Thursday, October 14, 2010

Village surveys

I have finally begun to do some field work.  After thorough testing and tweaking of my survey, Survey_v5.doc was launched in a Punjabi village about 30 km from Ludhiana.  On the drive out of the city, my Planning eye caught notice of Ludhiana's sprawl taking over the countryside: former villages Blobbed by Ludhiana, billboards showcasing happy multi-culti couples rendered so only because of the happy new community they will inhabit, as far away from the teeming urban core as possible.  I read recently in the papers that Ludhiana is expected to experience unprecedented growth in the next twenty years.  A friend tells me he read that it is the 80th fastest growing city in the world. I can't decide if that sounds huge or insignificant.

I'm reminded of an experience I had early on here when I was still staying in the university guest house. If I was home at the appropriate time (which seemed to change every week), a man would come by and offer to clean my room.  He would start in the bathroom and make his way to the bedroom, crouching in a position that if I were to take twenty years of yoga I would still never achieve.  While cleaning, he would make his way delicately around my suitcases and bathroom products.  And as I watched this man, very thin, skin dark and wrinkled, hair a little longer than the average man and beginning to grey at the temples, I became keenly aware of our differences and our different experiences.  Who knows what this man has in his bathroom, but my guess is that he does not have Diva Curl hair gel, Jason's Tea Tree shampoo, Panteen for Curly Hair conditioner, face wash, Dr. Bronner's, Alba Organic Mango Shave Cream, Oil of Olay face lotion with SPF 15, Kiss My Face Organic Aloe and Olive Oil body lotion, Alba body lotion with SPF 15, SFP 15 and 30 sunscreen, Ultrathon 3M Insect Repellant with 34.4% deet, Tom's of Maine Spearmint toothpaste, Waleda Almond facial lotion from Germany and Badger All Natural Lip Balm with SPF 15.  

All this is to say that I've struggled a bit with the differences here between the haves and have nots.  And with my own place as a 'have.'  I recently got into an argument with a friend here about why more Indians cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps (not a direct quote), as he did, a simple village boy who is now getting his Masters. And why don't they stop having so many children? I'll be the first to admit that I am no expert on any of this.  But I took a stab at it.  To address his first question, while my friend came from the villages, his parents are landholders - this automatically puts a giant gulf between him and the majority of India's poor.  On the second point, I would argue that the reason why India's poor continue to have large numbers of children are varied and complex, but I'll throw some ideas out there: if you grow up with the mentality that more children eventually means more income for the family, and if you do not have access to birth control, or if you don't know how to use it, or if you're a woman and cannot get your husband to use it, or if society has failed you and you lack basic education, or if a life of poverty is all you know, or if you did not receive sufficient nutrition and therefore never achieved your full intellectual potential...well, you can see where all this might lead. 

I'll be continuing with the surveys in Punjab and then will move onto to Rajasthan in November.  I'm hoping to learn new information that I can use to develop some small initiatives to help reduce food insecurity at the community level. If I can make a little impact on a few peoples' lives, I think I'll consider this trip to have been worthwhile. 

Some villagers we surveyed

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