BUILD: India Summer Trip 2013 - "It's Really Hot Here"

by tuftsigl
May 27

It’s been a full week since the BUILD summer trip team 2013 embarked upon the trip to Thottiyapatti. As usual, after something like two days, forty hours, and six meals a flight (apparently), those who left from the US; Hanna, Heidi, and both Kriste/ins who are now collectively referred to as “K Squared” arrived in Chennai at 6 am Monday the 20th. They’re all very keen to brag about the fact that they avoided jetlag by spending the day engaging in many activities, most importantly a trip to FabIndia to buy clothes for the trip. From what I can gather in the days since then, they all seem quite pleased with their choices, especially their dupattas. After all, Lil’ K points out “it can be used as a sweat-rag, to protect your face from dust, and of course, it brings my outfit together.”

Angad arrived from Delhi the following day, and BUILD began its series of meetings that had been arranged for the second day in Chennai. These included meeting with an AID: India representative named Murari, on “Lloyd Road”, which Angad repeatedly heard as “Lodge Road” and demanded that the driver continuously go up and down searching for the non-existent street, as well as a meeting with the editor of the Hindu Newspaper, Siddarth Varadarajan. He suggested that we write an article to go in The Hindu, so even if BUILD doesn’t succeed at achieving “holistic sustainable development in rural South India”, at least we’ll get our picture in the news. All jokes aside, both these meetings went well and just highlighted the number of opportunities and avenues that BUILD has in front of us.
The rest of the day was spent doing various other logistical and housekeeping tasks, such as picking up our train tickets, and traveling to do so in one auto-rickshaw despite there being five of us in it (I assure you, it’s mostly perfectly safe, and is great for photo-shoots). We returned to the Madras Boat Club where we were staying thanks to a client of Hanna’s dad, who really did a lot for us those two days we were in Chennai, eager to travel to Thottiyapatti the following day.
After a long train journey to Trichy, and a taxi journey to Payir which seemed almost as long, we arrived at our home for the next three weeks. As has become normal practice, Payir is undergoing a state of change. There’s construction going on (with many holes in the ground that one has to be careful to not step into) and due to the drought, a lot of the greenery has dried up. It’s also blisteringly hot, and really moving at all between noon and three p.m. is a bit of a challenge. The days here thus far have been spent sitting in a small courtyard playing Lil’ K’s wide assortment of party games (“I have to entertain little kids who come to my house for dinner!”), interacting with BUILD’s, or rather Hanna’s adopted pet dog, Ruby, and trying our best to be efficient in the down time that we have. The two cups of tea we receive are always a positive (“My favorite part,” claims Heidi), though at meal times, Angad generally tries to avoid sambhar while Big K attempts to avoid most things.
Things on the project front have been both good and bad. I’m the kind of person who likes to start with the bad news first, so you get to read that first (aren’t you lucky?) Senthil and Preethi have been incredibly busy lately due to the nutrition program they’re implementing in 370 villages across the state, which is the first program of its kind. They’re not here a majority of the time, and a lot of our work has been put on hold while we wait for their input, advice and feedback on our health surveys and community health clubs. The Learning Center is also shut due to summer vacation, which has thrown a bit of a spanner into the works, as a lot of the activities we planned in the center as well as the evaluations we wish to conduct have to wait for another week or so.
The bright side is, that’s about all the bad news there is. Well, that and the heat (which I have to mention again, simply due to how much the subject dominates our conversations). We’ve had translators most days, ranging from Jaipal from Trichy, who some of you may recall translated for us a few times a year ago, to social work students from Lady Doak College in Madurai who are interning at Payir. We’ve had encouraging conversations with Janani, Sekar, Vijayrani and Vanila about the implementation of a community garden near the toilet complex, using the wash-water and urine from the toilets (less gross than it sounds) for the crops. Gajendran has also shown interest in this project, and we’re hopeful that construction of a fence and planting of seeds could happen by even the next weekend. The Learning Center, even though it is shut at the moment, seems to be running fairly smoothly, with the Superkidz program working well. That’s not all though; in fact, it’s not even the biggest plus point so far. I think I’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t thrilled with the fact that the Eco-San toilets are almost finished being constructed and look incredible with fancy tiles and everything. We met with Mr. Subbaramman on Friday at the toilet site and he too seemed quite happy with the progress. It really is incredibly satisfying to see two years of hard work by everyone in BUILD come to fruition in actual tangible terms. And it’s really exciting to think that within the next few weeks, Thottiyapatti will actually have the toilets we said they would so long ago.
And on that happy note, I think it’s time to end this blog-post (also because the over-excited, eager Payir kids have got bored of playing Temple Run on my phone and now seem to be making a lot of noise). Tomorrow we’re headed to Trichy to pick up Shobhita who will be joining us for this next stage of our trip. Here’s hoping things all that’s been going well carries on that way, and that which hasn’t gone well improves.
BUILD Hugs and Kisses (or whatever it is I’m supposed to say).
Hanna, Heidi, K Squared and Angad

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