Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Culture and medicine makes for a very interesting pair. As interviews and research finally come together, an understanding of how medicine works in India becomes visible in my mind. Here, religious and cultural beliefs are just as important pieces of information as symptoms and test results. I was told that in India, held beliefs trump a doctor's orders. For example, if a Muslim is prescribed medicine during Ramazan, the doctor must plan for the medicine to be taken after sunset. When I was shown a packet of medicine for TB patients (provided for free by an Indian government program), the doctor pointed to a red capsule and told me that Jains could not take it because it was non-veg.
Additionally, I was told, there is a lack of education about western medicine, or what we know as medicine in the states. The Executive Director of the Hope Project explained to me that many people are unaware of the presence and benefits of western healthcare and instead rely on traditional and religious healers. Perhaps this opinion was biased, but he talked to me about the incredible effort put forth in medical research that allows medicine to cure the ailments of today, whereas more traditional medical practices were designed to cure the problems of the past. He stated that health problems have changed over time, leading to a lack of effectiveness of more traditional medicines. From the perspective of operating a clinic that delivers westernized care, his main concern seemed to be educating the uneducated about the availability of care and helping people develop better personal hygiene, which in itself is the cause of many health problems.
For me, this posed an interesting dilemma. Is it important to preserve the "culture" of traditional medicine or is it better to motivate everyone to seek out the ever-more-universal "western" practice of medicine? Also, although it is hard to tell how great of a threat to the health of individuals exists by maintaing more traditional practices, is there even any relevance in healthcare that is not the absolute best available? It's one thing for different cultures to have different music and traditions, but some might believe that regardless of cultural value (or lack thereof), the safety of an individual's life is the most essential thing. Besides, you have to have health to participate in and perpetuate culture.
Needless to say, I am excited to investigate this entangled relationship further as I get closer to my final writing!
Monday, August 13, 2012
In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a movie which takes place in Jaipur, Rajasthan, the main character Evelyn comments on her experience in India:
“Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.”
Muriel, an older woman staying at the same hotel as Evelyn responds by saying “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”
For me, India took my expectations, put them in a blender, and spit them out to give me the most amazing experience imaginable, or as Muriel would say ‘the good stuff’. For this reason I spent my first flight home crying, and my second one watching and re-watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Also interesting to note, I turned off the AC in the plane immediately after boarding, and the person next to me turned to say “You have obviously been in Delhi for far too long.”
I already miss my colleagues, the rickshaws, the henna, the mangoes, the smiles of the children in the basti . I have started working on my impossible mission to re-integrate to Western society. How is that I am facing more culture shock on my way back?
Below you will find a picture of the Indian food aisle at Meijer. Three words: Less than par.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
I apologize for not posting in so long. My last few days in India have been nothing short of memorable! Unfortunately, my internet access during this time was next to nonexistent, given the Indian power outages and my visit to the remote Leh.
After arriving in Delhi and visiting the Taj, I traveled to the northeastern part of the city to visit the doctor whom I had met with in Chennai at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences. I was given a tour of the facilities, allowing me to explore different facets of my project on the role of the family in mental health care. Specifically, I was able to observe and hear about mother and child unit of the Institute. This unit was created in order to allow the children of mentally unstable mothers to remain with the mothers, by providing full care for the mother. Each child and each mother are given a personal nurse assistant. I found this interesting as the Western facilities that I am most familiar with typically do not allow for a child to remain with a mother showing any signs of illness. I do not know which was is better and my personal opinion is that each case is distinct, however seeing this mother and child facility of the Institute gave me a new outlook on mental health care and goals for treatment.
For my last week in the country, I traveled to the Himalayan mountains, namely Leh, Ladakh, which is situated in the northern part of India. From the moment I stepped out of the plane (literally, this is not just an expression!), I was surrounded with panoramic vistas that are typically only seen as postcard images. While in Leh, I was graced with the opportunity to attend a teaching on Tibetan Buddhism by the Dalai Lama, visit the Leh palace, and travel to Pangong Lake. In the process of traveling the region, I became acquainted with Ladakhi culture.
To my surprise, this Ladakhi culture was extremely distinct from Delhi and Chennai. For example, the Ladkhi diet almost primarily consisted of organic and homegrown foods, as there are no large grocery stores or food markets in the area. The food was delightful!
During my final days in India, I pondered about all the different places I visited. I was able to see multiple cultures within India: southern culture in Chennai, northern culture in Delhi, Sufi culture within Delhi, and Ladakhi culture in the Himalayas. Though all in the same country, each area had its own personality and I am grateful for being able to see them all and for my time in India!
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
After being here for exactly 4 weeks, last night was the first night I really started to miss home. Not home, as in my bed, my mom, and my TV- home as in America.
I've been in India for only four weeks, four weeks in Ann Arbor would have been nothing to me- but here, I feel like I've learned enough for a lifetime. I've had every resource and opportunity here to pull my project together- and I've seen things here that I would have never been able to back home. I've sat in on counseling sessions for women who walked into the clinic and tested positive for HIV, I've sat with women who beg for abortions because their body is physically too weak to carry a child, I've talked to patients who used to have high paying jobs in the health field and now can barely afford to feed their kids. I've talked to women with TB, I've talked to women who have been trying to conceive for months and are still unable to. I've seen the look in a husbands face as his wife gives blood in the small Maitri Clinic for an HIV test. And I've listened in on counseling sessions for Army men who participate in high risk behaviors such as group sex. It's been a whirl wind of an experience but there are some things that I've learned here that no book or professor might have explained to me.
1. Pakistan and India are just an extension of each other. They are like sister countries, they have the same people, the same languages, the same culture- yet they have so much bad blood. If people would take a second to look past religious differences, politics, and learned hatred- they would see that they have more in common than any other two neighboring countries in the world.
Before the Partition, Muslims and Hindus worked to separate from the British with so much success- how could such a population that worked so harmoniously together for a revolution be split so harshly?'
I'm trying to educate myself a bit while I'm here- and it's becoming clearer to me that Indians and Pakistanis are so historically similar that even Gandhi believed they shouldn't be pitted against each other: "My whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism and Islam represent two antagonistic cultures and doctrines. To assent to such a doctrine is for me a denial of God." - Mahatma Gandhi
2. America is the melting pot- figuratively speaking of course. But that's naive to say- India is a melting pot of the historically native cultures tied to their land. It is full of different languages, religions, cultures, regional histories, and foods. The reason everyone says America is a melting pot, is most probably because it never had a culture of its own. The culture that it did have (the Native Americans) was overtaken and wiped out- making the American soil fertile for tons of new languages and skin tones. However, India- it's beautiful how you can travel 4 hours south and find people who have such a different heritage. The one difference I’ve noticed here is the divide.
In the U.S. you don’t find people who are historically tied to the land, they’ve all come from faraway places- so their loyalty is to a country far from where they are. You can turn to any single person in the States and they would find some reason to be a minority. In India- people have loyalty to their history and culture, they’ve lived alongside people of different origins, beliefs, and backgrounds- but they have remained grounded in that their culture doesn’t necessarily need meld with another’s. So you have Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Bengalis, Punjabis, Hydrabadis, Kashmiris, Hindi Speaking, South Indian Speaking, and a whole lot of everything else- all living under the same Indian name. It’s beautiful how much diversity there is- truly one of the most amazing things I’ve seen. But similarly it’s disappointing when you see people who are so tied to one name, that they can’t accept the similarity of another name right next door. Everyone here is Indian.
3. Traveling makes you wary. It makes you skeptical of everyone, it makes you question peoples motives 10 times more often than had you been at home. Maybe it has something to do with being out of your comfort zone- that you constantly have to be awake and aware of what’s going on around you, but it’s exhausting. Sometimes I return to my Som Vihar apartment late at night, and I can finally turn off all my senses. I can stop making sure my auto is taking me to the right place, I can stop checking to make sure my wallet is in the same pocket of my purse, I can stop running situations in my mind where I’m lost somewhere at night. It’s like the constant skepticism keeps your mind running 100 times faster, all day, every day, until the day you are back home again. It’s a weird feeling, cause on one hand you feel like you could so easily become addicted to traveling, and on the other you feel this huge appreciation for home- for the comfort of knowing that you’ll never be lost.
4. As cliché as it sounds, you never realize how much privilege you have until you see people with little to nothing. Maybe I didn’t realize it until I was walking late at night in Nizzamuddin, a Muslim Slum. Or maybe I realized it my first week here while I was sitting in the slums learning how to stitch from girls my age.
See, I always saw my trip as a short venture. It’d soon be over and I’d be back in my home, eating the food I like, catching up on shows on my DVR, and using my Android phone without having to prepay for minutes. But I walked around in the slum that night (don’t worry it was safe) and watched people really carefully. Everyone seemed content. They were barefoot and grabbing snacks from the snack shoppe. They had kids, they had clothes on their back, they had the bare minimum- but they were laughing, smiling, and introducing themselves to us with the little English they knew. It was possibly the most beautiful night of my trip—because it brought to light how much I have to be grateful for. If people living without shoes halfway across the world can smile at the firangi’s as they walk by, what reason do we have, as students in America to ever complain about anything- anything at all.
Only 7 days left in India- I’m trying to make use of every minute I have left!
P.S. Here’s a photo of my house keepers adorable 8 month old, she sometimes brings her along and she crawls around on my bed while dinner gets prepared. So adorable!
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Dost, and what that means to me
This week Masoom(see picture!), my volunteer coordinator, taught me the Hindi word for friend, dost. He wrote it out in beautiful script in my notebook.
I asked one of the German interns, Marlen what her favorite moment in the health clinic over the last year has been. She works in the allopathic dispensary, and she simply said, “When Fatma called me her friend”. Fatma is a 28-year-old woman from the slum from which our NGO has its roots. She speaks in broken English, and has a matching smile. Her work ethic is unbelievable, and she never misses a day, despite the fact that her mother is ill and that she has her own aches and pains. Marlen, at age 20, just graduated from high school and is in the midst of completing a year of community service abroad. They share paratha together for lunch, and go to the movies together on their Sundays off. Their friendship might be unlikely, but it is anything but unnatural.
On the theme of friendship, Happy Rakhi! Rakhi is a Hindu holiday that celebrates the relationship between sisters and brothers. Sisters typically buy a rakhi bracelet for their brothers, and the brothers reciprocate with money or a gift. I bought my best friend, my brother Deen, a rakhi, a couple days ago and am excited to give it to him when I get back home…. If only to tell him afterward that he has to reciprocate.
Hello friends and fellow voyagers!
I am so sorry for the delay in my postings. As you know, India suffered a slight hit in the power grid, and the Hope Project has not had internet and some days power. I have been really impressed at how the staff has managed to pull together and keep the clinic and school going. They haven’t missed a beat.
Last Friday I went to Jama Masjid, the biggest and arguably most beautiful mosque in India. I climbed to the top of the minaret with my friend Gautam in order to get a great view of the city. Get this, women and children are not allowed to go up there unaccompanied because it is so dangerous. It was one of the more precarious climbs I have made, but the view was 100% worth it. You could see the whole city: the ruins of old Delhi, the winding streets of Chandni Chowk, the forts that remind me of ancient Rome. As I looked out onto the horizon, a hand tapped me on my shoulder and I turned to see two of my students from the Hope Project, Happy and Meheboob! At best I only recognize 100 people out of the 16 million in this city, so I found it unbelievable that I saw two of these 100 on the top of the world in Delhi! Their smiles were incredible and their punk-prep 16-year-old selves made me want to squeeze them: they reminded me of my younger brother, who will be sixteen at the end of the month.
The last week was a flurry of interviews with the staff, observation in the pre-school, and shadowing doctors. I am in the constant process of constructing a Venn Diagram in my head on the similarities between resource-limited health clinics in the states and the Hope Project. Seeing patients in the waiting room here in Delhi really reminds me of watching mothers and children in the free Hope Clinic in Ypsilanti.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Honestly, I cannot believe day I have had. Sometimes, (mostly while I’m sitting in an auto rickshaw driving through the slums) I just take a look around and still can’t believe I’m here in India. I’ve been so blessed and am so grateful that I have the privilege to be doing this fellowship.
Today I went to the Delhi Cantonment General Hospital to do some work with a woman named Rajrani. She really is a beautiful woman- her entire life has been such a struggle, yet she still has the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. I sat with her in her office from 11am until 4pm just chatting with her about work, shopping, family, politics- everything (in Hindi!). It felt a little bit like I had finally found an “Indian Mom” thousands of miles from home. She told me in advance, Tuesdays aren’t busy- but I came anyways because, well, I didn’t think I could handle a “busy day.” But towards the end of the day, things started getting a bit rowdy. A woman who had been receiving medical care at the hospital for the past few weeks was coming in for her HIV test. Basically all the doctors had seen it coming- but the test was being done as a formality to prove her HIV+ status. I watched the woman cry as she walked into the clinic, I saw the pain in her face when the doctors told her she had HIV, and I felt the sharpest heartache as I saw her nodding her head as the doctors told her the course of action they would take. She was thin, weak, and barely alive it looked like. Her face had so many terrible marks, and while she said her age was 30- she looked almost twenty years older than that.
Never in my life would I have though that I would be able to experience what I’ve seen here in Delhi. I’ve worked with young girls in the slums- teaching them how to stitch, I’ve taught kids with tattered clothes about geography and dinosaurs, I’ve sat in beautiful houses talking to Indian Doctors about HIV health policy, and I’ve gotten to see the actual impact that policy has on women in India.
With the two remaining weeks I have left here, I plan to use as much time as I can to build my research and find out more about health policy changes by the Indian Government. Maybe health policy is exactly where all the answers to my questions are. We’ll find out soon enough!
P.S. Here is a photo from the BEAUTIFUL Taj Mahal. I got lucky because it was completely empty- which only happened because it was pouring so hard!