Goodbye Pune! Hello California!

My semester in India has treated me so well. I have made so many new friends, been on amazing trips throughout India, eaten awesome food, taken great classes, networked my butt off, had pretty awesome nights, and had the best home stay ever living with Aparna Bhadbhade. Of course there were many challenges while living in India, and many things I do not agree with within their society… But overall, I feel as if I have come out on top. I learned so many new things about myself I have never realized before. I have become a stronger individual mentally, more open minded, more knowledgable, and more passionate about my academic interests than I have ever been. I am going to miss everyone who made this semester one to remember, especially my closest friends Paulina, Jill, Alyssa and my coworkers while I was interning at Deep Griha SocietyImageImageImage

 

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My Internship with Deep Griha Society. One to remember.

Deep Griha Society is a family welfare center that was founded in 1975 by Dr. Neela Onawale and her husband Reverend Bhaskar Onawale. They were both social activists and practitioners. They decided to call it Deep Griha because it means “house of light,” a positive space. When Deep Griha Society was founded over forty years ago, the organization resided in a one room medical clinic, in Dr. Onawale’s house. Within a few years, she was helping over one hundred patients. Dr. Onawale noticed most of the medical conditions and issues people were facing who the slum areas were due to malnutrition lack of medical facilities and not enough education. After witnessing these conditions, she decided to begin programs that supported and educated members of the community on how to live a healthy lifestyle. These programs included: an Empowerment Program, Health Education Program to address the key health problems, and a Nutrition Program that provides free meals. Ever since her programs started, Deep Griha Society has grown to be something bigger than expected. They have customized their service to inspire deprived communities through education and support. This has resulted in teaching different skills and gaining confidence to help push people forward to live a healthier life. Larger than ever, there are numerous branches of the organization in different slums around Pune district and Pune city. Today, the organization aids almost 50,000 people living in the slum communities of Pune and the have over 140 staff members. A majority of the staff members originally were clients who went to the organization for support, medical needs, and financial support. They now work there to reciprocate for the assistance they once received from Deep Griha, by offering community members support to whomever is in need.

Deep Griha Society works for the empowerment of the marginalized through capacity building and sustainable urban and rural development programs. They are an independent charitable organization working to better the lives of people living in the slums of Pune, India. Through a range of programs Deep Griha Society helps thousands of beneficiaries within Pune and several nearby villages. They have programs and projects for childcare, child development, youth empowerment, women’s empowerment, medical needs and dental care/health care, HIV/AIDS, Aadhar Kendra which is for foster children and orphans, education, awareness building, self-help projects, and rural development. They operate in three locations; Tadiwala Road, Ramtekdi, and Bibvewadi. Specifically, with the HIV/AIDS program they focus on nutrition and empowerment. This is where I am placed and what I assisted and worked with. The Tadiwala Road location is where I was stationed. Deep Griha’s involvement with HIV prevention in the city lies with the DISHA program. DISHA stands for Deep Griha’s Integrated Service for HIV and AIDS.  The program is a HIV prevention, treatment, care and support program working to target Marathi-speaking, local communities. The nutritional program for clients provides them with two healthy meals a day, six times a week. The DISHA program also has counseling services, referral services, home based support and care, treatment of opportunistic infections, weekly outpatient clinics, shelter homes at Vishrantwadi, income generation programs which help clients with their finances and voluntary HIV testing. DISHA’s motto, ‘Positive Living’ gives people living with HIV (PLHIV) an opportunity to relax and have fun by being included in dances, competitions and music. DISHA specifically helps over 200 clients.

Dr. Neela Onawale is still working as the chief director of Deep Griha Society and she oversees every program they offer. There are different directors for community outreach, finances and supply chains, international and local volunteers and for program logistics. While working with Deep Griha Society, I mainly worked with Elizabeth Hollingsworth, who is the volunteer coordinator, and who holds a link between the international and local volunteers and helps them get involved where they desire and where help is needed. I also worked with Golnaz Malek, who serves as one of the Wake Up Pune coordinators and works with the student population as well as the DISHA ladies. Within each program, there are team leaders who oversee their specific projects and are responsible for the activities and logistics. The team leader I work under for DISHA and Wake Up Pune specifically is Avinash Chakranarayan. He is responsible for organizing events, awareness activities, and educational programs for the community. I really enjoy the fact that Deep Griha Society grabs the attention of the international volunteers. They make it very easy for people to come in and start working, and to get involved with community projects. I am currently interning with seven other students. One from Canada, one from South Korea, one from the Caribbean Islands, one from Iran and the others from various places in India. It is great working with such a diverse group of students, who all have the same goals and interests in Public Health, specifically HIV and AIDS. By always having new volunteers from all over the world coming in to work every few months, it allows there to be new ideas, different perceptions, different experimental backgrounds and ways of living. This helps benefit the diverse population that Deep Griha Society works with and serves.

In the greater context, Deep Griha fits in the role of the national attempt to eliminate the spread of HIV, stop social stigma and discrimination, and help support the lives of those living with HIV and AIDS. The DISHA ladies like to work in different communities, to teach HIV education, street plays and demonstrations, and by speaking with people about the effects and long-term outcomes etc. The DISHA program has a strong network of ladies living with HIV. They decided to call them “clients,” and not “patients,” because it stands for a better outlook and more positivity. DISHA has an Income Generating Project as well, where clients can be artistic and creative and make and sell hand-made crafts to support themselves financially.

Wake Up Pune also holds activities, and awareness events. They target the urban youth and middle to upper class population and communities. Their initiative is “HIV Positive,” meaning having a positive outlook, HIV awareness, and support to individuals living with HIV. Wake Up Pune is known for their regular “HIV Boot-Camps.” These boot camps are very informative sessions where volunteers, corporate employees, college students and community members learn about HIV prevention, the stigma surrounding the virus, statistics, prevention, practice putting condoms on bananas, treatment, testing, transmission and the basic biology of what the HIV virus actually is and does. Boot camps are held very regularly, to keep people informed and aware. 

I worked specifically with Deep Griha Society, but worked on one primary, big project with Wake Up Pune. I was placed into a big project from the very beginning. It was somewhat overwhelming because no one told me I would be working with Wake Up Pune, and that I would be jumping into a project that started one week before I arrived at DGS. My first task was to study the website and make comments and suggestions. I really enjoyed this task because before I started all of my other tasks and projects with DGS, I was able to become completely immersed in their website which allowed me to understand every aspect of the organization, especially with the DISHA program that I was working with. I was expected to make suggestions, and edits, but it was such a great website and very detailed and organized, that there were not many changes that needed to be done. My second task was to study the DISHA program activities, review the client satisfaction survey; the data collected and suggest any changes in the survey for further data collection. The document I had to review was over 70 pages. I read through every single page, and took notes to make sure I did not miss anything and to insure that I caught all the mistakes or errors that I thought should be modified. Surprisingly, I finished this task within two days. I thought I would take me longer so I moved other projects around by about one week to accommodate my anticipated timing. The client satisfaction survey was well written by a previous intern. I had minor changes and suggestions. It was very detailed and organized wonderfully and very clear. My comments and suggestions were about spacing, and moving certain pages around. The clients seem to love the DISHA activities and programs, and they are happy with everything, with one exception. All of the clients wish there were more parties, social events and gatherings. DGS unfortunately does not have the funds to grant the DISHA clients their wish. The lack of sufficient funds does hurt them. My third task was by far my biggest and longest task, yet the most enjoyable. For this task I was basically working for Wake Up Pune. World AIDS Day is celebrated every December 1st. Deep Griha Society and Wake Up Pune collectively had a number of programs starting in November, leading up to World AIDS Day. My job was to help plan all the activities and events, attend the activities and participate as well. This included various competitions, awareness activities, boot camps and campaigns. This portion of my tasks list was very broad and not specific so I got involved and engaged in every way that I could.

My first weekend interning, all of the other volunteers and myself went to the home of our program coordinator for Wake Up Pune. We had a nice lunch and then got to work. We made over 10 different placards for the LGBT Rally that we were going to partake in. We cut cardboard into smaller squares and rectangles, and glued different colored paper to one side of the board to make the signs. Together, we were all being very creative with the slogans and designs of the board. A few examples of some of the board slogans are: “I can’t think STRAIGHT,” “Love knows, no gender,” “My support, my gay brother,” and “I’m the pink sheep of my family.” We had a lot of fun making these boards and slogans. I am glad I had the chance to bond with the other student volunteers and my program coordinator before all the hard work began because it helped me in the long run, and made me very comfortable with everyone that I would be working with for the remainder of my time in India. The following day we were all with each other again. All the volunteers and program coordinator had a scheduled meet and greet with patients at a Clinic called Sahara Alhad. It is on the outskirts of Pune. When we arrived, we met all of the patients and they told us their stories. Many of them were heartbreaking. I shook hands with everyone after I met them because I know often, in India especially, people do not go near or touch people living with HIV and AIDS, so I wanted to make it a point to shake their hands and thank them for allowing us into their rooms and letting us hear their personal stories. It was a successful day.

Let the main tasks begin. Starting one week before World AIDS Day, we began our events. Starting November 25, 2013 we had a boot camp with new volunteers from the other DGS other locations. Since my program coordinator was busy with work, she asked if I could help run the boot camp. Thankfully, I had been in a boot camp previously when I first joined the Wake Up Pune team. The boot camp went very well! I hit all the right points, and the demonstrations went according to plan. The new volunteers said they learned a lot and they thanked me! I felt important and special at that moment because I felt like I was starting on a great note. The boot camp in general helped me understand HIV/AIDS in the context of India, and it gave me a more holistic awareness of HIV. After this day, the Wake Up Pune’s Awareness week activities were posted online via Facebook and Twitter. It was my responsibility to advertise these events. Therefore, I would repost all of the flyers online, and send them to Facebook friends to make sure people were aware of our events and to encourage everyone to come out and join us.

The following day, Tuesday November 26th, we had our Rangoli Campaign. This was a complete success. We set up our first campaign on the day at Shivajinagar railway station. All the volunteers, including myself were wearing our ‘HIV POSITIVE’ t-shirts, and the DISHA Ladies were all wearing red saris. It was beautiful. We each had brochures and flyers to pass out while the DISHA Ladies were making the huge red ribbon Rangoli. While they were completing their Rangoli, we were chanting, and holding our banners and placards that said, “We are all HIV positive,” “You cannot get infected by hugging, holding hands and sharing food,” “Cover your lover with a rubber,” and many more! We captured a lot of attention with the HIV POSITIVE shirts and red saris. People stood around and watched on as the DISHA Ladies made their beautiful Rangoli. The purpose of this campaign is to make a point, that HIV and AIDS is a problem in India, and we are trying to raise awareness. After a few hours, we left this location and headed over to Swargate Juction. The same events happened. The DISHA ladies started their big Rangoli, and we were in the middle of two main roads handing out flyers and brochures. Since we were on a very busy street, we decided to get the messages across by standing on the side of streets and corners.  We would hold out the flyers and cars, motorcycles and rickshaws would zoom by and snatch one out of our hands. We handed out everything we brought with us. Word was spreading and more and more people came up to talk to us. They were asking questions and we even had a few people sign up for DSG’s services on site. Pune definitely felt the awareness in the air that day.

On November 27th, we had our signature campaign. We were stationed along Laxmi Road. It was me and 5 other volunteers and only four of the DISHA Ladies. We set up one of our posters at one of the biggest intersections, tying it to poles, and we had another banner on the ground that people signed, and one next to that, standing, so people could see who we were and what we were doing. Within a very short period of time, people were signing the posters. We of course, were passing out flyers and brochures, and telling people to break the silence and break the stigma and sign our poster. I found an interesting pattern while this campaign was going on. Schoolgirls between the ages of 13-17 were eager to sign for our campaign; the younger populations would sign without pausing; the middle aged people who were in lower castes or lower incomes would also sign right away, but the higher castes people, the people who clearly either had a lot money or thought they were above everyone would not sign, and they would not even give us the time of day. I found that to be very interesting. On our lunch break we walked to a nearby restaurant. As volunteers, we were wearing our HIV POSITIVE shirts, once again. As soon as we walked into the restaurant and sat at a table, all of the waiters were starring at us, and pointing. It was like they gathered just to gossip about us thinking we were all HIV Positive, literally. It was strange at first, but eventually it became uncomfortable. No waiters would come to our table, so finally the manager took our order, and helped us. We were getting death stares the entire time we were sitting at the table. I became so frustrated I just wanted to leave. I felt so out of place. I then realized what everyone was talking about regarding the stigma of HIV. People thought I was HIV Positive, therefore they treated me completely different than everyone else in the restaurant. Of course, I wanted to say something and speak up, but what was I going to say? I was happy to be out of the restaurant and glad to be back on the streets where people did not stare at me like I was not human. Overall, the campaign was a great success. We had the entire front side of the banner filled with signatures, and even the entire backside as well.

On November 28th, there was a street play competition, but I was unable to attend because I was helping plan DGS’s big event on December 3rd. I heard it went well. There was also another boot camp session, open to the public. I saw pictures and there were many people in attendance. The following day November 29th, it was Free Testing Day at DGS. The testing facilities and doctor were open to seeing anyone who would walk in and get tested. Even us, the volunteers got tested to show people that it is okay to get tested and that it’s painless, and if we can do it, they can do it too. That evening we had a fundraising event at Swig Bar and Restaurant. We held awareness games and quizzes for people who attended. There were awards as well. If you answer two questions correctly, you get 100 rupees back from the entrance fee, and a free drink. Most of the people in attendance were not there because of our event, but because Swig is a place they usually go to. Wake Up Pune got in a little bit of trouble because of the event. Apparently, our event was not supposed to serve alcohol, and our event was featured in the newspaper the following day. It mentioned names of people who work with DGS, reviews, and people who attended and their views on how the event went. Everything was cleared up after the event and the money we raised is going to a great cause.

Saturday November 30th, we had our Live Installation. We held this demonstration at Shaniwarwada Fort. All of the volunteers and some of the DISHA Ladies sat in a big circle with our backs facing inside the circle. We were blindfolded and also had our mouths covered. On our blindfolds were the words HIV. Wrapped around all of our wrists was red rope, like we were bound together. This was representing people who are living with HIV and how they are silenced, trapped and blinded by social stigma. Golnaz, our program coordinator for Wake Up Pune, and one DISHA Lady talked to the crowd of people who looked on. They began telling everyone about HIV and AIDS, what it really is, how to get it, how to prevent yourself from getting it, where you can get tested, and all about Deep Griha Society and where we are located and our services. At the end of the speech, she told everyone we were HIV Positive and to set us free, she asked if anyone in the crowd wanted to break the silence and stigma against HIV, she asked people to come up and take our blindfolds off and take the rope off our hands. I was the first person to be set free. This was a powerful experiment. Everyone was set free within two minutes of the speech and it was beautiful. I believe people were really listening and felt safe to take out blindfolds off. Progress was being made.

December 1st couldn’t have come any faster! It was World AIDS Day! I participated in a Rally while carrying and walking with banners conveying HIV awareness messages and slogans. Other volunteers and members of DISHA and DGS handed out flyers, and informational leaflets to passersby. There were many other organizations that were also trying to raise awareness for World AIDS Day. It was a beautiful sight to see so many people all rooting for the same thing. That same evening, it was the Sahara Football Tournament at fun fitness club. Many teams showed up to win, and many to raise money for World AIDS Day. The winner of the tournament received Rs2,000 and a certificate. More people showed up than expected.

It was time for Deep Griha Societies big event. December 3rd was our Celebration of Life! The celebration of life is an event where children of the Ramtekdi and Tadiwala community perform, sing, have dance shows, and people from all over come to see as well as the DISHA Ladies who perform, the volunteers, and school children and other members of Deep Griha Society. Even a nursing school came and performed a skit they had created. It was my favorite. This is also, to raise awareness. The event is not just for people involved with DGS, but other members of the community can watch and help out as well. This is where we get a lot of recognition because so many bystanders watch as people take to the stage. I was the only volunteer to represent the Tadiwala branch, but I had a great time rooting my Didi’s on! They called me up on stage, along with the volunteers from the other branches, and presented us with roses for all of our time, hard work and commitment! It was a very nice gesture. It felt great having the big event be such an accomplishment because we all worked so hard to make all the activities the best that they could possibly be. All of the hard work paid off, which was evident by all the smiles and laughter that filled the air.

My last task, interviews. I had of my questions approved by Avinash, and told my interpreter to help me the day I was going to interview. Unfortunately, a series of events happened, that led to my interviews being cut short and not the best they could possibly be! The questions were very straight forward, and simple. I was told not to ask the client about their status and how they were infected. I followed the instructions and kept it very professional. Without me going into too much detail, I had a bit of a disagreement with my interpreter and actually had to give her a lesson on HIV/AIDS. I told her the way you can get infected, the treatment options, stigma around it and much more! I was relieved to have the interviews completed so quickly. I learned so much about how people around my age feel about HIV/AIDS, and how little they understand everything. They are not educated properly about this topic. That’s why there is a lot of stigma, discrimination and miscommunication in this arena.  I learned such a big lesson in just a few hours. That is the one thing I am glad I got out of it. I learned the most during my last week of my internship.

The work I performed with Deep Griha Society meets the overall mission of the organization to provide education to improve the overall health of the community and to raise awareness. My work with Wake Up Pune and with the DISHA programs backed the general HIV and AIDS awareness mission of both of the programs. They collectively seek to influence and educate as many people as they can by their awareness events. I contributed by speaking directly to members of the community, and helping first hand to help spread awareness messages, answering questions, clearing up misconceptions and advocating WUP’s goals. I helped the general public to better understand HIV and AIDS as a whole, I looked at all of the challenges straight in the face and dealt with them in a professional manner, and I upheld the mission of the organizations to the best of my ability. However, the work I contributed cannot be summarized. Most of the work I performed with DGS and WUP was very much the same and overlapped. I came in each day with a smile on my face ready to tackle any obstacle for the day with a positive attitude. Whatever needed to be done, I took on. Unfortunately, my lasting contribution is minor. I did not change any policies, or implement new programs that would last forever. Realizing that I am just one of the hundreds of international volunteers they get every year, made me a little gloomy. But then I came to the realization that the work I have been doing is helping individuals, which actually can make a lasting impression. My job was to come in and help educate, and make people aware of HIV and AIDS. That is exactly what I accomplished. With excellent precision! I was here to do as much as I could in the short month while interning. I trust that I managed my time well, and that I DID in fact, make a lasting impression on specific individuals in the community. Even brining families together, friends together and strangers together. Additionally, the work I executed with Wake Up Pune and DISHA is part of a bigger goal. It is not the contributions of individuals, but rather the accomplishments of the entire organization as a whole. With the drive of individuals trying to make the organization a prosperous one, this brings the organization to a better place, and taking it a step further to succeeding in its mission.

 

REFLECTION

Overall, my experiences with Wake Up Pune and Deep Griha Society have given me a helpful insight to how NGOs are managed and operated. The struggles, successes, and background of what they really do behind the scenes. Being observant and having conversations with many different people, I realized that the best way to convey messages about HIV and AIDS, awareness, and breaking stigma is by educating people…starting with individual communities at a personal level. In order to successfully spread awareness, Deep Griha Society needs to come up with a community-based method of how they are going to get the messages across; they need to communicate, have patience and be flexible. If you want social change, it takes time and does not happen overnight. Therefore, having a great attitude and setting goals, even if they are small, will help make everything fall into place.

My experiences last summer in South Africa, doing research on HIV and AIDS and working in slum communities in Soweto, helped me to gain an overall understanding of HIV and AIDS prior to coming to India. I was able to apply what I had learned to help me with my internship. Although I did not know the amount of people living with HIV or AIDS in India when I started this internship, I still found it pretty easy to deal with because the numbers in Africa are higher than in India. Another thing I did not know anything about when I started this Internship was how critical of an impact social stigma has on the world living with HIV and AIDS and especially here in India where millions of people infected with HIV have a lack of education and awareness.  Eventually, that leads to fear and cases of discrimination. My work also helped me understand that lack of health care facilities, treatment and supplies can cause and lead to HIV positive individuals. Condoms are the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections and diseases, but a lot of rural India and high-risk areas do not have access to condoms or other preventable methods. I learned that while raising awareness about the different types of transmissions, that it is very important to deliver high-risk populations with concrete methods to help prevent the transmission of the disease.

I really enjoyed my time at Deep Griha Society and working with Wake Up Pune. My contributions were made to the best of my abilities. A few things did frustrate me that I noticed. The lack of organization, continuity and lack of communication. There were many times where nobody knew what was happening, where to go, or what was next; our program coordinators would not know either and that meant that we would be scattering trying to understand what was going on. Also, there have been many awkward times in the office. Arguments and disagreements would get out of hand and result in loss of friendship, people being moved out of the office and a sense of confusion for all of the volunteers. It was very uncomfortable when that happened. When I first started, I was just dropped into the middle of a project. I feel that Deep Griha should inform the new volunteers and interns about what is going on in the office, what they will be doing, what they need help with and what has been done recently in the past so they can get a better understanding of what the vibe is in the organization. If this would have taken place, I would have had a better transition, and a more smooth start while working in the project I was dropped in on to work with. It is very difficult to gain understanding of what programs have been done, and implemented, and how they were conducted if there is nobody there to fill you in and to help insure that you have a sooth start. For me, the challenges and frustrations elevated the importance of leadership, organization and structure within any NGO and similar organizations.

My experiences at deep Griha Society have been amazing overall. They have helped me understand myself better, helped me make a path for my future dreams and aspirations, and because of them, I have gained many new friendships with people from all over the world. Before coming to India, I knew I was interested in Public Health. I just was not sure what avenue I wanted to pursue. Having traveled to now 14 different countries, and taking something away from each of my experiences, I believe my trip to India and my internship at Deep Griha Society has benefited me in more ways than one! Within the last week of my internship, as I previously mentioned before, there was a little bump in the road with my interpreter and my last task. From that experience, I realized so much about myself as a person, and for my future. Although I cried for most of that day, I cried tears of pain, hurt and realization. While I crying to my one of my teachers and the student advisor, I realized in that moment, how passionate I was about HIV/AIDS Education. I realized that this scenario happened for a reason and helped me to understand what I am really here to do: to educate people about health care, health related issues and especially HIV/AIDS. That moment was a turning point for me. Out of pure frustration and anger, grew something beautiful.

With all of that being said, my experience at Deep Griha has been a bumpy ride, but a ride that will take me on a journey of a lifetime. I now have friends all over the world I can call on when I am in their country. Through this internship I have grown tremendously, and I realized I have the ability to accomplish anything if I put my mind to it. I now will be going to graduate school for Public Health with a concentration in Development upon my undergraduate studies, instead of Global Affairs. Through my experiences, I have come to understand the importance of Health Education in developing countries. I know I cannot change the world, but I know I can make a difference to somebody’s life through what I have learned here at Deep Griha Society.

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Closing Ceremony

The closing ceremony was a pretty clever idea. Everyone who was involved with outside activities like singing, dance, drums, violin etc. had their time to show everyone what they had learned. After the performances, the award ceremony began, to thank host parents, and people who made this whole semester possible. Unfortunately, my host mother was unable to attend because she was visiting her mom in Mumbai. After the awards, there was a speaker and then it was dinner time. I started to cry when I was taking off my dance costume because Paulina was in the room with me and she actually had to leave right after the ceremony. While everyone else left the day after. Paulina and I were hugging for so long and crying in eachothers arms. It was the hardest goodbye! ImageImageMy Kathak dance team 🙂 I love these girls. We became very close by the end of the program.

ImageMy lovely roommates and I.

ImageA few of my coworkers came to support me as well! It was so great to see them again. *Shout out to Deep Griha Society* 🙂

 

Fun times with FOOD !!

ImageThis is Manda! She was a cook at our house. She was the sweetest lady ever! And she was an amazing cook! I miss her already 😦

ImageChapati, Aloo Baji and Black Eyed Peas prepared with Indian Spices.

ImageThis was our Diwali dinner. With special sweets as a tradition. Yellow rice, aloo baji, sweets, puri, dal, tomato soup and this crunchy yogurt mix.

ImageDinner with some of my friends! My friend Ellen and Elle’s host mother invited us all over for a “street food” night. This included all different types of chaats. We ate Bhel Poori, Pani Poori and one other type of chaat. So delicious. Below are the pictures of our dishes: ImageImageImage

 

ImageThis is our late night usual. If my roomates and I came home late and were hungry, or were craving our favorites… we would order Butter Chicken, Butter Roti, and Veg Fried Rice. The best midnight snack/meal!

ImageThanksgiving time! The Alliance Staff were so generous. We had a really tasty and fun Thanksgiving. We had turkey, vegetables, biriyani, fries, mashed potatoes and more. They let all the students bake and we have the BEST desserts I have had in a while. From apple pie, parlee-g cheesecakes, to chocolate chip banana bread. It was a nice Thanksgiving away from home.

Onion Cheese Uttapam!

My Second favorite dish is a Cheese Onion Uttapam. It reminds me of a pizza and also pancakes. Pancake like batter cooked with onions, butter and cheese. You can also get tomatoes and more! During lunch breaks I would run over to my favorite restaurant, Vaishalis and get a cold coffee and a Uttapam. In India, they are considered a snack and are on the snack menus. But for me, it is a full meal! It is so filling and I cannot eat anything afterwards for a long time. I cannot wait to try and make an Uttapam at home, or find it in a South Indian restaurant. 

Ingredients:

3 cups dosa batter
8 tbsp finely chopped onions
2 tsp finely chopped green chillies
4 tsp finely chopped coriander 
1 tsp garam masala (optional)
salt to taste
4 tsp butter for greasing and cooking

Method

  1. Combine the dosa batter with little water and salt in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Heat a non-stick griddle, sprinkle a little water on it (it should sizzle immediately) and wipe off using a piece of cloth.
  3. Pour ¾ cup of the batter on the griddle, spread in a circular motion to make a 150 mm. (6″) thick uttapam and cook on a medium flame for a minute.
  4. Add 1 tsp of butter in the center, smear evenly and cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle 2 tbsp onions, 1 tsp coriander, ½ tsp of green chillies and ¼ tsp of garam masala over it.
  6. Turn over and cook on the other side till it turns light brown in colour.
  7. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make 3 more uttapas.
  8. Serve immediately with sambhar, coconut chutney and green garlic chutney.

 Enjoy! ImageImageImage

My Trip To Hampi, India

Paulina and I took a last minute trip to Hampi. We literally booked everything the day before we arrived… we were being very spontaneous. We decided to take a sleeper bus to Hampi because it was a 10.5 hour drive and we only had the weekend to go. We left on a Friday night and arrived Saturday morning; then we left Sunday night and returned Monday morning tp Pune. The sleeper bus was a double decker bus with 14 beds. It was so neat! There were doubles for two people and then singles. Paulina and I shared a double . Each bed had its own pillows and blankets. We slept most of the way. 10 hours later we arrived in Hospet and took a rickshaw to Hampi, which was a thirty-minute drive. Our driver was named “Coffee” and he was hilarious. After he dropped us off at our guest house, he told us he would give us a full day tour for one flat price. It was a pretty good deal so we took it. We checked into our guest house, freshened up and met back up with Coffee. We hopped into the rickshaw and spent the entire day with Coffee. He took us to every destination. Most people do see as many sites as we did all in one day, but we were on a time crunch so we covered just about everything…well, all the main sights at least. On the first day we toured the following places: 

•Virupaksha

•Mustered Ganesh

•Krishna Temple

•Badavi Lingam

•Under Ground Temple

•Queens Bath

•Watch Tower

•Lotus Mahal

•Elephant Stable

•Hajari Rama Temple

•Stone Car

•Vittal Temple

•Purandra Dasara Mandapa

•Varaha Temple

•Kodandarama Temple

•Sule Bazar

•Matanga Hill

•Achutaraya Temple

These places were all so amazing! For lunch we went to a local restaurant called Mango Tree. Super inexpensive and tasty. After lunch, we shopped for about an hour or two. Coffee then took us to buy bananas for the monkeys and we headed to a lovely sunset point. On our way up the hill, we fed the monkeys and took so many pictures. We watched the sunset and it was beautiful. We were on the highest point of Hampi! It was a great way to end the day. We grabbed dinner at the restaurant where we met a really cool couple. They were working in India and had worked in other countries as well. The man went to school at Georgia Tech, right down the street where I attend school at Spelman College. So random, and funny! Small world. We met another couple and group of people. Everyone was so nice. We relaxed and ate Indian food together at this very nice restaurant. 

Our second day, we decided to go across the river to the Hanuman Temple on the Hill. We took a boat across the river and decided to rent motorcycles. Everyone drives them in India and we are always on the back of them so we thought it would be no big deal to get them ourselves. WRONG! We rented the motorcycles and within 5 minutes almost crashed into so many people, trees and stores. It was terrifying so we returned the motorcycles and decided to get bicycles instead. Much better idea! We rode 6 miles to the temple in the heat of the day and then hiked up more than 600 steps to get to the top! Once we reached the top it was totally worth the hike and heat and sweat. The views were incredible. We took scores of pictures then hiked back down and rode our bikes back to the boat. We grabbed a late lunch and then packed our bags and boarded our bus back to Pune.

Paulina and I were so glad we did this trip on our last free weekend. It was worth every minute. Hampi was my favorite trip while in India. It was so relaxing, fun and we met some amazing people. 

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South Indian Cuisine Vs. North Indian Cuisine

South Indian Cuisine

•Tends to be spicier than North Indian food
•More likely to be vegetarian foods
•Use a lot of coconut in their foods
•Tend to eat more rice or rice based items with their meals 
•Dosa and Idli with Sambhar is a typical South Indian meal
•South Indian Dishes use Rampe (pandanus) leaves. These are not eaten but added while cooking to get a wonderful aroma and flavor
•The practice of naivedya, or ritual offerings, to Krishna at the Krishna Mutt temple in Udupi, Karnataka, has led to the Udupi style of vegetarian cooking in the South
•Southern Indian cuisine uses milk products, though consumed in large quantities, are usually used unaltered
•Southerners don’t face a thin-sauce problem because rice remains relatively firm when wet – and readily absorbs the seasoned liquid before the person pops a hand-held clump of rice into their mouth
 
 
North Indian Cuisine:
 
•North Indian food has a lot of yogurt and cream
•Way more non-veg options, non-veg eaters, and non-veg restaurants
•Eat more breads like naan, chapati and parathas with their meals
•Tandoori chicken and naan could be typical north indian
•North Indian dishes always use tomatoes to bring the sour taste while South Indians use tamarind mostly.
•North Indian cuisine is distinguished by the higher proportion-wise use of dairy products; milk, paneer, ghee (clarified butter), and yogurt are all common ingredients
•Common ingredients include chilies, saffron, and nuts
•North Indian cooking features the use of the “tawa” (griddle) for baking flat breads like roti and paratha, and “tandoor”(a large and cylindrical coal-fired oven) for baking breads such as naan, kulcha and khakhra; main courses like tandoori chicken also cook in the tandoor
•Other breads like puri and bahtoora, which are deep fried in oil, are also common
•The staple food of most of North India is a variety of lentils and vegetables
•Some common North Indian foods such as the various kebabs and most of the meat dishes originated with Muslims advent into the country
•Bread-eating Northerners require a thicker sauce because they use a piece of bread to scoop up the food and sauce. If the sauces were too wet, the bread would become soggy and fall apart – or the sauce would quickly flow off the bread back onto the plate or on the diner’s lap
 
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My favorite Indian dish & the recipe. Enjoy!

Pav Bhaji is an easy dish to make. I can eat it almost everyday and be completely okay with it! Thanks to our host mothers Aunt, she gave us the recipe to her Pav Bhaji and actually let us cook the dish with her in the kitchen. I encourage YOU to try making this dish and experience a few of the flavors I tasted in India. 

Recipe: 

Boil 8-10 small potatoes. Simmer chopped onions in tiny bit of oil, 8 small, or 2-3 big ones. After a few minutes, add ginger, garlic, coriander puree. Let it simmer some more, then add about a tablespoon of turmeric. Finely chop (food processor) raw carrots and one large cauliflower and green beans. Add to the simmering onion mixture. Chop 2-3 medium green peppers, add to mixture after some time. Mix 400 grams of tomato puree (or marinara sauce alternatively), butter, and boxed masala mixture in separate pan, let simmer. Mix into bigger mixture. Food process boiled green peas then add them and a tablespoon or two of salt. Coursely mash potatoes and add them last with some water. Food process 5 small tomatoes coarsely and simmer in separate bowl with more masala powder. Cut fluffy rolls in half, spread with butter, grill on both sides.

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Main ingredients: tomatoes, peas, onions, potatoes.

Travel Week… THAILAND

Travel week was such an amazing time. Alyssa, Paulina and I flew to Bangkok, and spent a few days in Pattaya and the remainder of our trip in Bangkok. We all wish we could have stayed longer because Thailand is such a beautiful and friendly country.

 

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Day 1: We arrived in Bangkok and were picked up by our personal driver who was hilarious! We drove to Pattaya, which is 1.5 hours away from Bangkok. The first day was very relaxing. We checked into our hotel, went shopping for swimsuits and food for our room. That evening, we went to an Alcazar show, which is also known as “Lady Boy” shows. The men in the show could not be identified as men. The make up and costumes were impeccable. It was such a great show; very comical at times and other times traditional dancing.

Day 2: We had continental breakfast on the hotel deck and it was a great way to start the day. So many options. After stuffing our faces, we were picked up for our Coral Island Tour. We took boats to an island that was 30 minutes away. Collectively, we decided to go parasailing. This was my first time actually. I was so scared but I really had a fun time. The water was crystal clear blue/green, and there were white sandy beaches. The water was warm, borderline hot. We swam for what felt like hours, soaking up the sun and splashing around. I decided to take a walk alone down the beach. I ended up sitting in the sand, in a part of the beach where there were hardly any people. I sat and reflected on my time thus far in India. It was so calm, quiet and peaceful. That was my favorite part about the beach. After the leaving the island, we had a fabulous lunch and headed to Nong Nooch Village. We went to an elephant show! It was so adorable. The elephants would paint, play basketball, ride tricycles, and dance to music. It was a funny sight! As soon as the elephant show ended, the traditional dance show started. We decided to stay because although the Alcazar show we went to had a few traditional dances, we wanted to see these performances in its entirety. After a long day, we had a Thai dinner on the beach, and then decided to see what all the fuss and buzz was about “Walking Street.” If you do not already know, the Walking Street is home to the biggest sex tourism area sex-industry population. They had many restaurants, bars, clubs and “ping pong shows” along the street. I will not go into detail about this at all, but lets just say it was one interesting night. Witnessing something completely new. Things that are illegal back home in the states but very legal in Thailand. It was over the top, and actually quite sad. We couldn’t wait to leave.

Day 3: We all woke up early before we had to check out. Alyssa and I got Thai massages. They were so different from the typical massages I have had before. Thai massages incorporate a lot of stretching and the masseuse gets on the massage table and uses her feet and sits on you and cracks your body, and pulls you in ways you didn’t know you could be pulled. I felt amazing afterward. It was worth it! I would do it 100 times over again. Paulina went to the beach and walked around and shopped a little more. After we checked out we headed to Bangkok! Finally! We had a free day. Our hotel in Bangkok was not in a very touristy destination, which I liked because I wanted to see the parts of Bangkok that tourists usually don’t see. Our hotel representative gave us great recommendations for restaurants and markets within walking distance from our hotel. We walked to a wholesale market and enjoyed a great lunch. At the market there was a huge food court. There was Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Islamic, Japanese, and Malaysian food. We did a little shopping after lunch of course! Later that evening we were told to go to Koa San Road. I fell in love! So many great shops, restaurants, bars, vendors, live music and more. It was a great environment. And a young crowd, which we enjoyed. Everyone who knows me knows that my favorite food in the world is Thai food, so you already know I was in heaven. I ate my heart away this night! On a budget, too. Love it!

Day 4: We woke up early and had a big breakfast because we were going to have a long day. We left for our city tour. We went to the Golden Buddha, City Palace and a few churches, temples and palaces. Everything was spectacular! Trimmed with gold and pointed roofs, the palaces were by far my favorite. The artwork, Buddha statues, and the ornate detail in all of the buildings were beautiful.

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After our city tour, we went to lunch at the places we had lunch the day before. I decided to get Thai food, again. I had an amazing Pho soup. I was in love. We went back to the hotel, took naps, relaxed, watched TV, etc. We went to dinner hours later. We tried a new restaurant near our hotel. It was so cute! It looked like an Irish pub, but with Thai and Chinese food. I decided to get the Shanghai noodles. I had never had that dish until that night… never again!!! When I tell you that my mouth was on fire… I really mean I thought I was going to die because my throat was going to close up from my mouth being swollen from the spiciness of the dish. It was that bad, yes. Not only was my dish too spicy, but so were Paulina’s and Alyssa’s. After our ridiculously spicy meals, we decided to go to the Sky Bar, which is located on the 64th floor of the hotel. Part of The Hangover movies were filmed there. I felt like royalty when I arrived. The staff were so welcoming and kind, most likely because the hotel is very famous. It was great. We waited in line for 20 minutes just to get into the elevator to go to the top floor. Once we were at the Sky Bar, we took many pictures and just stood there overlooking the entire city of Bangkok. It was a sight to see! We ended up not getting a drink at the bar because their cocktails, beers and sodas were SO EXPENSIVE. We just stood in silence for about 10 minutes and it was refreshing. Once we left the Sky Bar, we headed to Route 66, which is one of the best nightclubs in Bangkok. We had such a fantastic time! We met people from all over the world and partied with them. The club was so neat because it was divided into three different sections. First, the live rock section. There was a portion/room with a live band and a bar and it was packed. Second, all electronic, dub step, and dance music. It was my favorite because there were people from nearly every European country in there, and the lightshow, dry ice and decorations added to the great effect. Last, was the hip-hop section. I loved this area because it was the biggest section and most popular. Everyone was dancing and trying to meet us, and the live DJs were from all over the world… it was so much fun! All of these sections/rooms were next to each other but were all half inside and half outside, meaning it was pretty open. I loved that as well because it never got too hot since the breeze from the outside could be felt. That was a great day!

Day 5: We woke up early, and took a sky train to this huge market area/city, right outside of Bangkok. We met up with Paulina’s friend, an exchange student from her high school in Boston. She lives in Thailand, in Bangkok, so everything worked out well. Her name is Stella and she is the sweetest girl ever. We went shopping in at a huge market and had a blast. This market had clothes, jewelry, pet adoption with the cutest puppies and kittens and bunnies and squirrels… yes squirrels, and house decorations and much more! I got lost many times when I was there. After shopping for a while, we took a taxi to the floating market. The floating market was so neat. It’s an open market, where there are vegetables, fruits, seafood, meats, flowers, and juices for sale. It is along the rivers. Boats carrying particular items float by and you can call them over and buy things from the boat. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. We were starving by this time and decided to eat somewhere for lunch. Thinking we were going to go find a legit restaurant, we actually just sat on these little footstools along the river and waited until a boat we were “interested in” that served food, came by. I decided to have pork and noodle Pho soup. I ordered it at the boat, which is the size of two canoes, and they made my meal in front of me. I paid and they handed my food over, just like that! Alyssa had Pad Thai and Paulina had pork satay, which was delicious. Stella bought us all fresh fruit smoothies, which was so nice of her. I had strawberry, Paulina had kiwi and Alyssa had another fruit. It was a great lunch, along the river. After lunch, we took a taxi to the Reclining Buddha. It was SO MUCH BIGGER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE! When I say it was huge, I mean I couldn’t even capture it in one picture! It took me around 4 pictures just to get it all. It was so long!

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We went back to hotel and said our goodbyes to Stella and took naps. Hours later we decided to go back to Koa San Road for dinner. We went back to the same place where we ate previously on Koa San Road. I had a delicious yellow curry dish. We shopped and then went to an indoor/outdoor bar/hangout place that played loud music and was packed. We had the perfect location for our table. It was right on the line of indoor/outdoor. We made so many friends that night, danced our rear-ends off, took thousands of pictures and had a great last night in Bangkok! We didn’t even get back to our hotel until 5:30am.

Day 6: We were so tired in the morning because we had hardly any sleep. We grabbed a quick breakfast and then Alyssa and I literally ran to the mall. We bought a few last minute gifts and souvenirs, and then ran to 7-11 for snacks for the plane. We ran back to hotel, sweating, trying to check out by noon. We made it just in time! We left for the airport, which, I must say was one of the largest airports I have been to. It was very modern as well. I had a Dairy Queen Blizzard and an Auntie Anne’s Pretzel right before entering the plane. Goodbye Thailand, you were great while you lasted! 

On my next blog entry, I’ll be writing about food, and my dining and cooking experiences in India.

Powering Through the Last Weeks of School

November 1st

The last two weeks of classes have been crazy. That is why I have not blogged in a while. Final research presentations, final papers and lots of work.  Within a short period of time, I had to do the following:

Public Health: I had to write one last paper, develop and present a PowerPoint presentation on HIV/AIDS in India.

Nation, Gender and Caste Through Film: I had to write a dissertation on the movie John and Jane.

Social Entrepreneurship: I had to write a 20+-page paper and prepare a business plan on the creation of my own Social Venture.  I then had to prepare and give a 15-minute presentation on Social Entrepreneurship.

Contemporary India: I had to write a final paper.

Yes, all of this academic work (which I’ve actually thoroughly enjoyed). And then there was Halloween (India style) in the midst of writing and final presentations! Now, it is over…thankfully.

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It is now Diwali weekend, the celebration of lights, which is one of the biggest holidays in India. Our lovely host mom provided us decorations to place around the house, in addition to sparklers and firecrackers. We decorated the front doorsteps (tradition) with colored sand and used stencils for the design. They turned out to be beautiful! I was so proud of my creative effort! After decorating the house, we headed to Laxmi road to buy fun and unusual gifts and to see the mass of lights and lanterns. To compare this holiday to a United States holiday, Christmas would be my best guess. They use the same type of decorative lights and have colorful decorations everywhere. Gifts are exchanged as well during this holiday. We walked for hours, enjoyed the sights and took numerous pictures.  We then returned home and continued the celebration by lighting sparklers and setting off fireworks. I was terrified at first, but it ended up being so much fun. And there was still more to come!  We were able to get only two hours of sleep before we had to wake up at 4:00 a.m.  With big yawns and tired eyes, we were driven to a temple where people worship different Gods and Goddesses, light lanterns and release them into the sky to watch them float away. We followed suit by purchasing a lantern, lighting it and letting it float into the sky.  It was an amazing experience! I have seen people do this ceremony in different places around the world, but to personally participate in this beautiful tradition was both surreal and mesmerizing.

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We returned home around 7:00 a.m., and we went right back to sleep and did not wake up until the late afternoon. It was a great night!

The following day we went to our host mom’s aunt’s house to participate in the Pooja and decorate the inside of her house with colorful sand called Rangoli. This too, was a great experience.  I must confess that on our way back home, I felt like I was trapped in a war zone because of all the firecrackers going off and sparklers on every block. Seriously, I was terrified from the loud noise, smoke and hurling of firecrackers that seemed to surround us. But of course, my fear was short-lived and it was a lot of fun.  It was a memorable way to end the Diwali celebration.

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 Now, off to Mumbai then to Thailand for a week of exploration and excitement!