I could send the postcard directly from the airport! Perhaps this is common knowledge, but I had seriously been contemplating where I was going to get a stamp! In addition, I solved my problem of not knowing what to get my hosts in each country. Being the second person to visit these hosts at the same time, I knew that the other students had brought MIT insignia gear as gifts for the hosts. Therefore, unique to my project, I decided to bring my hosts for each country a gift from the previous country I had been in! So I bought a box of gourmet chocolates in the shape of Holland's wooden shoes. :D I will give it to my hosts as I leave as a token of my appreciation.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
They recommend that you check in at the airport at least 2 hours prior to an international flight. My parents always arrive at least 3 hours in advance just in case. Now I am past security and outside my gate, waiting for boarding to begin. It is a very awkward time because I’m impatient to just get on my flight already so that I can get comfortable and fall asleep instead of having to keep an eye on my things. I enjoy traveling alone, I feel it gives me time to reflect and have some quality me, myself, and I time. However, it gets to be a problem when I want to use the restroom, take a nap, or do anything really. I’ve had layovers for several hours in the past, so I would hold on to my purse with my tickets and all that jazz, using it as a pillow almost, and hanging on to my carry on with my legs such that if anyone tried to steal it or open it, they would have to move my legs first. This works well despite that fact that at times I sleep like a rock so there’s a chance I wouldn’t notice, because the potential thieves figure I would wake up. I like to keep it that way J. I think one time, I asked someone else to watch my things while I ran to the bathroom. I didn’t get anything stolen and didn’t get arrested for finding a bomb in my bag, but in retrospect, that’s probably not such a good idea. I used to be very trusting of people around me, not needing evidence, but I think I’ve become more critical and wary of strangers – whether that be for better or worse.
What I Packed
(1) A checked-in duffel-with-wheels containing clothing, toiletries, towels, a pillow case, chargers, sunscreen, insect repellant, a set of outlet converters, Malcolm X, Mountains Beyond Mountains, a First Aid Kit complements of Julie from Medlinks, an umbrella, a flashlight, a roll of toilet paper just in case, dvd-rs to back up my photographs, a tripod, 2 tubs of gatorade to replenish all the electrolytes I will lose in the 110ºF Indian humidity, and 2 big bottles of pepto-bismol because my friend, Jess, who is already in India, let me know that the pills did not work for her and requested a big bottle and suggested one for myself. This bag ended up being a troublemaker; the handle that is supposed to come out so that I can roll it was stuck and would not work! My father and I struggled with it in the airport for a good half-hour before it finally broke lose from the clutch and became free. Now I won’t have to be a hunchback. My other bags though….
(2) My camera bag, courtesy of B.D, complete with a Nikon D70 body, a Nikon D1H body, 3 lenses, 5 batteries (3 for the D70 and 2 for the D1H), 6 2Gb memory cards, a copy of my passport, a copy of my itinerary, and emergency cash. This bag is, needless to say, quite heavy, quite fragile, and worth “quite-a-lot.” This bag is what I am the most worried about and will keep a close eye on.
(3) My carry-on knapsack with my passport, flight tickets (all of them are paper copies except for my flight to India and my flight back to the US), chapstick, small lotion in a zip lock bag, medication, sketchbook, Sophie’s Choice, pens, pencils, a voice recorder for the interviews, the camcorder from the PSC, glasses, sunglasses, extra contacts, laptop and charger, and cash. I am bringing $250 in cash to be exchanged at the airport (Jess informed me that I would be spending about $5/day on food, $4/day on travel, and then shopping during breaks J plus the transaction fee when exchanging), $100 as emergency money, and $80 as emergency emergency money (in a different location J ).
I could have fit both my carry-ons into one of the bags, as both are half-empty, but decided this was not a safe idea for my camera equipment, and thus ended up with 3 bags which will hopefully not prove to be too much. I will be relieved of several items from my check-in luggage once in
(I thought that 1 big bag was too much, and was kicking myself later for not packing lighter, but delightfully found that even the students staying in a one-weather location had brought more! Yay! I didn't overpack!)
Monday, June 11, 2007
Arrival at Location
Departure from Location
June 14, 10:50 pm
June 30, 10:45 am
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June 30, 7:05 pm
July 7, 12:55 pm
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July 7, 2:10 pm
July 15, 1:50 pm
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July 15, 3:00 pm
July 29, 3:40 pm
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Marketing Project, Wheelchair
July 30, 11:25 am
July 31, 10:45 am
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24 Hr Layover
July 31, 2:55 pm
August 12, 10:00 am
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August 12, 12:25 pm
August 15, 6:30 pm
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