Monkeys and Mapping and Monsoons – Oh my!

Photo above: While mapping in the Hareshwar Vasahat, the GROW Team had their own fan club of schoolchildren following them around the village. The schoolchildren were mesmerized by the alien looking people!

These past couple of weeks blew by very fast. It was filled with high times- such as our weekend trips to Bhavnagar & Diu and Mumbai, but also filled with some low as we said our good byes to all of our new friends: Vatsal, Matt, Amanda, Irina, and most recently- Connor.

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Laurie and Brittney enjoying their chai in the hospital café.

With ongoing rains and inconsistency in transportation, our mapping project in the villages have come to standstill. So, while we’ve been waiting for the rain to go away, we got our map of Kasumbia approved by Dr. Niraj, toured the Dhiraj Hospital with a resident, found good cafeterias for chai in the hospital, and got the chance to meet Dr. Sandeep Shah, one of the professors in the psychiatric department who has worked closely with the MINDS Foundation.

Dr. Shah worked with Amul to help us come up with new projects to undertake. There were two projects we could work on: compiling mental illness patient data from the village for analysis and working on patient discharge forms for old patients who fell out of the MINDS program. Brittney and Eugene sprung for the former while Laurie and Katherine found interest in the latter. As Laurie and Katherine anxiously waited to work on the discharge forms, Brittney and Eugene pulled together data and created graphs from it. Unfortunately, there was transportation issues so Laurie and Katherine never made it out to fulfill their project.

Fortunately, Amul was awesome and stuffed the four of us into his car and took us out to the field to finish the remainder of the village we started to map- Hareshwar. We started a couple of weeks ago before the heavy rains and never got to finish. Hareshwar was more of a struggle than Kasumbia because the Vasahat (expansion of the village) was about the same size of the village and both of them had many crossroads. In total, we spent one and a half day in the Vasahat and half a day in the village.

Hanging with the villagers who found it more comfortable to approach us since Geetaben was with us. One of them attempted to kidnap Katherine, no big.

Hanging with the villagers who found it more comfortable to approach us since Geetaben was with us. One of them attempted to kidnap Katherine, no big.

Working in the Vasahat was entertaining to say the very least. The first day we went, Katherine and Eugene were mapping by the school when school was let out. All the kids ran to them and proceeded to follow the two around. When we returned to the village the second time, the kids saw us and a STAMPEDE of them ran towards us and once again they followed Eugene and Katherine around the village. Geetaben, the CMHW from Hareshwar, came with us the second time and because of this, even the adults started to gather around us. Katherine was then kidnapped by one of the village women, she grabbed Katherine by the arm and dragged her into her house telling the rest of us, “I’m keeping this one. The rest of you can leave!” The entire village followed Katherine into her house and after a couple of minutes, Geetaben went in and saved Katherine from the village people.

On the road to the entrance of the Vasahat, there is a ditch that was about two feet wide. To get over it, you either have to jump, or be cautious and step lightly on some heaps of stone or mud to get across. After such a great experience with the village people, Brittney euphorically announced to the group as we approached the ditch that “[she’s] got this!” She ran ahead of us and started to jump but at the last minute, she slowed down as she leapt and unfortunately… did not make it across. One of her feet stepped into the mud at the bottom as she got through it. As the rest of the gang howled in laughter, the village girls who were still following us decided to leap across one by one (each successfully), which made it even more comedic. Geetaben then walked Brittney to the cattle well to wash her feet as the whole village watched.

Working hard (or hardly working?) with Megha and Amul in the MINDS Office.

Working hard (or hardly working?) with Megha and Amul in the MINDS Office.

Later, while working in the actual village, Brittney and Laurie were invited to sit on a swing on the front porch of a house by a couple of older men. They were hesitant at first, but Laurie realized it was the house they’ve been in before, it was the home of the Sarpanch (Village Leader). They have visited it the first day to ask the Sarpanch for permission to work in the village. Not wanting to disrespect anyone associated with the Sarpanch (the Sarpanch was a woman, but there were only men there whom Laurie assumed was her husband and his friends), Laurie led the way and spoke to a man who spoke English and translated what we were saying to the other men. They were curious as to why foreigners were walking around their village writing down where their houses were. The girls told them they were working with the MINDS Foundation and Sumandeep Vidyapeeth University, mapping the village to help social workers figure out an effective strategy to screening for patients and providing care. They don’t think that the men quite understood their purpose, but they let the girls continue on with their projects anyway after they talked about America for a bit (and Laurie trying to convince them that she was 100% American).

Back at the office, The GROW Team was ready to take their notes and turn it into a map. Laurie and Brittney set the foundation by drawing on the main road of the village onto the poster paper. Though this simple task seems ridiculously easy, the two were getting frustrated trying to scale it with an image of Hareshwar on Google Maps. They were so frustrated, they couldn’t enjoy the moment when Katherine and Eugene burst through the doors proclaiming that they almost got attacked by a monkey. After the two had cooled down from mapping over lunch, they found the story to be friggin’ HILARIOUS (though Katherine/Eugene would call the experience traumatic). Before we continue, this story needs some explaining about the building the MINDS Office is in. The building has an open roof in the middle of the building, with the offices lining the outside. The center is an open courtyard as well, so on some occasions we’d see wildlife like lizards and walking sticks wander around. It is two floors high, and in one corner there is a spiral staircase leading up there. Back to the story- Katherine saw a monkey sitting on top of the staircase when she came back from the bathroom. She told Eugene to go check it out with her. They both ascended the stairs toward the monkey who was minding its business with its back turned to them. Suddenly, the monkey snapped its head around and glared at them. Eugene and Katherine froze

Katherine and Eugene swears this is what the monkey looked like when it attacked.

Katherine and Eugene swears this is what the monkey looked like when it attacked.

for a moment, not knowing what to do until suddenly they saw the monkey jump at them full of rage. Eugene, in a hurry to get away yelled “Katherine, FLY!” as he pushed her down the stairs. He then proceeded to jump down from the stairs, landing on all fours. The two rolled around hysterically at the bottom of the stairs when they looked up and realized that one of the maids was standing over them with her jaw on the ground (every time she sees them now she can’t help but giggle). The two of them have since proclaimed all monkeys to be evil and no longer cute.

With one week left, our Hareshwar map is finished and we are excited to do one more village before we leave. We are all in disbelief at how fast time has gone by and how close we are to the end of our time here.

GM<3,

The GROW Team

From our visit to the Baroda Palace this weekend (didn't know where else to put it this pic!)

From our visit to the Baroda Palace this weekend (didn’t know where else to put it this pic!)

Week 2 of India!

Photo above: Amul and the 2014 MINDS Interns at Gandhi's Ashram outside of Ahmedabad. Left to right: Vatsal, Connor, Amanda, Katherine, Brittney, Matt, Amul (MINDS Program Manager), Laurie, and Eugene

It was an amazing second week here at the MINDS Foundation! We redefined our understanding of humidity after the monsoons started this week. Being from Seattle, we thought we knew what rain was, but we had no idea. Monsoons also mean all the critters come out—Laurie fought a snake to the death a couple days ago when it was sitting outside Katherine and Brittney’s room one night. One of our Indian neighbors came out with a wooden staff/famed scorpion smasher and started to poke at it and Laurie took it from him and flung it off the porch. It was a moment of victory all around, and Laurie is currently looking into careers as a snake charmer.

We went into the field three times this week, all to the same village: Kasumbia. The community mental health worker in the village, Pushpaben, gave us a tour around the village and we finally got a start on our project of mapping the villages. Eugene tried to get a selfie with a cow and got sprayed with cow poop, known as a failed experiment. It was an awesome experience and we are stoked that we finally completed our first map and had it approved by Dr. Niraj, who was extremely impressed with our work. We look forward to hopefully completing four more villages by the end of our trip.

Brittney and Amanda posing for a photo with some of the locals

Brittney and Amanda posing for a photo with some of the locals

This weekend, we ventured into the old city in Baroda and explored our first bazaar. Filled with floods of people, interested stares, and tons of goods ranging from food, clothing and jewelry. Brittney met some Britney Spears fans while shopping for bangles, as she is a direct comparison to the star herself. Eugene purchased a kurta finally and all of the girls scored the best scarfs they have seen yet. With our hands full of goodies the girls headed to The Chocolate Room (a cute little dessert café) which was a scary experience in itself. This adventure consisted of Brittney nearly getting hit three times trying to cross the street to get to the rickshaw and all of the girls getting lost trying to find the destination. Laurie saved the day by spotting the billboard nearby that advertises an engagement ring claiming the importance of women because the woman will “choose your meals for the rest of your life.” Meanwhile Eugene and the other male interns made it back safely and enjoyed some food ordered in (from Delfoo.com, our new favorite food delivery website).

DSCN0236[1]The pleasant addition of the new MINDS fellow, Connor, a few days ago helped to even out the lopsided gender imbalance. Taking advantage of his company, we all ventured off on an excursion in search of some much-needed chicken. After 2 weeks of protein withdrawal symptoms, we finally found the coveted Barbecue Nation. Eating like a famished herd of foreigners forced to eat curry every day, we demolished the buffet-style restaurant and wolfed down pound after pound of various styles of chicken, (strange) cheese, and all-you-can-eat dessert. We ate like royals and walked out feeling like victorious sumo wrestlers, ready to tackle the next round of the battle against vegetarianism with confidence.

The schoolkids in their yellow uniforms all wanted to practice their English with the MINDS Interns

The schoolkids in their yellow uniforms all wanted to practice their English with the MINDS Interns

While living in a film studio can be entertaining, it sure can get pretty damn boring. As a result, we happily set our alarms for 6am and crammed into vans for a 2 hour ride into the city of Ahmedabad. At the end of the bumpy ride, we stopped at a fine-looking Swaminarayan Temple. After exploring all (there were a lot) of the exhibits and watching a documentary in Hindi, we took our Swaminarayan infused bodies to the Adalaj Stepwall. Built in 1499 by Muslim King Mohammed Begda for his wife, we climbed, ran, and jumped all over the five-story building. While walking around the roof of the building, Brittney, Amanda, Eugene, and Vatsal were approached by a herd of enthusiastic and welcoming schoolchildren, excitedly flooding the group with questions about America and practicing their impressive English. After failing to convince them that Jackie Chan was Eugene’s uncle, the kids gave us a good laugh by asking if Eugene was Brittney and Amanda’s brother. The next and final stop of the day was at one of Gandhi’s ashrams, where we toured his house, learned how to spin the famed khadi, and admired his inspiring life.

We came back “home” exhausted that night. After a “surprise” meal of Mexican food (our first choice of Mexican food ran out, then our favorite (sarcasm) restaurant Foodies wouldn’t pick up the phone, so Laurie. Eugene, Matt, and Vatsal surprised everyone by buying Mexican food from another restaurant on Delfoo.com. told you we liked this place), we all sleep like logs. We woke up the next morning welcoming the heavy downpour because it’d buy us a couple more hours of sleep. However, as the day continued we hated being stuck at Laxmi Studios. The rain has been continuing ever since but we decided to brave out the rain and head over to Big Bazaar to stock up on snacks, tea, and other goodies (and get chicken at McDonald’s). On our way back though, we took a rickshaw with Brittney sitting on Katherine and Eugene’s laps. It was so wet, Laurie and Katherine who were sitting on the outside of the rickshaw were drenched on the side of their legs. The rickshaw hit a bump once and we all thought the rickshaw was going to tip over with Brittney falling out the side. We made it home safely, but the rickshaw driver took the opportunity to overcharge us even more than agreed upon (we agreed for 150 rupees, but when Laurie paid him he asked for 20 more).

Sending our love from the very wet India,

The GROW Team

PS. Eugene has started a cult.

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Week 1 in India!

Photo above: This is the MINDS Summer Volunteers group. From left to right: Matt, Vatsal, Amanda, Laurie, Brittney, Katherine, Irina, Eugene, and Amul (Program Manager) This is the MINDS Summer Volunteers group. From left to right: Matt, Vatsal, Amanda, Laurie, Brittney, Katherine, Irina, Eugene, and Amul (Program Manager)

Amul, the MINDS Program Manager. He's such an amazing individual and takes really good care of us!

Amul, the MINDS Program Manager. He’s such an amazing individual who is also a master of yoga and friggin’ badass! His son is also adorable and we all can’t wait for the opportunity to babysit for him.

Our first week here in India has been exciting to say the least. There has been a lot of adjusting we had to do. Not only do we have to deal with the 90+ degrees and humidity, the loud horns from the highway, dogs barking (and wailing) at 3AM at night, we still are getting used to the fact that we are in a whole other country where people have not seen people like us before (thus a lot of staring) and we can’t expect everyone to speak and understand English.

Most of the pictures posted here are from last Thursday, when we took a day trip to Champaner and Pavagadh.

Champaner was the capital of Gujarat under Sultan Mahmud Begada from 1848 until after his death in 1535 when it was shifted back to Ahmedabad by Mughal Emperor Humayun. During his reign, Mahmud had developed the area and made it one of the grandest towns in all of Gujarat. DSCN0067
We visited the mosque that was built there for the town, and afterwards visited the mosque that was built for Mahmud himself (this is information that I got from a Gujarat travel guide that a nice shop keeper gave us after we stormed the place for colorful Indian clothing, but that’s a story for later).

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Eugene is so insightful.

Pavagadh was fun. I got sick on the way to the top because the Hindu Mahakali Temple sits on the top of the hill. In order to get to it, Amul drove us up mountains and then we took a cable car. I thought we were there after the cable car, but you have to keep going up through the village and then climb even more steps to the top. It was great (sarcasm). Myths say that Pavagadh Hill rose from the cow of Rishi Vishwamitra who was blessed with an inexhaustible supply of milk who fell into a gorge. She couldn’t get out because it was so steep, so she filled the gorge with milk and swam to safety.

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Holy cow! Yep, cows really do walk freely in the streets.

The sage didn’t want that to happen again, he prayed to the gods to help level the field. The gods answered by taking a chunk of the Himalayas and putting it in the middle of the Gujarat plains (again, I read this from the tourist book). At the temple, Katherine apparently rung a bell. She emerged with some red dots on her forehead looking super excited and yelling, “I’ve been blessed!” I was with Brittney and Eugene, and it was funny watching them force Brittney to drink out of the coconut. Brittney says that it was awkward since her coconut didn’t have any juice and they kept forcing her to drink. Eventually they broke another coconut and pour the juice into her coconut and to this day Brittney swears it’s one of the worst things she’s ever had. When Eugene and I got to them, they forced us to hold out our hands and gave some to us, and I can attest- it is SO GROSS. Then they stamped red marks on our foreheads (that took me FOREVER to wash off) and sent us on our way.

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Dr. Niraj (right) uses an example map to show us how we should strategize documenting the landscape of the villages. Left to right: Matt, Vatsal, Amul, and Dr. Niraj.

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We saw a monkey after the meeting with Dr. Niraj roaming the halls of the building. Makes you wish you went to school here, huh?

On Friday, we visited the MINDS office for the first time since being here. We had a meeting with Professor Niraj who went over out project with us. Since the medic mobile project is not yet ready, our team will be helping the MINDS Foundation by tracking the homes in each of the villages to be used for mapping out patients and campaign strategies. Yesterday, Katherine, Brittney, and I got to visit the village of Anandpura and take a tour of the village and meet a couple of the residents. Since Eugene was not able to go yesterday because there wasn’t space in the car, he’s out there today with Matt and Vatsal helping the social workers with their campaigning.

In our free time, we have grown fond of Bollywood and sit and watch videos as we perform other tasks, such as journaling and playing the 2048 on our phones. Seriously, Bollywood rocks- look up “Saturday Saturday” from Humpty—– (blanks mean I don’t remember what the name is) and “Hangover” from Kick. It is awesome! Eugene, Brittney, and Katherine have also been picking up some sweet dance moves that I’m sure they can’t wait to share with everyone at home. Please ask them about it if you get the chance.

GM<3,
Laurie (and the rest of the GROW Team)

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