Sunday, June 12, 2011

Urban Planner seeks organization...

Hi all,

Just a quick plug for your's truly. I am in job seeking mode. If you know of any jobs available for Urban Planners and Food Systems professionals (ahem, that's me!), I would be grateful to hear from you. Below is a short blurb about my experience and here's my LinkedIn profile:

thank you!

Heidi Exline holds a Masters in Urban Planning with a concentration in Sustainable Community Food Systems.  Currently she is a Fulbright scholar in India, where she has designed and implemented a research project on the impact of rising food prices on rural and urban households. Previously she was a Policy Associate at the New York City Council where she worked on FoodWorks, New York City's first comprehensive plan for the City's food system. Prior to that, she was Project Manager at City Harvest for four years where she managed a project that connected surplus local farm product with a network of over 500 emergency food programs. In addition, through funding received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she helped create an industrial purchasing pilot project where daycare facilities could purchase local produce direct from farmers.

She is looking for a position where she can use her knowledge of urban planning and food systems as well as her community building and project management skills to create livable communities and sustainable built environments.

Baba Ramdev wusses out

Every day the Hindustan Times lands at my doorstep. With one eye barely open, I hear the thwack and then usually go back to sleep. When I do finally wake up, I try daily to read it, but occasionally my kitten-who-is-better-than-anything-Staples-could-make-paper-shredder gets to it before I do. This is ok, because while I try to stay on top of Indian happenings, sometimes I am a little dismayed at what makes front page news.

Lately, it's this guy Baba Ramdev. The yoga guru/million was on a nine day fast until yesterday. Why was he fasting? This was his attempt to end graft and corruption in the government. What an original idea!  No, not at all, considering Anna Hazare just pulled the same stunt about two months ago.

Baba, who is anywhere between 35 and 46 years old, depending who you ask, left his schooling at a young age to study yoga and Sanskrit with a guru. Fast forward to age 17, when he began to embark on his own journey of teachings. With what sounds like a lot of luck coupled with a charismatic personality, he soon became the head of a large yoga institute. Eventually, requests for his appearance went from 50 a year to 50 a day. An expert at marketing, you can now you can see his million-dollar face on t.v. in about half a dozen countries and as many languages.

Last week when he began his fast he flew into Delhi in his private jet and demanded an end to corruption. Among his most ridiculous demands were the death penalty for any government official found guilty of corruption and an end to Rs 1000 ($22) and Rs 500 ($11) bank notes. None of these were met, and after demonstrations from his supporters and his subsequent extradition from Delhi, he dressed in woman's clothing and fled to nearby Uttarakhand. Now apparently he has given up his fast in view of "people's concern for his life." Wuss!

This whole circus show makes me wonder...what would happen if someone did the same in the U.S.?  Would he be given a meeting with some of the senior most people in the administration or would he be laughed at? I am pretty sure he wouldn't be meeting with Biden (Btw, where the heck is that guy?? I know I haven't been following US news that closely, but still, I haven't heard a peep about him for some time.) or any other close advisers. Both Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev got face time with Congress. Anna's fast ended in new legislation. Baba's ended in a glass of juice.

I think there are better ways to approach a failing government. It's true that I haven't lived in India for a very long time and I'm still struggling with the culture of protest here. So I can't say exactly what would be effective in this country. But I wholeheartedly disagree with the death penalty, so anyone who shouts for punishment by death is not worth a Rs 500 note, whether it's still in circulation or not. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Oh, what a difference 30 degrees makes

The other night, after going to sleep around midnight, I woke up a half hour later to gusty winds ghoulishly blowing my doors open and shut. The last time this had happened, I welcomed in the breeze only to find my countertops covered in black spots and my eye tearing up because one of the dust monsters had attacked me.

However, I could not resist, because with it the wind brought cooler temperatures, feathery but ominous clouds and a lot of lightening. Earlier in the day it was about 41 degrees so the drop to 23 was making me giddy, like a kid licking his first taste of cotton candy, or like me when I, with a little shame, hit the bodega around midnight after a night out with friends for my favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry's. After turning off my a/c and flinging open every door in my apartment, I went back to bed and slept like never before. So much so that I missed my Skype date because we had lost power and my phone died and so my alarm did not go off, so I didn't wake up till after 9.

Again today it is still a bit cooler. It's not going to last - tomorrow will be back in the 40's. But I'm enjoying it while it does. I have energy again! I want to do things again!  I am drinking hot coffee again!


On the topic of sleep, some of you may know about this, if you have traveled before to India or other developing countries. But if not, you may be surprised to learn that many times employees will sleep at their work places. Usually they're surviving with just a blanket. The boys that work at the canteen next to my apartment begin their day around 7 AM and finish around 11 PM. They have a few breaks - mostly after lunch. When I go to the canteen around 4, I find them sleeping in one of the back rooms. But at night, because it is so hot, they sleep outside, as in this picture:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Four days of trekking in the Himalayas

"I'm really out of shape."
"That's ok, I am too."
"No, I mean it. It's really bad. So let's plan to work out for six weeks and get in shape before our trek."
"Ok, definitely."

"It's too hot to work out."
"I know. It's over 100 degrees here now."
"Ok, well I'm still going to try to get in shape. We still have three weeks left."
"Ok, me too."

"So, I barely worked out at all these last six weeks."
"Yeah, me neither."
"I'm still really out of shape."

Day one: After about four hours, I was beginning to have difficulty putting one leg in front of the other. Maybe it was because I knew we were almost done for the day. But come lunchtime, the last 200 meters to our lunch spot were torture. The rest of the time was muuuuuch easier. By day three, I had shed a pound or two and was able to ascend to over 3,500 meters. As we fumbled our way through the snow and to the top of a peak, I was feeling good about my accomplishment. That day was hard, but it was a good hard. And we were rewarded many times over with the beautiful views.

Dalai Lama's temple in McLeod Ganj

Our guides and cooks

You can see the blue tents...that's where we camped for two nights.

These little temples dot the mountain-sides everywhere

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Occasionally getting it right

Those of you who know me well, might be surprised to learn that I am just now beginning to try my hand at making Indian food. Now, I've dabbled here and there, even in the U.S. before I moved here I would throw in some masala and cinnamon and chili powder to my beans. But it was only recently that I decided the day had come to make some roti. (Roti is the flat bread that accompanies every Punjabi meal. Punjabis treat roti so well, they compete for attention with the first-born son.)

I had watched numerous Punjabi ladies make these before. And being a somewhat experienced cook, I figured I could handle this little project. Just a simple mixture of wheat flour and water. Let the dough rest after kneading, if you can. Then break off the dough into small balls, roll it out and slap it into a tawa. A tawa is the special roti-making pan that I don't own. I'm blaming my failure on my lack of equipment. 

You can see a picture of the barely-edible roti below. It was both crispy and chewy. I don't know what happened. One Punjabi I consulted thought maybe I had used too much flour. No matter, because I just successfully made my first batch of curd!  I will never go back to spending $5 on Greek yogurt again. And I recommend you all take a break from our industrialized food system and begin making your own too. I mean, you'll have to buy the milk, but try to go to your local farmers' market for this. Then warm the milk until it is about room temperature (luke warmish). Add a small spoonful of yogurt to the warm milk (my guess is one small spoonful to about 2 cups of milk. The more yogurt you add, the more sour it will be). Give it a little stir and cover the container. Wrap a large cloth around the container (I've been using my wool sweater) and let it sit for about 10 hours. I let mine sit for around 20, just because I forgot about it, and it came out wonderfully thick. Of course, this is the real deal whole milk yogurt we're taking about here.  I had tried once to make yogurt when I was working in Vermont on a goat cheese farm. It was ok, but came out a bit soupy. I guess that is because it wasn't 42 degrees Celsius there, as it is here. But I think you can still do this in the cooler months. Perhaps warming the oven before you put the milk-yogurt mixture inside would do the trick. Next I'm going to start making lassis!  

Mexican and Spanish fiesta: nachos and
sangria. I foolishly paid $5 for a can or
El Paso refried beans. But boy, were they tasty!

Failed attempt to make ricotta.

Weird chewy, crispy roti

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fast, but not too fast

(Before I begin, if you're out there, Russian reader, das vidanya from India!)

The other day I went to CMC (Christian Medical College) Hospital to inquire about getting some "medical tourism" work done (don't worry, I will not come back with a new nose or fewer chins). The medical tourism industry is supposedly huge in India. Max Hospital group in Delhi even has a separate check-in counter for international visitors. According to one source, medical tourism in India will be a $3 billion industry by 2015. 

But that's not really the purpose of this story.  The point is to illustrate the importance of family life in India. 

While being led around the many buildings that make up CMC, my friend was able to whisk me past the numerous guards stationed at hospital entrances very easily with her employee pass. She explained that the hospital often requires visitors to have a pass for entry. When someone is ill, so many family members try to visit them that the hospital becomes overcrowded with well-wishers. If someone's entire clan (Imagine if Bin Land had made it to the hospital. He could have filled a whole wing with his upmteen wives and kids.) tries to show up at once, then they have to share passes so only a small number will be allowed in the room at the same time. 

With the newspapers filled with the growth of India's economy and the IT sector and working women, it is good to know that family is still a strong part of the culture here. Generally speaking, we have more freedom in the U.S. and fewer familial duties. But, as I've mentioned before on this blog, too much freedom sometimes translates into not being able to count on others.

And speaking of freedom, I'd like to talk about Freedom, Jonathan Franzen's latest book. Instead of reading it, I took advantage of a free 14-day trial subscription to available to This American Life podcast listeners. After getting over a few grating qualities of the characters, namely Patty, and the reader's voice, I found it to be a totally engrossing and spectacular book. Whatever small little fantasies I held about possibly writing a book someday (I have had the first line of a book in my head for over ten years now, but that is as far as I've gotten), I have put to a deep sleep.  Let me leaving the novel-writing to those with something to say. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thomas Jefferson and Monticello

I was seeking a favor. This favor would involve going to my apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and exchanging keys for a deposit with my subletter. One sister - working; a Brooklyn friend - running a race; another Brooklyn friend - too overwhelmed with finding a new roommate and being broke. Who to turn to?  

I relayed this chain of events to a good friend here in India, and he was dismayed. How could you be too busy??  What is wrong with your culture. In India, you see, if someone needs something, they ask and they shall have. So if your cousin's cousin's cousin calls and needs you to run across town to meet X (because business here is done in person; try and call someone and see what kind of response you get: "Uh, please come in and we can discuss this further.") and then bring it to Y who will send it to Z, then, A) you can say yes B)  you can say yes, or C) you can say yes.  So you see, you have some options.

On the flipside, though, we Americans have some flexibility to say no once in a while.  But can we rely on people as much? So you take the good with the bad. US: independence; and sometimes too much independence.  India: you can depend on others; or, time management issues. 

All of this is to just point out the differences in culture. I completely understood that some of my friends and family had prior commitments and couldn't attend to my every need - my Indian friend did not get this so much. In the end, one of my sister's was able to go and thankfully spotted the deposit for me because the subletters check had not yet arrived!