City of Pearls

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City of Pearls

Hello from Hyderabad! Pronounced “HIGH-dra-bad,” this is the capital of Andhra Pradesh; I’m in the southeastern part of the country now. Just in case New Delhi wasn’t hot enough… did you know the UV Index could go to 11, or “extreme?” I thought it was a 1-10 scale. Silly me and my pasty whiteness. I’ve been careful with the sunscreen and so far, so good. It’s a blazing 42˚C during the day, dropping to about 30˚C at night. And it’s not even humid.

My journey to Hyderabad was more complicated than it should have been. First, I locked my keys in the house when the door autolatched behind me as I was struggling with my suitcase and trying to remember every last thing with the taxi waiting downstairs. Still haven’t figured out how I’m going to get back in on Friday, but I notified my administrative manager (and personal savior) and I think she has the spare. Then the taxi dropped me off at the wrong terminal. So I had to take a loooooong bus ride to the correct terminal. Flight was fine. Oh, if anyone’s looking for a job, IndiGo Airlines is hiring flight attendants. Here are the requirements: you must be female, between the ages of 18-27, speak English and Hindi, passed high school, be at least 155cm tall with “weight in proportion to height,” and be well-groomed with a clear complexion. Send in headshots AND full length shots if you’re interested. They do allow them to wear flats as part of the uniform, but the skirt is definitely above the knee. The picture in the ad had this pilot standing in some gangsta Pitbull –aviators and all – pose with a chevron of sexy flight attendants fanned out behind him. So let’s talk about female empowerment, eh? Oh, the best part of the journey: there was some miscommunication and the driver didn’t come to pick me up. Several phone calls later (can I tell you how hard it is to make phone calls from the arrivals area of an open-air airport?!) I was told to take a prepaid taxi to my hotel. So I did, and all’s well that ends well on Sunday night.

On Monday, I went to the CARE office for AP. It’s set up much differently, there are all these small rooms that are separated by double doors and lead one through the other, then up some stairs, then the same on the next level. They keep the doors shut all the time for temperature control. I met with the two project leads for SAKSHAM II and Balasahyoga. I learned a lot about these projects and about the groups towards which they are targeted. Balasahyoga is aimed at households led by women, grandparents, or orphans. Not all women headed households are widowed; in many cases they’ve been thrown out of their husbands’ home when the mother-in-law thinks that the wife was responsible for bringing HIV into the house (in reality, it’s nearly always the man who brings it home from other partners). In some areas, multiple partners is the norm for both men AND women; however, condom use is not. They just don’t use them. CARE’s role in this project was to work on food security. Food insecurity was assessed by a questionnaire: households were moderately food insecure if the adults had missed a meal in the last couple weeks. They were severely food insecure if the children had missed a meal during this time. These were the groups the project targeted. This project worked by giving women a small loan through which she could build her own business, usually in the service sector (breakfast hut, fruit cart). When the women make money, we can be virtually certain it will be spent on food for her children; there is a very high correlation. For orphan led households, it was very difficult because they wanted to get them back in school. For that 15 or 16 year old, though, if he or she is the sole provider for younger siblings, there’s no way s/he can give up employment to go back to school. So they tried to get people on the government programs for which they were eligible, with mixed success. HIV/AIDS carries such a stigma here (everywhere really, but I think it’s worse when people are so uneducated about the disease) that people would not want to apply for government programs because that would reveal their disease status. They also did some stuff with kitchen gardens and risk-training as people in poor circumstances are very risk-averse. This was just an interesting learning experience for me; the project is wrapping up so there’s nothing for me to do with it.

Today I was offsite for the SAKSHAM II project. They are having their big 2-day annual learning meeting with all the leads of the community based organizations of sex workers and I’m supposed to be helping to document it. I’ve been having a difficult time of it, however, because the languages used for the presentations are not English, so my note-taking has been rather sparse. And since I only have a crappy camera, my pics aren’t that good either. Anyway, it was a long day and I have to hit the sack, so I’ll summarize this some more tomorrow and tell you all about SAKSHAM, my first experience eating rice with my hands, and what it’s like to be constantly stared at. CONSTANTLY. There’s a reason I ordered room service tonight!

(For those who are interested: it was paneer bhurji, curd (yogurt) and naan. The food here is notoriously spicy. I have to keep Pfizer’s Global Security team informed of my movements and whereabouts, and when I told my contact I was going to AP, he actually took the time to notify me of the spiciness and to tell me to be careful with it. He wasn’t kidding. So the curd is necessary to try to tone the heat down a bit.)

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