Friday, March 14, 2008

Miles and miles of people, everywhere...

This was written on March 13, 2008

“Did you remember to steal a roll of toilet paper?”

I had just checked out of my room and was getting a cup of coffee down in the hotel restaurant when Saul asked me that question. I replied, “No one told me, so how could I remember?” Someone else suggested that I go into the lobby restroom and grab some toilet paper for the trip to Bareilly. Why? Because they don’t have any available (and in fact some don’t use toilet paper). So I grabbed some before we headed out on our long car drive from Delhi to Bareilly. And turns out later it was a good thing I did (though the reasons for that will remain under wraps for now).

The drive from Delhi to Bareilly was an adventure.

For one, there are people everywhere. I mean, everywhere. Even when you get outside the teeming mass of buildings which is Delhi and get to more rural areas, there are still huge masses of people. We passed by small town and village as the main road cut through the heart of them and every place seemed overfilling. And second, the traffic was heavy. Everything from trucks to bikes to rickshaws, to ox-pulled carts, motorcycles, and mopeds, all on the road. There are no lines, no real method to the movements, although like in the U.K., everyone drives on the other side of the road. Cars honk non-stop, alerting other cars of their presence. It reminded me a little of Manhattan traffic—as long as everything keeps moving, it all seems all right.

Later that afternoon, we went into a village about two hours drive from Bareilly. That was an odd experience as Saul and I were the only two white guys around. It is quite a strange feeling to have so many people staring at you as some curiosity. We were just there to ask questions, but it seemed as if we were being greeted as special guests. There was no way we could be low profile.

The village had about 10,000 people in it, which seemed large to me, but then again, it’s India. I imagined a village of a couple hundred or a thousand at the most, but that number seemed so large. It didn’t look that big. And there was only four doctors for the whole village. One of them may have not even been a real doctor, but probably had a fake diploma and started practicing. In India, its easy for anyone to say “I’m a doctor” and then start prescribing drugs (you don’t even need a prescription to get medicine here).

Asking questions is interesting as we had to have an interpreter, someone who worked for another nonprofit organization in the area. So I’m sure some things got lost in translation. I wanted to be more involved in the questions and conversations Saul was having, but was not feeling all that well and even had to excuse myself to the bathroom. And by bathroom, I mean, a room with a hole in the ground—not seat, not toilet paper…good thing I brought mine.

Which makes me remember something that Gina, a technical advisor at our India office said to me on Monday: “You have to imagine everything covered in feces. They bathe in feces. All the food has feces.” She continued to warn me about what not to eat and drink. “Have only hot foods. Drink bottled water or beer, sometimes tea but I’d do it cautiously. Even in a fancy hotel, I wouldn’t eat the vegetables…”

And as we drove, all I saw along the road (if you could call it a road) were people urinating and defecating, not too far from the fields where they were growing sugarcane and wheat). It was like India was one giant bathroom...

One thing for sure, this trip has made me very grateful to be born into a country of privilege and abundance.

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