Day 9: 18 Trillion Learning Experiences

Hi All. This is Erica checking in about Monday’s work.

We spent the morning discussing the incident that Zoha alluded to the other day (We split the group in Katol to collect water samples and play frisbee in the village. While Brianna, Viral, and Erica were collecting samples with the pump operator of the town, a crowd gathered and some men flirted with Zoha, and some drunk men were brought to interact with Jon, Mitch, and Mike. As soon as ZJMM felt uncomfortable, they left the community). Viewing this incident through the American lens, the incident didn’t seem very serious. The group split so that each group had males and the four who stayed to play frisbee stayed in the public areas of town, where there was a crowd.

This is where we start learning as a group. As much as we have read Indian news reports and travel safety tips, nothing could prepare us to instinctually recognize the danger of a crowd. In the United States, we have been taught that there is safety in numbers, but in India, especially when we are so different and novel, the emotions of the crowd may quickly turn to malicious sport.

We are already drawing attention to ourselves an incredible amount; many of the people we are interacting with in the villages have never seen people who sound or look like us. We were surprised to learn that even Priyank, the civil engineering student from Vadodara who has been working with us, has never spoken to pale-skinned foreigners like us.

We are lucky and grateful that nothing worse occurred last week. Our team did the best possible thing under the circumstances, they exited and remained calm. Unfortunately, we underestimated the severity of this incident and have created a large amount of ruckus. However, we are creating clearer lines of communication with the SETCO Foundation (they are the ones who understand Indian culture the best) and are reevaluating and defining safety procedure. While this incident should not have occurred, we are using it to set a safer and smart precedent and better prepare travelers in the future.

Lastly, we would like to shout out to Viral and Salmaben, employees of the SETCO Foundation, who have been extremely patient, kind, and helpful thus far, even through the ruckus that has been created. This is a learning process for all of us and we appreciate your help and hospitality immensely.

_______________________________________________

In other news, we returned to Dolutpura to collect some more water samples and also visited the engineering in Godhra who is in charge of the water treatment plant. We really enjoy Dolutpura; it is an etrememly small village and people are kind and helpful. There was a wedding going on that day; Zoha and Brianna had to explain that unfortunately they could not stay for two days to participate. Zoha enjoyed speaking to the bride who, although this was an arranged marriage, had met and enjoys her groom.

Brianna and Zoha interviewing the villagers to learn more about water and water-related diseases.
Brianna and Zoha interviewing the villagers to learn more about water and water-related diseases.

Erica, Jon, and Mike talked to the engineer in charge of the water treatment plant. His office was at a facility in Godhra that tests the water in the Panchmahal district. We enjoyed talking to the people who tested the water at the facility and they wanted to hear about the Coliscan Easygel technology that we are using for our own water testing. They were even able to give us some of their chemical and bacterial contaminate water testing results from the villages that we ourselves had tested in. The most important piece of information we learned by far was that some villages are connected to the water treatment plant, but continue using their own groundwater because there is a 14 rupee per capita per month charge for water from the water treatment plant. We are unsure why villages decline to pay this charge. One possibility is that the cost is too high for the villages. Another possibility is that the villagers decline to pay on principle (“government should pay for water”). We are also not sure whether individual villagers buy the water, or if local leaders decide on a town basis. We did also learn that usually groundwater is cleaner than water from the canal, which is where water that goes to the WTP comes from; therefore, the benefit of the WTP is that it gives villages a reliable supply of water. Based on the water testing results that we have examined, the majority of the water contamination occurs when people store their water (on a large scale) in sump tanks or (within their home) in clay, plastic, or metal pots.

Interviewing the chemists and engineer of WTP at the lab in Godhra
Interviewing the chemists and engineer of WTP at the lab in Godhra

Well! That’s all I got! We’re hanging in there!

-Erica

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