So I’m back in New Delhi again. People in India seem to have the same sense of “competitive weather” that we do in Canada: Hyderabad residents are oddly proud of their heat, and think that it’s hotter than New Delhi. Honestly, 42˚C in Hyderabad or 41˚C degrees in New Delhi… It’s all the same. Hot. When I got back to my apartment, it was 38˚C inside. I’ve had the AC on all night and it’s still 28˚C in here in the living room, and not likely to get any cooler. I have to pretty much stay in this room because the cool air doesn’t really reach the other rooms, even with the fans on. In the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, you’re just covered in sweat. The water coming out of the taps is warm, the shampoo is warm, the bar of soap is warm, my contact lenses are warm, sunscreen is warm… All the drugs that I brought are being stored way outside their registered temperature ranges. Anyone want to look up the stability data for me? 🙂 Even though the maid (Asha) comes every Saturday and I wasn’t even here to dirty the place all week, this apartment gets filthy. The doors and windows aren’t sealed at all and we get these blowing dust and sand storms where it all comes into the house and settles on everything. The pigeons also made quite a big mess in the bathroom while I was gone. I’m usually pretty ok with dirt and grunge, but when you come out of the shower and have to stand in bird crap and there are feathers and gunk and bits of nest everywhere, it’s hard to feel clean. Yesterday I hopped in the shower when I got home and when I looked up, noticed I had company.
There were two of them, actually. I think they’re just common house geckos and if they eat bugs, they’re welcome to stay. I think these are also the ones that can lose their tails if they’re scared, so I’m eager to keep them happy and in one piece. Asha delivered a note from my landlady saying the apartment in GK-1 is now available so I can move soon, I think it’ll be Monday. Thank goodness. I have high hopes that the windows are sealed and the AC reaches more than one room. I know, I’m such a princess.
Before I go on any further about my time in India, I just have to share some really exciting news about my youngest brother, Noel. He was just asked on Thursday if he would be interested in being a delegate to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this coming June. Check it out here: http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/index.html. Obviously, he said yes, because when someone invites you to a UN conference, there’s really only one answer. He’ll be representing the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF). He doesn’t have a lot of details yet, but it looks like he’ll be going through his own fun visa experience in the next few days, after he gets accredited for the UN. I mean, how cool is this?!?!?!? My baby brother is going to a REAL United Nations Conference!!!! Let’s hope our actual government sends an actual delegation of real live parliamentarians this time, though I’m not sure sustainable development fits with their “mandate” (sarcastic quotation marks entirely intentional). I’m ridiculously proud of my brother and so excited for him, and I can’t wait to hear all about it!
Now back to Hyderabad. My last day in the field consisted of just one site visit to IRSD (I don’t know what it stands for, it’s an NGO), a female sex worker community based organization. They’re a fairly new group, only two years old. It was quite a drive to get there, even though it’s in the same city. Traffic doesn’t move particularly quickly, so that’s one reason, I suppose. I met with the director of the NGO first, then just sat briefly with some of the women. I think by this point I was having a hard time thinking of original-sounding questions. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to ask the same thing over and over again to different people to get a variety of answers, but since I still don’t have a firm grasp of what I’m supposed to be doing with all this I was just asking pretty basic stuff about their CBO, how they make it work, what sort of HIV/AIDS programs they have set up, etc. Most of the women, if not all, have been trafficked. They are double victims, in this sense: victimized the first time when they were trafficked, and then harassed, abused, molested, and stigmatized once they were working in an industry they never entered by choice. I asked about mental health issues and was told it’s a big problem but not even on the radar. Then I asked if the female sex workers are viewed as victims or if the stigma is such that they are simply viewed as a blight on society; I was told that some people sympathize, but the overall attitude towards sex workers is not one of pity. I also asked if there was more interest in getting women out of sex work and to more socially acceptable jobs, or if the goal was to try to legitimize the sex industry. It seems like people are on the fence about this everywhere: do we consider CBOs a risk-mitigation strategy or the start of a new workers’ union? I don’t think there’s a clear answer at this point. I don’t even know entirely where I stand. On the one hand, good for them for taking responsibility for their lives, work, and health. On the other, this isn’t a life they chose, not one they would want their daughters to have, so why push to make it acceptable? Will doing so improve conditions to the point that women (and men) could choose sex work as a viable career option without fear of stigma, reprisal, or social limitation? Or will this just make trafficking even more lucrative? Will society ever be accepting of sex work as “work”? Or is this just the work of desperate people trying not to starve? By legitimizing it, are we just throwing a blanket over the issues of poverty and inequality to make ourselves feel better? Really, I have no answers, just a lot of questions.
One thing you may find interesting about these women is that they don’t “look” like the sex workers we usually think of in North America. Obviously we shouldn’t be judging books by covers and whatnot, but these women are not typically involved with drugs at all, so they actually look considerably healthier than those who are strung out and in really bad situations with substance abuse. They’re all ages, from 20ish to 50s, all shapes and sizes. They dress in saris and wear nice jewelry like everyone else, and it’s only by certain gestures or signals that they would use when they’re working that you would be able to know their profession (and someone like me would be entirely clueless).
So, that was work; now for the weekend! Today (Sunday), I met up with JC and Sue, Global Health Fellows from the US, and went to Connaught Place and then Red Fort. We wandered around for a bit looking at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh temple, where we were accosted by children wanting us to buy them ice cream. This is supposedly a common occurrence. As JC and Sue are working on diabetes interventions with Project HOPE and I’m writing a grant application for a childhood obesity study for my Epidemiology Study Design class, we decided we were not being cruel in NOT acquiescing. I’m trying to think what my mother would have done if I had harassed strangers for ice cream… I don’t think she’d be too impressed.
I finally bought some Indian clothes – just two kurtas and leggings. A kurta is long tunic slit up the sides. They’re one-size-fits-most and you can’t try them on which is why I only bought two, but now that I have it on I wish I’d got more. The leggings are even made long enough for Germanic-heritage giraffes like me! Then we went for lunch at a hotel where I actually had a burger (!) and then we went to Red Fort in Old Delhi. It’s a big red sandstone fortress built during the Mughal reign between 1638 and 1648. We were the only foreigners, I think (there’s a separate line for us because we pay more for admission… and we were the only ones in line) but hey, it’s a short line so I won’t complain. People kept taking our pictures or asking if they could have pictures taken with us, which was a little weird. It was an interesting place, but I wish they’d maintained it a bit better. The grounds used to have beautiful gardens with all these little channels cut in for irrigation and ponds and such, and there’s really not much there now (Mark, there were some roses. I assume they are “hardy” if they survive in the desert at this insane temperature, but nothing was in bloom so I didn’t take any pictures). I guess since it’s the dry season they don’t try to fill the pools, but other than the buildings, there’s not all that much to look at or really get a sense of the place. The carving in the pavilions was really beautiful though, and there was some really pretty stone inlay in the pillars.
We were so hot at the end of it, we crammed into a rickshaw and went all the way home from Old Delhi that way. It was a long sweaty ride, but I got Sue to take a picture so you can finally see the proof of life yourselves. Red, sweaty face? Check. Believe me, this is the best we could do. 🙂