Day 6: Good Health and Many Returns of the Day

Hello All,

This is 19 year old Jon checking in. Today was my birthday, and what a way to spend it here in India! But we’ll get to that a little later.

Today started bright and early for myself, Mitchell, Erica, and Mike, as we woke up to do our core workout at around 6:45. Zoha also claimed she would wake up at 6:30 to do some yoga with me and Mitchell, but could still be found sleeping comfortably in her bed when 7:15 rolled around. Our morning at the house culminated in a pushup contest between Mitchell and Ramesh, the winner of which remains a matter of heated dispute.

After some intense water mapping at Setco, the team went to the Kalol health center to meet with Deepika, an ayurvedic physician. Deepika shared a lot of incredibly valuable information with us about the area’s health conditions and the occurrence of disease. The most common problem is malaria, with 8-10 people coming to the clinic every day claiming to have it, and 20-40% of these cases testing positive. Also, 5-6 people come every day with diarrhea serious enough to report. Deepika’s services are provided by the government, and she serves a populace of 32,000 at no personal expense. However, she reports, those wealthy enough to afford private care do so rather than coming to her. Our talk with Deepika presents both our first formal interview and the establishment of our first professional contact in Kalol, and we are very excited!

In the afternoon Mike, Brianna, and I went to Kashimabad, a smaller village in greater Kalol, where we talked to more locals and gathered another water sample from the tap. We are eager to see the results of these tests.

Our departure from Setco marked the start of my birthday celebration, for which our hosts once again demonstrated their astonishing hospitality. When we arrived back at the guest house we saw that Ramesh had decorated the wall with some adorable birthday decorations. At 8:30, Selma and Gayatri arrived bearing dinner and gifts for the entire team. After everyone took part in the delightful Indian custom of feeding the birthday boy cake (Zoha smeared it all over my face), we feasted on delicious chicken tandoor and biryani. Soon after, Viral and Priyank arrived, also bearing a gift and a card. I’ve noticed that here, instead of “happy birthday”, they say “may you have many returns of this day”. We soon broke out in an intense game of spoons (that’s a card game, believe it or not) that was a ton of fun, even though Erica definitely lost. We concluded the night with a Rickshaw trip to get snowcone-esque desserts with a very unique flavor. As a group (and especially me tonight), we could not be more grateful for the gracious hospitality that has been shown to us thus far by Selma, Viral, Priyank, and the rest of Setco.

Tomorrow, we take a break from our project and head to Ahmnebad for some sightseeing! Avjo!

Day 5: Not Such A Dry State After All

Namaste from India,

This is Zoha. India is beautiful, and Gujarat has delicious food. Today was a busy day. We went to the SETCO office and planned our schedule for the day with Viral. Later, we decided to travel to Katol and visit the village in order to test the water. As Erica, Brianna, and Viral interacted with the operator of the water pumps in the village, we (Mike, Mitch, Jon, and I) interacted with the community.

Erica and Brianna learning Gujarati and interviewing children and family members.
Erica and Brianna learning Gujarati and interviewing children and family members.


Mike, Zoha, and Mitchell take a group photo with the village.
Mike, Zoha, and Mitchell take a group photo with the village.

While we introduced ourselves to the community, many people from Katol gathered around us. Immediately, the boys (Mitch, Jon, and Mike) asked the young lads in Katol about cricket. This conversation led to a game of cricket. Mike was the star on the playground (sarcasm). As soon as he hit the ball, the ball broke in half. Unfortunately, this led to the game finishing a bit earlier than the boys hoped.

Mitchell plays cricket with the children of Katol
Mitchell plays cricket with the children of Katol

As Erica and Brianna continued testing the water, we decided to continue interacting with the community to learn more about Katol and the water issues. We asked numerous questions and many of the village members asked many questions in return. We learned that many of the village people make corn liquor or whiskey. Later, Mitchell decided that it was a good idea to play Frisbee. This led to a friendly game of Frisbee with the entire village. Many of the people in Katol were catching on to the game. I decided to photograph these moments.

Jon playing Frisbee with the kids in the village.
Jon playing Frisbee with the kids in the village.

As the village was playing Frisbee, I saw an ironman with his family scrapping his knife against a rock to sharpen the point. I was intrigued by his work, so I decided to approach him and his family. While I was introducing myself, many of the men in the village tried to flirt with me. This was a bit uncomfortable. I tried to ignore the situation and continue my conversation with the family to better understand their culture and their family business.

Later, I decided to talk to another family nearby. We conversed about our families and the lifestyle of people within Katol. Suddenly, two villagers, walking towards Mike, Jon, and Mitch, were carrying a drunk man. I was a bit surprised and was not able to comprehend what exactly was going on. I overheard a couple of people talking about how they would like to see how Jon, Mitch, and Mike would react to the drunk men. After seeing this, the team decided to exit the community.

John, Zoha, Mike, and Mitchell interacting with family members in Katol
John, Zoha, Mike, and Mitchell interacting with family members in Katol

At this point, we were a bit uncomfortable, a bit shaken up, and some of us felt a bit insulted. I realized that we did not have an exit plan for such situations. We all were concerned about how to react and avoid such situations. Some of the questions we asked each other were: Is it culturally acceptable to have a drunk man approach guests within the village in this manner? How can we effectively avoid or overcome such situations? Should we have expressed our discomfort with the people? Is it appropriate to discuss such matters with the village?


Erica and Brianna ended our workday by completing four water tests in other areas. Furthermore, we may have found Coliform and E-Coli in our tests for Dolatpura, Gokulpura, and Water Testing Facility. This could mean that the water is a possible problem within the community of Kalol. This is exciting news! More information will be shared soon!

Erica and Brianna took a sample from the water canal which is connected to the Water Treatment Plant.
Erica and Brianna took a sample from the water canal which is connected to the Water Treatment Plant.


P.S. Mike knows how to crack some pretty funny jokes! This kid is AWESOME!

DAY 4: Julab!

Today was super productive since everyone actually had some sleep. This morning we visited the village of Dolatpura. We caught the eyes of many and soon had a large crowd surrounding us. One important thing we found out from them was that not all villages receive water from the municipality. These villagers got their water from underground. All of us climbed to the top of the water tower, even Erica, who is afraid of heights. We got water samples from the ‘sump’, a ground level concrete water storage tank, and from the anganwadi. Hopefully this will help us finda the point of contamination. We got a chance to sit down in the anganwadi, and try out our Gujarati. I can’t count the number of times I said “Maru nam Brianna Che” that day.


After that we left to go to a workshop for girls with Salma Ben. This was my absolute favorite thing we have done so far. When we got there we sat right down with all the girls and joined their session. They kept glancing at me and and giggling. I would point at my camera to ask if I could take a picture of them.


After talking to them, we got to sing and dance in a large circle with the girls. I was really nervous at the start of the workshop, but I ended up having a lot of fun and I hope the girls enjoyed our presence. I can’t wait to go back.


At the water treatment facility in Kalol we met a man named Girish. Girish lives in the facility with his family and runs maintenance. The process was really neat: water gets pumped in from the municipality then it is mixed with “alum” in these larges circular vats. The alum causes (stuff) in the water to precipitate out and settle to the bottom of the vats. That water is then sent to a biosand filter. After that, the water is chlorinated with Cl2 gas. We took samples from before and after the treatment process. If we find contamination after the water is treated, it will be very important to figure out and fix this problem, since the facility serves such a large area.

After the water treatment facility, we met up with Jon and Zoha and went to the Setco Factory Canteen for lunch with Gayatri who works in the Setco office. I got to practice my Hindi with Gayatri and I was pretty embarrassed about how bad it was, but she didn’t seem to mind.


We debriefed after lunch, then Mitch, Mike, Priyank, Viral, and I went to the village of Gokulpura. We were invited into the home of Jagdesh and he let us see his water storage. Their home was beautiful: modestly decorated with a smooth, cool concrete floor that felt good on the feet. An elderly woman offered us water but I had to refuse because it didn’t come from a bottle. We told them where we were from and what we were doing. Jagdesh told us that when Modi came to visit, he just drove down the road and waved, but when we came to visit, we actually came into the village and into their homes. I think they really appreciated that we were there trying to understand.

We collected another sample and the villagers watched me as I plated the samples. We also got invited into another home….but I’ll let Mike tell the story:

We were invited into a home for a quick beverage and a place to sit. About 15 locals followed us in to meet us. The host was very nice, and offered us “bottled” water, however, we noticed that the label on the bottle read “Thums Up” (the Indian equivalent of Pepsi). Realizing that this was obviously not bottled water, Mitchell and I exchanged smirks, and tried to politely convey that we, being Americans, have weak stomachs and would not be able to drink the water. Being cultured, refined college students, this meant rubbing our bellies and yelling “no, no, julab!” (diarrhea in Gujarati). The room had a good laugh, and we were proud that we had actually managed to yell “julab!” in context, as opposed to in an inside joke.

So…we went back to the Setco Factory. At 5:00 we met with the owner of Setco and University of Michigan alum, Harish Sheth, and we talked about the plan for the project. Mr. Sheth said that he learned a lot about India when he went to the states, and I think that I am learning a lot about America by going to India. Values that I held and never really noticed have sprouted from my hands. So many things that I am used to doing on my own are done for me now: Cleaning, driving, and especially speaking. I guess I have to find a happy medium where I can still maintain my sense of independence and continue to remain within the sphere of cultural appropriateness.

– Brianna

Day 3: Setco and the Anganwadis

Hello from Baroda,

We finally made it to Baroda today and settled into the apartment that we will be staying in for the next few weeks. It is very nice and we appreciate everything Setco has setup for us. After settling in we had about an hours drive to the factory where we had a quick meeting before our tour. We finally met Priyank! His english is good and he is knowledgeable in the area, he was a big help with answering our questions and we hope to play cricket with him and his friends soon.

The factory was typical of a manufacturing plant in the United States but because it was Tuesday the plant was not receiving any power from the municipality. This is because the municipality designates a specific day where the power is turned off for certain areas. We are still uncertain of the exact reason. However the plant was not without power and people were still working on smaller machines that were run by the factories generators.

After our tour we finally got to visit the main anganwadi! It was a large building made of redbrick and concrete floors. We met some of the ladies who worked there and we toured the building. In the main anganwadi there are about 6 classrooms and a few smaller rooms designated for sewing or storage. Because of the holiday there were no children there but when we visit tomorrow things should return to normal. There are about 6 other smaller one room anganwandis we will be working at as well.

After the anganwadi visit we had lunch at the Setco factory and toured the garden that provides some of the food for the lunch that is made for the workers every day. We then had a meeting with some employees of Setco to discuss our project and then we had our own pow wow to review and plan for tomorrow. 

We then drove back to Baroda and got ready for dinner. We decided we would wear our more traditional Indian clothes that we bought yesterday so we got all dressed up and had a nice dinner with Selma, an employee of the foundation.

We had a long but awesome day and we can’t wait to visit the angwandis again.


P.S. blogging is hard.



Day 2: Meeting SETCO

Hey everyone,

This is Mike checking in. Our second day was super informative… and jet-lagged. Most people are still running on a 5pm-1am internal sleep schedule, but we’re getting there.

After eating breakfast, we headed over to SETCO Headquarters to meet with Neethu (Exec. Director of the SETCO Foundation) and Viral (who has been helping with our project too). The day was largely informal. Using our design review presentation, we talked out every aspect of our project and progress (over some unreal Indian Chai tea), and got great feedback. Neethu and Viral also clarified a ton of information about Kalol and the water situation in the town. After that, we planned out our first few days in Kalol; tomorrow, after we move to Vadodara, we will go to Kalol and get oriented in the SETCO factory. We’ll also get to meet Priyank Gandhi!! Priyank is a Civil Engineering student who lives in Kalol, and will be helping us with our project. It will be awesome to get to know an engineering student who knows the town and is the same age as us.

Later in the day, we explored Mumbai some more. We went to the Phoenix mall and the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai. As we were moving around the city, the income disparity really stuck out to me. We would see homeless people and run-down shacks, and then a Lamborghini or million dollar house, all within the same line of sight. There must be a middle ground between poor and rich, but it is certainly hard to spot. For example, we passed by Antilia, a billion dollar skyscraper, staffed by 600 people, that houses ONE billionaire and his family. This is estimated to be the most valuable private home in the world, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. For this reason, I think it is misleading to just say that the per capita income of Mumbai is three times the national average… the few that are super wealthy (and/or tied to Bollywood), drive up the average.

A few other things that we noticed: Firstly, “Head Bobbling,” which looks similar to shaking your head to mean “no”, can mean “yes,” “no,” “I understand,” or “okay.” We’re definitely still trying to get used to different social cues. Secondly, a lot of cars have bumper stickers that say “Honk OK Please,” because honking is strongly encouraged on the roads. The way that the driving culture is, cars are constantly weaving in and out of traffic, and getting very close to other cars. Because of the close proximity, drivers cannot pay as much attention to their mirrors, and just look forward instead, honking to signal their presence to other cars. The sheer skill of the drivers on the road is pretty amazing, though. It makes sense; it’s obvious that bad drivers would be weeded out super quickly here.

Our day pretty much ended around dinner time. A bunch of us passed out early at 7pm. We have an early 4:30am wakeup Tuesday, and a 7:55am flight to Vadodara to look forward to. We’re excited to see what Vadodara and Kalol are like!





“Adventures with Easygel” and “Wandering the Streets of Mumbai”

Hi All:

This is Erica; just letting everyone know that we are indeed, alive, safe, and mostly well in Mumbai (a few of us are nursing colds, but with a family pack of cough drops and beautiful 110 degree F weather, those shouldn’t last long). The flights were mostly uneventful. The food wasn’t great. Jon watched Frozen. Mike watched Nebraska. Brianna was surrounded by three screaming babies for nine hours.

The most exciting part of transit was our adventures with Coliscan Easygel. As many of you may know, we are planning on doing some water testing in Gujarat, so we brought some water testing kits. These kits of specially treated petri dishes and bottles of gel needed to be refrigerated throughout our travels. This made things interesting. Our chosen method of refrigeration was a lunchbox and ziplock bags of ice; however, we could not take water or ice through security, so we had to dump it before we went through and then get ice at a fast food place in the terminal. The first two airports were fairly easy; a McDonald’s had an exposed ice machine and a Sbarro’s was generous enough to fill us up. Then came France.

The Paris airport is Extremely Classy; the most approachable place was a Starbucks, but it was packed and there was a long line and Oh! our flight was boarding in five minutes. If it weren’t for a caviar and lobster bar, we might have been out of luck! So, leave it to me to walk up to a classy restaurant in CDG clutching ziplock bags and begging for ice. Spoiler alert: I survived. We got ice. Our Easygel kits are now housed safely in our hotel fridge. We will be testing water in Gujarat, India.


The morning after we arrived in Mumbai, we ate breakfast and then wandered. We went to the markets at Colaba, the Gateway to India, and the Indian supermarket. As we were wandering, I was observing the way that people treated their trash: peels from fruit, newspapers, and random pieces of plastic. There is a lot of trash on the streets, but people seem to sweep it away from the fronts of their businesses. So, do people view trash as a problem? They keep throwing it on the ground, but they also don’t seem to want it there.

I guess that talking about trash in Mumbai isn’t really the point of what I was thinking. After we observed the trash, we started talking about needs in a community. If people don’t really view trash in the streets as a problem, who are we to say that it is? What if the trash causes disease, but people don’t realize it? Where is the line between developing a technology that is 100% desired by the community and developing a technology that isn’t completely accepted, but can be paired with education to solve a problem? Who decides the problem? Is there a happy medium?

So many questions. We’ll keep yall posted.

Hanging in there,


PS: Jon will be turning on his phone for his Birthday.

Beginning to Design

As the new year and another semester begin, we have begun to design our first physical filters. The ceramics team had their first meeting with the Ceramic Studio in the Art & Design building here on campus on January 17 and are planning on continuing to work there as we begin to learn how to construct a working ceramics filter.

Our first meeting consisted of creating a mold, using a flower pot, some clay, and a lot of plaster, that will be used in the future as the outline for the shape for our filters. Image

In this picture Mitch is using his hand to help cushion the flow of the plaster as Jon pours it from the bucket onto their flower pot mold so that it does not splatter or disturb the already forming plaster.

Our next meeting will involve using the mold  to begin testing  different mixtures of clay, sawdust, and water to create a porous and effective filter, and we are very excited to get started.

The biosand team is also getting ready to start building a prototype. We are finishing up Basic 1 and Basic 2 training, which will give us access to the Wilson Center. The Wilson Center is a student team project center that will have all of the resources we need to create and test the filters.

If you wish to see the rest of the photos taken during our first visit to the Ceramics Studio please visit our photo gallery.

Fall Semester Wrap-Up

As we enter into the next phase of our work in preparing for traveling to India in May, we have restructured our sub teams so as to most effectively research, design, and build two different types of filters for the people of Katol and Kalol. Our leadership team has met several times over the past couple weeks to discuss our options in how to approach the challenge of designing these filters. It has been decided that there will be the creation of two big design teams. One team will focus on ceramic filters, which will be used in household settings, and the other team will create a biosand filter, which will be placed in the anganwadi we will be working with during our trip in May. Each sub team leader to keep track of design progress and each group will also have a member from the culture team so as to make sure our designs work with well with local customs and daily life. 

At our final meeting for the semester, which took place on December 9, we created a list of what success means to us in this project. We also created a list of goals we wish to complete at different points throughout next semester, including by the end of break, our next internal design review, and by the time we step onto the plane to India.  Our team is working hard to stay on track with designing the filters, communicating with our contacts in the SETCO foundation and locals in Katol and Kalol, and getting done all that needs to be completed for us to successfully travel to India and implement our filters.  As our fall semester comes to end, we are very happy with the progress we have made over the past four months, but we realize that there is a lot more to be done. We are so excited to see what the New Year brings for BLUElab India!

External Design Review Summary

The Design Review that took place on November 16th was a huge success! After a great Panera breakfast provided by our friends at BP, our presentation went really well: we filled all of BLUELab in on our progress, and received some great suggestions, like working with the art school to build ceramic filters and considering gray-water reuse as another supply option. The Design Review provided a great opportunity for us to evaluate our progress and figure out where to go from here. There will be a lot more updates to come as we move forward with our ethnographic research and design process.


The Internal Design Review was a success!


The Internal Design Review on Monday October 28, 2013 was a wild success, while over chocolate chip pancakes and apples juice each group discussed the research they had been doing over the past two months.

The supply group discussed their ideas of using roofs and funnels for rainwater catchment, damming, and water wells as collect water on a regular basis for the villages.The storage group’s research resulted in the possibilities of being able to store collected and filtrated water in earthen pots, plastic containers, sintex tanks, and the Wello waterwheel.  The purification team went over the research they did for several different types of filtration including SODIS, chemical filtration, ceramic filtering, and biosand filtering.  The information shared by the culture team included the climate of Gujarat, the socioeconomic statistics of the villages, and cultural traditions we should be aware of when designing our systems and when we travel to the villages in May.  The presentation also informed us about the aganwadis we will be collecting water for and the ways that the government is involved with getting clean water to the people of India.

This internal design review we a great success and allowed for everyone in the group to see how each subteam is using their time to research the many different options out there for collecting, purifying, and storing water.  Now it is time to move forward and build onto this foundation.  Our next steps are getting all of our questions answered about Katol and Kalol and to narrow down our research so that we can begin to create a plan for what our filtration system. Our next design review will be the External Design Review with the entire BLUElab team, taking place on November 11, 2013.