Archive for December, 2005

Happy New Year

Happy new year from Pondicherry! As I write, fireworks are going off all around me and I can hear the cheers and shouts of the people gathered on Beach Road from our room on the roof. I walked out briefly onto the roofdeck to see if I could see the fireworks, and a few did make it above the trees, but most were just sparkles among the leaves or colored reflections on walls. (I’m told that the police station themselves along Beach Road and wave their lathis at the pedestrians and bicyclists out celebrating the new year, telling them to “go home”, but I haven’t ventured out to see for myself.)

I got home at 11pm after an eight and a half hour journey by car from Bangalore, crammed in an Ambassador with three tall men and a not-so-tall (male) driver. I caught a ride with Brij Kothari, his BookBox and PlanetRead colleague Nirav Shah, and an Isreali volunteer, Mark Segal, who performed a business review of Brij’s programs. Brij and Nirav had just secured an agreement with Doordarshan, the national television station, to subtitle two weekly programs in Kannada (the language of the state of Karnataka) just before we left Bangalore.

Brij’s programs have grown substantially since I wrote about them in February. For one, PlanetRead was recenly awarded a grant from the Google Foundation, which will allow them to reach audiences in more states in India, and perhaps extend their literacy enhancement programs to neighboring countries. And BookBox continues to add stories in different languages.

Mark is still in Bangalore, working with John Silliphant and Mark Peters on ‘a campaign so simple it just might work…’ Intrigued? Stay tuned for more…

Indignant Visitor

Almond Eating Monkey

POP! The sound was unusual enough and far too close for me to ignore as I do the bicycle bells, shouts of vendors, and whistle shrieks in the middle of the night by watchmen who then shake down the residents for keeping their neighborhood safe. (And we are on a really quiet street!) I looked up from folding a blanket to find a large monkey (one of several in the neighborhood) eating almonds on our roof deck, having popped open the large, Costco bag of California almonds that was placed on a plastic chair next to a bag being dried in the sun.

I ran at the monkey with blanket in hand, thinking he would run at the sight of me, but he didn’t budge. He knew that I couldn’t do much with a blanket. Instead, he continued to crunch, grabbing almonds at a furious pace, and bearing his incisors at me when I got too close. I yelled at Mark (who was sleeping, oblivious to the sound) to get a long stick of some kind, and he picked up the longest thing we had on hand – a replacement tube light that we’d purchased that morning. The weapon got the monkey to move, but not too far. I had to take the almonds and other things drying in the sun away while Mark held the monkey at bay. He was reluctant to leave a good thing, so he hung around for a while, giving Mark dirty looks, before he climbed up on our roof to settle for immature fruit hanging over from a neighboring tree.

We had brought the almonds for Dr. V, who had claimed they were the best almonds he had ever had when we gave a bag to the Krishnan family earlier this year. We haven’t had a chance to visit Dr. V or anyone else at the Aravind Eye Hospital in Pondicherry, so the almonds were stored in our luggage while we were in Sudan.

Now we have to make sure that we don’t leave anything edible outside and doubly sure that we close our doors when we leave for any part of the day so that the visits don’t become regular.

2006 Calendar

Shepherd, Belgaum

In early November 2005, Mark and I joined a group of people involved in rural development, fair trade, and sustainable tourism (loosely called Megavillage.org) on visits to two villages in the Belgaum district of Karnataka. The trip was hosted by Shramik Abhivrudhi Sangh (better known for one of its units called Jana Jagaran), an NGO working on community building and socio-economic development in northern Karnataka and the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. (My entry on Jana Jagaran and Mark’s entry on Village Life give a bit of background on the host organization and on the trip.)

Our pictures from that trip have been turned into a 2006 calendar. To view the calendar, click on the link off the Shramik homepage, then load the PDF file on the right hand side of the pop-up box (under Related Information).

Back in India

After a whirlwind tour of the Gulf airports – Khartoum to Abu Dhabi to Bahrain to Muscat and finally to Chennai – we are back in Pondicherry.  Our jet-lagged senses assaulted by the smell of urine, litter, and the incessent honking, we closed our eyes on the taxi ride from Chennai to Pondicherry only to find that the driver had taken the road to Villipuram.  We then had to get into a local taxi at the border of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, not far from the checkpoint where our driver realized that his permit to enter Pondicherry had expired.  A four and a half hour trip that should have taken two, with stops along the way for diesel fuel, coffee, and a near miss of an elephant on the road, and we got home around 11:30am.

Our rooftop abode was relatively unscathed by the non-stop rains that hit south India in the last month.  The walls of the room are still wet (there was some rain in the morning), a few items of bedding and clothing taken over by mold, and a musty smell on everything, but not the wholesale destruction that I feared.

An onion rava dosa at the Hotel Surguru and a pomegranate juice later, and things are beginning to feel normal.  The pandemonium on the streets will go back to seeming tame compared to the streets of Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Ahmedabad.  The incredibly cheap prices will entail endless haggling.  And the humidity in the air will become oppressive.  We are already wishing for one El Fasher day to dry everything out.

Continued Fighting in Darfur

Today, December 11, there was an attack by the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) on Kulbus, an area in West Darfur near the Chad border.  Ten staff members of Catholic Relief Service (CRS) are sequestered in their compound, waiting for the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to evacuate them by helicopter.  Even though El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, is safe, the UN will not evacuate the CRS staff to El Geneina for fear of ground fire on the helicopters.  The ten staff members will be evacuated to El Fasher, where they will stay at the CHF guest house until further plans are made.  (CHF does not have any operations in West Darfur.)

The cell phone networks in Darfur are shut down regularly, whenever the government plans an operation, to prevent communications among the SLA and to prevent leaks.  Mobile and satellite services were shut down on the 6th. and 9th. of December.

A week before Mark and I got to El Fasher, there was an SLA attack in town, with the intention of targeting government officials.  Instead, a bank official was killed, so the government imposed an 8pm curfew on the town, the time the bank official was killed.

The curfew effectively shuts down life in El Fasher starting around 7pm.  Shops and vendors close up and restaurants are nervous to get their last customers out in time so that the staff can get off the roads before 8pm.  The penalty for breaking the curfew is stiff.  You are fined SD 1,500 (around US$6) and your head is shaved.

The curfew was lifted on December 6 to 10pm for the general public, and 9pm for NGOs.  NGO vehicles have been the target of carjackings, and on December 1, a Spanish Red Cross driver was killed at Abu Shouk camp in a carjacking attempt.  The Spanish Red Cross stopped their activities in the camps for a week, and staff members are not going to be using their cars in the camps.  They will use the local taxis.

Mark and I have felt very safe everywhere that we have gone, both in town and in the camps.  We’ve spoken to hundreds of women in the camps, wood merchants in trucks and horse carts, vendors at markets in town and in the camps, and soldiers posing for their photographs.  We’ve been careful not to flash our camera when driving by military areas or barracks, but have made our interpreter and driver nervous at times by taking too long to photograph bushes and weeds, and girls on the road returning from collecting twigs.  (We were told that in Khartoum, a tourist was arrested for taking a photograph of the confluence of the White and Blue Nile rivers!)

Rain Bird

Rain Bird
for Mark Jacobs and Yoo-Mi Lee

I call you
Rain Bird
happiest in a blur
seeking nonsense
make sense to step out.

Light is your body
not a burden to air.
Warm is your discharge
sip by soil and seeds.

Steamy long trees,
rain-brewed leaves,
ripen flowers striptease,
and you, with delicate toes
trip, dip, then sail
against the wind

to re-emerge smaller,
more colorful,
and your song sweeter,
returning from a very old place,
from a gathering of ancestors
who anoint you with a dapple of hue
each time you pray.

By Clara Hsu

Cooking Demonstrations in North Darfur

Fuel Efficient Stove Demonstration

Mark and I held five cooking demonstrations at different camps in North Darfur using anywhere from three to five different stoves. We always included a three-stone fire (the traditional way most of the IDPs cook their meals), the mud stove that is currently being promoted by several NGOs working on “fuel efficient stove” (FES) programs (originally designed by Intermediate Technology Development Group – ITDG), and a metal stove developed in India (called the Tara). We sometimes included one or two modified mud stoves that Mark and I designed and made (with the help of the CHF FES trainers) to see if we could improve the efficiency of the ITDG model.

Before we began the demonstrations, we asked the participants (anywhere from 20 to 80 women and men) how much wood they used to cook a meal. Most answered: a karba (a bundle, consisting of 3 to 4 meter-long pieces of wood about 2 centimeters in diameter) or more. (On average, a karba weighs around 2 kilograms.) We also taught them how to light and maintain an efficient fire – using small pieces of wood, no more than 3 at a time, evenly spaced; burning only the tips. We then had the women who had volunteered to cook light their stoves at the same time.
Rather than conducting water boiling tests with the women (we did plenty of that on our own at the guest house), we had them cook their staple starch – assida – using the same pot, the same amount of water and flour, and gave them the same amount of wood (usually 600 grams). We bought millet in the market and had it milled because Darfuri prefer millet over any other kind of flour (usually sorgham, and now wheat that the World Food Program has introduced as part of their cereal rations).

Assida is prepared in several steps. First, the water is brought to near boiling – when small bubbles start to appear around the bottom of the pot – at which point you add a couple of handfuls of flour. Then, when the mixture comes to a roiling boil, you add the rest of the flour and stir and mix vigorously with a muswat – a meter-long stick with a quarter-moon shaped piece of wood attached at the end. The assida is ready after a few minutes of mixing and kneading with the muswat. You then smooth it out and scoop it out of the pot with a large piece of coconut shell and place it into a shallow metal serving bowl. The mullah (stew/gravy that is eaten with the assida) is then placed around the assida.

Making AssidaMaking MullahAssida and Mullah

We had a couple of women prepare the mullah separately so that most of the participants could watch the demonstration.

We timed each of the women when they finished cooking the assida, having told everyone earlier that is was a race, but not a race against time. It was a race to see who would use the least amount of wood. We measured the amount of wood each woman had left after she finished cooking, did some quick math, and announced the results of the amount of wood each woman had used. The results usually showed that the woman cooking with the most efficient stove used half the amount of wood used by the woman cooking on the three stone fire. And in general, all the women used much less wood than they normally would by maintaining efficient fires. (Mark and I policed the women to make sure they were not putting too many sticks into the fire, and we precut the wood so that they would be the right size.)

Then, we all ate.

Women Eating AssidaKid Eating Assida


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