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!)




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