Saturday, April 28, 2007

as the work turns

ok, i am receiving requests from all corners to get more specific about my work. those who have heard bits and pieces seem intrigued, those who have no idea, are down right confused about what i am doing in Bangalore.

so in an effort to bring everyone up to speed, i thought i would update on how the work is turning. you may remember that i knew that my work would be a bit unpredictable before i arrived in india. but a month or so into my time here, the shape of work became more defined.

Needless to say, things have changed again, but taken a turn for the better, in my estimation. so let me back up and give some deets. (at the risk of sounding like i am sharing my work plan with you)

Essentially i am either supporting or coordinating efforts towards four different studies or projects. they are all addressing gender-based violence but come at the issue from very different angles. here goes:

1. I am spending most of my time right now on supporting the implementation and evaluation of an intervention with young couples in Kanakapura District. This is a peri-urban part of Bangalore, that is it is technically part of Bangalore city but is fairly rural in most ways. So this is project is a series of workshops with young married couples, that is married between 2 and 10 years. The men range in age from 25-33 and the women are between 20 and 27. These workshops cover communication, joint-decision making, sexual and reproductive health and some more complex conversations about gender and masculinity and power in the relationships.

The idea is for these workshops to catalyze a process between the husbands and wives by which conflicts can be resolved with mutual respect rather than exploding into potentially violent situations. The couples chosen are anyway low risk for violence, but building skills around communication and negotiation is revealing itself to be a really ground breaking opportunity in the lives of these participants. much of the feedback we have been getting is about how most of them had never had the opportunity to talk so frankly about sex and sexuality and struggles in their relationships. and more importantly, that these conversations are shifting the way they engage with each other at home.

2. The second project that I am working on designing and launching is with young men in the same communities that the larger health study has been focusing on. these are more urban low income neighborhoods in north Bangalore. The focus of my work so far has been 1) studying other male engagement programs in India and around the world to understand the best approaches and 2) building a strong team of male outreach workers to be able to do the community organizing necessary. So this is still in the stage of meeting and drafting job descriptions and other administrative tasks, but it is an exciting concept. The idea comes directly out of the health study which has shown in its preliminary results that the knowledge attitudes and behaviors of men greatly impact women's health-seeking behavior as well as health outcomes. So if men are reached at an early age with information and training on health, sex, sexuality and healthy relationships, then by the time they are married and negotiating life with a partner, their approach will be more gender equitable. These are the hypotheses, in a manner of speaking, so lets see what comes of them.

3. The third project is called the Bangalore Healthy Urbanization Project and is a collaboration with the Bangalore Municipal Corporation. Conceived of by the WHO Kobe Center, this city-wide project seeks to explore the social determinants of health. The some concept is also being implemented in five other cities around the world. So there are seven sites around the city that have taken up different issues and aspects of health - ours is the Robertson Road Area of Bangalore and we are focusing on addressing violence against women through creating enabling environments for early detection of violence and safe reporting.

This means working with health care providers and the local police force to build their capacity around addressing gender-based violence sensitively and effectively. The idea is to have trainings and workshops with doctors and other health center staff as well as with constables and sub-inspectors at the local police station. In addition the plan is to have community education for women and girls about the facilities available at these institution and the value in talking with health care providers about violence they might experience.

Whether this project actually happens or not is still up in the air. there are always a lot of politics when it comes to working with the government so we are still trying to sift through it all. no love lost, if it doesn't pan out. honestly.

4. Finally, phase three of the Samata Health Study is the qualitative phase where a subset of the survey respondents are asked to participate in in-depth interviews and some focus groups are held. In addition we will be beginning the formative phase of the follow up study on health care providers and their strategies and responses to gender-based violence in their patient population. My role in this has been limited so far, just helping get the study protocol prepared and submitted to the ethical review board and such. But soon the interviews with doctors will begin and I will be involved in that as well as in preparing the grant for this phase of the research.

Sometimes I freak out at all the work that has to be completed in the next 8-9 months. But then i remember all the amazing people i work with and know that this is not a solo adventure, so many thoughtful and committed individuals have invested their energy into keeping this study moving and true to ethical principles at every turn. it is really inspiring to work with and among them.

The most exciting thing for me, is that, for the first time in my career, all of the projects (with the exception of the WHO project) we are implementing or designing are evidenced based, meaning they emerge from the study that we have been conducting. These are not simply theoretical experiments. They are based on the results of rigorous research and the ideas have emerged organically from the interpretation of these results. that is a satisfying experience. i feel lucky to be part of it.

Friday, April 27, 2007


apparently since Sahana had an unmedicated birth, Meru was bright eyed and alert from his earliest hours.

....but clearly likes to doze at every opportunity!

the signature lip that Sahana sported throughout her childhood as well.
So delicious.

the post-feeding face.... oh how yummy can a little boy be?!?!

see flickr for more photos as we get them. yay!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

April 24, 2007, 3:41am PST

...Meru was born!

My sister had a little boy weighing in at 7lbs 9oz and measuring 19.25 inches long.

Word is he is adorable and perfect, but that is the unbiased opinion of his grandmother.Sahana sounds well and happy. She had a fast and furious labor, and she gave birth totally naturally!

I can't describe how i feel. i just wish I could be there to hold that little monkey.

Surabhi Doddamma

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

waiting for the monkey

i can't sit still.

waiting waiting waiting 10,000 miles away

my little sister is having a little baby even as i write this.

i had no idea i would be so anxious when the time finally came. but here i am, hardly a finger nail left on these tips. my phone has become another appendage, i can scarcely look at anything else.

just waiting for it to ring.

there she sits serenely pregnant only two short weeks ago.

soon she will be two.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

nanage kannada tumba kashta

so i've been taking private kannada classes twice a week for a couple of months now, and i'm just not where i want to be. i guess it's a little slow-going. partly it's because i haven't devoted enough time to practicing between lessons. i can communicate pretty well with rickshaw wallas, but whenever anyone tries to talk to me, i'm lost. since i've been taking more buses, i've been feeling particulary frustrated by not being able to speak the local language. even in rickshaws, i'd love to be able to chat with the drivers (at least the few who aren't complete jerks). i miss living abroad and being able to converse with everyone, like in the DR for example; there's really no better way to learn about a place than to be packed in a moving vehicle with a bunch of loose-lipped strangers. here i can't even eavesdrop!

my teacher, prasad, is pretty good. despite his horrendous breath and tendency to get a little frustrated by my and patrick's lack of comprehension, he is an experienced teacher of kannada. so far, however, my best sentences are ones such as the following:

behind my house is another house. (nan mane munde innondu mane ide.)
in front of my house is a big tree. (nan mane hinde dodda mara ide.)
to the left of my house is a car. (nan mane balagade ghari ide.)
to the right of my house is a street. (nan mane edagade raste ide.)

now, when would i say these things, except to impress surabhi's parents? don't get me wrong, i love impressing surabhi's parents, but still. i think after my exam next wednesday (yikes!), i'll be able to study and practice more.

today i learned my favorite word: tombatombattu. it's the number 99. tombatombattu bottles of beer on the wall, tombatombattu bottles of beeeeeer...

Monday, April 16, 2007

fireflies '07

saturday night we went to an all-night outdoor music festival at an ashram in south bangalore called fireflies. it was a lovely night of incredible live performances under a beautiful and expansive pipal tree. definitely a highlight of our adventures so far. check out our pictures here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

summer's here!

so, as expected, goa was incredible.

isolated beaches, fresh seafood any time of the day, and of course tropical fruits galore. i was sad to learn that tender coconut water is considered an odd thing to drink out in goa. apparently since they use SO MUCH coconut in their food (and alcohol), they are loath to cut them down before the fruit fully ripens. so i saw LOADS of cracked open coconuts drying on rooftops and driveways, but not a single young tender one for the drinking!

still there were many highlights:

* rooftop yoga at 7:30 am overlooking the Arabian Sea, with palms swaying in the late dawn breeze and the sounds of morning rustling in kitchens below.

* lazy breakfasts at our favorite shack run by lovely Nepali party boys with great taste in music and seriously beautiful smiles.

* sunny afternoons spent in hammocks in the shade of beach shacks and dwarf palms sipping fresh lime soda or pineapple juice

* time to read novel after novel without interruption or guilt!!! (Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and Vernon GOD Little by DCB Pierre for those interested)

* midnight scooter ride back from Palolem wrapped around my favorite superstar scootermaster, Paigey, under a starry blanket of sky.


the return to Bangalore has been a bit jarring but this place we call home has been changing while we were away. It is fully summer here now. the kids are out of school and making rackets everywhere you go. the little green buds have burst into flowers and wide green leaves everywhere, making this garden city more green than ever.

AND we had our first summer rain! these aren't the monsoons that every one anticipates with longing and dread. these are the summer rains. short little bursts of rain that cool the earth and the air by at least 10 degrees and remind you why Bangalore is, arguably, the most beautiful city in India.

i'm feeling good
just go with the reverie, ok?
xo la queena ;)

Thursday, April 12, 2007


we've just spend five gloriously chilled out days on agonda beach in goa. what a spot. even the stray dogs are more chilled out there. it's hot as a mofo, but worth every second. because it was the end of the season, we had the two kilometer beach pretty much to ourselves.

i realized that there's absolutely no escaping crows, at least in south india. i've come to regard the crow much as i regard the rat or the pigeon in new york city. ratas con alas, if you will. worse, actually. the crow's cawking, especially at 6 am, is perhaps the most unpleasant auditory experience in existence.

on a more positive note, i had a wonderful ayurvedic oil massage by surabhi's yoga teacher in agonda, mohan. given that he was a man (quite a mousy one at that) and that he closed the door to the hut, locked it rigorously, and then instructed me to take everything off except my underwear, i was absolutely convinced he was going to do something sketchy. it's not like we were in some spa in the states where you get a sheet and five towels so as not to expose your private bits. no, we were in a hut on the beach; a table covered with plastic was the only object inside the structure. he started with my back, of course. it was going GREAT. i was marveling at how much better it was than my previous ayurvedic oil massage. following that thought was oh my god, what's going to happen when i have to turn over? i turned over when instructed, and deliberately kept my eyes tightly closed as he was oiling me up. "you will like on your breasts?" "uh... no." but thanks for asking. in the end, it was the best 400 bucks ($9.33) i've spent yet.

sadly, mohan cancelled surabhi's appointment the next morning, so she missed out on the massage experience. but she did make an excellent purchase in the nearby tourist hot spot palolem: sunglasses. not any sunglasses. she's a spitting image of ivy queen when she wears them. i call her la queena. mel, you would really appreciate.

being back in bangalore is nice, most notably because the weather is near perfect. it's green and beautiful and our flat was particulary welcoming after five days in a dingy, unbearably hot little room. after only a couple of hours, however, our pollution-induced sore throats and burning eyes were back. home sweet home.