Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dear Mom, I Got a Little Sick

I don’t want to alarm you, dear mother, but I thought that you would want to know that I have been battling a case of food poisoning. The last place that we ate at on our field trip before coming home was probably the culprit. Out of the 8 of us who ate there, 3 are sick. Total, there are at least 5 people sick right now, the last that I checked. Here is my story. I hope that it doesn’t scare you. Food poisoning is very common and I think that I’m 75% better, and I’m sure that by tomorrow afternoon, I will be 100%.

So yesterday morning, while my room mate, Katie, was taking a bucket bath in the bathroom, I awoke to extreme bowl urgency. Without sparing a moment to find my glasses or put in my contacts, I scuttled up to the common bathroom at the top of the hill, connected to the dining room. I could barely get my pants down in time to…well…explode. I made it back down to my room and crawled into bed without thinking anything of it.

I had committed to walking all the way to CHIRAG, but before leaving, I told the girls that I was walking with that I would have to take it slow, as I was experience stomach and back cramps. But surprise surprise, guess who was at least three minutes ahead of everyone on the walk. Even cramps and the possibility of having diarrhea doesn’t slow my pace. Once getting to the classroom, however, I hit the wall. I knew that some thing was quite right with my body. I collapsed into a chair, and took the precaution of asking around the circle if any one had any toilet paper. CHIRAG’s bathroom facilities include a porcelain hole in the ground with a bucket of water to clean yourself with. It has been every one’s biggest fear of pooping there, let alone have explosive diarrhea. Squatting a trying not to pee on yourself is challenging enough (I have only peed on myself once). But unfortunately, that day, no one had brought any toilet paper.

I suffered through the first hour of class, doing anything that the plastic chair would allow to make myself comfortable. Three people were leading the class discussion, and I told myself, “When they get to asking the class questions, I will just gracefully excuse myself to the bathroom.” But by the time Alex had asked the first question, I was paralyzed with discomfort and pain. “I can’t move! What if I shit myself right now?” I thought. I was freezing cold and panicking. I had no idea what to do. There was no position that my body could make to take away the pain and fear that was building up inside of me. I was stuck and miserable. I put my head in my freezing white hands and laid them on my lap. Jenny, who was sitting next to me, whispered in my ear, “I have some Ibuprofen; would you like some?” I shook my head, and tried to tell her that I was fainting, but all that came out was, “ahhhhhhh.” And I was gone.

Apparently, I had been out for a few minutes before any attention was given to me. I guess what had happened was, I sat back up, placed my hand on my temple, and mumbled incoherently. As I grabbed Katie’s chair, which was beside mine, people noticed that I was a stark white and turning green. My professor was droning on when finally Anjali had yelled, “REBECCA!” (my professor’s name). I think that it was at that point that I threw up all over my pants and hands, which I woke up for, apologized, “I’m so sorry,” and passed out once more. Jenny had caught my head and she and my professor guided my body to the floor. At that point, David, another student, told me later, "I thought you were dead. I took one look at you, thought, 'That's what a dead person looks like,' and bolted out of the room."

I woke up to hear voices all around me and Rebecca rubbing my back and directing people what to do. People were scurrying all over the place, getting blankets, buckets, and more CHIRAG staff. The first thing that I said was, “I’m sorry for interrupting your presentation.” And everyone started laughing. Rebecca then said, “Don’t you apologize or I’ll hit you over the head for saying such things!” and I started to laugh.

When I was ready, Rebecca and Keith helped carry me down to the sick room, my pants on full display. Unfortunately, there were no extra pants laying around CHIRAG, so my professor helped change me into a bed sheet. I was shaking and my teeth were chattering loudly because I was so cold, but when Rebecca felt my forehead, she said that was burning up. I was reminded of you and your fevers and thought that it was great that I could now relate. I laid frozen for the next several hours.

As Rebecca helped tuck me in and reassured me that I would be alright, a member of CHIRAG came down to help. She spoke very little English, and insisted that she put a rickety old wired cage heater on my pillow, next to my head. This freaked Rebecca out, but the woman was set on putting this fire hazard close to my head. Finally, Rebecca expressed in Hindi that I did not want it on the bed. The thought of the room catching on fire while was sleeping alone in this room made Rebecca so nervous that she unplugged it after the woman left.

So there I laid for the rest of the day, unable to sleep because, for one, I was too cold, two, the bed was more like a board, and three, people kept on coming in and out every hour. After class, I was joined by another girl, Maresa, who had fallen ill (later we find out that she had gotten ecoli from the same restaurant that I had eaten at). Then Rebecca came back to wash my pants, which I’m willing to bet that nobody has ever had their professor wash their puke stained pants by hand. Jealous?

I was there for a total of four hours, making several trips to the bathroom. I told Maresa that wearing a thong was a bad choice, as once again, there was no toilet paper. Eventually my professors approached Maresa and I with the question of where to stay. We could stay there at CHIRAG in the sick room all night, or make the journey back to Sonapani. Maresa and I preferred that latter option, which made things a bit complicated. After lots of arranging, phone calls, scratching heads, my professors laid out the plan for us. We would first ride in a jeep and go see the doctor on the way home. Then, once we got as far as a vehicle could go on the trail to Sonapani, a man on a motorcycle would meet me and take me the rest of the way. The trail to Sonapani is steep and rocky, so Keith ran along side the motorcycle, and for the times that it was too rocky for me to stay on, Keith gave me a piggy back ride. I made it home in one piece.

I was put on bed rest with instructions to take a variety of pills at different times of the day with lots and lots of water. I thought that I was fine and over the worst. I laid in bed, only moving when I had to use the toilet, which was every 20 minutes. I talked to my room mate as she told her side of the story, filling me in on the grey parts that I was unconscious for. She said, “It was definitely the most exciting thing that happened all day.” She also told me how scary it was to see me that white.

A couple of hours later, the dinner bell rang, so as I was confined to the seat of the toilet, Katie left to eat dinner. I had been sitting there for a while making shadow puppets on the wall when suddenly I was overcome with the same sensation that I felt in class; expect for that I was burning up and either needed to puke or explode. I knew that I was probably going to faint, so with all of my strength, I lifted myself off from the toilet seat, to which simultaneously, the power went out. It was only a matter of time to plunge myself into bed, but our fucking bathroom door jams every time you close it, and in my last moments, I managed to shake the door open. I heard crashing and a loud bang. I don’t think that I was out for very long, because the massive pain from my head woke me up. I was confused. I thought that for sure that I had made it to the bed, but as my eyes peeled open, I saw that was on the stone floor in the door frame of the bathroom. My head throbbed and even thought the power was back on, everything was a blur.

I crawled into bed and wondered if I should notify somebody. I tried calling Rebecca and Katie, but my calling card apparently doesn’t work with local phone calls. “What the hell should I do? Rebecca would kill me if I went up the hill to the dinning hall, but I also don’t want to be scolded for not telling anybody cuz I think that this is probably a big deal.” So the best idea that I came up with was to waddle outside in the dark and yell for help. Maybe somebody might hear me. I only had to yell help for less than a minute before Jenny and Nikki, who were on their way to dinner, heard me. They confused my pathetic cries for help for Ashish’s seven year old daughter, but nonetheless, I was saved.

For the next hour or so, eight people had crowded around my bed, poking and prodding me, shinning lights into my eyes three times due to my loss of eye sight in my left eye, where I had smacked my head, and asking me a series of questions. People were running in and out of my room, getting water, oral rehydration salts, ice packs, bananas, thermometers, timers, a hot water bottle, thing, for my aching body, and calling the doctor. At one point, they got Brittany, who’s been sick in bed this past month with ecoli, out of bed to perform a thorough procedure on my entire body to check for brain damage. She’s a rock climbing instructor and deals with head traumas a lot. My professor gave Katie stricked instructions to get up whenever I got up in the night, and walk me to the toilet and back to bed. Rebecca even offered to sleep on the floor of my room, ready to jump when my bowls did, but we told her that that wouldn’t be necessary.

All throughout the night I was married to the toilet. I will spare you the details, as this is getting to be one long email. All that I will say is, while it could be worse, and everybody experiences food poising at one time or another while in India, being this sick sucks and I hate it. I have never been this sick before, and I prided myself on being one of the few people who avoided getting sick so far. While five other people have fallen ill since yesterday, I’ve been told that Rebecca is the most worried about me. She’s come by my room several times today to check on me, and scolded me for making the trip up the steep hill for lunch. “Chelsea, I know that you’re feeling lonely in your room and you just want to be up here with your friends, but you are putting yourself at great risk of fainting by being up here. I want you to stay in bed for the next few days.” I almost started crying. She served my a cup of rice, the first thing that I had to eat since breakfast the day before, and removed herself from the table. She said that she couldn’t bear to see my pale face go up and down the hill. Later she came in to my room and apologized for being so harsh.

So I’ve been in bed all day. I have had several visitors to keep me company, including Clair and Alex to read to me from David Sadaris’s, Me Talk Pretty One Day. While enduring this embarrassing misery, it is comforting to know that I am surrounded with love. People have been waiting on me hand and foot. But I still can’t help but daydream about what it would be like if I were home and with my mom. I didn’t want to tell you about this little episode until I was 100% better so you couldn’t worry. I know that seeing me faint in the past has scared you for life. I assure you that Rebecca and Keith are taking every measure they can to see that I am taken care of, and the only thing they require of me is to rest for a few days. They get really nervous when I’m anywhere but my bed. I am in safe hands.


Friday, October 23, 2009

The Story of the Neglected Blog

I apologize for my negligence of keeping up this blog. The internet connection that I have is dial up, and when it can actually connect, it drops the connection after about 30 seconds, so trying to upload the blog webpage has been nearly impossible. This is the first day that I have been able to work on it since my last enthralling entry of "I have internet...sometimes!" So I will continue to keep notes jotted down in word documents, in hopes that I can log on and post them every once in a while. I'm sorry about the lack of pictures. I know that those are far more interesting than my dweeby comments about my every day life, so I understand if you've lost patience with me! I will keep trying to upload them... I appreciate the encouragement!


I’m living in a place called Sonapani. Before I left, I was telling people that I was going to the foothills of the Himalayas to live in a small village called Sonapani. “Oh, don’t feel bad that you’ve never heard of this town before,” I would tell people who were familiar with India’s geography, but were stumped by the name. “It’s a village of about 80 people and so rural, it gets electricity about 60% of the time.” I laughed at myself when we arrived to this place that I had painted a picture for so many people.
Sonapani is a resort for tourists, mainly from Delhi, but tourists, nonetheless. It is managed by a wonderful man named Ashish with is young family, and every year they welcome UW students to live here for the duration of the program. To draw a more accurate picture, there are about 12 cabins, 3 beds and a bathroom in each, and a dinning hall that sits on a hill that has the most spectacular view of the Himalaya mountain range. On a clear day, I can see the Himalayas from my bed. Sonapani is a magical haven – I feel like I’m in some sort of rehab facility. I mean, I’ve never been to rehab, but I imagine that it is something like this. There are thousands of different wildflowers in between our cabins, giving the eye waves of yellow and pink and purple and green and white and orange and red. The paths of rock and sand are comprised of mica, so everything sparkles as you walk. On Diwali and my birthday, I dotted my cheeks with the sparkles from the path, and no one could tell that I had put dirt all over my face. And when I walk through Sonapani, I breathe out butterflies. Butterflies are as common here as seagulls are at the beach, and they flutter and dance in front of me as I walk. At night, the sky is clear and crisp; I think that I can see every star that was ever formed. Every night, I find myself stopped in my tracks and gazing up. For some reason, seeing these stars reminds me to take deeper breaths. And, of course, there is the clairvoyant spectacle of the Himalayas. I wake up every morning, walk the sparkle path up to the dining hall, passing the flowers and my butterfly friends, and sip my warm chai while taking in the arresting sight of the Himalayas. I still can’t believe they are there.
On the morning of our arrival, after experiencing what I might claim as my closest encounter with hell (a.k.a. the Delhi overnight train), a two hour jeep ride up the narrow roads that hug the mountain, and a 2 km hike with our luggage piled on packhorses, we arrived to Sonapani. After spending five days in horn happy Delhi, I was taken aback with how peaceful this new place was. I was welcomed with chai, and as I sat down to take in the view of the mountains, Keith, our coordinator, gracefully said, “This is your home.” We all commented on how good the chai tasted, and Keith replied, “Here, Sonapani revolves around chai.” To which Rebecca, our professor, corrected, “Life revolves around chai.” My heart grew happy from that moment forward.

A Game of Cricket


I was told that I play cricket like Jonny Depp acts in Pirates of the Caribbean. My cricket nickname is Willie Nelson, purely based on how I dress for cricket. My performance, needless to say, is awesome. There are video tapes floating around of me dancing, by myself, in the outfield and antagonizing the…batter? For people, like me, who are unfamiliar with the game of cricket, it’s KIND OF like baseball, but instead of a bat, you have a big paddle that you hit the ball with, instead of a ‘pitcher,’ you have a ‘bowler,’ and instead of four bases, there are two that you and the other batter or paddler run back and forth between until you’re out. Two people can run back and forth all day long before getting out. You just have to keep the ball from hitting the wicket, which are sticks in the ground behind where the batter stands. To people who do know the game of cricket, I apologize for my gross interpretation.

While the Sonapani staff taught us UW students how to play, natives to the hill area began to emerge, literally, from the woodwork. At first, they kept their distance, watching a bunch of white kids wearing bandanas and sunglasses prance around some sticks and chase the wondering cows away as they botched the national game of cricket. Pretty soon, however, there would be a guy that no one knew up to bat and slamming the ball clear out into the woods. Within a half an hour, pretty much ONLY Indian men were batting and bowling and fighting over who was out. It was fun to watch a real game of cricket, but I don’t think they really were all that impressed by my dancing in the short stop area.

A Delhi Story

I assume that a lot of people will want to know, “What’s India like?!” and honestly, I have no idea. One would have to spend several lifetimes in India to accurately illustrate the depth of her temperament. Looking at India from the West, it is…unpredictable. It is impossible to make any sense out of the cascade of contrasting images. You see something that you think might represent this country, and then you turn around and see something that completely contradicts your previous generalization. I refuse to limit India to any sort of line of adjectives. At first, all you hear is, “This is India,” as an explanation to any questions that are written across your face. Then you just start to adopt the phrase as your own explanation as to why you are doing the things that you are doing.

Delhi was a whirlwind, but I think that I can muster up a couple of snippets of my time there, just to paint some sort of picture:

I flew into Delhi from the States around 9 PM. A few other people in the program had arrived around the same time, so Keith, the program’s coordinator, split us up into two groups to take a taxi to our hotel. Had I been left to coordinate this by myself, I would either be still at that airport, back in America, or completely off the radar. This was my first taste of my own severe helplessness. With three months worth of luggage, I waddled out into the muggy night air of the airport’s taxi service station. This was also the first time that I would feel the weight of people staring at me. I couldn’t have looked more out of place.
True, I had been running on no sleep and had just got off a plane ride that was long enough to skip an entire day of my life, but nothing could have prepared me for the chaos that was about to ensue. As horns blared, pre-paid paper tickets for the taxis were flying all around me, and men repeatedly throwing my bags into cars while someone else would pull them back out while arguing in a language that I don’t know a single word of, I stood there blankly, uttering, “uuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmm…am I…in the way?”
Eventually, my bags were loaded up into a van and as I climbed in, I introduced myself to the only other girl riding with me. Keith was not going to ride with us, so he explained the directions to the hotel to our driver. Even though the driver hadn’t a clue where our hotel was, he was insistent of driving off, which caused my heart to get a little excited, and inspired a whole new sound from me, “aaahhhh…?” So Keith jumped into the moving vehicle and explained further in Hindi where to take these disheveled American girls. Keith then jumped out and said, “If he takes you anywhere else besides the Blue Triangle, call me.” Haylee and I replied with a soft and nervous, “k,” and we were off.
This taxi-van was a beat-up piece of metal that sounded as if a jack hammer was running the engine – purely exhilarating. As the young male driver weaved in and out of traffic, he turned back and asked us, “You speak Hindi?” We shook our heads, “Nope.” He smiled. “I don’t speak English,” he said. “Well, at least we’re all on the same page,” I joked. I looked out the window with excitement. I had been looking forward to the experience of driving in India. I made the observation to Haylee that lanes are not really acknowledged by drivers here. A number of times I could have stuck my head out the window and licked the car beside me.
Once we were in what seemed the heart of Delhi (but how the hell would we know), our driver pulled over on the side of the road. “Hmmmm,” I poignantly remarked. “Are we…in Delhi?” Haylee, a much braver character than I, poked her head up to the driver’s face and asked, “Why did we stop? This isn’t right. That sign has a red triangle on it. We need a blue triangle.” The driver ignored Haylee’s English words and started to talk with a man in the driveway of this red triangle place. After talking with each other for a few minutes, the stranger got into the seat in front of me. “Who’s this guy?” Haylee asked, raising her voice a little bit louder. I could only smile. As the driver turned the car around, we suddenly hit a curb and our bodies smashed against the seats in front of us. Oh, I forgot to mention that the seat belts that once were in Indian cars are now in some vortex, never to be seen or hear of again. We resumed driving. Haylee’s body was now squeezed in between the front two seats as she demanded answers. “Excuse me? What’s going on? Where are we going? WHO IS THIS MAN?” The new guy turned and smiled at us, confidently telling us he knows where our hotel is. “You work for the hotel?” Haylee interrogated. “For how long? What’s your position in the hotel?...etc.”
Two minutes later, I was practicing my ‘thank yous,’ in Hindi with my driver and driveway-man, for we had made it to the elusive, “Blue Triangle.”


Go to the people
Live Among them
Love them.
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have.
But of the best leaders
When their task is accomplished
Their work is done
The people all remark
We have done it ourselves.

This is CHIRAG’s philosophy in which they run their NGO under. As some one who studies development, I look at the work of NGOs with a critical eye. After meeting with the director and staff of CHIRAG, conversing over cake and tea with the founders of CHIRAG, and listening to the villagers in which CHIRAG works for, so far, I approve of this NGO’s position in these villages  It is impressive that an NGO is as responsive as CHIRAG. Honestly, I could gush for hours over how amazed I am by CHIRAG and the effectiveness of their projects, but, like my mom told me upon creating this blog, I am probably addressing an audience who cares more about my feelings and personal experiences than the academia realm of my trip. Those stories will inevitably trickle through my work with CHIRAG, and I just hope that I can convey the honest spirit of CHIRAG. For now, I just want to stress the meaning of CHIRAG’s philosophy and how I think it is so unique to find in a developmental organization. They are not some foreign crew who arrogantly sets up shop in a region that they are out of touch with the needs of those who live there and tells them what they think they need, and after a few years, packs up and leaves. The founders of CHIRAG are from these hills and still live here, the 240 people that CHIRAG employs are from the villages they work for, and every facet of this organization, “Starts with what they (villagers) know, Builds on what they have.” CHIRAG knows they are not without flaws, and that’s why most of what their doing is responsive work – when something’s not working, they try something else, keeping the lines of communication between the locals and the organization open.

…but I won’t gush…

Sunday, October 4, 2009


So I told some people that I would start this really great blog that helped others track my trip and bragged about how I would post all of my lovely pictures and it would be so much fun...I said this under the disillusion that I would have access to the internet. I barely have phone service, let alone world wide web service. And pictures will take days to upload, so basically, this is the best blog ever.

Not all hope is lost. I will be posting more frequently now, but at the moment, I have to go. My room mates and I have to share the modem, and one room mate just informed me that her grandmother is dying and so she would like to check her email...I told her to get lost.

haha...pray for me

Umm... maybe next time I will actually write about my time in India.