Saturday, June 11, 2011

The research begins

So I recently returned from my first "field" visit as they call it, and I'm taking advantage of the time in front of my wind tunnel. The field basically means that I was outside the city living in a compound of sorts in the desert doing fieldwork, aka my research. I'm working with an organization called GRAVIS, which you should look at. The work they do is unbelievable. Seriously, click this. Their office is located in place called Milk Men Colony. Neighborhoods here are called colonies, which I find wildly ironic considering they've only been a free country for about 60 years. This colony is exactly what it sounds like. Nearly every house here owns lots of cows, which of course are allowed to roam wherever they please. The streets of the colony is exceptionally crowded with cows, more so than anywhere else in India I've seen--which really is saying something considering how much freedom cows have here. All day long, men on motorcycles and three-wheeled trucks come to this colony and fill up huge metal jugs with milk to distribute throughout Jodhpur. The streets are just a caked, dry layer of cow shit and the area smells as such, but it's a wealthy neighborhood because people value their milk.
Anyway, everyone at the office warned me that this ominous "field" place is quite hard to handle and really awful living conditions. The field office is about two and half hours into the desert outside of Jodhpur and villages are about 20 minutes to an hour from there. I think they were making gross assumption about my expectations since I'm white and all because the field was exactly why I came to India. That's not to say I was completely comfortable there, for there was no AC or water coolers and the temperature was a balmy high of 115 each day. I also had quite the interesting shower experiences considering I forgot to bring a towel. So I'd change out of my sweaty, sand-blown clothes from the day to shower, only to put them right back on drip dry while wearing them (I tried to pack light and had barely any clothes). By the last day I was a little sick of this process, so I decided to suck it up and use the mystery towel that was hanging on the door when I arrived. It didn't smell bad, especially in comparison to my sandy clothes, so it couldn't have been that bad? Without checking the towel, first thing I did was wipe my sopping face. Little did I know a couple cockroaches had made this towel their home and they gave me a nice scrub. Is it weird to say thank gosh they were cockroaches and not something I could have squished and rubbed on my face? That was my consolation anyway.
Other than that misstep, the trip was fantastic. For three days, my translator (she spoke about as much English as I do Hindi, so that of a slow four year old) and I traveled by jeep through white desert to get to these villages in the Thar Desert. It was like raiders of the lost arc, as everyone had handkerchiefs tied around their faces and thick sunglasses on as we drove through barren flat and over sand dunes to get to these remote villages. Once at a village, we usually went to someone's house and just started talking to the women who lived there. I had the director of the field office with me, so he knew some of the women and could arrange for us to come to their houses. These women are still practicing purdah, which is the women's behavioral tradition in which they cover their faces and don't leave their homes. At least 80% of the women kept themselves veiled the entire time they talked with me. Some of them wouldn't speak at all and had other women speak for them, especially if they had older relatives present. If a woman's husband was present, forget about her even looking at us. She usually just sat and looked at the ground or didn't make eye contact as her husband literally answered every question. At one point the woman's husband was facing my back, not even in the group I was addressing, yet he was still shouting the answers for her. After that time I had to ask any husbands to not be present, but that wasn't always an option considering that some of the discussions were held in people's homes. By the the time my discussions were coming to a close, the news had spread that a white girl was in the village, and almost every child in the village had come to watch. At some points we'd be a in room no bigger than your average college dorm and there would be about 40 people crammed in the space. Now since it was a remote area, I often ended up boiling the water available so that I could drink it without fear of sickness. I would put some of it in my water bottle to hopefully let it cool. However, I stupidly only brought my metal water bottle, which did a great job at keeping that water hot.So for much of the time I'd be in boiling weather drinking just about boiling water out of a metal bottle. Clearly I didn't think that one through very well.
An interesting experience to say the least. I go again this coming Monday to a different field office to do the same work. Yesterday, I bought my own towel and a plastic bottle to bring along.

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