No turkeys in India

Still here, in India. Still in Ranchi.

I’ve been successful for most of today in resolutely not thinking about Thanksgiving. It’s one of my very favorite holidays because of the way that I celebrate with family and friends.I’ve felt very alone in Ranchi lately, so it’s doubly hard. I went to my adviser’s house for a mini-Thanksgiving. He told me that if I was ever feeling homesick, I could have dinner with him and his wife – so I took him up on it in honor of this holiday.

This was our feast:

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That’s honey chicken, a beef stew thing, and rice. We even had beer! When he heard I haven’t had Indian rice beer yet, he said that we have to go out and do that before I leave Ranchi. He joked that it’s what made a Swiss friend of his stay for an extra year!

Apparently November/December is also harvest time in India, and people have small celebrations giving thanks for the food and the previous year. So we combined traditions and had a blast. Good conversation, relaxed atmosphere, a very good thing.

Being here gives me a lot to think about, and to be thankful for. Yup, it’s list-time:

*Friends and family. Seriously, y’all are amazing.
*Food. An abundance of food, at that. It’s even the sort of food I want to eat, not what I have to.
*Tap water.
*Electricity. And that I can charge my laptop whenever I want to when I’m at home.
*The existence of switches for plugs. I will definitely miss being able to turn a whole outlet off when I go back home!
*The fact that when I’m in America, I speak the dominant language.
*My bicycle. And that I don’t face imminent death by riding it in the Twin Cities. So … bike lanes?
*Coffeeshops that don’t play Akon when I walk in ‘cause I’m American and clearly we all love Akon.
*My iPod. So I can block out the Akon.
*The way the leaves change in Autumn.
*The fact that I am privileged and lucky enough to get all the way to India.
*Books! Particularly “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel and “Haroun and the Sea of Stories" by Salman Rushdie. Just finished “Life of Pi,” which was amazing, and have just started “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” which is even more amazing.
*Rickshaws that are public, and thus only charge me 6 rupees a ride.
*The Twin Cities metrotransit system.
*Pets. Especially the ones that don’t have rabies and are ok to cuddle with.
*Did I mention my friends and family? Because I’m pretty sure my life wouldn’t be anywhere near as amazing and breathtaking without you.

In other news …

As a way to stave off the homesickness, I’ve begun knitting again! I finally caved and went to buy knitting needles and yarn. It feels SO GOOD! I’m making Stephen West’s Boneyard Shawl for a John-thing. As of right now, it looks like this:

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I am determined to finish it by the time I get back to the states. This shouldn’t be too hard, considering how easy the pattern is.

I’ve also decided to get another tattoo. I’ve been thinking of this one since I got my last one, which was in November 2008. I’ll still wait until the spring to get it – it’s a text tattoo, and so I have to think about the placement, line breaks, and font. And also tattoos heal better when it’s not the middle of the dry MN winter.

Tomorrow I’m headed off to the Piparwar coal mine. Piparwar is one of the case studies for my research, so it’s a very important site visit. But I have been informed by multiple people that I have to be very careful, so I won’t really get to ask too many questions. But it will still be good to see the mine itself, to get a grip on the scope of the issue. I’m sure there will be another post after that, with some pictures of the mine/resettlement area.

Till then, I’m jealous of all of you and your turkey (and wild rice and sweet potato and cranberry) feasts.


Lonely Planet?

This blog post is written between visits with the two families I’m jumping between. Well, make that three families. But I’m getting ahead of myself (a habit that seems to be catching up with me).

On Saturday, I left the relative familiarity of Jaipur for a whole different experience of India. My "Independent” Study Project* began with a bus ride to Delhi, where I would catch the train to Ranchi, Jharkhand.

Anyway, I am now living in a lovely little room on the main floor of a house in Ranchi. Antony, my landlord/friend/guide arranged for me to take this spare room. He would have put me in his house, but he runs an orphanage, and so he thought it would be difficult for me to work with all of the girls running around.

Speaking of Antony and the orphanage: the girls that stay with him are the sweetest ever! He has ten girls, and then something like ten or fifteen boys in another home. He started the orphanage several years ago in memory of his late wife. While she was going through chemotherapy, she had a vision of him surrounded by children. He took that as a sign, and shortly after her death got the licensure to start an orphanage.

Most of the girls have no parents, and come from very poor villages in Jharkhand. Many of them are of the indigenous community. Most of them weren’t being looked after in the villages at all. I’m not sure how it is that he was able to find the girls, it sounds like someone from the village contacts him, and then he comes and does the legal legwork to collect them.

Quite honestly, I have very little idea how all of this works.

My main advisor, whose name is Bineet Mundu, is fantastic. He’s been working on displacement/indigenous issues for decades, and got his master’s degree in international indigenous rights/law from a university in Norway. Highly educated, very interesting, very compassionate guy. He has been supremely helpful in finding contacts for me to interview, and helping me to figure out site visits and such. His wife is also very interesting – she left today to present research at a ten day conference in Indonesia. Her research is on the scapegoating of widows in tribal communities. (Fascinating stuff – apparently, in some village communities, widows and other women are sometimes scapegoated as “witches” when a disaster happens. I will have more on this later.) Aside from doing very interesting research, Elina is kind, beautiful, and very funny. The two of them are an absolute delight.

Hopefully from this blog post, you’ve got an idea about how absolutely wonderful the people here are.

I don’t know how I feel about Ranchi – should I call it my new home? I definitely feel “at home,” but that is through very little affinity for the place. Quite honestly, this is one of the most trying, difficult places I’ve been in India. There are just so many issues here, it’s hard to begin.

First of all, the displacement issues. I’ll have more on this once I’ve visited people who have been displaced, as well as the “resettlement” villages. But displacement is just one aspect of the problems village communities face in Jharkhand.

The city of Ranchi itself is very dirty, chaotic, and clearly growing faster than the infrastructure can handle. As the capitol city of a new state, many people are moving to Ranchi very quickly – much faster than homes can be built. When I walk to the main road, I pass so many tent homes and almost slum-like homes on the way. They aren’t true bastis, but they come close.

People are also less trusting here. I can’t really put it into words, but the people here have been fairly protective of me.

My impressions of Ranchi so far have been very mixed. I love the people I’m working with, and I’ve found so much beauty here and can already see my personal growth through this experience, but the city itself is posing some challenges to my personal comfort. The next three weeks are going to fly by, as this one has. I’ll have to get acquainted with it quickly.


In other news, feeling vaguely homesick. Mostly, I just miss being able to communicate effectively with people. And fall. And things being easy. Nothing is really all that easy here.

Also, I’m missing fall.

Actually, let’s just make a list of things I miss:

Friends and Family
Non-Indian Food
Hamline University
The Twin Cities Bus System
Personal Independence
Animals Which Are Safe for Cuddling

… actually that’s not that bad. I can wait five weeks for those things, right? Right. Buck up, Abbie, you can do this.


And now I’ve stopped feeling well. Here’s hoping that doesn’t stop me from going to Jamshedpur to do an interview tomorrow … bleeeeech. Ok, time to relax. Especially because the power just went out. That’s a pretty good indicator of relaxation time.

Breathless, small change

I just remembered that I had been planning on writing a blog post on the trip to Jodhpur/Bikaner, but I never really got around to it. I’m bone tired after another week in the Himalayas, but things are going well.

I’ll just do a quick bullet point post of Jodhpur and Bikaner:

*Visited a girls’ school, made friends with girls, was hit with many a scarf
*It was very hot in the desert
*Visited a village in the desert
*Said villagers seemed quite jaded to our presence
*Talked to the village midwife, and a blind woman
*Saw lots of camels at the Camel Research Center
*Talked with Hindu refugees from Pakistan
*Almost went on a camel safari
*Camel safari was ridiculously inconvenient for one night in the desert
*Rode the bus home, and read almost an entire book

All of those things should be talked about more. Really, they should. But I didn’t really have time to write up a whole big post on them. Just ask me in person.

I am on Day 2 of Being Back in Jaipur. I just got back from a week-long internship with the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra in the Himalayas. This was by far the most successful NGO that I’ve had the chance to visit, and also coincidentally the one most closely related to my research.

The six of us in our impressive van.


The organization, like I said earlier, was pretty impressive. They actually work with the UNDP on some research projects, run classes on human rights law, and have fought some of the most important environmental litigation cases in India. Their work on pollution and deforestation policy was essential in passing India’s Environmental Protection Act.

All of that really cool environmental justice law, and I didn’t get to see much of it in action. We ended up spending most of our time up in some Himalayan villages. Going in to the workshop, I had very little idea of what to expect. I didn’t think that I would be in the villages, I thought I’d be spending more time at RLEK’s center. But I’m very glad to have done what we did.

We were able to talk to three different women’s groups. RLEK grades its women’s groups based on level of empowerment – there are three tiers, A, B, and C. We were able to talk to groups on each level. The women don’t necessarily find out what level they’re graded at, but it helps the RLEK team to figure out what needs the different groups have so they can better facilitate them. The first group we talked to was at a C level. They still had to ask permission of their husbands every time they wanted to go to a meeting, and were very afraid of creating conflict within their families. They were also very shy.

The second group we talked to was probably … a B+? I’m not sure. We weren’t really told. But they hold many meetings a month, and are participating in exposure visits that RLEK puts together. They had a very interesting issue with one of the visits. They’d gone to Haryana, which is in the plains region of India, and observed how high-producing dairy cows had helped women there to thrive economically. They decided to buy some cows from Haryana to implement a similar thing.

This ended tragically. Because the Himalayan climate is so different from the climate of Haryana, the cows all either died or couldn’t produce milk. So we sat in on their meeting, as they were trying to determine what to do about the loans they’d taken out to pay for the cows.

My group with some of the women, including the leader of the village.

The third group was very different. They were most certainly at a level A. The men had come so much to accept the women’s group as a positive, that they would remind their wives to attend meetings. The women were very involved in the village school. One of their major successes was to get rid of a schoolteacher. The teacher was exploiting the schoolchildren by making them do the teacher’s personal chores. They were a very, very inspiring group.

Women in the Himalayas tend to have a more equal status socially than women in the plains. I feel like I have a bit of a hopeful, skewed perception of women’s issues because most of my experience is in the mountains. I feel so much more at home there as well, just at peace.

Our first night out, we traveled nine hours up very windy roads to spend the night in a Himalayan village. It was storming wildly, and the electricity went out. I just couldn’t believe that somehow, life had taken me to this remote village in the mountains halfway across the world from where I was born, experiencing a culture so different from my own. India. I’m in India? Yes.

Even though I’ve been here for two months already, it still strikes me every once in a while. And then I realize how used to India I am, and I surprise myself. I am so, so blessed and thankful to be here right now. Big thank you to the powers that be.