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.

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Laurie (and the rest of the GROW Team)

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