Hello from Bangalore!!

Hey everyone! I hope that everyone is settled in at their sites and that your summer’s going well so far!

I have been in Bangalore for about a month now and it has seriously flown by so quickly! The trip here went pretty smoothly, other than some struggles with overweight luggage and some small flight delays, and I got into Bangalore at 2am. I was pretty jet lagged for the first week but I was able to meet Dr. Krishnan in the first five days here to get oriented with my work for the summer and to meet the rest of the staff I’m working with here! Dr. Krishnan helped me settle in and we talked about the different parts of the project I am working on this summer. There are few main components: 1. Visiting community organizations to make a referral network of places that provide services for women experiencing domestic violence 2. Helping with a domestic violence policy that they are proposing to the chief health officer of Bangalore as part of the health intervention 3. Helping form a database for another project that addresses domestic violence through the relationship between daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws (Dil Mil). There is definitely a lot to do and it’s been going well so far.

While Dr. Krishnan was in Bangalore (she is in San Francisco now for part of the summer) I was able to go to the workshop they had to train auxillary nurse midwives (ANMs) on how to address domestic violence. Even though the workshop was in Kannada (the local language here), I learned so much! The intervention here is working to train link workers (community health workers who make house visits and try to get women/children to visit the clinics), ANMs (who are the primary health care providers at clinics) and physicians (there is one per clinic and they have more of a supervisor role). The workshop had really interesting activities, like getting the ANMs to distinguish the difference between sex and gender and involved role play activities where they had to show how they would address specific DV situations. The workshop was definitely a great experience to see. I also got to meet Dr. Krishnan’s family – her kids are so cute!

After that I met Dr. Vishwanath, who is the project coordinator that I am working with for most of the summer. We are also visiting the community organizations with another OB/GYN physician, Dr. Anu, who has lots of great stories to tell about her work in Bangalore! She has done lots of work with HIV/AIDS working with sex workers and knows everyone in Bangalore! We have been conducting visits to community organizations to learn about what services they can provide to women/children experiencing DV and if they are willing to be part of our referral network. It’s really interesting to learn about the variety of services these places provide and the different philosophies and approaches they follow. They also talk about the cases of DV they see, like pregnant women who have run away from home because of abuse. One woman who ran a shelter even said that a pregnant woman had come to the shelter because she was scared her child would be sold because that’s what happened to her first child. It’s hard to explain, but I am hearing about a lot of situations that I didn’t think were still happening in India. It’s very eye-opening and it’s really important to learn about the work that’s already going on in this field so that we can use the available resources to better serve the women experiencing DV.

I’ve also been going to a local clinic to do database entry for the project involving daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws. It was cool seeing how a local clinic operates using few resources. There is a lot of health education and it’s really cool to see public health topics that I’ve learned about in action in the field! I’ve also been getting involved with the DV policy and I got to go to the meeting with the chief health officer of Bangalore. It’s definitely going to be an intense process, but hopefully if this policy gets passed then DV awareness and programs can be better implemented throughout Bangalore.

Other than that I’ve been hanging out around Bangalore and it’s a lot of fun! When I first got here it was definitely a culture shock. I was scared to even cross the road because the traffic is crazy here and cars don’t drive in any lanes here! There are also lots of stray dogs and cows just walking around on the streets, so I was a little freaked out at first but I’ve learned they’re harmless as long as you leave them alone. You see the occasional camel or goats on the road too! But I’m more used to it now and I’ve met some other American and international students who are working at the hospital and research institute! The weather here has been amazing so far (knock on wood) and the monsoon hasn’t hit too badly here (yet)! It stays warm, about 80F, so it’s pleasant but not too hot! And there are random showers throughout the day, but it keeps the air cool so it’s nice! I’m learning some Kannada, the local language, but I was surprised that almost everyone speaks English here so it’s pretty easy to get around (although, if they can tell you’re a foreigner they like to charge you more for rickshaws, etc.) We’ve also gotten to know some of the local medical students, so it’s a lot of fun to go out with them. The night life is pretty fun here, and I even went clubbing last weekend!

I’ve been able to travel a bit here too. The first few weekends I stayed nearby and saw some of the local sites in Bangalore. There are lots of malls, some botanical gardens, and lots of delicious food and good shopping! I really love all the dosas, idlis, coffee, and other South Indian food – my spice tolerance is definitely going up! It’s a fun city to be in but it was nice getting out of the pollution and traffic too. We went to Mysore one weekend and saw really beautiful temples, a palace, and Brindhavan Gardens that was all lit up at night, with really beautiful fountains! Mysore was such a cute town! We also went to Munnar in Kerala, where there are these amazing tea plantations! We didn’t realize it’s a popular romantic getaway until we were on a bus full of couples! After 14 long hours on a bus, through windy roads that made my head spin, we were greeted by these green and beautiful hills, like nothing I’ve seen before. We also trekked around and saw beautiful waterfalls, got to buy lots of fresh tea and spices there, and we rode elephants (a little scary but really cool, and we got a discounted price by bargaining)! And of course the chai there was amazing! The trip was definitely worth the long journey. Traveling has been lots of fun and I’m so glad I found friends to travel with! We are also planning to take yoga classes here and to travel around some more, so I will definitely keep you all updated!

Sorry this was pretty long, but have fun and be safe, and I hope you keep us all updated too!

– Vanita



Greetings from Chengdu

Hi Everyone! Seems like I have left the States first, so I’ll be the first to post! I’ve been here in Chengdu for about a week now and it’s already been quite an adventure. I’m all settled in the lab here, which is quite small, and have gotten really close to my coworkers, even attending a wedding this past weekend! I’ve also settled into my new apartment and have gotten accustomed to the bustle of the city, but getting here was not easy and there were quite a number of challenges, like getting around the Great Firewall of China and struggling to understand Sichuanese. But I’ll start with my “ordeal” getting to Chengdu…for all of your enjoyment.

My flight to Chengdu was at 11am on May 23rd, and by 8am of that morning, I was already in front of the Barker Storeroom, ready to fill up my styrofoam container with dry ice for keeping my reagents cold. After getting the dry ice, I rushed home to wait for the airport shuttle which was supposed to pick me up at 8:30. The shuttle came late, according to my worst expectations, and I got to SFO at 9:30. Getting to the check in counter, I was already in a bit of panic as I had heard that airport security for international flights is notoriously bad, but what came next was to put me in a full on panic. The airline agents told me that they hadn’t dealt with dry ice before and needed to check with their superiors. After taking me aside and calling a few people, the agent had to ask what I had inside the container, to which I replied, biological samples. That apparently was the wrong answer, because then they told me that they could not accept the package for check in. Before, I had made sure to call the airline beforehand to make sure I could bring dry ice on the plane, but I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t bringing biological samples, but chemical reagents. Amid this confusion, time had run out and it was nearly 10:30, only 30 minutes before my flight! My only solution was to store the container at the airport baggage storage. I was fortunate though, as security that day was efficient and I was able to make it to the gate just in time for boarding. Getting on the plane in a fluster, I even got threatened at by the flight attendant for continuing to talk on the phone in my attempt to frantically call someone to pick up the dry ice before I lost all contact with them on the plane. Thus, this was the state of affairs as I left the country.

The flight to China was as pleasant as it could be for flying 11 hours nonstop in a small confined space. The airplane food was terrible as I had expected, but at least they served ramen, something I had not had on a plane before! I decided not to sleep as it was daytime when I left SFO and would have been daytime again when I got to Beijing for my transfer. Little did I know I would need some more energy when I landed in Beijing. I had checked in 2 bags, but when I went to pick them up in Beijing (the transfer required me to check in again), only 1 of the bags appeared. The bag that didn’t show up was particularly important, as it held all of my chemical reagents and lab supplies I would need for research! Panicked again, I rushed off to the airline baggage claim counter to inquire about my bags, but they were unable to give me an answer besides telling me to bother the people inChengduwhen I got there. Unable to do anything else, I could only check in my only bag and wait for my next flight. I was also able to buy a SIM card for my cell phone and got the chance to call my parents and contact my foreign PI, Dr. Xiao. Everything seemed set to go.

I didn’t wait for too long and before I knew it, I was on the way toChengdu. Despite being only a 2.5 hour flight, it was nearly 7pm when we took off, delayed by almost an hour on the runway because there were too many planes inBeijingunsurprisingly. I was feeling drowsy and had to take a quick nap as I hadn’t slept for most of the flight before, and the time difference meant I had stayed up for more than 16 hours. After a quick nap, the plane had already begun landing inChengdu. I was feeling jittery, excited to be meeting the new people in the lab and also to be in a totally foreign place. Once I disembarked, I headed straight to the baggage claim counter to check if my bag had arrived. It hadn’t. With no other option, I could only fill out a claim form and pray that it would show up. I did have the bag tag number, so there was at least a higher probability it would reappear. After dealing with that, I realized my contact with Dr. Xiao was overdue as I had been dealing with the baggage situation. I exited the arrival gate, hoping to see the welcome party that Dr. Xiao had said he sent, but there was no one holding a sign waiting for me. A bit worried, I took out my cell phone to call Dr. Xiao as I had been able to contact him earlier, but in my horror, the call couldn’t go through (I discovered later that my number was a Beijing number and thus did not work in Chengdu). Again in a panic, I wandered through the airport greeting area, from the domestic arrival gate to the international arrival gate, hoping that I would see a sign or get a call from Dr. Xiao, but none came. Finally, I remembered that I had the address of the inn I was going to stay in, so I decided to take the opportunity to practice my Mandarin. Navigating to the taxi stop after asking 5 different people, all who responded to me in Sichuanese which is nearly unintelligible to Mandarin speakers, I handed the taxi driver the address and finally got on my way to my destination. It was the correct place too and I was well-prepared with the check in information at hand. I was even able to get in contact with Dr. Xiao, who had also been frantically calling the inn to check if I had turned up there. After this nearly 24 hour ordeal, I was exhausted but relieved I had finally arrived.

I wasn’t expecting international travel to be easy, but I also wasn’t expecting getting to China to be such a journey. I’m glad made it though, and I learned that keeping calm and being prepared when facing such challenges is the best way to overcome adversity. It goes with many other things and I think it’s just a good piece of advice for everyone. Now, on to adjusting for jet lag…

Yanni and my US mentor Beth are arriving in Chengdu today, so I’ve been assigned to pick them up at the airport by Dr. Xiao. Hopefully they won’t need to go through the hassle I went through.

Oh, and just to tie up a loose end, I did find my lost bag the day after I arrived. It had been held up by US Customs because it had chemical reagents inside, but nothing was confiscated! Thank God!

Hope everyone has a better time getting to their foreign research locations!

My Office Cubicle


Welcome to the 2011 MHIRT blog!

Hey everyone! This blog is here to serve as a common space for you to share your MHIRT experiences. If you have a flickr account (easy to set up) you can link it to this blog. We want to see your pictures, and we want to hear how/what you’re doing. So start blogging!