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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Back in Mumbai

We left Cochin this morning at 6:30 am for an 8:30 am flight back to Mumbai. The flight was oversold, and we were worried we wouldn't make it, but all three of us ended up being onboard in first class.

When we got to Mumbai, we squeezed into a rickshaw to go back to Nameeta's apartment in Khar. Because her place was so close to the domestic airport, the cab driver's didn't want to take us. They were all looking for the expensive fare to the southern part of Mumbai. Here we are in the rickshaw:

After dropping off our luggage and relaxing for a bit, we went back downstairs and caught a rickshaw to go the the Santa Cruz market after a masala tea at Coffee Day, Mumbai's version of Starbucks .

Rickshaws are only allowed in the suburbs of Mumbai, but they are really a great way to see the vitality and energy of the town.

Rickshaws and cars are everywhere. Traffic is absolutely crazy. There are no stop signs, and roadway markings, if they exist, are only suggestions. Also, alongside lots of traffic, there are lots of dogs, cows and an occasional horses.

At the Santa Cruz market, I picked up a couple of things, did some Christmas shopping, and ate street food from the roadside stands. Now, most guide books would say not to do this... but I've done it before and I've been eating everything I've been served for two weeks in India, and haven't had a problem. (Knock on wood.) Plus, I've been craving vada pav since I've been here, and it's the first one I've had. How dangerous could it be? It's deep fried. We also had some samosas, fried chili peppers, and fried spinach.

Santa Cruz Market:

Ordering street food:

Me eating vada pav:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Alapuzha, India -- Celebrating my birthday!

Photo courtesy of Kerala Tourism

I spent my 30th birthday in Hawaii, but my 38th will forever be remembered for being a half world away, on a houseboat, floating down the backwaters of Alapuzha (also known as Alleppey) on an overnight cruise. Alapuzha is about 25 miles south of Cohin. In the picture above, Smita is getting onto the boat as we arrived in Alazpuzha.

Our boat had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting/dining area, and a kitchen. We had three staff members, including Sujeesh, our cook. Above are Cindy and Smita in our little sitting and dining area, near the front of the boat. Below, our cook, Sujeesh:

Alapuzha has been described as the Venice of the East. Interlocking canals and backwaters took us through villages that sat on thin strips of land. We joked that the people there could only walk from side to side as their front yards and back yards were all water. Coconut trees and banana trees were everywhere.

As we gently made our way, we were approached by a fisherman on a boat who wanted to sell us tiger prawns. Now these were no ordinary shrimp. They looked as big as lobsters. We bought a couple for Sujeesh to cook for dinner. Here's the story of the prawns in pictures:

At night, we docked by a rice paddy in a small village. We got off the boat to walk around the paddy, and met a young villager named Sundhi. His English was very good, and I think he liked practicing with us.

Me with Sundhi in the rice paddy:

Other village children bringing us flowers:

Smita at Tea Time:

Scenic Views:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cochin, India

I flew in to Cochin this morning where I'm staying at Le Meridian. It's a beautiful resort in Kerala, which is the south western tip of India. It's been a very relaxing day, with the best massage of my life and a nice afternoon by the pool.

Here's the description of the massage the hotel provided:

"ELAKKIZHI: One of the most relaxing and refreshing massages that you can enjoy. In this treatment, fresh herbs are cooked in Ayurvedic oils and packed into bags which are applied all over the body by experts. Very good for lubircating the joints and relieves backaches. Cleanses the channels of circulation and expels toxins through sweat."

Below, the hotel lobby:

The pool:

Last night, after having dinner with my Habitat For Humanity friends at the Leela near the airport in Mumbai, I went back to Nameeta's house for a few hours of sleep before Cindy, Smita, and I headed for the domestic airport for a 5:45 am flight.

Other pics of the hotel can be found at:

Friday, November 16, 2007

November 11-16: Nagewadi Village, near Karjat--Habitat Build

After arriving in Karjat after a three hour bus ride from Mumbai, we checked into our hotel, the Rivergate Resort ( The Rivergate was about 30 minutes to the Nagewadi Village, where we would be building houses for the next several days.

Each day, we would have breakfast, get on the bus by 7:45, and head to the village. We would work until about 12:30, break for lunch, then go back to work until around 5:00. The days were long and hot. But what a rewarding experience!

Nagewadi Village:

Our team of forty people worked on 8 houses while we were there. I worked on house #8. Each house was named and dedicated to the woman of the house-- in the case of my house, Chebi Vithal Thorad. The brick houses we were building replaced houses that were made from reeds, thatched together with cow manure. Here's a picture of a thatched house.

Here's Chebi with her husband and three kids:

As the week went on, the villagers, especially the children, really opened up to us. While we couldn't speak each others languages, we learned to communicate. I made friends with a 15 year old named Kashav who helped us with our house. The children, including Kashav, would mix mud in a pit for us to use as mortar as we layed bricks. They would also bring the mud to us as we asked for "mati" the Marathi word for mud. "Mati, mati!" we would yell, and the kids would bring the mud. Here's our house on the first day, with a view of the mati pit:

And here's my friend Kashav, standing in the mud pit. I think this is before he snuck up on me and left a muddy handprint on my shirt:

Here I am with some of the kids in the guava tree. I had the honor of being the first and only injury on the job site. I accidentally ran into a limb of the guava tree. The medical staff on duty tood it very seriously and bandaged me up while all the villagers stood watch.

Here, on day 2, Smita and I are working on the house:

The kids loved being in pictures, and then seeing themselves on the digital cameras. Front right in the picture below is a 'neighbor kid' named Madhuri, who was quite the Diva, as you can see. She was also really bright. She would continually surprise me by sneaking in an English word when you least expected it: One day, sitting in the guava tree, she counted to 70 in English.

Here's the house on Day 2:

And on Day 3:

And on the last day of building:

While we didn't finish this particular house, the team did finish one of the houses which we dedicated on the last day. Each of the eight houses were in various states of completion at the start. We did have a 'dedication ceremony' and decorated the house to make it look festive. Madhuri decorated the ground in front of the house with rangoli-- a design in colored powders in the sand:

A completed house:

The last day of the build was very sad for me. I wanted another week with the kids, another week to work on the house. Leaving the village and saying goodbye was difficult.

The kids waving goodbye on the last day:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nagewadi Village

Here's my journal entry that appeared on Delta Net during the build:

I woke up this morning ready to go build! I was really looking forward to today because I felt like I knew what I was doing, as opposed to yesterday when I felt very clueless. Even the children in the village laughed at my confusion. In general, there is a lot more confidence exhibited by everyone today, and it feels like much more work is getting done.

I think my favorite part so far is laughing with the children and trying to communicate. Some of the older ones know a few words of English, and like practicing them. Today, one brought me a bucket of the mud we are using for mortar. When I said “thank you” she replied “it’s all right” and laughed. The kids also like to pose for pictures with us and then see themselves on the screen of the digital cameras. Today, a couple of the boys picked up baby goats to accentuate our group photo.

It is amazing to me how self-sufficient the village is. There is a direct line between the work the villagers do and the necessities of life: food, water, and shelter. We see them salt-curing peppers for the months to come, beating millet to make food, carrying wood to cook their meals. It is not just work—it is a matter of survival. Somehow, it makes the daily obstacles I face in the office seem quite small.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mumbai to Karjat

I'm leaving Mumbai today for Karjat for the Habitat Build! No internet access for the next four or five days.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mumbai, India -- Day 2

So far today, we've had a leisurely morning around Nameeta's house, updating our blogs, and having a great breakfast of dosas, masala dosas, sambar, uttapam, and a wonderful coconut chutney.

Dosas are generally served for breakfast and made from a batter of ground lentils and rice, spread thin like a crepe, and fried. The masala dosa is stuffed with fried onions, potatoes, and spices. Sambar is basically a red colored vegetable soup. Uttapam is kind of like a dosa, but it is thicker with yummy ingredients cooked into the batter... like onions and tomatoes.

Below, the coconut chutney is on the far left, the sambar in the middle, and then a plate of uttapam and dosas. (The Masala Dosa was all eaten by this point.)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mumbai, India -- Day 1

"We made it to Mumbai! Great flight. We’ve landed just in time for the Diwali festival, and lots of fireworks (phatakas) are going off!"

That's the email I sent to family and coworkers last night just after arriving in Mumbai--my second visit to this incredible city and country.

After writing that and changing into a traditional kurta, I went to the Ramkrishna Mission where a celebration started at midnight. Many people were gathered, and we listened to the singing and chanting as people prayed to the goddess Kali. Here I am in the mission with the image of Kali behind me.

Here we are in front of the mission. Notice the image of Ganesh, the elephant god, the "remover of obstacles," above us. From left to right, Nameeta's mother-in-law, Smita, Nameeta, Cindy, and me.

After leaving the mission, we went back to Nameeta's. But on the way, we stopped by a temple to Hanuman, the monkey god, where people have tied bells over the years for good fortune. There are thousands of bells.

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