Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Jul 25, 2010

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Flag of India  , Gujarat,
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Excerpt from my journal:

"OMG!  Right now I am sitting outside a village registrar office BY MYSELF!  The wind just blew dirt all over my feet and in my face.  Definitely just put my BIG AMERICAN sunglasses on to keep the dirt from blowing in my eyes.  So much for trying to fit in.  I'm unbelievably uncomfortable."

I went to Sanand village with two interns from CSJ, Pradyuman and Niyati.  They were sent to record data on land owned by women.  My supervisor at CSJ thought it would be a good experience for me to go.  Let's just say it was an experience.

We rode in a rickshaw to get to the village.  My first time in a rickshaw.  I loved it!  Rickshaws look like little putt putts with no doors or windows.  They're the most inexpensive way to get around and convenient.  I particularly enjoy the air that blows through the rick as you're driving on long highways.  The only downside is the wind periodically blows dirt in your face. Haha!  One of the interns, Niyati, was smart enough to bring a scarf to cover her mouth. 

When we arrived at the village, we entered this tiny office.  There were people in every nook and cranny.  Good thing I'm not claustrophobic.  While in the office, Pradyuman and Niyati talked, in Gujarati, to several people, filled out a document detailing their reason for visiting the office and purchased a stamp to place on this document.  

From my observations, Indian local government is incredibly bureaucratic--lots of red tape. They send you from person to person.  We waited for over an hour, walking in and out of the office and talking to various men.  Oh yes, almost everyone at this office was male.  The only women I saw were there waiting to give their fingerprints.

Of course I had no idea what anyone was saying.  I did, however, hear Pradyuman say America and point to me.  I never asked him, but I believe he told the man I was an American in India doing research on land acquisitions, so it was very important they be given access to the files documenting land sales.  I didn't mind him using me to get what he needed.  Whatever helps. :)

Eventually Pradyuman and Niyati were given the book they needed, and were able to start recording the data.  For at least two hours, I stood waiting for them to finish.  I refused to go and sit in the courtyard by myself, because of the dirt and unfamiliarity of the environment.  However, after a while Niyati persuaded me to go sit.  It was at least 110 degrees outside and she worried if I stood for too long I would get sick. 

While I sat in the courtyard I felt like I was in a freak show.  Everyone was staring at me, especially the men.  I know they stared because I look different, but it felt awkward.  I have to say everyone was really nice, though.  One man offered me cold water on several occasions, and Pradyuman took me to a store nearby to get a Fanta and chips.
The quote, above, from my journal depicts EXACTLY how I was feeling in that moment.  Much of the time I spent in Sanand village was incredibly uncomfortable.  Everything was foreign to me, and I could not understand a word being spoken.  However, looking back, I am extremely grateful for the experience.  In the words of my CSJ supervisor, it was a "good experience."

Not only did I walk away with insight on Indian local government, but I also learned a few things about myself and now have two new friends.  Reflecting on this experience has made me aware of the little things I take for granted.  There was a moment, as I was sitting in the blazing heat, amidst dirt and garbage, that I needed to lick my lips.  I was frustrated because I couldn't--they were dirty, and I had nothing clean to wipe my face with.  I never imagined I would appreciate licking my lips so much!  It's amazing how this experience has forced me to see things differently, and appreciate the little subtleties of life.

As a result of this trip, I started keeping a gratefulness diary.  Each night I write down five things I am thankful for, and try not to repeat the same things.  This new ritual of mine forces me to look for new things to be grateful for everyday.  It's a great feeling, and it puts me in a peaceful frame of mind right before falling asleep.  

What are you thankful for?
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