Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pictures from Nizamudin

Beautiful Tomb in Nizamudin

A door in the tomb

the big pink Hindu temple

Narnia in Nizamudin

So I found Narnia in New Delhi. Well..kind of. More like the urban version.

The back-story is that I met a great friend at yoga class. Mira is a German student who is working for an NGO in New Delhi as well. It was great to meet someone who is sharing so many of the same experiences. She is working and living in a Muslim neighborhood called Nizamudin. She invited me over to take a tour guided by one of the students that she is teaching English to. Nizamudin was yet another mind-blowing New Delhi experience. It is an sort of village/neighborhood that seems almost entirely made up of alleyways that twist around ancient Muslim tombs, shrines and Mosques, all of which are in incredibly good condition.

Our tour guide had been trained by Mira's NGO to guide people through these winding streets to find these Muslim sights. The NGO is hoping this will help young people generate some income. I was more than happy to support. Mira had taken the tour 2 or 3 times before and was still just as enthused about going on it again. I can definitely understand why. Nizamudin is really fascinating.

While we wound our way through this village-like neighborhood, I couldn't help thinking that Nizamudin was a very convincing urban version of Narnia. When I stepped out of my tuk-tuk I was still a stone's throw away from sky-scraping highrises and traffic contested freeways, but in the Middle of Nizamudin it could have still been the 1600's under Mughal rule.

I thought it would bother me to walk around with a head scarf on, but it wasn't really that big of a deal. I wanted to be as respectful as possible and so a head scarf was definitely a must. It wasn't the head scarfs so much as the shrines that made me aware of being a woman in a Muslim holy place. Mira and I weren't aloud inside any of the shrines, but rather had to sit outside with all the other women.

The most incredible place we went was the Mosque/Shrine in the center of Nizamudin. Again the stark contrasts: we stepped off the dirt streets filled with goats and stray dogs into at least a couple square blocks of sheer white marble. Our tour guide showed us one tomb at the very corner of this beautiful ancient complex that was sort of walled in, there were 3 beautiful white-marble graves with deliberately placed rotting pink flower petals on them, and a scraggly but determined little tree. Our tour guide explained that this was the grave of a daughter of Shahjahan, the man who commanded the construction of the Taj Mahal (he built the Taj as a 'monument to love' after the death of his wife Mumtaz). It was said that his daughter's dying wish was to be buried somewhere with green nature around her. Because Nizamudin no longer has much of any kind of green nature, they planted a tree next to her grave. People also leave flower petals to rot on top of the graves in hopes that the mud will someday grow grass on top of her tomb.

After our adventure, Mira and I found a local 'restaurant' that looked fairly sanitary. We had a blast. I am really hoping that she applies to the JHU graduate writing program so everyone back home can meet her.

On our way out of Nizamudin to meet my tuk-tuk, we decided to pop over to the giant pink Hindu temple on the edge of the neighborhood (just to be religiously well rounded). We were led by an adorable older woman who showed us around and chattered on in Hindi explaining each religious relic. She seemed charmed that we had stopped by and was completely unphased by the fact that we couldn't understand a word she was saying. Mira and I nodded along and admired each of the beautiful statues.

Other than that adventure, I have been desperately trying to pull the report on my research together. As I have told many people, it is excruciatingly hard to keep to one thesis but I am giving it my best shot.

I can't believe I am home in 10 days. AH! I'm already dreaming about the pint (or 3) of Ben and Jerry's I am going to eat.

much love everyone.
Oh!! I got skype! Email me if you have a skype name!
more soon,

p.s. I will post pictures from Nizaumdin above after this post. I am sorry to say that I couldn't take any pictures of the main Mosque/Shrine in the center of Nizamudin. But I still got some great pics of other places.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Some pictures from visit #2 in Nagafgarh

The kids at school

Two of the women I interviewed and me

Village women at the school

Nandini and her new born baby

More field work...

On Thursday I had another session of interviews in the village outside of New Delhi called Nagafgarh. While I was doing interviews in hopes of constructing a profile of challenges for women (and especially mothers) in the village, another Apne Aap staff member was delving into the issues of prostitution in the community.

In my interviews the most salient issue that surfaced was that of maternal health and public health in general. Hardly any of the women I interviewed ever went to a hospital or consulted a doctor throughout their pregnancies. Nearly all of them had birthed each of their children on to the dirt floors of their huts. One woman recounted how they cut the umbilical cord with a twig. The same woman explained to me that she didn't go to the hosptial because she couldn't afford it, and she was also afraid of "the medical knives".

The most moving interview by far was with Nandini. She is 19. She had her new born baby with her. I have tried to put into words several times what it felt like to sit across from a girl my age and her baby and try to hash out the issues of motherhood with her. I have failed miserably in trying to articulate the experience. The best I can explain it was the sensation of looking into a weird mirror, or parallel universe.

What was more disturbing was comparing notes after with the other staff member. Apparently many of the woman leave the village leave the village in the middle of the night and solicit along the road to Gurgaon. The most horrific stories are the abuses (sexual and otherwise) that they suffer from the police.

Another facet that came to light during the interviews was the issues of the rising cost of living. One of the women in my interviews cited the fact that she could not afford to send her kids to school due to these rising costs. This was fascenating to me. We all read the news: oil prices are up, the cost of food is soaring. But what is it to us? It costs a little extra to fill up the SUV? The grocery bills go up by a few bucks? It is a sobering experience to see and talk to the people who are living on the margin. Here are the people who simply cannot survive if the cost of food goes up. These people are prostituting themselves in order to feed their families already. A food crisis is simply not acceptable.

Half an hour away the Prime minister of India is negotiating for nukes....I guess we all need to take a hard look at priorities....

More soon,

Monday, July 7, 2008

[above] the three women interviewed. They were arrested for soliciting recently.

The kids! Apne Aap has opened a "creche" for the kids who are not old enough to go to school yet

I live!

Here you go mom...another post!

I am nearing 3 weeks to go...and in the last two weeks I have seen some amazing things in Delhi.

1) Delhi Comes Out of the Closet: I attended New Delhi's first gay pride parade. It was absolutely amazing. This was the first Pride parade in a country where homosexuality is technically illegal. They were expecting only a few hundred people to turn out, and instead they had over a thousand supporters. The parade was part protest, part moving dance party and part candle light vigil. Everyone was incredibly respectful. I was incredibly moved.

2) Red Head takes on Old Delhi: Old Delhi is pretty much indescribable. It is a complete sensory overload. Mallory (my fellow blonde intern) and I took on the Delhi Bazaar by storm. I bought some incredible spices...and yes, I intend on making my own masala with them tomorrow. This is very exciting.

3) Visit to Gandhi's House: Mal and I also took a trip to Gandhi's last residence and the location of where he was shot. It was an incredibly moving place. Again, words fail to really describe a place like that. I will get pictures up on the blog asap/asaigtfm (as soon as i get them from mal)

4) Field work in Nagafgharh: I went with some of the staff to do interviews in another Apne Aap field program in a very poor community on the edge of Delhi. When we arrived in the village, the kids (ages 2-7) were all waiting for us. (I will post pictures). Again, I was absolutely floored by how amazingly cute these kids were. I interviewed 4 women. 3 of the women were commercial prostitutes. All three had been arrested for soliciting sex. Soliciting, in India, is illegal. However buying sex is legal. Clearly there are a lot of issues that arise due to this discrepency.... other news, the research is going alright. It is a lot to handle doing research and writing up information and interviews on an incredibly heavy subject. There have been little hiccups in the otherwise fairly smooth research process. For instance: I had taped my interviews in Bihar in hopes of getting a better translation when I got back to Delhi. It turned out they were talking in a special dialect that no one could translate. CK helped me track down a graduate student at JNU who helped me out....

oh! I started taking yoga! Yes...I'm in the birth place so I decided to give it a try. Thus far it has been great. It is such a cultural thing here...almost religious? Absolutely fascenating.

Much love! And thank you everyone for the emails!
more soon

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

...since bihar...a quick update

Alright quick update about Delhi:
I'm doing some research at JNU and prepping for some more field work (hopefully).

I've also tried to get to know the city better which has been great. I made a couple trips to different parks with Muslim ruins. I visited the Museum of Modern art the other day and took a walk around "India Gate".

I also ventured into the Delhi night life. I went salsa dancing with some friends last night. It was incredibly fun/funny. There was a Kashmiri guy, John, who was hands down the best dancer I have ever seen. The scene was pretty hilarious. 

Much more soon.