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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


Day 12: M is for Mango Masti

Hey everyone! Rachel blogging about our 12th day in the field. The day started with our regular morning routine of breakfast and chai and Nisha ensuring Kabir was smothered in enough bug spray to prevent bites. We piled into the car and arrived at the office around 9 o’clock, early enough to prep for our 9:30 meeting with the Setco team. This was the meeting where we were going to explain to them our selection of Barola as our partner community.

Due to some delays related to other SF projects and obligations, we eventually had our meeting at 11:15. Elsa, Gayatriben, Rajeshbhai, and Salmaben listened as our team presented our findings about the various communities we’ve been visiting since we arrived. We also outlined our schedule for the rest of the trip (which includes shockingly few days, especially for me since I have to head back early). We will be really busy collecting all of the information we need, but it’s exciting to be at a point where we know what we need to be doing day-by-day moving forward. At the conclusion of the slides, the Setco team voiced their appreciation for our thoroughness and agreed with our decision to move forward with a needs assessment in Barola.

After our meeting, we went to lunch in the canteen. When we returned to the office, we did some work documenting our plans for alterations to the toilet since Rajeshbhai will be working to secure a new contractor to do that work.

We noticed it was quite warm in the office. We asked if we could turn on the A/C but were told that the power supplying the A/C was out. We toughed out the heat, finished the document, and headed out for what we thought was a trip to Dolatpura to collect information regarding water which will help us move forward with toilets validation.

We were told Rajeshbhai and Salmaben would be accompanying us, but we split up into two cars. My car (with Nisha, Sarah, and Natalia) was confused when we drove past the street where Dolatpura is located. Our driver said he had gotten a call telling him to follow the other vehicle. We made a pretty frantic, confused phone call and were told that we were instead on our way to ice cream and that we’d complete our work in Dolatpura afterwards.


The place we went for ice cream was a hotel along the highway. They had a pretty wide selection of flavors, but 3 members of our team, Rajeshbhai, and both drivers opted for the mango masti flavor. None of us were disappointed. After this detour, we made our way to Dolatpura, and found that there’s a pretty accessible well that will enable us to do water sampling/testing for toilets validation.


We headed back to the guest house, where we began packing for our long weekend in Mumbai. When we sat down to watch TV in the living room, the door opened and in walked Harishbhai, our old caretaker from past trips who had been gone visiting family up until now. It was so nice to see a familiar face. We wrapped up the night with some delicious food that was sent over by Salmaben before going to bed for the night. I am excited to be visiting Mumbai for the first time tomorrow with such an amazing group of people!

Day 11: L is for Laundry

Hey all, Nisha here! We prepared for a day full of meetings with a massive breakfast. We woke to two huge omelets, four pieces of toast, and a sweet cup of chai. Natalia and I were struck by momentary relief as we had finally been presented a meal that didn’t contain onions.

Upon arriving to the office, we found our expected schedule for the day was rearranged and several meetings were postponed, so we settled down for a bit. We worked until our meeting with the director of Setco’s R&D department and Vidhi and Parth, who are both volunteers from the department. We dove into the specific details of our toilet and stove design, explaining our reasoning for certain decisions, highlighting problems we are working to resolve, and proposing what the future of our relationship with the department will look like.


With our first meeting successfully completed, we moved on to making plans with the toilets contractor. Rajeshbhai helped us mediate the conversation, as we were not able to speak with the contractor directly. After about an hour of back and forth, Rajeshbhai proposed some alternative sources that we could employ to help us complete the changes we needed for the toilet. We made plans to finalize the details tomorrow as we left the office.

On our way home, we decided that after a long week of work, we wanted to treat ourselves. So naturally, we decided to go back to the restaurant that had served us buckets of garlic naan a few nights ago. After this decision had been made in the car ride back, I slowly dosed off. Sometime later, I was woken in a panic by Rachel and Sarah, who both bore a look of seriousness. To my surprise, this was stemming from the need for me to tell the driver that we wanted dinner now.

Upon arriving back at the guesthouse with the food, we quickly ravaged through five garlic naans and four paneer dishes leaving just enough leftovers for a savory snack tomorrow. Along with the food we were greeted by the welcome surprise that our laundry had finally returned, just in time for us to pack for our Mumbai trip.

As many of our meetings that we had prepared for had been pushed back until tomorrow, we found ourselves with little work to do at the guesthouse and took the opportunity to relax. After yet another brutal loss, the night ended in celebration as the infamous team of Kabir and I, famously coined as Nibir, rose to victory as we finally defeated Rachel and Sarah in Euchre.

Alpa’s (+Kabir’s) original designs


Day 10: K is for Kids+Kabir

Adrenaline rush.
Blood pumping through my veins.
Heart bursting out of my chest. 

Hi my name is Kabir and this is the most scared I have ever been, but we’ll get into that later. We started our day with Poha, chai, a horrifically loud television, and chilled water. Before leaving the guesthouse Nisha engaged in her routine of ambushing me with bug spray and sunscreen and promptly leaving. Today was our day off and we forced ourselves to take it easy – so obviously we headed to the office like a typical work day. This time we requested the presence of Vidhi, a Setco R&D engineer, to accompany us for the social visit we planned to Dolatpura. Before heading out, Vidhi showed us where they test clutches and the impressive Dyno Machine to validate tractor and truck clutches. The inner mechanical engineer in me was fan-girling the whole time. 

We all got into the car to visit Dolatpura. We notified Chatrisinhbhai about our meeting with the contractor this Friday and met with Kusumben, Sumitraben’s daughter, and her 3-month old son Vivek. We engaged in conversation and it somehow led to a baby photoshoot. I have never experienced a “cuteness overload” before but when they put a small bucket hat on his head and he started flailing his arms and legs, no longer than my forearm, I almost passed out. For some reason Alpa, Sumitraben’s second daughter, offered the baby for me to hold. I started panicking (the theme of today), thinking of everything that could go possibly wrong, and vehemently denied. Rachel, who absolutely adores children, scooped up the opportunity to hold Vivek and did an amazing job supporting his back, head, and maintaining a rocking motion (which I critically analyzed). 

The next few moments all blurred together and I was still panicking. Fear overcame my body and my adrenaline triggered. 


At this point I was still recovering from what I thought was a heart attack. All of a sudden Sumitraben starts telling me to “Hold him firmly”. I’m questioning “holding who?” because other than Vivek, I was the only other male in the room and I couldn’t really hold myself. All of a sudden the baby was handed to me, I was panicking, I put my arm as a support and held the head with my hand, I was still panicking, and made sure I maintained a rocking motion. I started to sing nursery rhymes from my childhood and he responded with a smile and laugh to my surprise. I mean I look like a Wookie from Star Wars with my lumbering height and hairy face so I was half expecting him to cry. 


I handed the child to Nisha so I could play peekaboo with him, but he wouldn’t let go of my finger. Sarah held him as well, and then all the ladies got henna done on their hands by Alpa. Before leaving I promised the family that next time they see me I will be fluent in Hindi and Gujarati, and I plan on fulfilling the promise. However Sumitraben for some reason took it a step further and told me that next May I have to do an American and Indian dance for them. One problem…I can’t dance. Imagine one of those inflatables in front of car dealerships that move with no rhythm and chaotically, that’s how I dance.


We dropped off Vidhi at Setco and went back to the guest house. We all took a nap, played some poker, and finished up our presentations to Setco about community selection and R&D about our current technologies.

Today was a momentous occasion for me, holding a baby for the first time. I discovered that even though I am not in sync with my paternal instincts as of yet I, Kabir, would be a really cool uncle.


Day 9: J is for Justifications

Hey everyone! Sarah here with your daily report of travel team shenanigans. Our day started out in Barola, our last community visit before deciding where to do our needs assessment.

When we first rolled up to the town, we were greeted by the sights and sounds of wedding prep – canopies were hung, food was being prepared in massive pans, and the sound system was getting checked. But despite all the hubbub, we were greeted by a number of men and women willing to discuss their lives with foreigners. We were pleasantly surprised by the frank responses we received from each of the conversations we had in both falias, and left excited to continue the remainder of the pre-needs assessment processes.

Back at the office, there was a flurry of note review, decision matrix ranking and justification, blog posting, chai drinking, email writing, and general internet usage. After a very productive day, the whole team knocked out for much-needed naps during the car ride back to the guest-house. But we weren’t done yet! We soon settled in with more chai, biscuits, and mangos to further compare the highest ranked communities in our decision matrix to finalize our needs assessment community. After rehashing our notes, considering the criteria we developed with our team back home and a tangent on future BLIP goals, we finally announced Barola as the focus of our needs assessment!

By the end of the day, we were all looking forward to our day off.

Day 8: I is for Interviews

Hi all, it’s Natalia again. Following our typical morning routine, our day began with a brief spell of rush hour traffic. With no time to lose, we used the time to sort out our plans for sampling groundwater near the toilet prototype, taking a brief pause in our conversation to watch Sabirbhai scold a rude truck driver.


We arrived at the office to find that Elsa, one of our friends at the Setco Foundation, had returned to the office after a trip to see her family. We also said hi to Urja – the President of Setco Foundation and one of the coolest people ever – who is visiting Kalol for a couple days.

Our morning was spent in the nearby community of Alindra, evaluating its potential as a possible site for our needs assessment. In the first faliya, we had the chance to conduct interviews in two different households and talked to a wide array of people, including an anganwadi worker and two health workers. We even had the good luck of encountering a member of the panchayat (the local governing body), who showed us a shortcut to the other faliya. In the second faliya, the women we interviewed were very friendly and really opened up to us about their lives.



Exhausted from a long morning of interviews, we piled into the van and cranked the AC all the way up. Back at the office we reevaluated our timeline for the week and began preparing for our meetings in the afternoon. After a delicious lunch which included puri (deep-fried bread) and shrikhand (a sort of sweet yogurt pudding), we met with Urja and a few people from Setco’s Research & Development department to discuss R&D’s involvement in the stoves and toilets projects moving forward. We then had a chat with Urja about our project in general and got an invite to lunch with her in Mumbai.

We returned to the guest house, napping all the way. After chai and a snack, we all took power naps until dinner arrived. Dinner was followed by an intense debriefing session in which we sorted out the day’s events, discussed and prioritized our criteria for picking a community, and evaluated the first few communities we had seen to begin making our decision.

By the time we accomplished this grueling task, it was midnight – the perfect time for midnight mangoes! This refreshing fruit was the perfect way to end our productive day.


Day 7: H is for Hold ‘Em

Rachel back to talk about day 7! We decided to work this Sunday, so our day started off pretty early. We rode to the Kalol area where we met up with Salmaben and Rajeshbhai who were gracious enough to use their day off to accompany us to a few communities we may conduct our needs assessment in.


Our first visit was to Taravda, which is pretty close to Dolatpura. We interviewed several individuals from all different parts of the community.



Everyone was quite curious about our presence and very willing to talk to us about their daily lives and different aspects of their community, including what schools are nearby, what typical professions are, and what happens at different times of the year. One of the women that staffs the anganwadi of Taravda acted as guide to us four BLIP women and Salmaben while Kabir and Rajeshbhai were shown around by her neighbor. We gathered a lot of information and concluded our visit near the anganwadi.



The second community we visited is called Barola. The May 2014 trip went to this community as well, but focused their information-gathering around water. We interviewed a few individuals from one faliya, but hope to return to get more perspectives about their community.

We tried to return to Alindra to conduct more interviews, but the same wedding that prevented us from doing so on Saturday was still ongoing, so we decided to return another day. Salmaben gave us some mangos and biscuits to revive us from the heat before she and Rajeshbhai returned to Baroda.

We went to the office to complete some tasks that required wifi, which included purchasing plane tickets to get to Mumbai next weekend for a University of Michigan alumni event and site-seeing. The process took quite a while due to our cards being considered international, but we were able to get everyone on a flight eventually.


After getting lunch and finishing up our work, we made the drive back to Baroda, with most of us napping on the way. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing cards, first Euchre (which I lost miserably two rounds in a row) and then we taught one another how to play poker – Texas Hold ‘Em style. Being the law-abiding (and broke) college students that we are, we were creative and used Band-Aids in place of money for our wagering.


After a break for dinner and phone calls home, we concluded the evening with a de-brief of the communities we visited that day and planning for the next. We made sure everyone’s Band-Aids were returned to them so that we’re all prepared for any scratches or scrapes that may happen in the field and then turned in for the night.


Day 6: G is for Garlic

Hey all, Nisha here! This morning we opted for a few extra hours of sleep since we planned to stay later at the office. When we woke, we were surprised to be greeted by a different cook in our apartment. He introduced himself and we spoke for some time as I explained more about our purpose of being here. After realizing that we needed breakfast and there was nothing to eat in the apartment, he headed out to go get ingredients. The following 40 minutes were a blur of banging pots and pans as the cook and, surprisingly, our driver, Sabirbhai, concocted our meal behind drawn curtains in the kitchen, ultimately resulting in the presentation of plates stacked high with bread, omelets, and chai. We all noted a noticeable difference in the chai today, wondering whether it was the extra sugar or maybe too much ginger that was atypical. Sabirbhai strolled out of the kitchen smiling with pride as he noted that this was the first batch of chai that he had ever made. We all finished our cups happily. 

As we were putting on our shoes to leave, we noticed that the cook had left the apartment. When we entered the kitchen during our search for him, we found it littered with egg shells, onion peels, half cooked omelets, and chai grinds. Unclear on whether we would ever see the cook again, our team assembled. Sarah didn’t hesitate as she began picking up the scraps with her hands and taking a broom to the floor, Rachel cleared the table, and Kabir and I rinsed the countertop and stove. Finally, with the kitchen clean and our team utterly confused, we grabbed our bags and headed out the door right as the cook returned. He walked back into the kitchen, bearing a look of complete astonishment.

Our first plan of action for the day was to visit Jetpur. While walking down each of the community’s falias (street), Kabir and Rajeshbhai interviewed various men while the rest of our team followed Jetpur’s aganwadi teacher, Falguniben. As we weaved through three of the five falias, Natalia, Rachel, and Sarah worked to meticulously document every detail of our surroundings while I interviewed several women, learning briefly of their lives and struggles. The heat forced us to retire from our visit and plan to return to the final two falias at a later time.

We spent the next few hours working in the office. Over lunch we laughed with the Setco team as we recounted the details of how we had acquired our late dinner the night before. We ended our workday with a brief visit to another community, Alindra. As most of the village had gone to celebrate a wedding, we were only able to meet with one family. We split off once more, with Kabir working alongside Rajeshbhai to interview a male family member while I sat with Salmaben to interview a female member of the household and her sister-in-law.

As we began our trip back to the guesthouse, we remembered that we would have to scavenge for dinner once again. Our efforts to decide on a place to eat were completely futile, so we enlisted the help of Sabirbhai, who directed us to a nearby take-out place. Five naans completely coated in garlic, three bowls of paneer, and two hours of deliberating later, our team was sprawled on a bed, blissfully stuffed as we began our debrief of the day.

Our night ended late after a lengthy discussion regarding our findings from the interviews and how we would structure our remaining three community visits tomorrow.