Tuesday, August 9, 2011

bye bye Bangalore

Tonight is my last night in Bangalore. It's kind of crazy to think back to first landing and how long it took me to adjust to things. Now, I'm elbowing people out of the way and chugging chai as fast as any auntie ji. I'm leaving this congested city with a layer of baby fat and a substantial new appreciation for India.

I will be the first to admit that I was kind of miserable to begin with. It was lonely and often jarring to be face to face with the ugly aspects of my own culture that I had drowned in apple pies and American flags. It was isolating, at first, being foreign to Indians and foreign to fellow Americans. But, because of the struggle, I was able to negotiate my own terrain and claim a chunk of this culture as uniquely my own. I am definitely more excited to apply to medical school than I had been and I'm looking forward to a year of serious anthropology ahead. Why, yes, I am a nerd.

I may never get a chance to come to South India again, but I'm glad I learned about this part of the country. I even got to see a bunch of temples. My sister came to India on Saturday to go around the country together and see some sights. She met me in Bangalore and we're going to New Delhi on the 10th. From Delhi, we'll go to Haridwar, Rishikesh, and my birthplace, Dehradun. From there, I'll get back to Delhi for some maternal family time and she'll go to Lucknow for some paternal family time. We've been obnoxious and giggling the whole time and getting into fights, the usual sibling stuff. Ain't nothin' like a sister special.

Yesterday, in fact, we went to the holiest of holy pilgrimage sites, Tirupati's Sri Venkaswara Temple. We took a tour bus package, that allowed us to move as a group to the hostel to take a shower and get some breakfast, and it included tickets to see both Balaji and the Goddess temple. We were shepharded by our faithful "Marcy." We called him this because he would address the whole group as "sir" and sometimes bhiya (brother). An example of Marcy's speeches commands would be something like:
Sir! you will take off your shoes on the bus before you get down, sir. You will not bring your cameras or mobiles, bhiya. get off the bus now!

Needless to say, we didn't know why he was yelling at us the whole time or would ask us to get off quickly before the bus came to a stop. Regardless of this dude's customer service skills, it was a beautiful darshan (quick prayer & peek at God, before you're forcibly shoved by a security guard) after over an hour's crowded wait. They say whatever you wish for/pray for at this temple will come to you, this temple has that kind of power. People will even shave their heads to show their devotion. Needless to say I didn't shave my head. I prayed hard and felt a little Mexican jumping bean in my heart. Who knows, maybe it's just like the Secret and if you think it, it'll happen. So far, this has worked with wondering why I hadn't seen any peacocks, talking about what a shame it was the Shins broke up, and why there are no burritos in India (saw a peacock that day, the Shins are on tour with a new album, and a Taco Bell just opened at the mall).

Maybe I will get married to the Mango King? I have a video I made for my shaadi.com personals page. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

a little hospital work

One of the most difficult parts of my field work has been "cold calls." This basically means that I will call up a doctor I've never met or seen before on his or her personal cell phone and ask if they have time for an interview or if I can shadow them for the day. This is daunting in the US because of how notoriously busy doctors are and extremely frustrating and difficult in India because nobody understands my accent on the phone. It's extremely painful and annoying for both parties, but I have been quite patient and the rewards have been well worth it.

It's funny, actually, how interested some of the doctors are to meet this American-accented person with an Indian name. I think some people actually feel flattered that I've asked them to participate. Some students I've interview have even asked me if I'm sure I don't want to talk to someone who's really in charge. I don't think they've heard that graduate students (me) are the worst.
Well, when they realized that I wanted to sit down for an interview, of course everyone was quite gracious and accepts, but they would be anxious about how long it would take. Most would say something like "it'll only take 15 minutes, right?" and I would reassure them--I wasn't lying. If I could make an interview happen in 15, I would, but it was mostly up to how they interacted with me. I can say that most interviews ended up averaging half an hour, but not because of me. Once they realized that they could talk about their opinions on culture and medicine--the two things they participate in the most often--they, for the most part, loved talking about it. It was like I made up for their kids that didn't want to hear about the trouble with Indian culture or why medicine should change for whatever reason and why there's no respect these days or too much respect. Many recruited me as an ally and would comment that this was a very good study I was doing, that I would clear the air about certain things. It's difficult to be put in a position that make people feel like they have an advocate, when really all you have been doing is listening and asking very simple questions. True, I do actually feel friendly with a handful of my 'informants' because we really did end up having a few great conversations. But, for the most part, the conversation was unilateral. I will say that I have a talent for saying very little, but getting strangers to trust me and warm up to me. (like the time I got a Sudanese taxi-driver to open up about having a daughter in the US and foregoing their traditional practice of FGC. I literally asked him a question and a half and we got there. I think it's the nose ring that's reassuring.)

From the beginning with frustrating phone calls, to now having a set of doctors ands students who greet me warmly in the hallway and making sure I've "taken my lunch," it's amazing how much I'm going to miss the hospital, but it's good for things to end and wrap up nicely, I think. Endings make the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"kick my hand, please"

Salome & Claire at Hanuman Temple, Anegundi
Early on, when I began Nancy Notebooking around the hospital, I saw three white girls in the basement of the main cardiac hospital (the "Health City" is composed of four hospitals: Narayana Hrudayalaya [cardiac], the Multispecialty Hospital & Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center, Narayana Nethrayala [eye hospital], and SPARSH [craniomaxillofacial surgery]). Assuming these ladies were westerners, I approached them to make friends. Found out quickly they were French, not Americans. We exchanged numbers and bumped into each other quite a few times after that. They are medical students, so I was able to exchange a lot of western/eastern perspectives that put my observations into a larger scope, which I think was missing from my preliminary research.

back of the "tuk tuk"

Why would I be interested in making non-Indian friends after flying halfway around the world? Simply [schimpiddy, as they say in the South], it's easier to explore with fellow travelers. When you're in the same mindset of being in a new, foreign place for a short amount of time, you have similar goals and expectations, no matter the language barrier. It's quite assuring to be around people who make you feel less out of place. We got to laugh about Indian accents & phrases, American accents, strange looks we get, over-sweetened tea, lack of toilet paper, and other little things. Traveling alone is eye-opening, but for three months, is really isolating. I wasn't really able to leave the apartment to explore until I met them, actually. To be fair, you can't really go out to Bangalore's restaurants and "pubs" alone. Later on, we found an Irish-Indian friend and an Indo-Malaysian friend who both study medicine in Dublin, who me and the other two Americans went to Mysore with one weekend.

The American boys & Camille
 The girls left on Monday and we had a small get-together at a doctor-friend's house. I went over after arriving back in Bangalore from Bombay and spent a last evening of sharing too much food, trying strange Indian white wine, and learning "that's what she said jokes." Tibetan prayer bowls make excellent fodder for bad The Office jokes, we found out. I wish there were more nights like this in Bengaluru, but it seems these sorts of gatherings are best for good-byes.

I'm so glad to have met this fine, bright gaggle of medical students to share my experience here (this includes the American and Dublin students!). They really saved me from what seemed to be a lonely task by laughing about silly things at Cafe Coffee Day and giggling during doctor-led meditation sessions (more on that later). Traveling with others really helps you learn about yourself as much as the terrain you're exploring, I think. You can't really just bust into a new place and think you've got it figured out yourself--because you probably don't. I'm not saying Malinowski stuck on the Trobriand Islands during WWI alone was a bad thing, but I'm sure he wished he had some sassy friends to help him understand the fine contours of the culture. So thanks, mademoiselles! I hope our paths cross again someday when we're all fancy doctors!
Camille, Salome, Claire, me at Hanuman Temple, Anegundi

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

someone please build a giant umbrella over Bombay

I've been working out a lot. With the little walking I do in Bangalore, I like to run on the treadmill in 75% humidity and no AC in the gym. It makes me feel alive. (actually, a funny side story about my gym usage at the apartment. a few young pre-teen type girls started coming to the gym at my usual work out time and would just mess around on the equipment, seemingly for the sole purpose of creating more body heat in the tiny gym. one 13-year-old girl sheepishly came up to me and asked me to teach her some ab work outs. needless to say, she failed to notice my pot belly).

Anyway, I haven't really been working out to lose weight. No, it's a nice benefit, but the real reason was preventative: I was going to Bombay to visit my chef uncle who I knew would feed me. And oh god, did he. Pizza, Chinese food, aloo puri, parathas, etc. It was awesome. I had Chinese food at the Taj hotel & met a variety of chefs (including one who got shot in 26/11 attacks).

Mumbai is a beautiful city--I really loved it there, despite the monsoon. Anything in Bangalore I've referred to as monsoon is misguided. Holy crap the monsoon weather in Bombay was INSANE. Soaked from head to toe the whole time I was there. I almost regretted not doing a study in Bombay, just to live there for a few months. photos on flickr.

PS I ate street food... at the beach... during monsoon... I'm still alive! (AND IT WAS DELICIOUS)

Friday, July 22, 2011

being human*

I took a detour this week and visited the Medico-social work department. I was interested in what kinds of things they dealt with in order to get a better idea of what the hospital was like. They gave me a list of services and then mentioned what they do with dead bodies. At no point since I had set foot in the hospital had I thought about loss of life or death. There is really no indication in the hospital that people die, even when I've walked around the ICUs and wards. It kind of struck me how much I had failed to see this obvious aspect of the hospital, as I had spent so much time focused on getting appointments with doctors and observing their work as much as possible. I had nearly removed the patient from the equation, reducing them to an abstract concept I only get to ask the doctors about.

I also had the opportunity to observe a few surgeries. And by a few, I mean around seven. The call volume is so high at this hospital, I couldn't keep up with the doctor I had been following, but I managed to catch the beginning, middle, and end stages of various surgeries within a four or five hour span. At no point did I feel discomfort watching people go through these invasive procedures or feel squeamish about the blood, etc. I remember even thinking how desensitized I was to the human aspect of the surgery. I really didn't know the people or interact with them, so that might be a factor.  It's strange, but I think it might be necessary to preform surgeries well. Again, seeing open abdomens, blood, unconscious bodies (some people were only anesthetized from the waist-down, so some semi-conscious bodies), death never really crossed my mind. Perhaps I have so much trust in these doctors myself, that I failed to realize this important factor in medicine and medical work. The people here are so good-natured and dedicated, it seems difficult for me to comprehend that things can go wrong. I may get the opportunity to follow a resident while she's on call next week, so maybe the late night shift will bring to light some new perspectives.

*"being human" shirts are really popular in India. I suspect it's because the hippie tourists from the west think it's really deep.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Now for some field work!

Bangalore traffic.
Hello world! I've officially started busy-bodying in the hospital & it's been a lot of fun. The doctors are amazingly welcoming and have been quite interested in my study. What I'm basically doing is following around whoever can tolerate me (and willing to stand still long enough to read the consent form) and also conducting interviews with whoever has a moment to speak. In a previous post, I mentioned that a doctor had asked me to come in between some ambiguous hour and I had to wait a lot. In India this hospital, I have discovered, there is no system of appointments. The patient volume is too large and a much more informal system of getting in line to speak with a doctor and jumping in when possible seems to work organically without much chaos and unfair line jumping. It works a lot like traffic in Bangalore or any sense of line-standing in general. It's taken getting used to, but I've gotten the hang of it.

Since starting, I have met a few foreigners who are doing internships/electives/studies at the hospital as well. There are three French girls, two American boys, and two girls from Dublin. It's kind of nice to not speak Hin-glish and to speak with a little less reservation. Also, a natural topic of conversation is what differences exist in Indian & Western biomedical healthcare.. soo that's kinda nice.

hi! (Hampi, Karanataka July 9, 2011)
It's surprising how tiring interviewing people can be. Especially since my tape-recorder broke (what kind of horrible anthropologist am I) so I have to write like the wind & listen with five ears. I took a break last weekend and went to Hampi and I'm going to Mysore this weekend. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to visit fellow Cotlow-er Claire & compare notes.   Hampi was awesome. It's a holy city with a lot of temple ruins and nice people. I went with the American boys and the French girls and none of us really wanted to leave.
guess which ones are Peter & Jon