Sunday, March 30, 2008


I couldn't remember the last time I saw a rainbow. However, last week I had the good fortune to see two on opposite ends of the world. The first, in Worton, Maryland:

The second in Hi-Tech City, Hyderabad:

I must be following the right path to find my pot of gold.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Vijayawada Win-Win

In India, there is no municipality which provides 24/7 running water to the public. In fact, most people do not even have a connection to the water line in their home. Instead, people both below and above the poverty line (~$1 per person per day) go to a public stand post (PSP) where the water is on for an hour or two a day. There, they fill up 20 liter containers and carry them to their homes. The water at these PSPs is free. Today, I went to a community below the poverty line which recently received household connections. Before her family received a household connection, Aditya would have to carry water from the PSP like this:

The water would be stored in containers until needed for use:
Her family lives on the side of a hill, so to get to the PSP, she’d have to go up and down this staircase:

To give you a sense of how long the staircase is, this is the view from the top of her home:
To provide enough water for her family, Aditya needed to make 10 trips in the morning and 10 trips in the evening during the times that the water was turned on at the PSPs. Each trip takes about 10 minutes (she can run up the stairs with the water on her head). So, each day, she’d spend over 3 hours gathering water for her family.
About 6 months ago, the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) started a program to provide Household Connections (HHCs) to the poor. They reduced the installation price of a connection and charge people a reasonable rate for their water. The installation cost is about INR 2,425 ($60) and each month people pay INR 50 ($1.25) for the water which is provided to their homes. The new connections look like this:
Every six months, Aditya’s family receives a bill for their water use. She showed us this bill with pride:
Now, the VMC receives revenue for the water they provide to Aditya’s family. Aditya gains three hours a day to work or care for her family. How much is her time worth? Well, Aditya can make about INR 19 ($0.50) per hour, so her HHC provides her household with about $1.50 more each day. Remember, Aditya’s family of 5 makes less than $5 per day, so $1.50 is a huge increase in their standard of living. In fact, when you amortize capital costs and account for the water bill that Aditya’s family now receives, her family’s income has increased by about 14%. Because of a simple extended pipeline, the VMC has a new revenue stream and BPL families have increased their standards of living by over 10%. Definitely a win-win.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I have of course always known that India was a very hierarchical culture. After all, it is home to the Caste system. I have also been told that young people are not given freedom to implement their ideas and that they basically must do as they’re told. Before my first day at the College where I am working, I was warned that research associates are treated badly and that they are really considered second class citizens. This didn’t really make sense to me and I didn’t really understand what it meant until today. There is a dining hall on campus. It is free to students and staff members. However, eating in the dining hall is considered a privilege. As a result, research associates, who are the lowest paid staff members, must go out to eat. Furthermore, right next to the cubicles where research associates work, there is a large hall where tea is served and people relax and socialize. However, at tea time (10:30 and 4:00 daily) research associates cross through this hall around the corner, up the stairs, and down another hall in order to get their tea. They stand in the hallway and have their tea rather than relaxing on the sofas in the airy hall with everybody else. Finally, temperatures here often reach 100 Fahrenheit, and it is rarely below 85. All offices are air conditioned. However, the cubicles where research associates work only have fans. It’s going to be hard to adjust to being a research associate.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In which I realize what a rip-off U.S. retail is...

Today I went shopping. While I will always stick out like a sore thumb here, I decided I should look a bit more local after being told I needed to go work in the field to “wash away the paleness.” I didn’t bother mentioning that spending time in the sun is far more likely to make me look like a tomato than to make me look like an Indian. In an attempt to fit-in, I went with my hostess to Anoki and FabIndia, two ready-made shops which cater to locals, and picked out an assortment of salwar kamiz, scarves, skirts, etc. All told, I bought 5 tops, 3 pants, 1 skirt, and 2 scarves (see below). Any guesses as to the grand total?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I've arrived!

After 24 hours of relatively painless travel, I have arrived in Hyderabad. My flight was the first international flight to arrive in the new Rajiv Gandhi International Airport. This means that all passengers on the plane were instant celebrities. We came off the plane to receive blessings, roses, champagne, honorary coins, and a full fledged cocktail party. Flashes were going off everywhere and reporters were circling to get you to make a comment on the new facility. Not a bad way to be welcomed into the country. Immigration, customs, and baggage claim was a breeze and I quickly found the incredibly kind Foster family who picked me up in the middle of the night on Easter Sunday and invited me into their home. I look forward to getting to know them better and starting the real adventure tomorrow! Here are some photos of the welcome we received:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Woman's Best Friend

The past three weeks of relaxing at my parents home has been fantastic for innumerable reasons. However, certain four-legged creatures have brought much of the joy: