Thanksgiving and Weekend Shopping

It’s kind of hard to believe but this was my third to last weekend in Pune. I’ve been keeping pretty buys with my internship, but have gotten to do some fun things as well.

The pie making girls with possibly the most beautiful apple pie of the night- delicious!

Belive it or not we did celebrate Thanksgiving here in India. I spent the afternoon baking some delicious pies with some of the other girls on my program. We had an interesting variety of shapes and sizes of pans, and a gas oven with only two racks. However, we still managed to make a total of 14 pies, although most of them were smaller then what one would consider a normal pie size. We made pumpkin pie from scratch, using pre-pressure cooked pumpkin, blending it with lots of spices and other goodies before putting it into our homemade pie crusts.

Making popcorn for a movie night- they have 'instant' popcorn packets... for the pressure cooker!

Because we didn’t have enough pans we made three large free-form apple tarts, which ended up tasting really good. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of Turkey (a bit dry but turkey none the less), mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, cheesy garlic toast, some very strange looking stuffing, green beans with hazelnuts, potato balls, pie, vanilla ice cream and chocolate pudding. I wouldn’t say it was the most traditional but it tasted pretty delicious. I do think that the pie was the highlight.

The Japanese Garden

This weekend I decided I should get around to seeing some of the sites I haven’t gotten to in the city.I brought out the map that they gave us at the beginning of the program and started to actually piece together how the city worked. We started out at a Japanese Garden that is close to my house.

Clumpy Lumpy Grass at the Japanese Garden

They claim that it is the largest Japanese garden outside of Japan, but who knows. It was actually quite nice, and peaceful, until a large school field trip brought about a hundred middle schoolers, many of whom wanted pictures of us. We did stay quite fascinated by the ‘clumpy lumpy grass’ that was quite prevalent, and seemed to be out a Dr. Seuss book.

I found these in the grocery store and laughed at the tag line

Next we visited the Raj Dinkar Kelkar Museum, which was an mansion in the old city that housed the vast collection of Indian artifacts collected by Dinkar Kelkar during late 20thcentury.

So many chilies! They were actually imported to India by the Portuguese

It was really cool to see some really great statues, pots and pans, tapestries, artwork and lots of other stuff from all around this vast and diverse country. We then walked around the old city for a while, as well as a pretty awesome vegetable market. Sunday after slowly getting some work done on one of the three final papers I have due Wednesday we went to Luxmi road, one of the major shopping streets in Pune. hadn’t planned on buying much, but ended up getting a Tiffin- a tin lunch box made of three compartments stacked on top of each other, and a Sari!

Fresh Ginger, it really is quite common here, I'll miss that in the US

I’m pretty excited about the Sari, I still need to get the top for it actually made, and the petticoat that goes underneath, but it’s beautiful. I’m not sure I’ll be able to wear it other than at our closing ceremony, but if not I can always hang it somewhere- and who knows if/when I’ll be back to India again.

My Sari- pictures of me wearing it to come... hopefully

Work Visit to Phaltan

For my work with the Appropriate Rural Technologies Institute I spent 3 nights at their headquarters in Phaltan, a rural town about 110km away from Pune. I was sent there to interview the staff, some of the entrepreneurs they have trained, farmers implementing their technologies and users of their energy technologies so I can compile a report on things ARTI could do better. It’s been an interesting (read somewhat frustrating) process figuring out what I’m supposed to do.

Making charcoal brickets from waste sugarcane material

I feel like my visit to Phaltan has been a turning point because I was able to collect data that will allow me to actually give some useful feedback to ARTI.  The entire internship experience has been really great at giving me a taste of how difficult it can be to get things done on the ground with an NGO in the developing world. The visit to Phaltan also depend my respect for the truly inspiring work ARTI is doing.

 

Me planing sugarcane seedlings

Myself and the interoperate who came with me got there by bus, the bus system is truly crazy but despite the seeming ciaos you still manage to get a bus that will take you to the place you need to go. We spent the first day getting an overview of all the technologies ARTI has created. These include improved cook stoves, increased air flow and chimneys creates more efficient burning, reducing fuel consumption and indoor smoke; low tec greenhouses, plastic sheets a little over a meter high that trap CO2 inside the plots to increase growth;

Different stoves and the Sari Cooker System

vermy (worm) composting and raised beds; improved techniques for planning sugarcane; bamboo treatments to make the poles last for 8-10 years without rotting rather then 2-3; bamboo technologies, drying racks, water tanks and decorative structures; bio-charcoal, making charcoal from agro-waste, turning it into brickets to burn in a stove; the SARI Cooker System, which won an international award, a stove a cooking system that will make food without needing attention; home biogas plants and some others. These technologies area really cool- very low tec. and generally easy to understand but make real improvements in the lives or rural people’s.

Me eating fresh sugarcane- delicious!

Saturday I got to visit an entrepreneur who has her own sugarcane nursery that has grown substantially and created a real source of income for her family. She now higher 12-15 people to help her with the work and demand for seedlings outpaces her ability to supply them. Using these seedlings and planning them using spacing ARTI and the entrepreneurs recommend farmers save 2 months of watering and fertilizing seeds, and their yield increases up to 20 tons of sugarcane per hector! As cool as it was talking to this women and some of the farmers I think my favorite part of the afternoon was getting to munch of sugarcane cut fresh from the field.

Organic banana's! They grow in layers according to how old the tree is- this is 4 generations old

Sunday morning I got to visit a really amazing organic farm. I still amazing by how many initiatives are going on with organic farming in India. As much as India is touted as an incredible success of the green revolution, and while it is true that become of modern agriculture and GM techniques, farmers are facing incredible difficulties with modern agriculture. High expenses of seeds and fertilizers push out smaller farmers who can’t afford the upfront investment, and in many cases the land has become severely degraded because of poor farming practices. At this farm they were experimented with vermy compost (worm composting), and vermy wash (a mix of fermented cow urine, water and organic matter) for fertilizer, creating their own organic pesticides from cow urine, the crushed leaves of trees and chilies, using intercropping to insure plants got the nutrients they needed.

Me with some really tall African Corn

I got to try two fruits I had never heard of- Stone Applies, which had a very hard outer shell and a brown mushy, tangy middle I wasn’t too fond of, and Chiku which quite good sweet brown round fruits. We also got to see wild peacocks, and were given a peacock feather that they collect as we left- it’s supposed to be good luck to have one in your household, but I just can’t get over how beautiful it is!

One the the installed improved rural cook-stoves

That afternoon and Monday I got to interview a bunch of people from Phaltan and the surrounding rural areas who were implementing ARTI technologies. It was a great experience for me to get to visit these different homes. Seeing the rural women making breakfast on a traditional wood burning stove really showed me how important these simple developments are. Reducing the indoor smoke from stoves can literally save hundreds of millions of lives around the world. I was also amazed at the overwhelming favorable responses for ARTI technologies. While not all users were using the technologies quite correctly, they all were very pleased with the technologies.

One of the kids from the Sugarcane Nursery holding two freshly cut stalks

Overall I’d call the visit a success, and hopefully the report I write will make some helpful suggestions for how ARTI could improve.

Me with one of ARTI's home bio-gas plants

A truck loaded with sugarcane- I saw hundreds around Phaltan

Tropical Paradise- My Weekend in Goa

A view of the beach

The last weekend about half of our program took a trip to south Goa, a small state south east of Maharashtra on the coast on the Arabian Sea. I was the most relaxing weekend I’ve had in India so far.

One of the most interesting parts of the weekend was getting to and from Goa… by overnight sleeper bus. We took a rickshaw to the bus station, although it turns out you catch private busses from small stands in front of hotels nearby. We took a tiny, incredibly crowded bus for about 10 minutes to the actual bus.

I was surprised how much the palm trees slanted- and you could see the coconuts hanging off!

The sleeper bus was an experience. One the way there the bus consisted of closed compartments with single beds on one side, and double on the other, stacked two high, with a sliding closing door so you were basically in a box. The drive is about 10 hours, and roads in India are defiantly not nearly as smooth as what you might be used to in the States or Europe.  A couple people said they caught some air at one point in the night, but other than being rather cold because the window wouldn’t shut all the way I thought the ride was fine. The bus generally only makes one stop, for dinner about two hours in, so we did have some pretty out-in –the-open midnight bathroom breaks.

An Indian beach experience couldn't be complet without a cow walking along

 

We got to Goa about 8am on Saturday morning, and caught a bus to our hotel on south Goa. We were staying in these cool eco huts, made from bamboo that I thought were really cool. To get to the beach you had to go down a hill though some palm trees, clime around some rocks until suddenly this view of the incredible white sandy beach and clear blue water opened up. There were a lot of other small hotels, shops and restaurants along the beach, but it totally felt like tropical paradise.

The sunset, rock and boat from the beach at low tied

 

We spent the day lounging on beach chairs, swimming in the bath warm water, and enjoying some western style food and drinks. It was probably the most foreigners I have seen in one place anywhere in India, and bikinis were totally acceptable. It was really strange to see all of the exposed skin after not seeing shoulders for months. As one of the girls on the trip said, it was like everyone lost 20lbs when they took of their kurta’s- the loose Indian tops most of us wear all the time.

Silent dance party!

Saturday evening, after getting dinner right on the beach, we went out to a ‘silent dance party’ that we had see advertized. It was a rather strange experience- upon entering you were given a pair of headphones, though which you could choose from one of three music stations (each with different types of music playing) indicated by a colored light on the headphones.

A fire dancer? Random but cool, and slightly dangerous

You could then pick a station, adjust the volume, and dance. When wearing your headphones it wasn’t so odd- although not everyone was listening to the same thing all the time, people got totally into it. The really weird part was when you took your headphones off and people were rocking out to music you couldn’t hear. While a silent party not something I feel the need to do again, it was surprisingly quite a bit of fun. One of the strangest parts was the rather random acts they got to perform- including a guy dancing with an outfit that had fire on the ends of it and a trapeze artist.

My favorite picture from the weekend

Sunday we spent the morning and early afternoon on the beach. I also did some shopping at a market just off the beach. They had kind of odd collections of things from all over India and I did get some really delicious smelling loose leaf Mango and Ginger teas. That afternoon it was time to head back to Pune, we caught taxies to the sleeper bus and arrive back at about 6am on Monday morning. It seems almost silly to travel all that way for less than two days on the beach, but in my book it was totally worth it. If you ever want a place for a beach vacation, I would highly recommend south Goa!

Sharing a Story

This is a link to an article one of the students on my program had published in the local paper she is interning at. I though she did a great job of sharing her experiences in India – check it out at http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/comment_ashley-dejean-an-americans-tryst-with-india_1605514

Dancing at the Ganpati Festival Ashly talks about