Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Coorg: Dubare

Coorg… where you can hear no airplanes passing overhead day or night. You rarely hear the car-horns which are so frequently used in the cities. No roads can be seen from the hill-tops and you can only see the dense canopy of the forest. There is no background noise other than the animals surrounding you…monkeys, birds, frogs, insects, etc… I'm just so...freakin...relaxed.

Shalini called one of her close friends who lives in Coorg and owns a coffee plantation to host us on a trip. We left Mysore on Saturday afternoon by bus and arrived 3 hours later at our bed and breakfast located among acres and acres of coffee plantations and forest trees. Viju, our guide, grows three types of coffee on his plantation with oranges and other fruit trees scattered among his coffee bushes… Aaron and I were extremely lucky to get the opportunity to experience a place like this. At night, wild elephants will cross the small main road from the forest to access the abundance of fruits available on the other side. While the primary motive for the frequent elephant visits is most likely food, Viju has said people have started to encroach in their territory by setting up farms in the forest. Many tribal people have been placed here by the government to maintain various projects.

Viju on the right and our host/fantastic cook

The evening of our arrival we met Viju’s absolutely lovely mother who offered us coffee and an array of refreshments to snack on during or visit (Everyone I have met in India is very generous and extremely nice). The power was out for the majority of this visit, so unfortunately, I couldn’t see her face until right before we left the house. After getting some background about us and clarification that Aaron and I are not dating, Viju gave us some history about his people and the different tribes located in the area (unfortunately because I waited so long to blog I forgot a lot of the info. he gave us). Later his mother presented me with flowers to wear in my hair; I was so excited! The flowers are always sooooo fragrant! If you ever walk behind a woman wearing them, you can smell them from a few feet away depending on the flower. Later that same night, we had a tremendous feast back at the B&B! All sorts of delicious homemade food for me to sample. The two of us had enough to feed a family of 6! All remaining food went to the servants, which they could either eat or take home to their families. Afterwards, we sat and chatted the night away with our newly-married neighbors from Chennai, Mohan and Davi. They discussed everything that goes into planning the wedding and all the various activities that take place afterwards. After chatting for quite some time, they invited us to visit Chennai and show us around. Since we have so many plans as is, we regretfully had to decline, though we would definitely try if we found a free weekend. Likewise, we told them to contact us if they ever planned on visiting the SF Bay Area on their way to visiting their friends in America(who are in the IT business). The newly-weds

The next morning I woke up rested and happy. When we left the room we were greeted with jackfruit, custard apple (a sweet fruit that is very creamy with large black seeds and looks like an artichoke from the outside), bananas, tea cake, and very fresh, local coffee.
Once we finished breakfast we exchanged email addresses with our neighbors, took pictures, then set out to see the tame elephants in Dubare. Our trip was slightly delayed by a road-closure due to a politician in the BJP party driving thru the village. He was ending a short holiday to “Orange County”, an upscale hotel located nearby. While we waited for the motorcade to pass Viju bought a plastic bag full of tiny bananas to give to the elephants.

On our way to the elephants, we took a 30minute off-road path to their feeding area.(A large portion of the natural forest we were driving through had been replaced by a teak forest that the government put there to support the growing demand for teak wood.) About midday, after bathing and feeding the elephants are released into the forest to mingle with the wild elephants. The next morning, the caretakers will track the elephants, sometimes for several kilometers, by the unique chain they wear and drag behind them. Once they find them, and while being cautious of any wild elephants they may be with, they will bring them back to the lake to get their bath. When we finally arrived at our destination, we stopped by the care-takers amazing tree-house and hung-out for awhile in the loft to have some tea. Afterwards we met up with the elephants and their caretakers halfway on the path to the lake. With fire-wood in their mouths, we turned to follow them back to camp. The 1-year old calf we were told “is very naughty”. He was very curious and would frequently turn the opposite direction to check out his new guests or leave the path to go pick up a branch to play with then throw it off to the side with his trunk. Both of the adult elephants took on the responsibility of being his mother and both supply him with milk. One of them lost their calf around the same time he was born and watches him even more closely then his birth mother. Once reaching the feeding area, I jumped on the opportunity to ask if I could touch them. As soon as I saw the beginning of the nod, I immediately went straight towards the baby. We eventually got to feed the elephants the bananas, which I have to admit, left my hand looking pretty gross. Whenever they grabbed the bunch with their trunk my hands escaped clean. As I was trying to get a picture of Aaron petting the calf with his camera, the calf suddenly began to slowly walk towards Aaron… then quickly shoved Aaron with his trunk! To my surprise, Aaron went flying backwards... luckily landing on both feet! That tiny little trunk packed quite a punch. After figuring out that he was okay, all of us just laughed. As we were about to leave, a local radio station (103.1) arrived to see the elephants. They have a 2-hour night section devoted to voicing the tribal concerns and finding ways to help them. Completely getting sidetracked from our next mission to hike to the nearby temple, I found myself sitting and conversing with the programming manager, the representative for the tribes (activist, not politician), and a couple of the other radio reps. A village elder showed up, with an extremely large knife and honey pot in hand. He was telling everyone how he recently ran into a wild elephant and had to scamper up a tree (you do this or if on a vehicle, you ditch the ride and run hoping the elephant will attack the thing making loud noise instead of you). After he ran up the tree, the elephant came up and stamped the tree he was in…then calmly left. The large group then walked to the tree-house area where a different village elder sang 3 tribal song’s while a radio rep. recorded it with a hand-held recorder. As I was sitting so close to the elder, I passed my camera to Aaron behind me and had him record the “Beekeeper Song”. Each tribe has a specialty; the tribe these two were from were honey collectors. Later, we parted ways and I passed along PHRI’s card to the radio programming manager with my email address. He emailed me yesterday with some pictures from the visit and mentioned he wanted to meet up in Mysore. We again passed by the same group on the return trip in the Jeep to the main road. As we stopped to say our final goodbyes the women with the team passed me a peacock feather she had found in the forest.

His brush with a wild elephant

Afterwards, we hiked to the temple…up a very large hill. Huffing and puffing, I finally made it up the 30-minute steep climb up the tiny, tiny dirt trail up the forest hill to the temple. Aaron and Viju were very comfortable standing extremely close to the cliffs on the “hill”… me not so comfortable, but I was convinced that since this was a once in a life-time opportunity to hang-out on a cliff in India… why not? We ate lunch…warm chiapati and banana (the larger orange species) with jam, then hung out while Viju practiced his tribal ritual with some of the youth who were enjoying their day off at the temple. We were supposed to be on the 5 o’clock bus back to Mysore but found ourselves still taking it easy and relaxing on the hill until 5:15. On our way back down, Viju pointed out a few “amla” in a tree and had one of the tribal boys climb to grab some for us. I looked it up later on the internet and found out amla is the Indian gooseberry. Whoa!!!... Those things are super bitter on first bite… but 1 minute later it’s so wonderful!!! If you take a drink of water a couple minutes after chewing it tastes like your drinking juice or sugar water. The sweet taste in your mouth lasts for at least a good 5 minutes. They are also supposed to be super healthy for you as well. The boys kept finding amla fruit and kept picking them once they saw how much I enjoyed them.

One of the boys picking Indian gooseberries for us.

The tree-house

On our way out we stopped by at one of the forest posts and hung out with the rangers and boys who had accompanied us. As we waited for another ritual to pass, Aaron and I sipped some tea and hung-out on the bench in front of the post, waving “hi” to all the people staring at us. Everyone was smiling and waving as they passed by in the 10+ stuffed Jeeps. Before we left on the bus, we stopped for one more trip to visit Viju’s mother and enjoyed another round of refreshments while chatting about gardening with his sister.

By far the best trip since we’ve been in India!!! I've never been so relaxed and amazed by my surroundings(people and environment)!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monsoon Season????

Monsoon season in India was supposed to be very large and wet this year… then why have we barely seen any rain? The front page of The Hindu said that over 80% of India was covered in a monsoon originating from the southwest…somehow it managed to miss Mysore.... Monsoon season typically begins near the beginning of June and so far it is a month late. Since we have been here we have had a couple showers, each a 10 minute burst. Because much of the electricity is generated by water, the lack of rain has created a bit of a problem for us at the clinic. The generators and batteries only last so long when there is no electricity to charge them the day/night before. Many of the smaller shops and snack stops are using candles to keep their businesses going at night. Performing microscopy at the clinic completely halted last week since the microscope would only flicker on and off, making it difficult to even capture a glance of the contents of the specimen. I evetually had to surrender and tell my coworkers we would not be able to do lab wet-mount and some women would have to come back for the full lab analysis. Of about 10 women that showed up to the clinic on wednesday, I was able to complete ¾ of one specimen. With the current problem, the clinician was also struggling to perform pelvic exams and access to the internet was limited...Boooo! Today, the generator was providing power until 11:30 then it was lights out until 5pm. While I have never been one to complain about having fantastic weather, I will go absolutely insane if the entire summer, lights continue to go out while I am in the middle of microscopy or eating dinner(which suprisingly, restaurants still continue to operate). Kavitha says she doesn’t remember it ever being this bad… hopefully the downpours will begin in Mysore soon. I dread to think what will happen to all the crops if it doesn’t start raining.

I’m such a push-over…
Two weekends ago we went to one of Tipu Sultan homes at Srirangapatna. This was a moderately sized, open-air, two-story residence and nowhere near the size or extravagance of Mysore palace…though still extremely impressive. Every wall was covered in elaborate designs and patterns with rich colors, some in gold. Each 1 inch flower had every petal painted in intricate detail. The ceilings were even more amazing then the walls with giant turquoise and maroon designs surrounding a glass or gold fixture in the center! We admired the large paintings on the wall of the kings of India at the time of Tipu Sultan and depictions of the battles with the British. The French fighting with the Indians were distinguished from the British by a thick curled mustache.
Afterwards, we visited his resting place where a random guide followed us around giving us the history of Tipu Sultan’s death. He also pointed out the different markers for the members of the family and the different graves for males and females. Pregnant women who passed apparently didn’t have a stone marker placed on their burial site to allow room for expansion of the belly. Towards the end he mentioned that while donations are not required, however because this area was not government owned they rely on visitors for the up-keep. I willingly gave him Rs.100 ($2). He then said “No, there is two of you, so Rs.200!” What!?!?! I thought this was voluntary and I had already put Rs.100 in the little green donation box-thingy before-hand. After telling this story to my coworker, turns out, many of the tour-guides will pocket money from tourists.
I also ran into a little bit of a problem when we went to the fort to see the spot where the British killed Tipu Sultan. One of the numerous walking vendors followed us with little “sandalwood” figures for our entire walk from the temple back to the taxi! After at least 5 minutes of flat out refusing, I grew weary and gave him Rs. 200 for two little carved elephants. They are actually kinda cute and smell quite good despite the fact they most likely are not real sandalwood. I recently went sandalwood shopping… I only wish even the smallest figurines were Rs.200. Afterwards, we went to Brindavan Gardens and a nearby bird-sanctuary… This following Friday was my first time going to the Prerana Health Camp at one of the villages. I mainly stayed with the nurse and other laboratorians and watched as they collected blood, performed blood-typing, hemoglobin levels, and protein counts. Remaining blood from the patient is tested for HIV antigen. Rani, the PHRI nurse who is the acting phlebotomist, kept eyeing the large vein in the crease of my arm as I sat observing. She then laughed at my horrified expression once I figured out what she was looking at! (Note to self: must wear long-sleeves when Rani is working with needles =P ) I do have to say, that I definitely enjoyed being there. I liked being able to be around lab work while still having the chance to be around new people. Maybe I can beg Shalini to squeeze me into the van for the next trip… (please Shalini!). After camp we had lunch at the absolute most beautiful lake I have ever seen! And of course, what happens?... The camera battery dies right before I take the picture! My luck… = (

Keerthi and Kavitha: fellow laboratorians

Rani: The jokster of PHRI! She often gets herself into some trouble and keeps everyone cracking up.

Shwetha and Suma (counselors)- I love this pic... I finally caught them smiling!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Glorious Food... I'm anxious to try it.

I think it is pretty safe to say that I am obsessed with various parts of the Indian culture. Just to name a few from the top of my list: Indian food, Indian clothing, and Indian designs. Not so much the Indian traffic… still not a fan of two-wheelers (motorcycles), cars, autorickshaws, and animal-pulled carts coming within inches of running over my toesies.

I’ve made my current goal to find out the secret of how to maintain or lose weight while devouring all the delicious goodies that surround me on a daily basis (I'm sure every woman's goal). The other day we went to Gupta’s, a small little snack joint, located off one of the streets we frequent. As we stood outside, Aaron had a fresh veg samosa while I had a dish called Masala Puri (hot pea gravy, mixture, spices, carrots, and tomatoes) which is considered an Indian “fast food”. We followed it with a delicious fried morsel that would ooze sugary syrup when you bit into it. Everything during this visit was soooo tasty… but of course, we got into some trouble with Poornima Jay the following day for eating at a place that is considered just one-step above street vendor. I promised the person who recommended this place that I would not repeat their name for fear of receiving a scolding. = ) I guess I should’ve been thinking about all of the raw veggies on my plate including the large portion of tomatoes and carrots (no parasites for me please), but how can you resist the distraction when the smell is so wonderful! As much as I would like to say I will stay away from this place, I may or may not be able to resist the temptation to gravitate toward this little area again for some yummy food when walking by. At work, it also seems like I am introduced to a new delicious dish every day. As I have mentioned before, the homemade dishes are the best and the staff will share their meals with others. It is a shame Aaron and I have nothing good to contribute to the luncheon, but we gladly offer to lend a hand if there is too much food left over! = ) The other day, Dr. Bhavana brought in a delicious bhath dish (rice with vegetables incorporating spices and red peppers, not green!) and today, Shalini brought in a very smooth coconut curry mixed with grated tamarind and grated dried red pepper. I am only jealous they get to eat this more than once a week! I also ate a thin, pale green, curly cucumber for a healthy and tasty midday snack. Aaron and I are discussing taking a cooking class at one of the local restaurants. Maybe I can learn how to make Akki Roti or Kasari, aka “South Indian Sweet”. For dinner, we went to a local Punjabi restaurant and had a veg paneer roll wrapped in buttered tandoori roti for our appetizer...mmmm. I promise to load pictures once I can remember to take the photos before consuming. And must start doing crunches!

(Note: Title-lyrics from the musical Oliver. If you've seen it, that is exactly how I feel about trying all these new flavors...subtract the fact I am not a thin, starving child)

Clothes-shopping has been quite the adventure. I must first and foremost apologize to Aaron for the duration of these shopping trips. On one outing, I bought several outfits at one of the numerous clothing outfitters along the road. After my purchase, I brought them all home to later find out my shoulders couldn’t make it through any of the tops. The following day, I had to return all the items and pick out brand new ones. Both trips combined took well over an hour and a half. The second round worked out much better than the first as I liked all of my clothes significantly more. I chose one complete outfit with shirt, pants and scarf, which was adorned with tiny mirrors throughout the embroidered designs and also formed a thick band around the collar; I grabbed a few kurtas (shirt/dress without the pants) which received several compliments from the PHRI staff; the last item was some fabric, which I actually still haven’t figured out what I am supposed to do with quite yet. FabIndia, a clothing store owned by a westerner, gave me another fabulous selection with less ornate designs as well as the sizing I am more familiar with ...The pricing was somewhat higher, yet, the garments were still several times cheaper than anything offered back home…

Now to the important stuff… work. My current task has been to help create a registration and survey form that will be administered in the clinic. This has become very important as we cannot open the clinic without the registration forms, and I cannot get study subjects if the clinic is not open. Just when I think I might have the final draft, either Dr. Bhavana, Dr. Purnima, or I think of one more thing that needs to be altered in the form. During this process, it has been difficult for me to understand all of the customs and traditional thought which make some of the basic survey questions in my head, inappropriate for this population of women. There have been issues with figuring out the economic status of the women and even mentioning sexually transmitted disease or STD may or may not be confusing to some. Bhavana mentioned that many of these women don’t know what STD’s are and would have no idea as to the names of any of these diseases if we mentioned them. The names gonorrhea, herpes, trichomoniasis and chlamydia to name a few, all needed to be removed from the survey and left for other more general questions or fill-ins to answer. Luckily, we have counselors and clinicians that can advise and explain these diseases if necessary.
More good news! I was given additional funding for the project! Woohoo! Now if only customs would let the package with some of my reagents through...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

In the Field

Starting on monday we began working on our projects. I had a chance to visit the Prerana clinic a few blocks away from the PHRI house. We have started getting everything organized for what I hope will be a relatively soon opening. From what I understand supplies are being ordered and there is just a bit of paperwork that needs to be completed before we open. For those of you who haven’t been forced to read my IRB or protocols, I will be comparing the performance of a rapid diagnostic kit to other methods established for detecting a Trichomonas vaginalis infection. Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause vaginitis and a few other more serious complications. Although it doesn’t get a lot of recognition, it is actually the most frequent nonviral STI. It has been considered a possible suspect in causing greater susceptibility to HIV, cervical neoplasia, and preterm birth, although its main symptom remains to be vaginal irritation, which can either self-resolve or continue to create greater problems. A sexual partner can pass it to the other even if that person has just been treated, creating the “ping-pong effect”. Therefore it is imperative, when trichomoniasis is detected, both partners must be treated. One of the problems is that most clinicians use a symptomatic approach to diagnosis.
The current method for diagnosing this disease utilizes a microscope. You can observe the specimen on a slide and look for, what I consider to be “cute”, little swimming balloons wiggling around in the saline. This method is not very accurate and the other methods such as culture and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) have their own flaws. The rapid test might perform well in India and if so, its implementation in developing countries can be considered.

Since we got here, Aaron and I have observed that the pace is very different than that of back home. The atmosphere is just seems more relaxed, less stressful, even if there is a lot of work being done. Also, it has become apparent that the social network within PHRI is very strong and an important aspect of the work environment. If we want everything to run smoothly with our projects, it will be important for us to solidify the relationships we build with other team members.
On wednesday, we joined the staff in a trip to the villages to hand out reports of lab results. Everyone seemed very curious as to our presence there. The smaller children were very quiet and a couple even cried because they were scared of us. The older children were completely distracted by our presence. Instead of paying attention to their lesson, they cluttered into doorways waving at us and wanted their picture taken. Some even stood on their desk to get a better look and wave. Inside one of the classrooms, the staff performed a maternal health education and disease prevention skit for the women in the village. The women seemed to respond well and laughed during the husband’s part, which tries to reinforce the importance of getting the husband to participate in the process. Shalini advised me that the women become very shy and will hold their heads down when there is discussion of contraceptives or when the condom is brought out.

For lunch, we stopped at a nearby lake and unfolded mats to have a picnic. Everyone sat together and passed around the meal they brought. I’m not sure if it was smart for Aaron and I to participate since we didn’t know how everyone’s food was prepared, but we both enjoyed it thoroughly.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

ದಿ ಆಉತೊರಿಕ್ಕ್ಶವ: The Autorickshaw

Eventually Aaron and I got to the point where we realized we needed a few additional things that we didn’t bring with us (luckily, my Contra Costa coworkers provided me with a few essentials before I left for my trip). We ventured up the street to the local hospital around 7pm in search of transportation. Outside the main building, 4 or 5 autorickshaws typically line up waiting for a fare to come out of the hospital. For 30 rupees (~60 cents) our driver took us to the MORE Megastore… think Indian version of Walmart. On our first trip towards central Mysore, we noticed people were gathered everywhere on the street. Some just idling by and some purchasing fruit from the many vendors along the way. A few very daring men ran across the busy traffic in order to get to one of the shops across the street… Pedestrians definitely do not have the right-of-way here! Unfortunately, I am unable to post the video I took.

When we arrived at MORE megastore, the autorickshaw driver stopped and let us out on the opposite side of the road to the entrance. As I began to cross the street, I realized Aaron was not with me. I turned around to find out where he was… Big Mistake! Never stop even for a slight moment in a Mysore street! After looking for Aaron for the briefest of moments, I turned my head back towards the street to realize I was inches away from the front end of a moving auto-rickshaw. Somehow my hand wound up slapped against the front end of his vehicle. The driver had luckily stopped in time, then gave me a very dirty luck for: number one, touching his rickshaw , number two and probably most importantly, making him have to let go of the gas . After nervously laughing about the situation and while being yelled at by the driver’s passenger, I found Aaron who was apparently standing behind me the entire time during this little fiasco. We finally managed to get across the street and headed towards the store. We approached the metal detector in front of the entrance, which of course, Aaron and I both casually walked around not noticing the guard standing by who was holding a large military gun.

Inside the More Megastore, there were people cluttered in every aisle doing there grocery shopping. We had to push and shove our way to the staircase so we could get to the second floor where all the clothing was. After a little while, we reached the desired floor and were able to peruse our many choices of patterns and designs. I should actually say my many choices of patterns and designs, the men’s clothing was pretty simple. I think I tried on 9 different options of salwar kameez before I could finally find one that fit me. In Indian sizing, Aaron and I are both an XL!!!! –Mom, broad shoulders and large hips may come in handy in sports, but not when trying to fit into petite Indian clothing...I eventually found a few items, but pants were hard to find and none matched the size of the shirt that came with it. For two shirt/pant sets and an additional shirt, my total came to about $20 with. With the addition of shampoo it wasn't much more. Aaron’s shirts each cost about $2! He also picked up some mangos while we were there, which he was told were very fresh. The little bananas they sell in Mysore are also super sweet and taste fantastic. I have been substituting my morning dosa with a few (as in four) bananas with a slice of fresh mango...yum... If my stomach weren't the limiting factor here, I'd be eating the bananas, mango, and masala dosa every morning accompanied by a very large mug, not glass, of tea. The hot Badam milk is also great. It's basically almond milk mixed with saffron.

Karanji Lake : ಕಾರಂಜಿ ಲೇಕ್

Sunday morning we woke up early (see mom & dad, it’s possible…) and took off to visit Karanji Lake and the Mysore Zoo. Karanji Lake was absolutely gorgeous! We saw quite a variety of India’s beautiful native birds and several brightly colored butterflies. There was always a cute cuddling couple sitting on every shaded bench we passed along the way. There was a tall lookout tower from which we could climb and watch the herons fly by and the top of the palace could be seen in the distance. After 10 minutes we headed down the tower and met a nice elderly couple during our descent that stopped to ask how we were doing and where we were from. As we were leaving, we saw another white person, which hasn't been a common sight since we got to Mysore. I know we came with a bunch on the plane, but where did they go? Turns out, many of the tourists that stay in Mysore are found near the more upscale areas outside of the busy central districts. We have located a Pizza Hut, Domino's, Subway, and Baskin Robbin's if at any time we feel we might go crazy without having an American fast food binge. Apparently, one of the restaurants in this area will cook a full Western breakfast at your request.

Back on track...
After circling the lake, we headed towards the zoo, which I have to admit, we spent more time taking pictures of caution signs than we did the exotic animals. One sign cautioned against entering the zebra habitat to avoid injury. There was an illustration of a man climbing over the handrails and leaning over a pit. In the second frame, the man has fell into the pit and an angry zebra proceeds to maul the man who has blood gushing out of his body. The final frame is security escorting the man away in cuffs while bright red blood is pouring out of the wound and onto the ground. While it may be a bit morbid, the sign was absolutely hilarious!!! The Giant Squirrel exhibit was also very interesting and pretty darn funny as it contained one squirrel smaller than the normal squirrels you find sitting at home on the back fence. The snake exhibit as well as the rest of the zoo was pretty awesome. The African elephants were standing very close to the rail which was great, but I later realized they were chained in position for tourists to have a better photo op. = (

ಮೈಸೂರ್ ಓ : Mysore Zoo

Early evening we visited Naomi’s friend, Fazil, who runs a clothing store named Badsha Bazaar in central Mysore with his brothers. Unfortunately, he was not there but his brother sat down and chatted with us for awhile until their other brother had finished praying near the corner. The walls of the store were just stacked with different types of fabric and patterns for making Indian or Western clothing. I have been informed by Naomi that their tailor is amazing and purchasing a saree here is a must. Hopefully, I will be able to find the a good Mysore silk saree here.
ದೇವರಾಜ ಮಾರ್ಕೆಟ್ : Devaraja Market

After peeking into the Devaraja market across the street from Badsha Bazaar, we took an autorickshaw to Mysore palace. From 7 to 8 every Sunday and during holidays and festivals, the palace is lit with ninety-seven thousand lights! This palace has been home to the Wadiyar Maharajas, since the original was built in the 13th century (this is the fourth built here). There was brief change in rule with Hyder Ali, a general of the Wodeyar army, and then his son Tipu Sultan. After Tipu Sultan was killed by the British during battle, the monarchy returned to the Wadiyar family and lasted until 1947, when India gained independence... Hopefully, within the next couple months I can take a tour of the museum inside and get more of the history.

Friday, May 29, 2009

We have Arrived!!!

Aaron and I arrived in Bangalore Friday morning around 1:30am, India time. We were exhausted, jet lagged, slightly grouchy and hoping that we would get through customs without a problem. When we arrived at the baggage carousel I found both of my enormous suitcases untouched and unmarked...yes! Since my bags were so new and so large, we thought that those would definitely be the ones that would have been marked among the four checked bags. We thought we were in the clear.... Then Aaron's bags came...we noticed a fat, white chalked "X" on the side of his purple duffle bag (doesn't rub off unfortunately... we tried). We had packed one electronic piece into this bag and later realized we had no reciept to go with it. Airport security looked up how much the item cost online, which was about $900! They wanted a $360 tax!!! Luckily, after about 30minutes, Aaron managed to get through customs paying a bit of a fee, and we could finally begin our 4-hour drive to Mysore.

Honking, swerving, and tailgating the entire way, this drive was quite the ride despite the lack of traffic this early in the morning. There were many shops that lined the highway, which were covered with large, bright advertising prints for Indian movies, tea, and whatever else the TATA company sells. Along the way, we stopped for some tea at one of the many open refreshment outlets located along the highway. You literally have to pull off to the side of the highway in order to get to these places. About 100 ft. away, there was another snack stand (this was very common along the road). The tea was absolutley delicious!!!! I only wish it didn't come in such a small glass. I will definitely be bringing plenty of it back with me once I find out which brands are the best. I also debated buying one of the many stacked baked goods they had in the display case, but I held back and settled for a safely sealed bottle of water. As it got closer to daybreak, women and men started walking along the side the road to start their day; a few stood by the speed bumps and tried to sell us flowers and a few other items. We passed by several oxen and donkeys pulling carts as well as sheep, stray dogs,and cows walking along the road. One set of dogs ran full-speed to try keep up with our car!

We finally arrived at the house around 5am. We were introduced to the security guard, Sidhu (pictured above), and his wife, Lakshmi, who offered us some tea, which we declined, and took our bags to our room. Upon entering the room, we immediately threw our things onto the floor, climbed into our beds, and crashed.
Once Aaron and I decided to crawl out of bed the following afternoon, we went downstairs to meet the PHRI staff. I wasn't expecting such a large group! The group of 16+, consists mainly of females. Each staff member is involved in a different piece of the PHRI, Prerana operation. Some go out to the rural villages to recruit for studies, conduct surveys, give classes and information about maternal/infant health, and distribute birthing kits to midwives (for info. visit: http://phrii.org/prerana). Members of PHRI include, doctors, a nurse, field workers, drivers, laboratorians, and the administration staff. After we introduced ourselves, we left so they could finish their meeting and begin their work day. One member took us down to the hospital cafeteria to get our lunch. Within moments of stepping outside the front gate, a fourteen year old boy was walking in front of us with his hand held out, gesturing for money. He even brushed his open palm against Aaron's arm a couple times, thinking that would be more persuasive. It was kind of a shock to have this happen within the first minute of our first outing and outside of our house. Our guide tried to shoo him away, but it eventually took us ignoring him for a couple minutes before he would just walk away.
At the cafeteria, we had a simple rice dish (similar to fried rice) parceled for us to take home. It came with a rich creamy sauce that made it all but impossible to pace ourselves while eating (It is now day5 and we have yet to have a meal we both didn't love). After lunch, we had another meeting with Shalini and Dr.Bhavana to discuss our projects... both of our IRB's were approved!!! Yay!!!

The climate has been relatively humid and temperatures not very hot. It stays relatively cool until noon, then gets a little sticky. It has rained 2 out of the 5 days in the early evening which was accompanied by some heavy thunder. It only lasts for about 30minutes to an hour. So far, I am actually finding the weather here to be more enjoyable than the recent, very warm California weather. This comment, of course, will come back to haunt me in a few weeks when the true monsoon season starts. I have already accumulated 7 bug bites (some which have turned into large welts) despite the extensive amount of deet I have sprayed on. I have recently upgraded to putting on the 100% deet twice a day and started spraying my clothes with permethrin.

Note: yes, there are bathrooms outfitted with the porcelain commodes in which we are accustomed to, (the Indian toilets are plastic holes in the ground with a water-source nearby) and yes, there is toilet paper and running hot water. I have yet to use the bathroom in a public place, so I'm am not sure what is available to me outside of the house or restaurant yet.