Tuesday, August 7, 2012

So Much Work, So Little Time

As I sit here in my hotel room in Delhi on my very last night in India, I can't help but feel...............super excited about going home. Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely grateful for the experiences I've had in India and for the opportunity to come here, but being here has made me even more grateful for the privileges we have (and take for granted) in the good ol' US of A. But that's a post for another time. For now, let's have a recap (or rather, a first post) about the projects we worked on during our time in this country.

GLOW Girls: One of the first projects I worked on when I got here was the GLOW Girls group (Girls Leading Our World). Alee was the project lead on this and she did a great job. This group was set up to help girls in the slums ages 10-17 start to realize their potential. The sessions covered topics from having dreams and setting goals to understanding the female body. Unfortunately it was cut a little short due to us being able to work out a good time to have these sessions in the slums. But it was still awesome while it lasted!

Alcohol/Tobacco Classes: Alcohol and tobacco use/abuse is a huge problem all over India, but especially in the slums where people are barely scraping by on their income as it is. Men and women (but especially men, it seems) spend a good portion of their daily earnings on these substances without realizing the negative impact it has on them and their families in areas ranging from health to finances. Katrina lead these classes where we taught them about why these things are harmful and ways to overcome these addictions.

MVF Sports Day: One day for a Friday service project, I headed up a sports day where we brought a bunch of equipment with us and taught a boys bridge camp how to play various sports. Bridge camps are set up to get children out of child labor, catch them up in what they should have been learning had they gone to school, then send them out into public school system once they're up to speed. It's a really cool program. For this project the boys LOVED learning and improving their sports skills.

LEPRA Case Studies: One organization we worked with a little was LEPRA - a non-profit started in the UK originally to tackle leprosy, then expanding to work on other communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, lymphatic filiarisis, etc. One thing they needed was a native English speaker to revise and edit case studies people from their office had written about various patients. This turned out to be one of my less favorite projects because it was more a time filler than anything. But it gave me good experience in working with non-profits.

Girls Count: One of the projects I lead was female maturation classes we taught to girls ages 11-17 years attending schools in the slums. A major problem in poorer regions (such as the slums - go figure) is that the topic of maturation and menstruation is very taboo so there are lots of misconceptions and stigma surrounding this topic. This leads to societal problems, infections, etc in adolescent girls. At first I was a little nervous about how these classes would go over because the schools skip over these chapters in their curriculum so the girls have next to no knowledge about the physiology of their bodies. I was greatly relieved/surprised/thankful that these classes went so well! In each class that we taught, the girls were extremely open to this topic by the end of the lesson - asking questions and coming up to talk to us. And the schools kept expressing their gratitude to us for coming and teaching the girls about maturation. It turned out to be one of my favorite projects I worked on!

LEPRA Instructional Video: Skylar has some awesome raw talent for cinematography so he was signed up to make an instructional video on diagnosing, treating, and caring for patients with leprosy. This started out really strong, but as more and more projects started piling up, he wasn't able to spend as much time on it so he's still trying to get the finishing touches completed even though he'll have to finish it in the US. I got to go with him while he was filming and it was really fascinating to see first hand the things I've learned in classes about this disease.

School Murals: School attendance is always a struggle in this country. One of the large reasons for this is that kids have no desire or motivation to go due to lack of stimulation there aside from the teacher lecturing. The extremely talented Kendra headed up this project. We painted the inside of several schools in the slums to include murals, letters, numbers, fruits, etc. It turned out great and kids even showed up for school on the days where there were no classes because they were so excited to be there!

Soilets: The main organization we worked with this summer was SAPID (anytime we worked in the slums, it was through SAPID). They are such an inspiring grass-roots NGO and I look forward to working with them more in the future. They had an idea for a big project that would require obtaining a fairly hefty grant through some charity or other non-profit. Brook wrote a grant proposal to LDS charities and was awarded a grant to build 25 soilets (a very environmentally friendly, India-friendly, sustainable, multi-purpose type of toilet) in the slums. Skylar headed up this project and it took nearly all of his time (including free time). Eryn, Alee, and I were each site managers over one of the three slums we put these soilets in. There wasn't enough time to get them all finished before Skylar and I had to leave, but we left the project in good hands to finish before the summer's end.

All in all, it turned out to be a very busy summer we've had here in India. The first couple of weeks were pretty slow going as we tried to find our niche and figure out which organizations we wanted to work with and what we wanted to do. That was really frustrating because we just wanted to jump right in and get our hands dirty. But it taught us a lot about how to work in these situations and the best ways to work with various NGOs to get the most accomplished. We're very tired, but feel very satisfied with what we were able to do these past couple of months.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ahhh, Hampi

A few weekends ago ten of us ventured over to Hampi, a city famous for its ancient ruins in the neighboring state of Karnataka.

Getting there was full of adventures including sharing seats on the train, meeting attractive French men who actually made me LIKE French people, peeing over open train tracks while trying NOT to pee all over myself, and finally arriving stinky and tired, but very excited.

The ancient temples were beautiful and it was so interesting to learn a little bit about an old civilization that lasted only brief time. One morning we even got to participate in bathing Lakshmi, the revered elephant of one of the temples. After her bath and “dressing” we got to receive her blessing. A lot of it was done for the show and money, but how many times do you get to bathe and be blessed by an elephant in India, I ask you?

We ate delicious food in places overlooking a river that looks like I imagine it did thousands of years ago. At one point, we got dinner AND entertainment at the Mango Tree when a huge snake fell out of the tree and onto Eryn, another intern. Things are just never boring in India.

When it was time to go home we were pretty reluctant. Partly because we loved it there and wanted to see more, but mostly because heading back we didn’t have ANY seats on the train and had the pleasure of enduring a 12 hour stinky, bumpy, hot-then-freezing-cold INDIAN bus ride full of creepy, drunk Indian men who liked to sit too close to us and puke out windows.

One good thing did come of it though. I mastered the art of relieving my bladder in public leaving none the wiser. If ever you need some tips on that matter, I'm your girl. And yes, I realize that pee is referenced a lot in this post. Just go with it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Little Bit of Indian Culture

The past two weeks have been full of learning experiences, to say the least. I love getting to experience the true culture of places I visit - far more than the "culture" that you see on TV or experience in tourist areas. I don't know how all of India really is, but here are just a couple things I've seen here in Hyderabad in the south:

Rickshaws and Roads. Rickshaws are like 3-wheeled "mini taxis" and it's the type of transportation most people here use if they're going somewhere too far to walk, but too short to endure the bus (Though buses are very inexpensive to ride, they're outrageously crowded here and often don't come to a complete stop. They're referred to as "running buses" for that reason. They're super uncomfortable and you typically only take them if you're going a distance farther than half an hour away.) Rickshaws are also known as "ricks" or "autos" and they're definitely not built to transport several large Americans at once - but we do it anyway.

Autos are the little yellow 3-wheeled vehicles. 

They break down all the time. Our driver was actually kind enough to give a fellow auto driver a "push" while we were driving one time.

The roads are always very crowded and the pollution is awful. I suppose there are technically traffic laws, but they mean nothing here. Lines are ignored, stoplights are only obeyed if the police are there to enforce it, and horns are actually used more as a courtesy to let someone know you're near them than as a tool to tell someone they've pissed you off. Needless to say, with as many people as are one the road (both walking and riding), horns are a constant sound here. It's gotten to the point where they all just blend together for me and I don't even hear them anymore. 

This was at a point where the stop lights were actually being obeyed so the intersection is clear for once.

The roads (called "lanes" here) are super crowded and there are so many people walking that crosswalks (if they exist at all) are never used. My first day here, it felt like we were in the video game Frogger trying to get across a highway. It freaked me out the first day or two, but now we're all pros at crossing an extremely busy street. I've learned it's best not to really look to hard before crossing, or else you'll lose your nerve. Motorcycles are also everywhere, usually with at least 2 or 3 people on them (sometimes up to 5 or 6). I'd say for every car and rickshaw, there are close to 2 motorcycles or mopeds around here.

West Marredpally Road, the area of town where we live in Secunderabad.

Shopping. Buying most things in India is a whole new experience. Most of the things we buy are from little markets along streets, and most of the things you buy from there are bartered. Unless the price is already given on a price tag, you can usually expect to haggle WAY down whatever price the seller offers. Many people here think that all Americans are rich, so they typically tell you a price that's about twice what it should be. We have a few favorite places to shop for clothes and cool items around here - namely James Street Bazaar, Charminar, and Shilparamam Crafts Village. But you really have to be firm, or you'll get  ripped off big time.

James Street. Shop after shop of haggling goodness. 

Charminar. It used to be a mosque, but is now mainly a tourist attraction with loads of shops in the surrounding streets.

 Charminar is pretty much the bangles capitol of the world!

Inside Craft Village. Ganesh is a very popular god around here.

Though the majority of the population can barely afford to survive, the top 20 or 30 percent of Indians LOVE their malls! There are probably 4 or 5 big malls just around Hyderabad. Their stores are very American-ized and so are their prices. Nothing is cheap at the malls here (except for KFC, which a few bucks cheaper than in the states). And they're big on security all over the place too, with full on metal detectors and areas to be patted down outside of entrances to most large buildings. It makes sense that they would be though, considering all the dangerous countries surrounding us in India.

Seriously, 5 stories worth of mall right here. 

A typical security checkpoint outside a large building.

All in all, India is great. A lot of the stereotypes are true, which is really funny, and a lot of things are way more intense than I could have imagined. But we're loving the experience!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

India At Last

Man oh man, what a week (or two weeks, or actually closer to MONTH) we've had! A little history:

I was looking for an internship just because (I didn't need it for school, I just wanted to do it), and I love travelling, so I decided I wanted to do an international internship. Around March, Skylar and I were accepted to go to India with Help-International, and at the last minute I decided not to make it an internship (due to so much paperwork I just didn't feel like doing), but just to go as a volunteer.

In order to get ready for this adventure over the last few months, we needed to do the following:

-I needed to finish classes and apply for graduation (and all that goes with it)
-Skylar needed to make preparations and hire the right people so his company could continue without him there for two months
-We needed to do all the paperwork and legal stuff involved in living in another country for a couple months
-We needed to pack our apartment
-We needed to MOVE all our stuff to 4 different locations for various reasons
-Tons of other things that I'm forgetting right now because I've gotten a total of about 10 hours of sleep in the last 5 days

And now a run down of what we've encountered over the last week:

Wednesday (June 13): Took finals, completed research project, finished packing apartment, laundry, packed for India.

Thursday (June 14): Got to the airport by 6:30 and found out our long flight from DC to Dubai had been cancelled. Spent the next 3 hours at the desk with two United Airlines employees trying to find another flight/route for us to get to Hyderabad, but everything was booked or a week out. Finally found a long way to get there (SLC to Chicago to Jersey to Delhi, over night in Delhi then onto Hyderabad). We were told our flight to Delhi would get in at 8:30 pm on June 16 and our flight from Delhi to Hyd would leave the next morning at 6:30 am so we’d need to get a hotel.

Friday (June 15): Airport by 7:30 and successfully made it to Chicago. Got on the next plane in Chicago and as we pulled back from the terminal, the auxiliary motor broke. The air stopped working and we were stuck on a very hot, completely full plane on the tar mat for an hour, which meant our flight was delayed an hour. We finally got in the air and touched down in Newark, New Jersey literally 10 minutes before our flight from Newark to Delhi was supposed to leave. We got off the plane as fast as possible and BOLTED across the airport to our next gate. We got to the gate at exactly 8:30 (when the plane should have been taking off) only to find that that flight had been delayed an hour. SO WE MADE IT!!! We got on the plane to Delhi and though our seats were on opposite sides of the plane, a very nice guy agreed to switch seats with me under the pretense that I was deathly afraid of flying over the ocean (especially on a 14 hour flight) and needed to be by my husband.

Saturday (June 16): The flight was very long, but thankfully uneventful (other than the fact that my feet and legs swelled up HUGE and are still swollen as I write this 3 days later). We landed an hour late in New Delhi and were worried that the cab driver we hired to pick us up and take us to our hotel would be gone already. Our suspicions were right…or so we thought. We were told in Salt Lake that we wouldn’t need to get our checked bags, but rather the airport would automatically transfer them to the plane we’d be taking the next morning to Hyd, however I overheard another woman being told to get her bags. We followed suit and got ours. We headed through immigration and customs and made it out to the exit of the airport and couldn’t find our cab driver anywhere. We called the hotel and they told us he was waiting for us at gate 5. We looked again, but couldn’t find him so we opted to take a regular cab from the airport to our hotel instead. When we got there, however, the hotel was horribly upset that we had taken a regular cab because that meant we had left their driver at the airport. They were very unhappy with us the rest of the time we were there (a whopping 4 hours before we had to leave for the airport again). We tried explaining that we searched, but no one was there holding a sign with our name on it. We believe the hotel actually got us mixed up with another couple and that was the name their driver was holding because they thought we were someone else when we tried checking in. We finally got in and got to our room (which had some interesting quirks), and realized we didn’t have any way of waking up in 2 hours to get back to the airport. Reluctantly, we called the front desk and they agreed to a wake up call.

Mmmm juicy.

No beef in most of india. Not even at McDonald's in the airport in Delhi. But doesn't a chicken big mac sound appealing?

FINALLY on the plane to Hyderabad, India!

Sunday (June 17): We got up at 3:30 and had all of 5 minutes to get ready before the front desk was hounding us to get down to our cab (even though we reserved it to pick us up at 4:00). We got to the airport and tried walking in to get our new boarding passes (United Airlines had to pay the extra $1,200 for our new route since it was their fault our flight was changed. They issued us a receipt for a new boarding pass to get in Delhi), but the MILITARY guard at the door sent us down to another area to get the tickets. Once at the new desk, we were informed that the tickets purchased by United were actually for the flight the night before which was scheduled to take off before our plane from Newark even landed! We were given incorrect information from United about the flight AND about our bags! If we had left our checked bags and gone on to the hotel, they would have been lost because there was no way they could have been transferred to Hyderabad on the flight we were scheduled for that night (quite the blessing that we figure out we were supposed to pick them up). So where United dropped the ball repeatedly, Air India (the airline taking us from Delhi to Hyderabad) saved the day. They issued us new tickets for the very next flight, no questions asked! We got on the 6:30 am flight, and safely made it to Hyd where Brooke (our country director) was waiting for us.

FINALLY in Hyderabad - looking rough.

So there’s our past week’s journey in getting India. It was quite the adventure!

Since we got in on Sunday, we’ve: eaten AMAZING, DELICIOUS, INCREDIBLE food everyday; had a very long training meeting; become acquainted with our neighborhood; and met with a couple of partner non-profits we’ll be working with this summer.

Our neighborhood.

Don't worry, it's just deity coming through.

There are some pretty awesome projects we’re looking into working on including (these are all possibilities at this point – nothing is set in stone): building an elementary school in the slums, creating a water filter/sanitation system in the slums, teaching health classes, planting tree farms, planting square foot gardens, working with an organization who specializes in TB, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and leprosy doing data analysis and a video to show the process of leprosy treatment from start to finish, and so much more.
When we have more time, I’ll be posting more pictures of our adventures. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top 10 Tuesday

Sometimes when I talk to people about marriage, the topic of the first year of marriage being so hard/so great comes up. I typically mention the fact that the first year of our marriage was very different than a lot of other people's because we faced some intense challenges that most don't face for a while.

Sometimes I get stressed about work because out of the 3 people who have my position, I get the worst schedule most weeks.

Sometimes I get frustrated because I'm a little overweight due to the fact that I have way too much good food at my fingertips and I don't go to the really great gym I have a membership at as often as I should.

Then every once in a while I take a step back and laugh at myself because my life is so easy, but I usually find stuff to complain about.

This is a post about first world problems. (Click the link. You won't regret it.) In light of my most recent "I've-taken-a-step-back-and-counted-my-blessings" experience, here's a Top 10 List of my very "difficult" first world problems:

1. I ate too much at lunch so I wasn't hungry again until almost 10 pm. I hate eating right before bed.
2. My water heater only provides enough water for me to shower and shave one of my legs. It gets slightly cold while I'm shaving the other leg.
3. I'm up too late doing homework for my classes at the really good university I go to for free. Now tomorrow's gonna be SOOO long.
4. My brita water filter pitcher only holds enough water for 3 glasses before it has to be filled up again.
5. My garbage disposal only works half the time.
6. My car used to get 35 miles to the gallon but has only been getting 29 lately.
7. One of my socks has a giant hole in the heel so my foot keeps getting stuck when I put on/take off my tennis shoes.
8. I have a good job with a good boss and good coworkers, but I've had to work every Saturday for the last 2 months.
9. We have to take time to make meals at home because it's too expensive to eat out all the time.
10. I have to scrub my dishes nearly completely clean before I put them in the dishwasher because it doesn't work very well.

Hard life, right? What's your top 10?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You Know You Want to Go See Us...

A fun blog I like to read (Gwen In Love) called for everybody to send in their love stories so they could feature a few. And because we're so awesome, Skylar's and my love story was picked! It's being featured here today, so go see us over there!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Here, Turkey Turkey!

Apparently I'm really bad at remembering to take pictures, but believe me, Texas was a blast! We were there from Saturday night to Friday morning and managed to pack in a bunch of family and a few friends. I'm so glad we had the chance to go back home for Thanksgiving and I'm super glad that next year we'll be back in Texas for good so we'll get to experience all holidays again in the promised land!

On the way down, my new pair of contacts started irritating my eye so I had to take them out and wear glasses. With my new contact system, however, I wasn't able to just throw my contacts in my bag and go because the case has to be held upright due to a hole in the top which allows air to enter (I learned this the hard way when I had a surprise of acidic liquid all over everything in my bag from my holey contact case). I was ready to just toss those contacts and wear only glasses the whole trip, but Skylar was good to me and carried them just like this the ENTIRE trip (including a layover in Denver). He said he did it because Bella couldn't wear glasses to her premiere (don't worry, we'll get to that).


 Just enjoying a little Breaking Dawn dress up when going to see the movie with my two sisters and Husband. Please note the expression on my oldest sister's face right behind me. That's pretty much how she felt about the whole night. Or so she says...
Also, doesn't Skylar resemble Herman Munster rather than Edward? Either way, he looked SO good - white body paint, glitter hairspray sprayed all over his body, and all.

Heading back to Utah.....but for the last time!

Once we got home, I decided to let go of my pride and put up Christmas decorations (I am NOT a big Christmas fan because people become mean and crazy this time of year). Last year after Christmas I bought a bunch of decorations on sale including an awesome FAKE tree (that's how we roll around these parts). This year, when I pulled it all out and started setting up the tree, the dang thing was HUMONGOUS and would NOT be fitting in our little apartment. So I ran up to walmart and bought a $20 tree that was just the right size for our little place. Dang tree.

Seriously, compare these two beasts. The new one (which isn't tiny - it's 6 ft) is the box on the top. The original one is on the bottom. How did I not realize that thing was HUGE?!

The final product including Sid, the Christmas-Watch-Dino. Is that stupid tree leaning? Dang it.