Day 25: Z is for Zesty Selfies

cout << “Hello World, it’s Kabir”;

Breakfast, chai, the whole shebang. We told Sabirbhai to come pick us up at 8:30 so relative to the 7:45’s we have been telling him for the past several days, we were able to “sleep in”. As soon as we got to the office the guard stopped our car and asked if there was a “Sarah Rogers”. What we didn’t put together was that the previous day we had ordered for a representative to collect a water sample with us in Dolatpura for toilets validation and had given them Sarah’s contact information. The water testers were 30 minutes early and we started scrambling to get Sarah and Natalia ready for the day ahead of them.

From there on it was smooth sailing. Sarah and Natalia were able to go and collect the water sample with Vidhi by their side and record the whole process for the future. For Nisha and me, it could have gone far better… We had planned to go with Salmaben to meet with Barola’s Sarpanch (head of local government). We had already met with the Panchayat member (right hand man to the Sarpanch) Tinabhai. As soon as we got in the car and went the opposite direction of where the Sarpanch is supposed to live, I knew something was about to go wrong. I turned to Nisha and told her, “We are meeting Tinabhai again”. The whole protocol we wrote to inform the Sarpanch about our plan for the future with the needs assessment was instantly scrapped and a new protocol was to be drafted in the five minute car ride. I sat there and pondered the best course of action while Nisha was attacking me with questions like “What are we gonna do?”, “Why are you sitting there in silence?”, “Why are you curled up into fetal position?”. It was wonderful. We had a very brief meeting, and met back up with the other two at the office. 

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The magnitude of work left to do forced Nisha, Natalia, and me to stay at the foundation while Sarah went to see the Medapur stove build. Sarah wasn’t able to attend the whole event but the few moments she captured were amazing. The three of us were able to finish the preliminary of the preliminary round of needs filtering and draft a new interview protocol for community members focusing specifically on the needs we filtered down to. We grabbed some lunch and headed off to Barola to conduct some interviews.

After interviews, Salmaben graciously invited us to dinner at Mirch Masala in InOrbit. The meal was amazing and I was forced by an individual who remains to be anonymous….Sarah…. to eat far more jalebi than my body could handle. But the icing on the cake was Rajeshbhai asking me to take a selfie in front of a painting of a woman that I have never seen. It was comedy gold. 

Afterwards I asked the group if we could get McDonalds and got yelled at. All in all it was a great day. We attempted to do work after dinner but we were all so tuckered out from the amount of food we were fed we decided to go straight to bed and start work early in the morning.

Day 24: Y is for Yardstick

Hi all, Sarah here! Busy day today, so bear with me. We rushed ourselves out of the guesthouse early, to arrive to the office before a scheduled meeting with Salmaben. We arrived just in time to have a nice cup of chai, then had a very productive talk about our plans for the rest of the trip. Afterwards, we collected our things, picked up Parth from the R&D department, and headed to Dolatpura to meet the contractor making changes to the toilet.

On arrival, we were pleased to find that the soak pit we designed to address the runoff of washwater from the toilet was mostly completed! The only thing missing was the sand-gravel filter to protect the ground water. The contractor then showed us the custom lids Setco made to cover the openings of the cover material chutes. After a couple slight adjustments, we were satisfied that the covers would fit well. We noted that the air outlets for the composting bins had not been changed yet, but were assured that they would be fixed by the next day.

Then, the moment we were all waiting for – they unsealed the composting bins.

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I think we were all surprised when we could barely smell the contents of the toilet bins, and grateful that we would not have to hold our breaths in addition to working in the 107 degree weather. We got right to work on our main task for the day; measuring the depth of the bins (with a makeshift yardstick we measured out ourselves), recording the height and angle of the outhouse, and installing the new temperature and humidity sensors into the bins. It wasn’t long before we realized that we would not be able to put the new sensor chords through the same places the old ones had been. The previous sensors had been installed prior to the completion of the toilet and were therefore forever cemented into the toilet system itself. Being the improvising engineers that we are, we decided the next logical place we could put the sensors was through the cover material pipes and that the data logger could live in the outhouse. This plan went well for the temperature sensors, but we had some difficulty fitting the humidity sensor down the narrow pipes. After several attempts to drop the sensor down, remove blockages in the pipe, and shove it down with a stick, we finally managed to pull it through with a weighted rope. After ensuring everything was functional, we wrapped up talks with the contractor, and returned to the air conditioned office for a brief reprieve before lunch.

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Lunch was delicious, as usual. Directly after, we got to work on additional documentation for our team, posting the previous day’s blog, and preparing for our interviews later in the afternoon. Our interviews this afternoon were in Motu faliya with people who we had met through the focus group. During these we gained greater depth of insight into problems previously mentioned by community members. Though we had planned to also go to Nishal faliya, it was getting late so we returned to the office to collect our things.

However, instead of heading straight back to the guesthouse in Barola as we usually do, we went to visit Gayatriben’s home for snacks, which our team and another coworker at the Setco foundation, Elsa, had been invited to the day before. We all had a fun visit, enjoying mumra, papra, mango juice, and making fun of Kabir. Not ones to overstay our welcome, we were soon on our way back to the guesthouse. There, we cleaned up, fit in a quick nap, ate a proper dinner, wrote an impressive number of needs statements, and passed out immediately after turning in for the night.

Day 23: X is for X-citing

Hi all, Natalia here! Our morning began with a kind of spicy pancake, mangoes, and obviously chai. We headed to the office bright and early, knowing it was going to be a busy day. After catching up on our blog posts and other, more serious, forms of documentation, we headed to Barola, accompanied by Rajeshbhai, for another round of one-on-one interviews.

We began our interviews in Motu faliya. Nisha, Sarah, and I talked to Kusumben and her family, including her two adorable toddler grandsons. They shared a lot of detailed information regarding their water management and agricultural practices. Meanwhile, Kabir met a fellow by the name of Jadeep Singh Jaswat Singh Rator, and picked up some interesting notes on the difficulties of farming millet. Before leaving the faliya, we located the house of Sangeetaben – who was at our focus group discussion and had asked to talk to us – and set up a time for an interview.

Relocating to Nishal faliya, we separated into two groups again. While Kabir and Rajeshbhai interviewed a man named Bharatbhai, the rest of us went to the house of Ramilaben (not the same one as yesterday – there are at least three Ramilabens). As we began talking on the porch, a small crowd of women, some of them around our age, began to gather. The structured questions gave way to laughter, compliments, and half-joking questions about our lives. We may not have collected much information, but it was a priceless opportunity to build positive relationships in the community, and also just a good time.

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As much as we enjoyed these lively conversations, we were starving by now, and very eager to return to the office for lunch. We were pleasantly surprised to be served mango rus, a very refreshing dish made from mango pulp. We spent the rest of the afternoon working. We reworked our schedule for the coming days, completed more documentation, and prepared for writing needs statements, the next major step in our needs assessment process.

Leaving the office, we agreed to give Elsa and Gayatriben a ride home as well. After dropping them off, we stopped at a store to pick up baking soda, so we can see if it’s an effective and compost-friendly cleaner for the toilet. After scouring the whole building and interrogating several employees, Kabir and I finally located the baking soda in the form of three small packets on a shelf otherwise occupied by dried fruits. We cleaned out their entire supply.

Back at the guest house, we debriefed on the day’s interviews, pausing only for a hearty dinner of Nutri Nuggets. We then began the lengthy process of drafting needs statements based on the problems we’ve observed in the community, calling up Sai and Rachel for guidance and input. For hours on end, we plowed through our problem statements, churning out need after need while consuming an alarming volume of snacks. Eventually our brains were fried, so we called it a night.

Day 22: W is for Water

Hey y’all, Nisha here! My first day back from Ahmedabad started off on the right foot with a cup of cold milk and, as expected, omelets and toast. After arriving to the office, we prepared for our first day of targeted interviews during which we would interview community members in Barola that we had already met in order to get more detailed information regarding points that they had brought up earlier. We planned to go to Barola to ask two women that we had already interviewed, Ramilaben and Rekhaben, when they would be available later that day to meet with us.

We met up with Salmaben who was planning on heading to the field with us. Upon arriving in Barola, Namrataben helped us track down where Rekhaben lived in Motu falia. Sarah and Natalia stayed with Salmaben to conduct the interview while Namrataben guided Kabir and me to Nishal faliya. We were disheartened at first to find that Ramilaben was not home. As we contemplated what our next move would be, we heard Ramilaben call to us from further down the road as she walked back to her home, balancing two large containers of water on her head. She invited us in and we began our interview while she prepared lunch. We were able to meet her younger son and were greeted by her older son once more. We walked through, in detail, how Ramilaben conducted different processes each day, asking about cooking, cleaning, farming, and water collection. Time passed quickly in the interview, as it was so easy to speak with her, so we were taken aback by how long it had already been when Natalia, Sarah, and Salmaben rejoined us after completing their interview. We ended our meeting soon after with numerous selfies with their entire family and another invitation to return to meet them once more.

Salmaben alerted us in the car ride back from Barola that she was running late for an ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) meeting in Kalol during which she was intended to give a speech. We were able to listen to a speech from one of the executive members of the program, detailing the necessity and importance of their work. Salmaben introduced us to the rest of the members that were being honored at the meeting, and we all were given bouquets of flowers.

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We headed back the office for a late lunch, stepping over fallen trees that had been uprooted during last night’s storm.

The afternoon consisted of calling the water testing laboratory and finalizing how we could place our order.

Upon arriving back to Baroda, the team unanimously voiced that we needed a break before we starting work in the evening. After dinner, we worked until late, debriefing the two interviews that we had conducted, updating our files with this new information, and preparing the interview protocol for tomorrow.

Day 20 & 21: U and V are for Unavailable and Voltage

Hi all, Sarah here. Day 20 started off with the normal hubbub of breakfast, malaria pill reminders, material gathering, and chai; but instead of going to the office, the plan was to find a wifi source to skype our US team. So we all piled into the car (sans Natalia whose stomach had been acting up) expecting our ever reliant driver Sabirbhai to know where he was going. We soon realized that somewhere in the planning process, it didn’t get communicated that we weren’t going to the office, nor did Sabirbhai expect there to be any wifi cafes open at 9am on a Saturday. Nonetheless, we checked 3 wifi cafes (all closed), a hotel (only has wifi for guests), McDonalds & KFC (also both closed), and finally decided that it was a lost cause & settled on a conference call in the guesthouse instead. It was great to hear some familiar voices on the call. It took much longer than expected to figure out the importance of values we created to help us filter needs statements for potential team projects. So huge shoutout to all the people in the US we kept up til 2am!

After the call, Kabir, Nisha, and Rachel headed out to a market to do some last-minute gift shopping before Rachel left the country, while Natalia and I stayed back to rest and edit photos, respectively. They were back before we knew it, and from there on, the day was a whirl of showers, last-minute packing, lunch, and good-byes. Nisha was the first to head out to go visit her family in the area for the remainder of the weekend. A short while later, Harishbhai, Kabir, Rachel, and I piled into the car to send Rachel off to the airport back to the US. It was a bittersweet moment, sweetened by the many pictures and selfies taken with and by Harishbhai and Sabirbhai. Back at the guesthouse, Kabir, Natalia, and I settled in for a quiet, but relaxing day of naps, card games, and reading.

And now to Kabir for a typically over-exaggerated version of Day 21.

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Solid two paragraphs Sarah…

Namaste, Kabir here. It’s day 2 without Nisha and consequently, without bug spray and sunscreen. Today was our day to saunter around, sleep in, and truly take a day off, so I felt as if I was doing myself an injustice when I woke up at 7 am. Forcing myself to go to bed, I woke up to the beautiful and calming sound of my door smashing open and Harishbhai yelling “Get up” as if the building were on fire. It was wonderful. As I groaned and moaned towards the table, I was greeted by Sarah and, more importantly, some chai. After we were all up, we played some cards, video games, and took a nap.

Around 2:30 we headed to InOrbit, a westernized mall on the outskirts of Baroda. It was finally time to redeem ourselves and accompany Elsa, a Setco worker, to a movie after ditching her twice…we are horrific people (once during winter break, once earlier in the week). But first we had to eat. So I strongly suggested the food court in the mall where they have a wide array of cuisines all around the world. So obviously we chose McDonalds for the third time. We watched 3D Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for about 3 dollars per ticket, and it was high-larious. 

Natalia, Sarah, and I came back to the guesthouse and relaxed until dinner and Nisha’s arrival. We chowed down and Nisha walked through the door, which meant work time. We followed our typical routine of collecting in my room, each taking one corner of the bed, and hashing out the details for the remainder of the week. But before we had an inconvenient stint with nature.

While the four of us were at the table devouring some freshly cut mango the balcony door swung open from the intensity of the wind. We sprung into action, grabbing all of our clothes from the clotheslines on the balcony and locking the front door which was also whipped open. Being the curious University of Michigan students that we are, we analyzed the weather, determining that it was a possible dust storm (it was actually just raining, according to Harishbhai, who was outside). We looked through the window and saw breathtaking streaks of lightning that would fill the sky with the bellowing sound of thunder and the eerie whistle of the wind. So there we are, in my room when everything turns off simultaneously. I took this golden opportunity to shine a flashlight and make scary faces. Much of the group voiced that my normal face is far more hideous, so wonderful! I made some shadow puppets on the wall and we went back to work afterwards. Our phones and flashlights were an integral part as the night got darker but we had no out for the unbearably hot room. To ease the situation I turned my flashlight to strobe mode to simulate a rave, but I am fairly confident it made the situation worse.

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After an hour of darkness, the electricity came back on and we were able to wrap up our work. Today was another day off and it was much needed. This is our final week here in India and it is filled to the brim with work, but we are looking forward to the relationships we will continue building and the friends we make. 

Day 19: T is for Thankful

Hey, everyone! It’s Rachel again, checking in for the last time. Today started off like most others – with chai, too many biscuits, and breakfast. We got to the office slightly later than we had hoped to, but still had plenty of time before our 10am meeting with Barola’s sarpanch that we had planned a few days ago. Rajeshbhai checked in with him and discovered that he was still traveling and therefore unable to meet until after the weekend. We decided that Sarah (the birthday girl!) and I would be attending the stoves-related presentation that was scheduled for 11am in Medapur and the rest of the travelers (Kabir, Nisha, and Natalia) would be heading to Barola at the same time to begin formal interviews with people we had met through focus groups and our preliminary visits to the community.

Before we could head out to the field, Salmaben came over to the table that acts as our home base and began moving things from its surface. We followed suit, and began pulling out our recording devices when we heard “cake ceremony”. A beautiful cake appeared, complete with a candle. We sang an interesting rendition of Happy Birthday as we watched Sarah blow out the candle and subsequently receive several handfuls of cake delivered directly to her mouth. A beautiful gift was also given to her before we quickly ate a quarter of the cake before a rushed departure in two separate vehicles, Gayatriben, Salmaben, Sarah, and myself in one van headed to Barola and Rajeshbhai, Kabir, Nisha, and Natalia in another on the way to Medapur.

We navigated the curvy roads to Medapur and found the home of an anganwadi employee. This was the same place that has held our two past interactions with Medapur – a discussion with a women’s self-help group in May 2016 and a formal indoor air pollution presentation to a large group over winter break. There was a group of about two dozen women by the time we got started. Salmaben gave a very thorough introduction of our team and its past work, with an emphasis on our low-smoke chulha. Then, Gayatriben presented the same slides that were used over winter break that explain the negative health effects of indoor air pollution caused by traditional stoves. A video followed talking about stoves and their fuel usage from an environmental perspective.

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Throughout the meeting, the women were very willing to interact and were very clearly connecting with the content of the presentation. At the conclusion, the local community health worker began a list of women who were interested in receiving a low-smoke stove once people in Medapur have been trained to build it (which is scheduled to happen next week!). At least 12 names were on the list by the time we left. It’s exciting that there’s so much interest in our stove! I can’t believe that we’ve gone from assessing needs in Dolatpura to prototyping a stove to actually seeing that design spread to a second community.

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While Sarah and I were in Medapur, there were some very productive interviews happening in Barola. Kabir, Nisha, and Natalia have become experts at interacting with individuals across/through the language barrier. They gathered a great deal of information about people, some we knew from our past visits while others were new faces.

We got together back at the office for a late lunch. As we were enjoying the wifi and AC, I was surprised with a goodbye gift from Salmaben. After some time, the same Barola field team headed back out to continue conducting interviews while Sarah and I worked on some documentation tasks. Natalia, Nisha, and Kabir came back around 4 and had a lot more to share about their afternoon. We wrapped up the rest of our office tasks before the team took a proper weekend break, Nisha taking a day to visit family in Ahmadabad, and me leaving tomorrow. I said a few goodbyes to our friends in the office and Vidhi and Parth on our way to the car.

Rajeshbhai joined us on our way back home, and before we got on the highway we detoured to Dolatpura so I could see some friends before I head out. Sumitraben, Kusum, Alpa, Vivek, and Prakashbhai were home, so we stopped by for a few minutes. I didn’t think it would be easy to express how grateful I was for everything that Sumitraben and her family have taught me, so I stuck with a simple “thank you for everything”. It was really sad to think that I might not see their wonderful, warm faces again. But, I’m determined to follow Sumitraben’s instructions to come back and visit sometime.

We got back in the car and completed our commute back to Baroda. My farewell to Rajeshbhai was another simple, sincere combination of “thanks” and “goodbye” as he got out of the car. Sabirbhai helped navigate us to a store where we stocked up on some necessary snacks before we arrived back at the guest house. We had dinner and began a debrief session that lasted way too long and included too much multi-tasking related to packing and too many of the aforementioned snacks as well as some leftover cake from the night before to continue Sarah’s (21st!) birthday celebration.

We stayed up way too late and didn’t finish all of our work, but it was a good last night in Baroda. I’m very confident that this won’t be the last time I make it to Gujarat, but it’s definitely hard to not know when I’ll be back. I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for all of the incredible opportunities that BLIP has given me over the years, but hopefully another “thank you so much for everything, see you later” will do.

Day 18: S is for Sarah’s (early) Birthday!

Hi all, Natalia here. Today we began with our typical morning routine of breakfast, chai, and naps in the car. We arrived at the office ready for our second round of focus groups in Barola, this time in Nishal faliya.

The women’s focus group drew an impressive crowd of over 20 women and almost the same number of kids. Nisha did an amazing job of managing the massive influx of information and connecting with the participants, while somehow still managing to translate back to the rest of us. We learned about a wide array of problems faced by this part of the community. During the mapping activity, Sarah took out her camera, and many of the participants asked to have their pictures taken with us. Meanwhile Kabir carried out another focus group and mapping activity down the street with a smaller group of men.

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After the mapping activities and photo shoot, a few community members offered to show us two wells nearby. It was interesting to see these water sources while taking the opportunity to observe a part of Barola that we hadn’t seen yet.

Yesterday the panchayat member had invited us to visit a wedding in Motu faliya, so of course we had to stop by before returning to the office. I had never been to an Indian wedding before, and was amazed by the enormous tents decked out with flowers, statues, and bright-colored fabrics. We met the bride and her family, took a few pictures, and generally gawked at how extravagant everything was. Nonetheless, we were all eager to return to the car and its air conditioning after a very long and eventful morning.

We got back to the office around 1pm with one thing on our minds – lunch. We ate and then spent the remainder of the afternoon working in the office. We solidified our plans for the coming days and finished defining our criteria for selecting a need to work on. As we were wrapping up, Salmaben came by our table and invited us out to dinner, since it is almost Rachel’s last day in India. We were happy to accept.

Our work at the office completed, we headed back to the guest house. At this point in the needs assessment we have no time to lose, so we spent the entire car ride debriefing on the morning’s focus groups. At the guest house, we had just enough time to snack, nap, freshen up, and figure out where we were going and how we were getting there, before it was time to head out.

We met Salmaben and Rajeshbhai at Barbecue Nation. We split into two tables based on diet – Veg or Non-Veg – so I was at the carnivore table with Sarah, Kabir, and Salmaben. The waiters began delivering us a relentless onslaught of delicious barbecued meat on skewers. I tried to pace myself but decisively failed. Stuffed full of chicken, shrimp, fish, and lamb, I sat back, thinking it was all over.

I was wrong.

Apparently that was just the appetizer course. Now it was time for the grand buffet. We reluctantly piled up our plates and somehow survived two rounds of the buffet.

Throughout the evening we had noticed several birthday celebrations at nearby tables, so we let the staff know that it was Sarah’s birthday today (technically it’s tomorrow, but close enough). Everyone was waiting on the edge of their seat for the celebration. I could explain what happened, but you really have to see it, so here’s a video.

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After the brouhaha, we took plenty of pictures and said goodbye to Rajeshbhai and Salmaben, making sure to thank Salmaben for her generous invitation. Returning to the guest house, we convened in Kabir’s room to finish our debrief and create a list of problems based on today’s visit to Barola.

Day 17: R is for Resource Mapping (or Rachel)

Hey everyone, it’s Rachel. We started the day off with some delicious breakfast. I wasn’t feeling well yesterday, but after some sleep and quality cooking from Harishbhai’s kitchen, I was pretty ready for the day. We headed down to the car, which arrived later than we planned and without our usual driver.

We arrived at the office to discover that our 9am meeting with the sarpanch of Barola had to be rescheduled due to a wedding. Instead, Rajeshbhai was able to contact another panchayat member who said that he could meet with us that afternoon. Since we couldn’t meet the sarpanch, this meant our community meeting, where we were hoping to explain our purpose to as many people as possible at one time, would also be put on hold, but we were still going to hold focus group discussions that day in Motu faliya.

We readjusted our schedule to include these changes, gathered materials for a community mapping exercise, and set out at 11am for Barola. Everyone was outside when we arrived, filling containers with water from hoses that came out of the ground in front of each house. Namrataben, an anganwadi employee who we met during our last visit, greeted us as we got out of the car. We learned from her that people needed to gather water from the hoses immediately because it only comes twice a day.

As people finished their water storage tasks, individuals began arriving at the home of Pramilaben, who was gracious enough to host us. After a crowd of about two dozen adults had gathered, Rajeshbai introduced us and the work that we hope to carry out during our trip. We then divided the men and women, with the women staying at Pramilaben’s and the men moving across the street.

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Once we were separated, we introduced ourselves individually and learned the names of the women present. Nisha asked some broad questions to get people thinking about their daily habits and the resources in their community. We learned about their frustrations with access to drinking water and health care. Then we transitioned into our mapping activity, which had the women draw their faliya and landmarks such as their local school and anganwadi. Once the map was complete, we asked questions like what their favorite and least favorite places were. We learned a lot about where things are located in Barola as well as additional problems, including the lack of sanitation infrastructure.

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As the mapping activity drew to a close, Pramilaben, her daughter, and a few other women offered to take us on a tour. We saw not only their homes, but also important resources including toilets and a newly installed water hand pump. When we returned to Pramilaben’s, we were treated to a wonderful glass of pop.

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Kabir and Rajeshbhai came over and informed us that a panchayat member was available to meet with us immediately. We agreed and had a conversation about our plans, which was well-received and followed by an invitation to a wedding the next day (for “cultural learning” purposes, of course).

We headed back to the office, grabbed lunch, and dug into stove plans. Nisha and I went with Vidhi to pay Sumitraben a visit. We wanted to chat with her and make sure that she was comfortable with our plans for her to teach others how to build the stove. She indicated that she did want to teach people, even if it meant leaving Dolatpura for a few hours. While we were there, we said “hi” to Alpa and Kusum. Back at the office, we wrapped up stove discussions, setting dates for two visits to Medapur to conduct a presentation on smoke inhalation and a training session for new stove builders.

Vidhi joined us for the drive back to Baroda. When we got home, I took a quick shower while Sarah took some professional headshots of Kabir on the balcony. After some refreshing chai, we piled into Kabir’s room to debrief the focus groups. We broke for dinner and then ended the night by drafting problem statements based on the information from the focus groups. It was a long, productive day.

Days 15 & 16: P and Q are for Passenger Train and Questions

Ciao, Kabir here. Our last day in Mumbai started off the right way! I wrapped myself in a comforter, yelled “I’m the Batman” and woke everyone up. After getting ready we headed down to breakfast where we had a lovely South Indian breakfast filled with sambar, idli’s, dosa, and for some reason gulab jamen, which we devoured. Due to the limited amount of time we had left before our train ride we decided to continue shopping for the rest of the day.

We went to three malls. The first of which was closed, the second had two stores, and the third: where plenty of similar shops that sold fake Rolex’s. Because we were all born and raised in the United States, we had lunch at McDonald’s for a second time this trip.

We then headed to a coffee joint across the street to meet up with Abhi, a BLUElab member’s former roommate’s cousin….so basically family. Abhi did a great job showing us around Mumbai our first day and we wanted to say our goodbyes. He bought Sarah a slice of cake, which I happily ate, to celebrate her upcoming birthday.

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He traveled with us to the train station where he guided us to our coach and seats. We owe him a great debt because without his understanding of the train system and adept ability to speak Hindi, we would have been panicking like headless chickens and missed our train.

Now this is where the predicament comes in. So when we first booked our train tickets, apparently we were all on the wait-list. Now what this means is that even if you book as a group you will all get in the same carriage, but not necessarily have seats next to each other. Thankfully four of us were all in seats 9 through 12 but for some odd reason Rachel was placed in seat 65. So me being the chivalrous gentleman that I am, forced the girls to sit together and went to sit myself. I mean who wants to mess with a Wookie? Nisha and Sarah initially checked up on me and told me not eat the train food. Obviously I then ate the train food. What a time to be alive. After arriving to Baroda, Sabirbhai picked us up, and took us to the guesthouse where we had some Maggi and chai. We conked out afterwards only to await starting the needs assessment the next day. Take it away Nisha.

Thanks Kabir…hey everyone, Nisha here! As per every day that I’ve written, we started our first morning back in Barola with a large plate of omelettes and buttered toast. Our anticipation of the busy day in front of us coupled with our exhaustion from yesterday’s journey resulted in a sleepy car ride to work. We arrived to a mostly empty office, finding that since it was a Tuesday, a day off for most employees, it would be a quiet day.

We quickly learned that the several meetings in Barola that we had planned for would have to be postponed until tomorrow, causing a fairly dramatic change of our plans. So we decided to divide our efforts, as Kabir, Natalia, and I went to Dolatpura to meet with a new Setco contractor that would be helping us with our toilet’s updates, while Sarah and Rachel stayed back in the office to continue working. We were pleasantly surprised by how efficiently the meeting went and are excited to see the construction start in the next two days.

After returning to the office, Kabir and I began meticulously planning out our meetings for tomorrow while Sarah, Rachel, and Natalia worked to generate a list of potential labs that could conduct water tests for us. We got a welcome break in our morning when Elsa, an employee of the foundation, brought us some refreshing juice boxes, which proceeded to finished within the next few minutes.20170516_122746-01[1].jpeg

Our afternoon consisted of calling the water testing labs, as Kabir and I took turns asking questions to clarify their testing methods. After being put on hold, transferred back and forth between departments, and even having someone beg me to stop asking so many questions, we finally narrowed down our list to a promising lab.

Due to the change of schedule, we were able to leave the office early, and took advantage of the extra time we had to relax. We finalized our protocols for the various meetings we anticipate having tomorrow, with most of us calling it an early night.

Day 13 & 14: N and O are for Naps and Oreo McFlurries

Hey all, Natalia here! Saturday was the day our team set out for Mumbai. Some of us had a very early start – Sarah, Nisha, and Kabir woke up at 4am to catch their flight at 7. Meanwhile, Rachel and I had managed to book a later flight departing at 11am, so we had a leisurely morning, “sleeping in” until 7:30am. We awoke to a hot breakfast of muttar paneer, roti, and chai (and of course Nutella), thanks to our newly arrived caretaker and cook, Harishbhai.

We headed to the brand-new Vadodara airport around 9am, completely failing to appreciate how small and empty it would be. After waiting a couple hours we boarder the plane and settled down for a brief one-hour flight. To our surprise, despite the short duration of the journey, we were served a meal. I got something that looked like a hot pocket but tasted like chicken curry. Yum.

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Safely arrived in the Mumbai airport, our team reunited at last. After a quick pause in the food court to enjoy mango lassi and the airport’s free Wi-Fi, we took an Uber to the Club House where we’re staying. Exhausted by our travels, we napped all afternoon.

Once rested, we utilized our internet access to plan the next couple of days in Mumbai. Before we knew it, it was time to get ready and leave to meet Urja at her Mumbai home for dinner. There, we had the chance to meet her son, have a casual conversation with her father, Mr. Sheth, and had some lovely discussions over dinner.

Switching gears – it’s Sarah here. Sunday, we allowed ourselves to sleep in well past breakfast. The sleep was much needed, as up to this point we’d only had a grand total of a half-day of break. But because we’d all missed breakfast we were ravenous. So we decided to do the only logical thing when in a foreign country – go to McDonald’s.

Going to McDonalds in India is a completely different ballgame than in the States. The menu is an unrecognizable array of vegetarian and chicken options, and the staple beef burgers are nowhere to be found. This was a wonderful thing for the vegetarians on the team who happily dug into their paneer wraps, aloo (potato) burger, and fries, while the rest of us devoured McSpicy chicken burgers and Maharajah Macs.

While Kabir was contemplating going back to order his third McSpicy chicken, an employee came up to us and asked if we had called our mothers for Mother’s Day yet. If we hadn’t and we did in front of him, he was offering us free dessert. At this point, none of us had even considered calling yet because it was only 4am on Mother’s Day in the US. However, free dessert was on the line so Kabir, being the wonderful son he is, called his mother at 4am and we all wished her a Happy Mother’s Day. (So this is a shout out to all our moms for being awesome, but also an apology to Kavita for waking her up at 4am so we could get ice cream.)

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Full and happy, we decided to continue with our plan for the day to visit the Gateway of India. There, we took some pretty great selfies with a lot of pigeons and the Gateway itself. Afterward, we started walking back in the direction of the hotel, perusing the various shops as we went, and occasionally stopping to get gifts. After grabbing snacks for the train ride back to Vadodara, we decided that we had soaked our clothes with enough sweat for the day, and taxied back to the hotel.

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After naps, showers, and changing into our nice kurtas and suit, respectively, we headed out to the main reason we were in Mumbai – the alumni event. The event was hosted by the Mumbai chapter of University of Michigan’s Alumni Association in place of one of their monthly get-togethers. We had a great time chatting and snacking with around 15 alumni who lived in the area. We also had the chance to talk to the travel team from Michigan’s SWE chapter, who also attended the event.  Overall, we had a good experience networking with alumni and catching up with our counterparts in SWE.

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