Friday, May 30, 2014

May 30th: Visiting Jaisamand Lake

Today we went to Jaisamand Lake, leaving at 8:30 am from the city. We drove through the countryside past fruit stands and motorcycles everywhere. The lake was so beautiful! It is the second largest man made lake in Asia. There were cobblestone steps that led down to the lake shore where we hopped on a boat for a half-hour ride.

On the lake we noticed boats the same size of ours, full of 30 or 40 Indian tourists, and we had our boat to the three of us!

We headed back to Udaipur for lunch and up to sunset point in the evening - riding a cable car to the top of a mountain. We ate rose ice cream and watched the sun set in pink and orange streaks of colour over the lake and the blue mountain layers. The perfect end to the perfect day.

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC U30 Team Leader
Udaipur, India: May 2014

May 29th: Dinner out wearing saris!

The highlight of today was buying saris and going out for one final dinner with Kailash and Om, two directors at Jatan Sansthan. It was a struggle, but we managed to tie the saris ourselves, and they didn't fall apart!

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC U30 Team Leader
Udaipur, India: May 2014

May 28th: Saying goodbye to our host family & Vikas

We packed our bags last night and said goodbye to our host family early this morning. They have been so hospitable and accommodating during our entire stay and we were so glad to stay with them and experience village life! We are going to miss waking up to a cup of chai brought to our bedside, made with spices and fresh milk from our family's cows. We are going to miss the rooftop with the most incredible view of the stars on a clear night. We are going to miss the food and our new Indian little brother who always wanted to play games on our phones. Most of all, I think we will miss the warmth of family that we got to watch and also be a part of for a short while.

Our final dinner with our host family!

When we got back to Udaipur we went for a tuk tuk ride in search of a restaurant to eat lunch at. We found one, and fittingly, it was the same one that we had our very first lunch of the trip, one month ago! We came back to the hotel and finished a Bollywood movie on Vikas' laptop that we started last week. 

 In the afternoon, Vikas' cousin came to pick him up as he continues his travels in India to visit family. Our little group became even little-er, with just Vita, Mariana and Ana left. Eunice, Vienna, Chirag and Vikas - we miss you! Wherever you are right now... 

Vita, Ana and Mariana
DWC U30 Team Leader and Volunteer Participants
Railmagra, India: May 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 27th: Last day of construction on the women's washroom project

We woke up early today and were treated to a breakfast of rice flakes made my our house mother, Saneha. Then we drove straight to the worksite, a few small villages away for our last day of construction. The masons and kids waved at our car as soon as it turned off the main road and down the short bumpy path to the location of the almost-finished bathroom. Man, are we ever going to miss this place!

We hopped out of the car and went straight to work, comfortable with the routine now. We mix "masala" (aka cement) with shovels and water from the nearby water trough that the cows drink out of. We carry the cement in "tagaris" (aka small metal bowls about the size of ones people use to bake cakes and cookies) on our heads and up steps made out of bricks up to the foundation of the new bathroom. We spread the cement on top of brick layers with metal tools resembling spatulas and we lay the bricks, lining them up with strings.

The day went by quickly and we had so much fun with the kids today. We stacked bricks around a small boy named Rahul who stood still and giggled as he began to be trapped in a rectangular brick box. We played Stella Stella Ola and drank chai our of small plastic cups and when it finally came to say goodbye for the final time we gave hugs all around and waved goodbye through the car window with tears in our eyes.

This is a photo of Shankar and Shanta, two of the villagers working with us and their two sons, during a chai break.

Though the bathroom is not complete, it is almost finished, with just a roof and some more stalls to build. We can't wait to see the finished product via photos or maybe even in person if we ever return to India!

Vita Sackvill-Hii
DWC U30 Team Leader
Banediya, India: May 2014

May 26th: A farewell party for the remaining volunteers

After a fun-packed weekend, we started the day off early since we had to head back to Banediya to continue on the construction work. Sadly, we had to say our final goodbyes to Chirag before leaving since he was leaving later that day to his trip to Mauritius! We all promised that it would not be a goodbye forever though, just a see you later. Vita, Vikas, Ana, Mariana, and Azad then rode all the way back quiet, absorbed into our own thoughts with sad-movie music playing in the background. The car felt empty with Eunice, Vienna and Chirag missing.

We finished two rounds of construction, one before lunch and one after lunch. We are finally making visible progress and we get to start laying bricks which is much less technical than fitting stones and cement together like a puzzle to build a foundation (which is what we had been doing for the past week and a half).

Standing in front of the brick wall with some local children.

In the late afternoon, Jatan threw us a farewell party where all the staff, construction workers and representatives were invited. It was nice to formally talk about our experiences and share some funny and inspiring stories over a cup of chai and some handmade sweets. We were given a traditional Rajasthani farewell by receiving scarves and tikis (small red dots between the eye brows or the position of the "third eye"). To our surprise, our group was also interviewed on camera for the local news.

The remaining team members with Jatan's Kailash (far left) and Om (far right).

Although we held a farewell party, we decided that we want our work tomorrow since we have one more day in Banediya before heading back to Udaipur.

Vita Sackville-Hii and Mariana
DWC U30 Team Leader and Volunteer Participant
Banediya, India: May 2014

Monday, May 26, 2014

May 25th: More farewells and "American" treats

In the morning, Vienna and Vita went back to Railmagra with Chirag to pick up Vienna's bags from our host family. Vienna had to change her flights last minute and she will be leaving us tonight. While Chirag was gone, Mariana, Vikas and Ana put together a scrapbook of pictures and quotes to give to him as a farewell gift and a thank you for being the best translator. He will also be leaving us tomorrow morning. Our group just keeps shrinking!

On their way back from the village, Vita, Vienna and Chirag stopped by a mall in the city to have lunch and they ordered pizza from Pizza Hut for the rest of the team. The cheesy paneer pizza was delicious!

On the way to drop off Vienna to the airport for her evening flight, we had milkshakes at an "American" diner. And gave Chirag his present during dinner. It is amazing to see the contrast of lifestyles in India - how we can be in a rural village and a fancy mall in the same day. India is a new world that continues to inspire, shock and surprise us. One final farewell to Vienna at the airport and just like that she was gone. Fittingly, it began to rain for the first time in weeks.

Tomorrow we head back to the village for a couple more days of construction. It will not be the same without the rest of our team and our translator! We will try to make the most of every moment we spend in this beautiful place.

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC U30 Team Leader
Railmagra, India: May 2014

May 24th: Camel and boat rides in Udaipur

Today was the first day of a wonderful weekend spent in Udaipur to relax, recharge, and enjoy each other's company. We began the day with some much needed sleep! At noon, we left the hotel to find a quaint rooftop restaurant where we had lunch and enjoyed a view of Pichola Lake. The hike up 7 flights of narrow winding stairs was so worth it.

After lunch we decided to go to Fateh Sagar Lake for a camel ride and boat ride! The camel rides were bumpier than expected which made the ride even more fun as we laughed atop these massive mammals.

After that we zoomed around on a speedboat while the late afternoon sun glittered on top of the lake, pinkish orange.

To end off the day, we went out for a fancy dinner at a 5 star hotel in Udaipur. Poor Vikas must have been exhausted because he fell asleep at the dinner table. All of us enjoyed paneer butter masala, naan, and other assorted curries and gravies - topping it off with rose ice cream. Yummmm!

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC U30 Team Leader
Udaipur, India: May 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

May 23rd: The first of many goodbyes

Today was the first, of many, goodbyes of the trip. But before that, we all enjoyed Eunice's last day in India, trying to keep a positive attitude despite being sad about her leaving. We didn't really do much the first part of the day, as we had to wait for machines to fill in the wall we had made with dirt. The wall we built is only the base where the floor will be!

After that, Chankar Ji rolled up his pants, grabbed a water hose, and jumped in. At first, we all thought he was crazy, but soon enough Chirag joined him. After that, there was no stopping us! We all joined in the craziness, jumping around in the mud and trying not to fall into the deep ends of the (very dirty) "pool." Even Nerayan, Pooja, and other kids from the village joined in, helping us eventually succeed in tackling Eunice and Chirag into the mud!

After that, we all gathered around Eunice, as she was given the honor of placing the FIRST brick. While she was posing for a picture with the brick, Berulaal grabbed it and placed it himself. Though anticlimactic, it was a memorable moment of the construction.

After saying goodbye to Eunice, we all teared up in the car on the way to Kumbhalgarh Fort while reading the nice notes she had given to each of us. We got there and it was breathtakingly beautiful! The views of the city on one side, the rolling mountains on the other side, and the wall that lined them was amazing!

The fort itself was also incredible, with the towering buildings and the magnificent carving on the walls. We all stayed there, awe-struck, for a good while before attending the famous "Light and Sound Show" of the fort; this consisted of a narration of the Fort's history (in Hindi of course) and different parts of the enormous fort lighting up with it.

We had a delicious dinner and stayed up talking with Chirag and Azad, reminiscing about all the good memories we have created on this trip and crying of laughter at funny moments, which have been many!

Ana Gargollo
DWC Volunteer Participant
Railmagra, India: May 2014

May 23rd: Week #3 in photos

Here we are hanging out in front of Jatan's office in Railmagra. We are sitting with Jatan staff member, Om (far left), our driver, Azad (second from right) and our translator, Chirag (far right).

On Tuesday night, we watched a Bollywood movie with a group of school kids that attend programs run by Jatan.

 The foundation of the women's washroom is coming along quickly!

Time for a chai break!

The construction crew in front of our complete wall on Wednesday.

 Mango break!

 Hanging around at the work site and enjoying the shade.

We were interviewed for the local paper!

Vienna poses with a giant bag of Parle G cookies, our new favourite to eat while drinkin chai.

 Visiting a temple.

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC U30 Team Leader
Railmagra, India: May 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 20th: A recap of the team's work

As for our project work, we have finally almost completed the base of a building that any will be a women's bathroom. Our small team of six has been working so hard and it is really incredible to see the progress we have made with thee help of some masons and an engineer from the village. With about 1 week to go of work days, our goal is to start the brick walls and finish the building foundation so women can begin to use the structure as a private bathing, washing and toilet area - which is something in this village that they don't even get in their own home.

A group of girls came to visit the team at the project site!
A mother who is working on the project shows us her beautiful henna designs.

Our daily visits have been very eye-opening as well. We do not have a visit every day, but some days we go to women empowerment meetings, police stations, health centres, temples, or people's homes. We are always greeted with a small cup of chai and a place to sit and talk. Yesterday our "chai count" reached a new record of 8 cups of chai as the daily total per person!

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC U30 Team Leader
Railmagra, India: May 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 18th-19th: Weekend adventure to the Taj Mahal

Where to begin...Little did we know when we set out for our weekend adventures, that we were in for quite the bumpy ride...literally. We knew that we wanted to see the Taj Mahal this past weekend. Since Agra, where the Taj is located, is quite far from where we are working, we split up the journey, travelling to Jaipur first.

On our drive from Railmagra to Udaipur, we saw a camel in the middle of the road! As our car approached it began to run, and we were literally chasing a camel in a car for 10 seconds. Then we saw a herd of camels on the side of the road. It felt like we were in a jungle safari and we could not stop laughing for the rest of the drive because of how odd the experience was. Only in India!

Having dinner at the Celebration Mall in Udaipur.

We set out Friday night from Udaipur after a light meal savouring the local pizza (which you should always double check is not spicy!) We were heading for Jaipur (about 9-10 hours drive) from Udaipur on the (drum roll please) infamous sleeper buses. Not knowing what to expect, we were a little apprehensive, and rightfully so. We got on and immediately knew it was going to be a long night. The bus was packed and hot. Sleeper buses are a popular way to travel in India and consist of double decker 'sleepers' or little closed cubicles where you can sleep lying down in either a single or double. Using the pillows provided is not recommended. The 6 of us had booked 3 sleepers, but one of our sleepers was double booked so sadly myself and Vikas had no place to go. We decided to let the couple who were already fast asleep in our sleeper stay so I ended up bunking with Vita and Ana on a bottom sleeper while poor Vikas sat on the one seat in the back enduring falling luggage and a constant stream of people getting on, who were, not to our surprise, also double booked. I was amazed at the family of 4 who shared one sleeper with their young children. The ride was so bumpy, it wasn't rare to bump your head even while lying flat in the sleeper. Gravol, movies on our laptops, and an iPod were our survival kit for the rough night. Also, there is no toilet on the bus, so be sure to jump out at stops.

Ana on the sleeper bus!

We finally arrived in Jaipur to the smell of urine, lots of dust and tuk tuk drivers swarming us asking if we wanted a ride to the hotel. We all piled into a tuk tuk, two of us in the trunk, and arrived into our hotel for a much needed morning nap and the first hot shower of the trip. Spent the day purchasing our return train tickets (quite the adventure in India!), visiting a beautiful temple, fort, palace, and finally shopping till 9:30pm.

Sunday morning, we set out at 6am for the Taj Mahal which was another 5 hours from Jaipur. We had hired a driver for the weekend through the hotel, which was a great way to travel all weekend, not to mention very affordable. After a breakfast of omelettes, we arrived in Agra. It was wildly hot, but packed nonetheless at the entrance to the Taj. We could barely believe we were about to see the Taj Mahal! As we walked through the main entrance, the top of the Taj came into view and we immediately pulled out our phones and cameras to capture the amazing moment. If you're heading to the Taj, we strongly recommend you get a guide. Our guide was able to steer us clear of pick pocketers, crazy crowds, and take us through giving us a basic history. We learned the Taj is an ode to one king's wife who died in childbirth with her 14th child. It took 22 years and 22,000 labourers to build, and it truly is just as beautiful as what you see in photos. We were all amazed with the beauty of the white marble in the bright sun. No filter needed!

We spent the evening traveling back in the AC of the car to Jaipur and explored Fatehpur Sikri on the way. Needing to be back at the construction site Monday morning, we vouched for taking an overnight train back to Udaipur. Not even the sleeper bus could have prepared us for the sleepers on the train. Unfortunately, we had booked our train tickets too late, so any AC cars were already booked and we were relegated to the sleeper class. Due to the large population, first class train tickets need to be booked months in advance. The sleeper class train consists of 3 bunks one above the other on two sides of train. Open air, lots of people, and loud blares from the train may keep you up but otherwise it was both terrifying and exciting to ride with the locals.

We arrived Monday tired but impressed that we survived the ride and ready for the day ahead.

Eunice Hii
DWC Volunteer Participant
Railmagra, India: May 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

May 16th: Women's help line & police station in Rajsamand

Today we had a day off work to visit the Jatan office in a different village called Rajsamand. We learned about a women's help line that Jatan runs for all of India. Women can call at any time of day for anything, whether they need help or have questions or want resources.

The team sitting in on a women's meeting in Rajsamand.

We visited the Rajsamand police station and got a tour. In the police station, there are two women counsellors trained to specifically deal with family conflict in cases of dowry arguments, and they were brought there because of Jatan.

In some rural village,s a women's family must give a dowry in the form of money, animals and possessions to the man she is marrying. If the woman is from a poor family, it is difficult for them to find a husband who is willing to accept a small dowry, and so there is conflict around this issue.

Later in the afternoon we visited the beautiful Rajsamand lake. It was the perfect end to a day off work.

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC U30 Team Leader
Rajsamand, India: May 2014

May 14th: Productive workday followed by "American" ice cream and the Sunset Temple

Whoever said noodles wasn't an acceptable breakfast clearly hasn't been to India! After that nutritious breakfast, we were fully ready to go to the work site and achieve the goals we set for ourselves yesterday. We arrived and got piles of sand ready for the cement mixture. We then went on to categorize rocks into sizes; this process ended up having around 5 sizes ranging from "super small" (with a Mexican accent), to small, to kind of medium, to medium to big and everything in between. Having completed this, we started building our own part of the wall, trying to communicate as much as possible and to help each other fit the makeshift puzzle pieces. We spent the whole day doing this kind of job and, I might add, getting very good at it.

As always, we went back to the office to have lunch and, before going back to the the work site, Chirag (our awesome translator) had no choice but to listen to our cries for ice cream. We tried a flavour called "American" and it was great - although nothing like you would find in America!

After finishing our work for today, we went to Sunset Temple, a beautiful one in a mountain. All the trees around were covered with bracelets and clothing, representing wishes people had made.

With roosters singing and locals cutting coconuts in the background, we took on the challenge of going through holes in between the rocks. This is done after you make a wish, and only people who are good at heart are able to go through. No, ladies and gentlemen, it is not based on body shape at all! You'll also be glad to know that everyone in our team made it to the other side!

After a bumpy ride back, in which the always adventurous Vienna chose to ride the motorbike with Chirag, we went back to the house. We played very intense card games before having dinner and going to bed!

Ana Gargollo
DWC Volunteer Participant
Railmagra, India: May 2014 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May 13th: More delicious food and trip to the Technical Resource Centre

Today was a bit of a frustrating day. We worked on building the last part of the foundation, which is a very technical process. We had to align rocks like a puzzle and then use cement to make the wall as flat as possible. However, because it was very technical work, it was hard for everyone to be useful and we constantly found ourselves doing nothing. We helped bringing rocks, mixing cement and bringing it to whoever was building, but it wasn't a very active day.

After a delicious lunch of cantaloupe, papaya, daal, chapati, rice and some type of curry, we went to the Technical Resource Center with Om. They showed us the tools they rent (for a maximum of 20 rupees per day!!) or sell to women in the village; these tools help them be more efficient in their work and therefore give them more economic opportunities, as well as time to spend with their children. After the demonstrations, we went to a field and used a sickle to cut food for cows and goats. We realized how much the new tools helped the process!

Later, we went back to the house and took much-needed showers before another (you guessed it) delicious dinner. We talked for a while about our frustrations of the day and decided to come up with a plan for tomorrow in order to be more proactive and productive.

Ana Gargollo
DWC Volunteer Participant
Railmagra, India: May 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May 11-12th: Visiting a health centre & experiencing an Indian wedding

Hi everyone!

We are able to access wifi on our lunch breaks at the Jatan office in Railmagra, so I'll give you some quick updates!

This past weekend we visited Mt. Abu, a four hour drive from our village. There is a beautiful lake called Nakki Lake and lots of Indian tourists. On Sunday, we went peddle boating on the lake.

Yesterday, we worked in the morning and then visited a health centre in the afternoon. The health centre serves as a hospital for over 50 villages around Railmagra and there are only 4 doctors! We were shocked when they invited us on a tour through the maternal delivery room and the infant and mother's care centre when we were covered in dust and dirt from construction. Some of the babies were so tiny and some of the mothers were 18 years old or younger.

In the evening we were invited to an Indian wedding. For some of our group, it was their first time seeing one! We got so many stares, especially while dancing, but it was a lot of fun!

Today we worked in the morning and we are currently having lunch that consists of cantaloupes, papaya, chapati, rice, daal and potatoes. We are also planning this weekend's trip to Jaipur and Agra to see the Taj Mahal!

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC Team Leader
Railmagra, India: May 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

May 9th: Women's empowerment meeting

Today, we sat in on a women's empowerment meeting in a rural village in Rajasthan. Women here are under the ownership of men for their whole lives. When they're young they report to their father, when they're married they report to their husband and when their husband dies they report to their sons. In the village, married women are not allowed to show their faces in public or when there is a presence of a male so they cover themselves in sarees. The violence women experience here is economical, social and emotional. We compared this violence against women to ways in which women are discriminated around the world and living in Canada does not protect us from this. As a protest, we joined the NGO Jatan in writing slogans on the walls of buildings around the village. There is still so much to be done to give for women's rights all over the world.

Vienna Lam
DWC Volunteer Participant
Dhaneriyagadh, India: May 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

May 7th: Starting work on the women's washroom project

We left early for the Jatan office in Railmagra, where we had breakfast of corn flakes (in hot milk), poha (rice flakes), and bananas. Then we visited our project site for the first time. This is where we are to construct a community washroom for women over the next several weeks. However, as of now, all that is present is a plot of dirt with few linked narrow canals dug in.

We dug in the morning in 40+degree weather, took a chai break after 15 minutes and went back to work before lunch. After lunch we rested and resumed clearing the canals of dirt. Tomorrow we will be laying bricks and cement to construct walls.

While we were working some local children came to watch us. They are on summer break from May until July. When we took a rest under a large tree, we made some new friends and taught them how to play Stella Stella Ola and then they sang ABC for us.

We waved goodbye as we walked to a nearby house in the village of Morra to sit in on a youth meeting, a project sponsored by Jatan. The meeting happens once a month for children as co-curricular learning and a chance for them to learn social and personal responsibility. These kids are told to look up to leaders such as Gandhi to stand up against injustices they may experiences in their families and villages. They attend government schools where some teachers do not show up or teach according to the curriculum because they are paid either way. The youth group aims to let children know that they deserve a proper education and that they can speak up if their teachers are not teaching.

On the road today, we picked up a small turtle and saved him from getting run over. We named him "uger" like the Jatan initiative because we gave him/her a "new beginning". We also saw part of Indian wedding as village women paraded down the streets singing and later there was load music and celebrations. Our guide Chirag G tells us it is wedding season in Rajasthan. Fun!

Later in the evening, we rested and snacked on chai and Parle G glucose cookies. They taste like baby cookies only more tasty, especially with chai.

Vita Sackville-Hii
DWC Team Leader
Railmagra, India: May 2014