“You wanna go to Mumbai this weekend?” “Sure!”

Photo above: Gateway of India in Mumbai at night.

A trip that was planned last minute, literally on Friday before we would leave Saturday morning the four of us, along with Connor by our side, made a 3 day trip to Mumbai.

Us with Megha's AWESOME friend, Anagha, who showed us around Mumbai.

Us with Megha’s AWESOME friend, Anagha, who showed us around Mumbai.

At the butt-crack of dawn, with only about 3 hours of sleep, we all arose at 5am in order to make our train at 7:45. This may have been a bit of a precaution considering that we arrived at the train station with an hour to spare. When the train finally arrived, we were more than happy to enjoy our double decker train that brought through many tempting cups of tea and coffee, and the most memorable “tomattooooo soupppp”. Katherine and Brittney were more than happy to enjoy the cutest little kid ever whom at first was terrified of the foreign white people, but by the end was continuously playing and peeking at them through the seats. After 5 long hours of train riding we all had arrived at the Central Mumbai Station. Full of confusion and squinty eyes we made it outside the heavenly gates to be greeted and bombarded with taxi drivers all trying to drive us to our hotel. After some arguing and bargaining, we all 5 climbed into one taxi.

Once we arrived at the hotel, it was time to explore the city. We walked for about 30 minutes

Shut up. Starbucks is in our blood.

Shut up. Starbucks is in our blood.

in search of the famous Café Leopold, this café had been one of the spots under attack during the 2008 terrorist attack. As soon as we walked in, we knew it had to be good. The restaurant’s dishes covered anything from a hamburger, Singapore noodles, to Eugene and Connor’s personal favorite Tandoori Chicken. After our bellies were full and happy we headed over to Starbucks, like the Seattleites we are, and grabbed some warm coffee. At last we made our way to the Gateway of India which was created for King George V and Queen Mary’s arrival. It was here that Brittney was able to get mehndi done by the cutest little girl, whom also gave advice to Laurie to watch her bag. We all ended the night by meeting with Megha’s friend Anagha whom showed us around and took us to an amazing bar that not only served beer, but also served delicious chicken (much different from our home in Vadodora which is both dry and vegetarian) and later showed us the Queens Necklace in the pouring monsoon rains!

Brittney getting henna done by a sweet little girl.

Brittney getting henna done by a sweet little girl.

Sunday morning we all woke up and met Anagha again, who would spend the day showing us around the city. The day was filled with lots of shopping and bargaining at the flea market, FabIndia, and an art museum. Katherine, Brittney, and Laurie found all kinds of goodies and blew most of the cash in their wallets while Eugene and Connor got majestically matching Indian shirts. Laurie whipped out her inner Asian (basically channeling her mom) and bargained with the vendors like it was nobody’s business. Brittney and Katherine lacked a little on their bargaining skills and stuck close to Anegha for bargaining guidance. FabIndia still haunts all of the girls’ dreams, as they are constantly thinking about going to a nearby FabIndia that will live up to the amazing store in Mumbai. After a full packed day and Anagha’s fabulous guidance we were able to catch a public train to her area of the city and visit her home. It was here that for the first time we had our first Indian street food.

Connor getting his head massaged.

Connor getting his head massaged.

We tried vegetable sandwiches, buns filled with fried potatoes, and panipuri. During this time, Eugene and Connor found it necessary to get a head massage by a street barber. This consisted of a bit of head banging which seemed utterly terrifying, followed by some light head massaging, a neck crack, and a little back massage. The boys finished their adventure feeling somewhat satisfied, but mostly terrified.

With a restful night of sleep we all arose on Monday morning sad to leave. Mumbai is large and great and every single one of us would love to go back soon. Until next time Mumbai, Aavjo!


The GROW Team



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.


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.


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.




DSCN0011We have all SURVIVED! After a day of traveling- where Eugene almost missed the flight,Katherine met a borderline alcoholic Irish man, Brittney fought an Indian lady for her armrest, and Laurie spent $8 on a Starbucks frappe in Dubai- we have all arrived in Vadodara. Raghu (Founder & CEO of MINDS) picked us up at the airport and was driven home by two vans (Eugene rode with our luggage in one, and Raghu, Laurie, Katherine, and Brittney rode in the other). The sights were overwhelming- we saw cows, donkeys, and dogs walking around the street, gross inequality (big houses fronted by shacks), and lots and lots of motorbikes and rickshaws. The air was also filled with the smell of cow dung and incense and loud car horns of various pitches and melodies.
Once we arrived, we were brought yogurt, water, and a Gujarati snack wrapped in newspaper. There’s geckos on the walls and the bathrooms slightly resemble medieval torture chambers. We were told we had the entire day to rest, and what was intended to be a 1-2 hour nap accidentally turned into an 8-hour nap (oops).
At night, while attempting to sleep there were an immense amount of various noises ranging from honking horns (which sometimes resembled music), birds chirping, people outside talking, and best of all a pack of stray dogs barking ferociously at monkeys during the wee hours of 3AM.DSCN0008

After an uneasy night of sleep, we rose at 6AM and were more than ready to go out and explore the city. Our first stop was the Seven Seas Mall. We were ever so lucky to all share an entertaining ride in one rickshaw (what Eugene called an “Ostrich Cart”) for 100 rupees, which caused Brittney to have to sit on both Laurie and Katherine’s lap in order to make room. Many of the locals were shocked to see Americans, since many have never seen an American in person, one man walking next to our rickshaw stopped to do a double take. Getting used to the staring has been quite the adjustment, and will most likely continue to be. In the mall we were able to eat lunch at McDonalds that included real chicken! Along with our meal we were able to do a little shopping in a store that can be considered a Walmart/Costco called “Big Bazaar”, where Laurie, Katherine, and Brittney were all able to buy some traditional Indian clothing for very cheap.

Beyond the couple of activities and events these past couple of days, the overall experience has been pretty strange to say the least. First of all, this blog post is currently being written in the dark because the power enjoys going out at the worst possible times. Also, the food is eerily simple; we had no idea there were so many different ways to make a curry that tastes just about the same. We’re still betting to see who is going to “get sick” first and apparently Brittney is in the lead (yay for pink pills). Anyways, on a happier note, we are staying in an old film studio and we are living next door to a really badass Indian soap opera star (luscious long hair and an awfully strong love for cigarettes). The amount of estrogen is also really frickin’ high.


PS. I am a whale

Preparing for GROW

In the week leading up to their Grassroots Onsite Work (GROW) Internship, our GROW interns are writing about their thoughts, hopes, and fears for the trip. Here, GROW Coordinator Katherine reflects on preparations for GROW.

India is a place of contradictions – it’s a country containing the 6th largest number of billionaires and 1/3 of the world’s 840 million hungry people simultaneously. Despite being the world’s largest democracy, an estimated 100 million people are treated as objects and involved in trafficking according to former Indian Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta. For everything going right or wrong in India, there always seems to be something to contradict it.

Knowing all this, it’s difficult to know what to know what to expect when we land in Vadodara in a little more than a week. That’s not to say we’re going completely unprepared – we have all spent inordinate amounts of time preparing for and attending weekly GROW meetings over the last 6 months, in which we’ve talked about toilets, the caste system, vulnerabilities, and yoga. We made identity pies, we ate naan, and we perfected the group hug. I couldn’t be more confident in the abilities of our team, yet I still can’t help but feel like I have no idea what I’m getting myself into. Slowly but surely, I’m learning that the most important thing we can take with us is the willingness to be wrong.

As the inaugural GROW team being sent to the MINDS Foundation, this year’s interns will establish the partnership and work towards fostering the longer term relationship that sets us apart from most medical mission trips. We’ll see our projects in action and hopefully develop a better understanding of our place in it all. We’ll witness the brilliant people that make MINDS run, humbly taking it all in and hoping to absorb wisdom that we can relay back to the chapter. When we return in the fall, all of us will be better prepared to help our chapter grow and improve (and will undoubtedly possess a newfound appreciation for toilet paper).

At this point, we’ve done about all we can do to prepare for this trip. I’ve surrendered to the fact that the more I learn about India, the less I understand it. It’s going to be overwhelming, challenging, and rewarding all at the same time, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the adventure my beloved GROW team is about to undertake.