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.

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