So I’m lying in bed after waking up from my first full day here. The past couple days have been really good! This place is crazy but so far I like it. After hanging out alone my first morning, both my roommates showed up. One’s name is Kishan and he’s from New Jersey, but his family is from India and he’s spent a lot of time there. He’ll be a senior at Princeton. Prabhat, my other roommate, is from Nepal. He’s 26 or 27 (I forgot) and is going into his second year of grad school at Cornell. I forget which program it is, because he said and Kishan seemed like he knew what he was talking about, so I didn’t ask. This sort of thing has already happened several times, especially while talking about India and Indian culture. I will have to pick things up stealthily. Prabhat has also spent a bunch of time in India, so basically I am the noob to South Asia. He is very nice and funny and randomly knows people who have been here/are here. He wants to join a modern dance group/class that a friend told him about and asked me if I wanted to do it. I warned him of my lack of coordination, but he said I should anyway; I think I may give it a try. That will be quite a sight.
So yesterday after they showed up, we went to the office with Alamgir to get a few things. Alamgir has a really funny sense of humor in that he just laughs at everything. So I’ve started just laughing with him when he starts laughing. Hopefully I will continue to understand him better. There are a lot of people wandering the office and names are IMPOSSIBLE. I am bad with English names so here, for the people that I figure I will interact with a lot, I have to ask like five times, usually they spell it out, and I still struggle because Kishan and Prabhat can say it with the accent and I’m like “Mey-rob” (that is the only name I can remember from yesterday…ugh).
After the office we took rickshaws to the market. Like I said, they are crazy. I am shocked they are not falling and crashing left and right. There are some rickshaws that are pulled by bikes and BARELY fit two people, and then there are autos that are motorized and like little motorized cages. They remind me of a carnival ride but less safe and scary. The market was sort of “indoors” and was a crazy maze that went on forever. It was two floors and just wound this way and that. It wasn’t particularly crowded but SO HOT. I am sweating all the time here. I guess they are just used to the heat, because people here don’t seem to be sweating as much. The market had everything you could possibly want, which is good to know. There were vegetable stands, grain stands, soap stands, toy stands, clothes stands, etc. We bought a couple basics with the help of Sumon, who was someone who came with us from the office. People speak much less English here than I thought. Like people just don’t speak English. Kishan knows some 5 languages and Prabhat knows a few so they can sometime scrape stuff together people understand. I have never heard such a foreign language in my life. I do not try and scrape anything by. Maybe I will be able to pick up a little (that’s very optimistic).
After the market we came home and just rested and then picked up dinner at a place nearby. Apparently it was “expensive” but I got chicken kebabs and French fries and fresh squeezed orange juice for like $5. And it was delicious—so far I have had really positive food experiences, so that’s good. I’m going to have to learn to like fish, though. Day 1 of lunch at the office was fish curry with a LOT of rice. Also everyone eats with their hands, well just their right hand. So that has been interesting to figure out. I kind of like it but it’s hard to use one hand. Sometimes I cheat to break bread with both hands, because tearing apart naan with one hand is a struggle. Also rice with one hand has been less than graceful, but it’s been sort of sticky so far, which helps. Portions are BIG but then I think people stick to three square meals a done and nothing more.
Work yesterday was good. Before work, we spent the morning looking for a bank that would cash my traveller’s checks. It took about two hours of wandering down streets in the heat. One thing I like about travelling to different places that I’m unfamiliar with is that I become very patient. I don’t worry about time, especially here where nobody really does. Nobody is really in a rush. I like it. I just kind of walk or wait or do whatever it is that is taking an exorbitant amount of time (which is everything) and am fine with it. But yes, we found a bank FINALLY but they needed my passport, which I didn’t have…so after everything we were unsuccessful. We headed to the office then for our first day. My project manager, Ariadna, is very nice. She’s young and from Mexico and did her masters at University of Chicago.
I’m working on a sanitation project at the office. Just as a quick overview, it’s a project assessing what motivates people to buy and use sanitation practices, mostly latrines. It is funny how much time I will spend the next two months thinking and talking about toilets. But anyway, they did three different interventions on different villages in the rural north. Apparently I am going to be able to go up and travel to some of these areas, which I’m really excited about. One intervention was just a two-day education seminar about sanitation and the importance of it. The other was that plus subsidies. The third was education plus subsidies plus supply side help, so helping suppliers have quality parts and making sure they were well informed on installation, etc. They have collected three rounds of surveys since to figure out how the interventions went. The next couple months they will be dealing with some problems with the data caused by a sanitation NGO coming in and handing out free sanitation stuff and will also be designing another round of interventions—should be interesting. They’re trying to brainstorm other things that will motivate people to buy and use latrines. Some of the problems they came across as they do these experiments are hilarious. One example is a problem they had with people not validating their vouchers (like their subsidy coupons to give them money off buying a latrine). They went back into the field to try and figure out why. Several villages didn’t validate them because they were worried that by validating the voucher they would be converting to Christianity…. apparently there have been missionaries in these areas but unclear what they’ve been telling these people…
So, yeah basically that’s what my job has to do with. I spent most of the day learning about it and getting up to date. I was so tired that I couldn’t focus at all. I had to read each sentence like 10 times and my eyes kept wondering. I’m in a room of desks with about ten other people. It’s air-conditioned which is great. Kishan and Prabhat started late yesterday, because their project manager came in late, so we stayed at the office until 6:30pm…. I thought I was going to fall asleep on the table. . They do make awesome tea at the office, though. I think it’s just black tea with a TON of cream and sugar, but it’s delicious. Anyway, last night we just came home and hung out and now here I am. That’s the update for now. Things are good here! I’ll try and post pictures later…I need to take some more first.