Monday, July 31, 2006

the west wing and a loss of momentum

So, there's this nice British guy that we met in Mamalapuram (I know, we've met a million nice British people, don't even try to keep track). He'd been volunteering doing some cool drama workshops about gender relations and empowerment, and now he's just kind of chilling out. Anyway, we were chating and I discovered that he's a big fan of The West Wing, which you may know is more or less my favorite TV show. I think I frightened him a bit because he was at the computer next to mine in the internet place, and he found this "West Wing Quiz" online and I knew all the answers. And then later we argued about whether or not Donna was a slut who slept her way to the top (she WASN'T). Occasionally other people would turn to us and say, "Are you guys talking about the West Wing again?" and roll their eyes disgustedly. He was fun to talk to, though, because he was very intelligent and knew a lot about real politics as well, especially American politics (which surprised me at first, but he pointed out that American politics matter quite a bit in terms of what happens in the rest of the world). In fact, he's reading Bill Clinton's biography right now. Apparently when Chelsea Clinton was really little she got to go the White House with mom and dad (some governor's ball or something) and she asked then-Vice President Bush where the bathroom was. How precious.

Anyway, one nice thing about going home is that I will start reading the news again. E bought a copy of The Economist last week, so I essentially know what's happening with the whole Isreal/Lebanon/Hizbullah/Hamas thing, but other than that I've been utterly clueless. But the nice part about it is that normally I keep up with current events largely out of a sense of obligation (because it matters for my profession and also for my role as a citizen of the US and the world) but I've discovered that after a while I actually miss reading the news, which must mean that I enjoy it on some level as well.

My posts have gotten a bit dull, I know. I'm too lazy to upload photos, and I just feel tired and sort of want to go home. I only have a week left, and we still have three more days of work to do, and I have lots of shopping left to do for people, and I want to take lots more pictures and all, but my momentum is really waning.

Friday, July 28, 2006

nothing of consequence

I don't have much to say at the moment; I've been feeling a bit sluggish lately. We ended up not working Thursday or Friday (Thursday by design, Friday because IMED changes their schedule radically without telling us). I did literally nothing for most of the day yesterday; I guess I caught up on sleep and did half a crossword puzzle, but I didn't even get any reading done or anything. This was partly because we were out quite late on Thursday night. We went to Zara's to celebrate M's and P's birthdays, but they close at 11:30 (as pretty much all bars do), so we went to Pasha, the dance club, for about 30 minutes until they closed as well. We met this nice guy in his late thirties who works for Goldman Sachs and ended up going back to his hotel room about a five-minute walk away to drink beer, chat, and (in the case of myself, P, E, and M) soak up the luxury. It was like being in another world. There was a huge (and I do really mean HUGE) arrangement of star gazer lilies in the lobby, which made the whole lobby smell good. The room had AC and really comfortable furniture and a balcony and everything.

Here are two anecdotes about that night that I think say something about Indian culture: first, M and I were out on the balcony for a while. While we were out there, the front desk called the guy whose room it was (the Goldman Sachs guy) to tell him that there were two women on his balcony. Not to tell him to get us off the balcony, or that he's not supposed to have guests late at night (which he's not supposed to), just to tell him that we were there, as if he didn't know.

Second, and in a similar vein, we wanted more beer, so he called room service and ordered six beers and six glasses. So, clearly, there were six people in the room (for those of you keeping track, the sixth person was one of his coworkers). But the guy whose room it was wanted to make sure that the person that brought the beer to the door didn't see any of us (he didn't make us hide in the bathroom or anything, just stay out of the sightline of the door). Clearly he was breaking the rules by having people in his room late at night, but as long as you keep up some sort of pretense of following the rules, no matter how absurd, they don't seem to mind.

I'm really going to miss this place. We leave so soon (a week and a half, I think). In fact, unfortunately, E may be leaving in a matter of days, because his grandfather has taken quite ill and may not live much longer, so E wants to go see him as soon as possible. It's looking like we may have nearly a week more of work to do, since IMED is working on finding some dropped-out borrowers for us to survey (I'll explain later why this is important). So we might have to finish up the last bit of work without E, but of course that's just fine. He did get here and start doing work a week before we did. And of course family is much more important than any of this research silliness.

Well, we're off for E's last trip to Mamalapuram.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


As you will note if you look to the right side of your screen, I have solved my reading dilemma. For a couple days I didn't read much of anything (except for a few articles out of a copy of The Economist that E bought), and then I settled on a nonfiction book that I brought with me that is not quite as academic as the Krugman or Keynes that I foolishly brought with me. Since virtually the entire field of mainstream economics is essentially pro-globalization (which is not to say that we don't examine the problems and inequities it causes, because we do--Joseph Stiglitz's books are one good example), I find that it's helpful to do some reading that takes a more critical look at globalization from a standpoint other than textbook economics. The last couple books I tried in this vein were unneccessarily hostile and flippant and horribly written, but William Greider is an excellent and even-handed writer, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


As I mentioned in my last post, I have (in my opinion, at least) an interesting cultural analysis of my run in with Ravi prepared for you, but today was a long day of work, and I have a long evening of deciphering bad handwriting and stapling ahead of me, so we'll save that for another day. One thing I forgot to mention about Ravi was that when I was finding out his name and mobile number, I also found out that he's only 15. Which doesn't mean that he can't already be a lecherous little pervert who goes around groping people because he can get away with it, but it does make it, in my mind, more likely that he's a product of his culture with who has had a difficult life, no good role models, and no opportunity to learn self-control. And as Muffin, who has spent time in India, pointed out, Chennai is a conservative city--it's not like Mumbai or Bangalore. Even though I do my painstaking best to avoid even a hint of cleavage or the sight of a bra strap, it's probably not all that wise or respectful of me to be wearing tank tops around (that's what I was wearing when I got groped--a ribbed cotton tank top from Old Navy). I dress conservatively at work, as I've mentioned, but in the evenings, we're mostly hanging out at home, going out to eat, or doing things like going to the internet place. Of course there are Indians all these places, but I'm not with them or interacting directly with them (except for waiters and stuff) so I just don't think about it as much. And the last time I spent 2 months in a developing country (Mexico), it was mandatory that I dress in a way that was considered culturally appropriate (all skirts, no bare shoulders, no bare knees, etc), and there's a part of me that is rebelling against that a little, I suppose. I guess what it comes down to is that there's only about 3 inches between my throat and where the shadow of my cleavage starts, so lots of things seem low cut on me. And it's hot here, and I hate being told what to wear or being made to feel that my body is inherently obscene and has to be covered like some unsightly scar. I want to go back to the US where guys just think I'm fat and don't, for the most part, try to molest me (a creepy guy on the bus tried to show me his penis once, but I escaped before he could get his fly down).

Okay, I think I've worked through most of my rage, and I promise to post a dispassionate and interesting essay on the cultural issues raised by little Ravi sometime soon. Thanks for bearing with me as I drone on about this.

P.S. Remember my problem where I couldn't view my blog? It turns out that I was a victim of censorship! (Not very effective censorship, however, because I could still post.) Read a little blurb from The Economist about it here (scroll down just past the picture of the boat and look for the word "India" in bold).

Monday, July 24, 2006

ravi the frotteurist*

Well, I had a very interesting, and rather unpleasant, cultural experience last night. I'll warn you at the outset: I will be going into excruciating detail about it, so this will be even longer than my usual marathon posts.

So, E and I decided to come back to Chennai on Sunday night. We got home, ordered some Pizza Hut (I know, we're so bad...but E is always the instigator when we eat American food), and I went to the internet place right by where we live to do a little emailing before the pizza arrived. Like many internet places, this one has a little loft where most of the computers are, and the people that work there and take your money and all are downstairs. I'm using a computer next to the wall, and there was no one at the computer to my left. There were maybe two other guys using computers in the loft area.

At some point, it ended up that I was up there with only one other internet user, and he was sitting at the computer right next to me. But I didn't really notice any of this happening, because I was engrossed in what I was doing. Then the guy next to me, who was a young-looking Indian, tapped my leg with his finger to ask me a question. The fact that he tapped my leg seemed mildly weird, since I think that the shoulder is the most common and appropriate place to touch a stranger, but whatever. It hardly seemed like a big deal, and you never know what is appropriate when you're in another culture. He seemed to be setting up a Yahoo account, and he was asking me questions about how to do it. This all seemed very reasonable and normal: he could see that I was using my Yahoo account, implying that I'm familiar with how it works, and his questions seemed like normal questions for someone who does not speak very good English.

But he kept asking me questions, and they got more confusing and less clear. And the next time he tapped me to get my attention, it seemed like he was going to tap me on the shoulder, but instead he ended up lightly tapping, with one finger, the side of my breast. I'm sure many of you are thinking that the red flags should have gone up at this point, but look at it from my perspective: my breasts are big, and they stick out, and people sometimes bump or touch them without meaning to. And I don't tend to assume that any random person next to which I'm sitting has any lascivious intentions, and I especially try not to assume this with Indians, because it makes me feel like I'm racist. So I just answered his question and went back to my email. The email, not him, was what the bulk of my attention was focused on. He kept asking vague questions and after a while I told him that I'm not sure what he's trying to do and I don't think I can help him.

Some moments later, he leaned over and quietly asked me another question, which I didn't understand. "What?" I said, leaning toward him a little. I can't remember his exact words, but he seemed to be asking for something or to do something. But he wasn't saying what he was asking for, and I was too oblivious to have figured out yet. So finally, exasperated, I said, "You want to do WHAT?"

This was not the right question to ask. In response, he fully grabbed my left breast, and as I pulled away, horrified, he did what I can best describe as a rather revolting licking pantomime. I pushed his shoulder hard and said "No, that's disgusting, don't touch me."

And then I got up and left, right? Well, sure, now that seems like the logical thing to do, but again, look at it from my perspective. I was almost finished with a longish email to my dear friend H, whom I've been neglecting lately and who is doing similar research to ours (the link to his fascinating blog is to the right--unless your computer will display Korean characters, the link probably looks like a bunch of little squares--but the blog is mostly in English). So anyway, I really just wanted to finish my email, and the guy seemed sufficiently chastened by my rebuff. As if to confirm that I'd scared him off, he left his computer shortly after that. As he walked past me, however, he reached down and ran his open palm rather firmly over my breast (the left one again--the poor little thing). It was revolting. More revolting than I would have expected, given that I'm not way hipped up on personal space and all (not like I think it's okay for strangers to touch my boobs, just that I didn't think I'd feel as violated as I did).

So I'm shocked, and for a split second I am totally dumbfounded. I believe, furthermore, that had this happened a couple months ago in the US, I might have remained dumbfounded long enough for him to escape without a response from me. But, I am proud to say, a whirled around and grabbed his arm roughly at the elbow. I didn't yell at him, but I spoke very sharply. I can't remember exactly what I said to him, but it was along these lines: "Hey, you little pervert, that was not okay. That was disgusting and it isn't okay to touch people that way. Don't ever do that to anyone again. Do you want me to call the police?"

I have no idea how much of what I was saying this guy even understood, but he certainly knew the word police, and suddenly his entire demeanor changed. He put his palms together at the chest (you know, like you do in yoga--Indian people do it as a greeting, mostly) and apologized over and over again. I could tell that he was absolutely terrified of the police (for good reason--I'm sure if I had called the cops, who are quite corrupt, they would have beaten him senseless, which is of course not what I really want) and of the people downstairs hearing what I was saying. After his numerous apologies, he tried to explain to me that he had only done it because I am "so beautiful" as if that would somehow make it less inappropriate and creepy. I told him several more times never to touch anyone like that again, and then I let him go.

I quickly finished my email, practically threw a ten rupee note at the cashier guy, and high tailed it to E's room at Broadlands. I told him the story, and of course his first question was, "is the guy still there?" (Which is very sweet, but I also think E is looking for a reason to beat up an Indian.) So I whined and curled up in ball on his bed and discussed my hatred of men while eating my pizza, which had just arrived. I was wishing that I'd slapped him or kicked him in the nuts or at least said something more to him. After mulling it over with E a bit, I went back to the internet place and told them what the guy had done. We have to write down a bunch of info everytime we use the internet there (oh Indian bureaucracy, we bow down to your awesome size and power), so I asked for his name. He had just written "Ravi", but he'd written his mobile number, and I got the guy to give it to me (totally illegal, I'm sure).

I haven't actually done anything with the number, and I probably won't, but I'm still thinking about it.

Meanwhile, this whole incident has gotten me thinking about a lot of very interesting cultural issues, and I'm going to blab all about that, but I'll have to do it later, because this keyboard sucks and I'm tired of typing.

*frotteurist is the clinical term for a person who gets off by rubbing up against strangers, or something like that. I'm playing fast and loose with the definition in this context, but it's a fun word to use. Either Rebel or MJ, both Psych majors, taught it to me, so props to both of them, since I can't remember which it was.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

birthdays, up late, literature

Whatever bizarre glich was preventing me from viewing my blog (and your much-appreciated comments) seems to have resolved itself, because all is back to normal. I was intending to post some more pictures today, but evidently I took the cord for my camera out of my bag, so maybe later. We're in Mamalapuram (of course, 'cause it's the weekend), and the internet place here is much nicer and more reliable than the one near us in Chennai, so posting pictures is much easier here. I hope I didn't leave my camera cord in Chennai.

This past Monday night was the six-month anniversary of my dad's death, so I used it as an excuse to go out to a nice bar in Chennai and have a lot to drink. M wasn't feeling well, so just E came with me, and we had a nice time and ended up talking to this nice Indian guy at the table next to us. I've probably mentioned that M's birthday is tomorrow, the 24th. Maybe I haven't mentioned the cool Dutch woman, P, that works for Oxfam in Chennai and that we've befriended at Broadlands. Her birthday is on the 25th. In conversation with K, the Indian guy, I discover that his birthday is the 26th. So, I think this is fabulous and I insist that he come to Mamalapuram with us on Friday night to celebrate. The cool thing was that he drove us down here in his car, which is much faster and nicer than taking the bus. And I sat in the front seat, where the driver would be in an American car, and told K all about how in the US, people don't constantly honk and run stop signs and weave indiscriminately between lanes and stuff. But I have to say, once you were used to it, I bet driving in India would be a lot of fun.

I stayed up very late last night and the night before. I keep intending to stay up until sunrise so that I can watch the sun rise over the ocean (yes, I know you can see that on the east coast of the US, but as a life-long west coast resident, it seems like a novelty to me). I keep making it until about 4:30 or so and then crapping out and going to bed (of course, I've usually had a bit to drink at this point, so it makes me even more sleepy). We've been hanging out with a bunch of people, mostly Brits, that work for an NGO called Earth Aid (I'm not sure exactly what they do but it involves health clinics and female empowerment), and we've ended up dancing and hanging out late into the night at one of their houses (they are here for a while, so they actually rent real places to live). Apparently no one cares if you play music very loudly at 3 a.m. in India. So it hasn't been a very productive weekend, nor a particularly restful one, but it has been lazy and fun, and there wasn't much productive I needed to accomplish anyway.

One thing I did this weekend was finish The World According to Garp. It was very good, but I think I've been spoiled forever for John Irving novels because the first one I read was A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I thought was stunning and incredible, so I think maybe the other ones just can't live up to it (and I've only read two others: Garp and A Widow for One Year). My dad once commented (as I'm sure many others have in the past) that John Irving basically writes about the same stuff over and over: people with weird sexual hangups or proclivities, children growing up with only one parent or a parent of unknown origin, people with weird voices or speech impediments, private schools for boys, writers, etc. And actually, there were some interesting parallels between Garp and the last book I read, Everything is Illuminated, which was also quite good (and fascinating and bizarre; I definitely recommend it). Stories within stories, younger men with older women, writing about being a writer, etc. I feel like I need to move onto something very different next, but I'm not sure what. I have some nonfiction with me that I've been wanting to read, but it's difficult to concentrate on anything complex when you're always kind of hot and kind of sleepy (which is why I had to put down Currencies and Crises by Paul Krugman after just 3 chapters: it's very readable compared to some other scholarly economic works, but pop economics it ain't). I didn't bring another book to Mamalapuram with me, and I might stay here tonight and go back to Chennai early Monday, so I'm thinking of perusing some of the many tiny used book stores here to see if I can find something interesting.

More pictures tonight if you're lucky, otherwise maybe I can upload them sometime this week at the IMED office. I've heard it's really hot in the US; I hope everyone is not suffering too much (especially since I'm not really suffering too much--you just get used to the heat and then it almost never bothers you). As E would say, peace out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

big rats and cute babies

Okay, so for some reason I haven't been able to view my blog all week, but I seem to be able to post, so I will just go ahead and do that and trust that the rest of you can access it, since you seem to be able to. Probably some crazy Indian internet thing. God bless the third world.

We have finished the bulk of our surveying. We surveyed 60 different borrower groups; anywhere from 4 to 10 borrowers per group were surveyed. Our sample size is already above 400, and we'll do a little more surveying next week. The lack of bias in our sample is certainly questionable, but at least we have a really big sample (big for a student project, anyway). And again, my mantra: we're learning so much. Going to the group meetings has been mostly lots of fun; the women often seem vaguely amused by or in awe of you because you are a white American. At one meeting they gave me a bindi and some flowers for my hair, and many of the groups have been inexplicably excited to have their picture taken with me. Here is me holding a particularly adorable baby (at the meeting after the one where they gave me the bindi):

Next week, we will have just one group of enumerators out surveying, while the rest of them stay at the IMED office and translate some of IMED's records from Tamil into English for us.

One thing I haven't posted pictures of (or even taken pictures of) is where we live: Broadlands Lodge. It's not all that nice, but it is a very old building with lots of charm, and our room is large and has a nice patio area in back. We meet cool people there and we generally like it.

Last night, I was in bed, listening to my ipod, and M was out on the patio reading. She had one small light on out on the patio, and a small light in our room was on, but otherwise it was quiet and relatively dark. Muffled by my headphones, I hear what sounds like some sort of whooping noise. I ignore it, because India is as full of noise as it is of garbage, so you learn to tune it out. But then I hear it again, accompanied by what sounds like someone saying my name. I sit up and discover that M is standing on her chair on the patio, yelling for me. Apparently, she felt something around the toes of one of her feet; there are always flies and mosquitos and random phantom itches, so at first she just moved her foot somewhat mindlessly. At this point, she saw what she described as an enormous rat's ass followed by a very long rat's tail scurrying under the opposite chair and into the darkness. She wanted me to check to make sure the rat was gone before she got off the chair. It was gone, of course, with all the screaming and with me making whatever freaked-out noises I was making as I peered cowardishly around the corner to look for the rat (I know "cowardishly" probably isn't a word, but I'm having trouble figuring out how to make "cowardly" into an adverb).

We were aware of the presence of this enormous rat on the premises (I haven't really seen it, but I did catch it out of the corner of my eye once, and it appeared to be the size of a small beaver), but it usually stays away from light and noise. There are also cats that live at Broadlands (a male and female cat, who have four adorable kittens), but I think the rat is bigger than the cats are. I did see one of the cats with a very large mouse (or a normal sized rat, I suppose) in it's mouth.

So, yeah. The rodents creep me out, but not as much as I might expect. And happily, I haven't seen any cockroaches in our room, which would actually freak me out more, because I assume a cockroach is way more likely to climb up the side of your bed than a rat.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

technical difficulties

For some reason yesterday and today when I tried to look at my blog, the computer couldn't find the website. So I'm not sure if this post will even show up, which is okay, because I don't really have time to write at the moment. Things are fine, and probably this weekend there will be pictures and more stories about surveying and stuff. Mostly I'm just posting this to see if it will work.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

cleaning day

Well, it's the weekend, and I'm still in Chennai. M when to Mamalapuram with a cool Dutch woman who works at an NGO here in Chennai and is staying at Broadlands also. I almost went with them, but decided to stay home and do laundry and clean up our room a little bit. I'm feeling generally sort of scattered and off kilter, so I think spending some time alone doing something meditative like laundry will be beneficial. Also, I'm wearing my last pair of clean underwear. E is also still in Chennai, but he is having some "E time" today, seeing a movie and probably chilling in an air conditioned coffee shop.

As for surveying, the first week seems to have gone reasonably well. We surveyed around 250 people, I think (which in and of itself is a respectable sample size, but the more the better, so we'll keep at it). I'm concerned with both the quality and the randomness of our data, but we're doing the best we can, and again, learning a great deal. We also need to get a bunch of information from IMED's records before we go, but most of it is in Tamil or way-sloppy English, so we will need our enumerators help with that too.

I think one of my enumerators has a crush on me. He's the one that always asks if I ate breakfast, and he gave me a flower on Thursday, and on the rickshaw ride home asked if he could "party" with M, E, and I. I told him maybe after the project is over because I didn't know what else to say. Oh, and totally randomly, this Singaporean guy that we met at Broadlands said the nicest thing to me. I went downstairs to get a beer, and I went over to say hi, and he said, "You look beautiful this evening." I assure you, I have not looked beautiful once while in this country, but I had just showered, I was wearing a pretty skirt and some matching beaded necklaces, and I had my hair down, which is an extreme rarity. Maybe he realized for the first time that I actually have hair. Anyway, when you feel gross all the time, it's nice to get a bit of flattery.

Well, today is cleaning day, not blogging day. More later.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

not so much with the brevity

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but we started surveying borrowers on Monday and it's been an insane, consuming, and tiring undertaking. Before I delve into that, I will reassure you, as if it is even necessary, that I was not on a commuter train in Mumbai and was not hurt or killed in the bombing. I'm deeply embarassed to say that I don't really know anything about it. I got a worried email from B and so I called my mom and said, "Did something bad happen in India?" I had a fantasy that I would keep up with world events while here by reading and, but there's only so long I care to spend in one of these internet places, and I prefer to spend it writing my blog and reading (and occasionally responding to) correspondence. M and E were watching TV at Broadlands when I left to grab some dinner and then come here, and I think there was a thing on TV about it, but I wasn't even really paying attention. For some reason a bombing seems like no big deal these days. A sad state of affairs, I suppose.

So, surveying. This whole summer research project is, as you know, a requirement of my master's program. Therefore, I believe it is best regarded as a learning experience, a sort of "real world" class in field researching. I say this because the surveying itself, like all the work that led up to it, has not really turned out as we had expected or hoped, and in three days I have learned a LOT about what to do and not do.

This was the general plan: IMED's Field Assistants (FAs) conduct around 3 borrower group meetings a day. M, E, and I would each take 3 of the enumerators we hired (actually, E takes 4, since we hired 10) and tag along with the FA to the three meetings. We have randomly pre-selected the six borrowers we want to interview at each meeting, plus four alternates in case some are absent (if a randomly chosen borrower is absent, you should really go back and survey them later, or else your data might be biased, but that's a whole other story). We thought that we would get to the meetings, and they would do the usual meeting stuff: say a prayer, do their borrower pledge, take attendance, and do repayment accounting. After that, the FA is supposed to do a training module. We figured that during the module, we'd take the first three women outside and the enumerators would survey them, and then they'd go back in, and we'd get the next three, and there would be minimal disruption to the meeting itself.

Well, let me tell you. First of all, whether the meeting even happens is questionable. Sometimes the group leader is sick or something, so you end up sort of rounding up any six women from the group you can find and surveying them. Sometimes meetings happen, but they don't do the pledge and stuff like you think they're going to, and you're not sure why. Sometimes lots of people are absent. Sometimes two meetings are back-to-back in the same place, so one meeting has ended and another has begun and somehow you have not noticed. Oh, and forget taking 3 women outside to be surveyed. EVERYONE comes outside if you do that, and not only do they watch, but they answer questions for the women, talk to the enumerators, etc. And you don't know what they're saying or what is happening because it's all in Tamil, and the enumerators supposedly all speak English, but quite frankly, their English usually sucks. Also, our survey is apparently written in a confusing way, so we've had to do a great deal of explaining in order to try to get the answers we are looking for. And you never know when an enumerator is making up an answer just because he wants to please you and get done. And you never know what crazy thing a borrower will say. I had two today that claimed not to have small businesses, even though you have to have one to get a loan. It turns out that this woman is a tailor and has a sewing machine, but for some reason answered the questions that would elicit these responses in the negative. Oh, and hardly anyone has business assets (like a sewing machine) because most of the businesses are very non-capital intensive, and I'm supposed to be writing my thesis about business asset acquisition, so, hmmm...

On the other hand, the enumerators are nice guys, and they are learning pretty quickly and by today (their third day) were doing pretty well. All the borrowers are super-nice, and I usually get to play with at least one adorable baby a day, so that's nice. In fact, I have no idea why I find surveying so tiring, because I don't actually do that much. I just look over the completed surveys to find missing stuff, then try to explain what is missing and what they need to ask the borrower, all the while trying desperately to understand what is going on and make sure the right people are being interviewed, if possible.

Another thing about surveying is actually going to the borrowers' neighborhoods. There's plenty of intense poverty just steps away from where I live (there's plenty of it everywhere, really), but I saw some especially intense stuff in the last couple days. Examples: on two separate occasions, a little boy taking a shit on the side of the road (sorry to be so crude, but I somehow feel there's no other way to say it); tiny, furnitureless concrete houses in tiny, labirynthine shanty town-esque places; lots of goats eating from huge piles of garbage; a woman (only 35 years old) who had just died, shrouded in a white sheet and covered with flowers, surrounded by her sobbing, wailing family and friends in the middle of the street. I haven't really talked about the poverty and my reactions to it on this blog much, mostly because it's overwhelming and I don't know how I feel. Now that I see how hard it is to get good, consistent, unbiased data out in the field, what I'm doing seems that much more useless in the face of so much need. But because it is everywhere, and because the poor go about their lives just like the rest of us, it begins to seem normal and I stop caring about it. I stop caring if microfinance works or not, because how can it really matter?

But I think it does matter, and I'm still not ready to give up being a development economist. Give me a couple more days, and we'll see...

On a lighter note, on the second morning of surveying, BJ (the nice young guy who works at OI and has heled us a ton) called me on my cell and in a very awkward and apologetic way told me that he heard from the people at the Saidapet branch that some of the enumerators were making some comments (in Tamil, of course) about, as BJ tactfully put it, cleavage. So he wanted (again, so apologetically) to make sure I would be coming in to the office wearing something as non-cleavage-y as possible (he didn't actually use the world "non-cleavage-y"). He also let M know, but I'm pretty sure the enumerators were talking about me. The thing is, I know that I can't go around wearing the stuff that I wear in the US when I'm around modest female borrowers and 21-year-old Indian guys (who according to BJ have the emotional maturity of a 13-year-old) while working with a conservative Christian organization. What I was wearing, as far as I could tell, was perfectly appropriate. It was a short sleeved button-down top, and I had it buttoned up past my cleavage. It is possible that if I were leaning over you would have been able to see the tiniest bit of something, but not really. And halfway through the day I even buttoned the top button just in case. The problem, I think, is that at one point toward the beginning of the day, when we were giving the enumerators their initial briefing, one of the buttons in the middle came undone, and who knows how long it took me to notice. But it's not like I had a boob hanging out. And you all know that shirts that other people can wear without showing cleavage might show cleavage on me because there's more there to show, so today, since I wore a perfectly innocent v-neck top, I had to wear a scarf around my shoulders to basically cover my whole chest area. So it's kind of annoying. Furthermore, because pale skin is considered beautiful (and a novelty) here, and because the standard female body ideal is a bit heavier here than in the states, I tend to get some unwanted attention from Indian guys. I was talking to one guy in Mamalapuram a couple weeks ago, and he was telling me that he is illiterate, and that he wants to go back to school but is scared to, and I was encouraging him and telling him that his spoken English is excellent, and telling him that I would teach him the English alphabet, and he put his arm around me, and said, "You're so beautiful, you teach me whatever you want." So here I think I'm having a great cultural bonding moment, but it's just some guy hitting on me. Lovely.

A few other things have happened since I last wrote, like me yelling at another rickshaw driver and having 2 more milks at Sparky's, but nothing particularly exciting. Oh, and a happy birthday shoutout to T, whom I thought of all day today as I wrote the date on the completed surveys. And an apology and an exactly one month late happy birthday shoutout to IB, who's birthday passed without me acknowledging it. But I still had jet lag on 12 June, so that's the excuse I'm sticking with.

More pictures soon, more about surveys soon. I miss everyone so much. But I'm also feeling pretty good, very self-confident and capable. I think India is good for that.

Friday, July 07, 2006

pictures and the head bobble

First of all, here are the pictures I was supposed to post last time but was unable to due to technical difficulties:

The Oregon license plate on the wall at Sparky's. Woo Hoo!

The elephant that we saw outside of a Hindu temple in Pondy. Very interesting. E loved it.

M with her shiny bindi and E with his frosting bindi (on the 4th at Sparky's).

This is us in Pondy at the yummy French-Italian restaurant where I always ordered spinach ravioli. I just thought it was a particularly cute picture.

Me finishing my second milk at Sparky's. Note to S: NO, IT'S NOT THE MILK THAT MADE ME SICK! THE WHOLE POINT OF THE ULTRA-SUPER-DUPER PASTEURIZATION IS THAT IT KILLS EVERYTHING IN THE MILK SO IT WON'T GO BAD FOR, LIKE, EVER. STOP BAD MOUTHING THE MILK! p.s. to everyone: isn't that a cute top I'm wearing? I got it here for like 3 bucks at Casablanca.

Anyway, on to the rest of the post. Guess what? We're back in Mamalapuram! Have I mentioned how much I love it here? We went to Yogi's (our favorite restaurant), but the adorable smiley waiter wasn't there like he always is, and we freaked out (well, not really). But then we found out that the regular waiter is in Chennai visiting his wife and baby and the new waiter was the guy's brother, and he had the same adorable smile and mannerisms. Speaking of mannerisms, I think E, M, and I are starting to pick up the Indian head bobble a little bit. They do it when a Westerner would nod: to say yes, when they're listening, when they're contemplating, etc. The problem is that although the motion is predominantly a side-to-side tilt, there's also a slight back and forth shake involved, so instinctively you think people are saying no when they're saying yes. And they so often don't verbalize assent, so you're always like, "Yes? Yes? It is okay?" and they keep bobbling their head at you like you're kinda dumb or something.

Not much else excitement here; the survey schedule is typed up for the first two weeks, the survey forms are printed, and all is set to go. I'm very excited and hope to get a lot of rest this weekend.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

sick and stuff

So, I was cursed with a touch of illness yesterday. Opinions vary as to the cause. I think it was too mild to be food poisoning, but I suppose it could have been just a mild case of food poisoning. We had our big ol' 4th of July dinner (and I had 2 glasses of milk, thank you very much) and then came home and chilled out. I had noticed earlier that day that (***SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT MY BOWEL MOVEMENTS**) my run-of-the-mill India diarrhea had turned into something a bit more intense and frequent, but I didn't think much of it. I felt kind of yucky that night, but I thought it was just because I was really full (and I hadn't been that full in quite a while). But then I woke up at 6 a.m., had some more of that lovely diarrhea, and puked my guts out. I stayed at home that day, drank water, pooped out all the water I drank (I'm sorry, I know it's gross, but this is part of my India experience too...), and dry heaved a little because I felt like I was going to throw up but there was nothing in my stomach. Oh, and there was some weird power strike so the fan was off most of the day, so I just lay in bed sweating and feeling miserable.

But, by evening I was much revived, and managed to eat dinner. I'm feeling a bit queasy after today's lunch, and things still aren't going very well with my "plumbing", but I'm not nearly as sick as E got, for which I'm quite grateful.

While I was sick at home, M and E came up with our surveying schedule for the first week. Our sample is not exactly as random as it is supposed to be, because for logistical reasons that would be sort of impossible (Shhh...don't tell our advisor). But things are all set to go for Monday, which is great.

Here are some pictures from Sparky's on the 4th. You can't really tell, but M and I are wearing sparkly bindis (those dots that Hindus or Buddhists sometimes wear on their's religious/cultural origin is as a representation of the Third Eye, but it is now not unusual for them to be worn primarily for decorative purposes, as M and I do). Anyway, M thought it would be funny to use the red frosting from one of the cupcakes to give E a bindi too (yes, I know, we're so culturally sensitive). And I'm sure E would want me to tell you that he was not happy about his frosting bindi and got it off of his forhead post haste.

Okay, just kidding about the pictures. Blogger is being annoying and not letting me upload them. I'll try again later.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

god bless america

Happy 4th of July! Today has been a good day so far. We hired 10 ennumerators (the young guys who speak Tamil and--theoretically--English who will actually administer the surveys to the borrowers). This charity called the Tamil Nadu Foundation found the enumerators for us, and essentially as a form of repayment, they want us to make a donation. India is interesting (and kind of refreshing) because if people want something from you they just come right out and say it. He wasn't rude or tacky about it, just direct. And their charity does good stuff, so we're going to see if we can get our parents to give a little and maybe USF to give a little, and we will too. Anyway, the survey is translated, so now all we have to do is get the consent form translated and pick our random sample (and from that make up a surveying schedule). So actual surveying will start on Monday. I can hardly believe it. I can also hardly believe how long it's taken to get to this point, but this is supposed to be a learning experience, and we're learning a lot.

So I think we're going to just chill out this afternoon (I know what you're thinking: isn't "chill out" all they ever do?) and then tonight, as I mentioned, we're going to the 4th of July bash at Sparky's. I think I might have two glasses of milk. I think I might just sit there all night in the air conditioning, drinking milk.

Oh, one interesting Pondy story. We rented a motorized scooter thing (like a motorcycle, but wussier, I guess), and E drove it to a beach 10 kilometers away in crazy Indian traffic with me riding on the back. He was freaked out, I could tell, but he was an excellent driver. M went on the back of the scooter of a guy she met in Pondy (just a friend; Romeo is still very much on her mind). In theory it's incredibly dangerous to be out in crazy traffic with huge trucks and buses whizing by (sometimes less than a foot away) while you're on a tiny scooter going really fast with no helmets. But you regularly see whole families, including toddlers, on these scooters (the toddlers aren't driving, of course). E went pretty slow, for which I was greatful. And since there are so many bicycles and random things on the road too, none of the Indians care if you go slow, they just go around you.

And because I've been here for nearly a month, Indian traffic no longer seems odd or scary to me. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the crazy traffic situation in most developing countries, but I will explain anyway. Imagine a street like Burnside. Replace about 2/3rds of the cars with motorcycles and autorickshaws. Have a cow, dog, or goat wander into traffic every once in a while. Ignore the painted lanes; they are an irrelevant pretense. If someone is in your way, feel free to swerve into oncoming traffic to pass them. Feel free to run red lights. Go as fast as you can. Honk your horn at least every 30 seconds. If you are getting off the bus, don't expect it to stop; it will just slow down enough for you to jump off. If you are walking, walk in the street, because although there is almost always a sidewalk, it is almost always blocked by something (a pile of rocks, a woman selling fruit, a pile of garbage, sleeping children, etc). Cross the street anywhere you want, and feel free to dash in front of fast-moving vehicles.

Enjoy the fireworks or whatever you're doing, and if I don't die in a car crash, I'll post again soon.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

milk has been made available!

So, I'm way behind on stuff I want to say. I suppose it's because I go on forever about each topic so I don't have time to cover them all. Anyway, we had fun that other night at Zara's and at the nightclub Pasha, which was incredibly loud and crowded and expensive, but somehow much more fun than American night clubs, which I don't care for. Maybe it's because none of the Indian guys were leery or creepy (a welcome change from the Indian guy on the beach who told me he was watching me sleeping), and because expensive in India is just normal in US terms. Or maybe it was just the novelty of seeing hip young Indians on a packed dance floor dancing to Indian pop music. Anyway, we danced like crazy, and had a great time. Our British friends have left India and are on their way to Kenya, and we miss them! They were super-cool and fun.

Anyway, we got some more work done in Chennai, and then we went down to Pondicherry for the weekend, which is where I am now. "Pondy", as they call it, is about 2 more hours south of Mamalapuram by bus, and it's an old French colony, so there's some neat architecture and all the streets are called "Rue Blah Blah". I've done some more shopping while I've been here, acquiring a skirt, a dress, a scarf, two shirts, and two gifts. We went to this great department store type place called Casablanca (Muffin, if you're reading, which you BETTER BE, it was a lot like Odels) which is where I got the tops and the scarves and one of the gifts. It's great because I found an adorable beaded and tye-dyed shirt, but the sleeves were too short, so their tailor will just take them off for me for free. And in this heat a sleeveless shirt is better anyway.

But let's get down to the real topic of this post: MILK. As you may know, I LOVE MILK. And as you may imagine, they don't really drink milk in India, at least not the sort of milk we drink in the US. I haven't been to a grocery store yet, so I'm unclear on the exact milk situation, but I'm under the impression that there's milk that comes in a bag and milk that comes in a box (think of a cardboard box like chicken broth comes in). I have no idea what the story with the bag milk is or what it really is. The boxed milk is almost like regular milk. Here's the deal: most of us drink pasteurized milk. I don't know exactly what pasteurization is, but I know it involves heating the milk to kill bad stuff and make it last longer. Certain brands of organic milk sold in the US are ultra-pasteurized, which means they're heated more or hotter or something, and they last longer. It also makes the milk taste a little different. Opinions vary, but I think it tastes better. I drink ultra-pasteurized milk in the states even though I can't really afford $4 a half-gallon. The boxed milk in India is something beyond ultra-pasteurized. Something that will allow it to keep, unopened, at room temperature for quite a while.

So anyway, the other night we went to a restaurant in Chennai called Sparky's, which is owned and run by an American guy named Tom and specializes in Western-style food. I had a burger and fried zucchini. Yummy yummy. After dinner, we were chatting with Tom, and I suddenly got an idea: "Do you have any milk?" I asked him. He seemed a little confused but said that they did have boxed milk, but he wasn't sure if any of it was cold (because you don't refridgerate it until it's open). I said, "I don't care. Throw a couple ice cubes in. I'll pay however much you want. Can I please please please have a glass of milk?" So they brought me a glass of milk, and it was heaven. Cold, creamy, full-fat heaven. I hadn't had any milk in three weeks (other than what they put in our coffee, and who knows what that is?), and I hadn't realized how much I missed it until I had that glass. I was making noises of such ecstacy while drinking it that M and E asked me if I wanted to be alone at the table with my milk.

We're going back to Sparky's for their 4th of July buffet, and I'm going to have at least two glasses.

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