Elizabeth in India

Elizabeth is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering in the Lyle School of Engineering. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship for summer 2013 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. Elizabeth will be working in Bangalore, India, with the Leave UR Mark organization on a water conservation and literacy design project.

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Learning to go with the flow

I mentioned previously that in order to survive in India, it is important to manage your expectations. I should clarify. You MUST be flexible! Monday night at 9:30 I got a phone call from work: I would be leaving on a three-day trip to my boss’s farm in Gadag, Karnataka, eight hours away, and we would be leaving at 4 a.m. I quickly did laundry, ate dinner, and packed my freshly wet clothes in a backpack before setting out on my journey back to work. This will be nothing less than an adventure.

Upon arriving back at work, I promptly went to sleep so that I could get some rest before leaving. At 5 a.m., I, along with my two French co-workers, my boss, and his wife crammed into a little van with our luggage. The opportunity for more sleep was lost, so I stared out the window daydreaming for eight hours in order to keep myself entertained. It was actually quite nice to be able to withdraw for a while and just think.

Before reaching Gadag, we stopped at a farm. There, I talked with the farmer and learned all about his harvesting processes. He rotates crops and keeps them in different “compartments” on his land for maximum results. At this point, I think I could be a farmer… or at least a successful gardener. I talked to him about the rainwater harvesting systems he implemented, and he seemed pleased with how well his crops were doing. Before leaving, the farmer gave me a fresh pomegranate and chai. Yum!  This was about 2 p.m. We did not arrive in Gadag until 8 p.m., at which point we were not finished with work.

My boss took us to see a giant lake that he constructed for the benefit of the entire village. Due to the lake, over 300 surrounding bore wells were replenished. Afterward, we were taken to another farmer’s house so that we could talk to him and ask him questions. As we were making our way to the house, more and more Indian children began to follow us.

My humble bed, complete with rice for a pillow

By the time we arrived, Mr. Masagi decided that the interview was futile, so instead we played with the children and drank fresh buttermilk. I can deal with this. The children were so eager to laugh and smile. We let them play with our cameras and phones, but the most fun they had was when they passed around our sunglasses. Eighteen hours later, our workday was finally over and it was time to rest. Funny story, though… A Bollywood movie was being filmed in the same village, so all of the lodges were full. Awesome. The French girls and I ended up sleeping on the concrete floor of my boss’s mother-in-law’s house. At that point I was thankful for a roof over my head.

Our second day was spent traveling to more farms and homes of clients for interviews. I truly got a firsthand look at the lives of a rural Indian village. Each stop we made I was provided with chai and food. I cannot emphasize how hospitable this culture is. I ate so much over the three days that I wanted to explode. Blah. However, watching me finish and enjoy a meal brought so much joy to the Indian women that of course I was going eat every last bite. I can workout later.

There really is a different perspective on food here. Due to overwhelming poverty conditions, it is unacceptable to let food go to waste. I am definitely guilty of not finishing a meal because I am full, and I am equally guilty of blowing off Umphrey Lee’s initiative to prevent food waste. It was a humbling experience to witness the emaciated people, and going forward I will be careful not to take more food than I can eat.

As amazing as this experience was, I definitely experienced frustration. Considering I treat my “me time” as a prized treasure, I became very irritable. Under normal circumstances, little sleep and no shower would trigger an unpleasant Elizabeth. But I think the trending theme of the blog is that India is not normal! My ability to go with the flow and enjoy the little things has increased exponentially. It had to.

For the Fourth of July, I ate steak! It was so nice being American for a day. I have not eaten meat since getting here, so I am convinced the steak was the best piece of meat I have ever had. Probably an exaggeration. Regardless, it was delicious.

I have not seen Snickers in a week. I fear the worst.

Driving Lessons in India:

1. Learn to use the horn

Reasons to use horn:

  • Let people know you are behind them
  • Let people know you are going around them
  • Let people know when you are next to them
  • When someone cuts you off
  • Scare away cows
  • Scare away goats
  • Scare away dogs
  • Scare away people
  • You are mad
  • You are happy
  • You wish to be annoying
  • To make your presence known

2. Don’t hit other cars

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