After two weeks in Washington DC, we were so excited to arrive in our first overseas destination: Delhi, India. Upon arrival, the IHP staff warmly welcomed us with traditional flowers and bindis. We were also greeted by a sensory overload of crazy sights, smells, and many loud horns. In addition to a schedule packed with guest lectures, classes and site visits, we also spent time adjusting to our homestays, Delhi transportation, and the blistering heat of an Indian autumn.
IHP Students with our India Country Team, Rajashree and Abid!
As part of our program we were all assigned homestay families for the duration of our time in India. The families varied in size from older women to households with many generations. While every homestay was different, most students ate with their families and spent their free time experiencing everyday life and activities along with them. We had a variety of experiences with our homestay families. For example, some of us went to temple, went shopping, got henna or learned traditional dances during the course of their stay.
Another important part of the homestay experience was getting to and from class every day. Whereas some people lived in Jasola (the neighborhood where our classroom was located) and could walk to class, others took the metro, a rickshaw or a combination of the two. The food in India was by far one of the biggest perks of our experience. A typical meal included dal (a lentil dish) roti or chapatti (the Indian equivalent of pita), rice, and a vegetable and or meat in a delicious sauce. Our homestay families did their best to decrease the amount of spice, but some of us still had trouble adjusting to the flavorful but spicy cuisine.
Classes & Case Studies
Our journey to India provided an interesting and unique context for the continuation of our four main classes: Public Health, Globalization & Health, Research Methods, and Health, Culture & Community. Our Public Health lectures, taught by local faculty, Dr. Jayanti Singh, allowed us to focus specifically on major health issues affecting the Indian population: malaria, tuberculosis, maternal and child mortality, and non-communicable diseases. We also enjoyed the opportunity to learn from Abid Siraj – our Country Coordinator and Globalization & Health faculty – who emphasized India’s place in development, international politics and the global economy. We explored the concepts of language and biopower in our Health, Culture & Community lectures, and sharpened our understanding of interviews during our Research Methods classes.
Of course, a huge component of our IHP journey is our case study experience. In our five groups – Maternal and Child Health, Environment and Health, Infectious Diseases, Traditional Healing, and Mental Health – we traveled around Delhi and Bahraich to conduct interviews and visit locations that could shed some light on our areas of interest. At an organization called FORCE, the Environment and Health group met with individuals working to increase access to sanitary water. To explore India’s unique system of AYUSH medicine, the Traditional Healing group spent some time at the National Yoga Institute and interviewed two traditional healers in rural Bahraich. The Mental Health group visited an Islamic shrine, where individuals pray to overcome depression and other mental illnesses, as well as a private psychiatric hospital. The Maternal and Child Health group visited GOONJ – a Delhi NGO with many waste disposal initiatives – to learn how the organization produces sanitary napkins from recycled material. At a Delhi missionary hospital, the Infectious Diseases group met with the chief pulmonologist, who shared his insights on tuberculosis.
The Traditional Medicine Case Study Group hard at work researching yoga!
Guest Lectures & Site Visits
Throughout our time in India we had numerous guest lecturers speak to us on a wide range of topics. These topics included caste, the structure of the public health system, Indian medicine, patent law, Indian history, medical tourism, and traditional health practices of the Kumaoni women of the Himalayas. Caste is a hierarchical system determined by birth and ordered based on distinction between ‘purity’ (top of the hierarchy) and ‘pollution’ (bottom of the hierarchy). While this has existed in India for the past 3,000 years and is obvious to everyone living there, it is a system that we consistently had a difficult time grappling with.
In Delhi we also had the opportunity to visit a private hospital, the first ever international toilet museum, and the NAZ Foundation. In addition to being home to 32 HIV positive children, the NAZ Foundation provides services such as psychosocial support and counseling, runs a program for the LGBT community, and head-started the Women in Sports program intended to empower women, talk to them about their rights, and teach them important life-skills.
After three weeks in the city us IHPers escaped to some fresh air and the countryside to get another look at health practices in India. In our rural stay we slept overnight at the Global School of Learning just outside of the town Bahraich. The school itself was established by the SIT India’s Academic Director, Dr. Azim Khan. He invested his time and resources into a school for kids and specifically young women from rural areas. Each day in Bahraich was filled with new adventures.
Although the country side was beautiful and refreshing compared to the crowded streets of the city, it took quite a bit of courage to face the challenging realities of healthcare that exist in rural India. One of the most striking experiences was our visit to the district hospital which is facing the challenges of overcrowding and understaffing. We also visited a local NGO called DEHAT (Development Association for Human Advancement) that strives to empower youth in the surrounding rural communities of northern India. The director of the NGO took us to see his organization’s achievements within a few rural communities and tribal villages located near the Nepal border. All in all, the rural visit to Bahraich was impactful, and very hot, hot, hot!
Throughout our time in India, we had some great weekend trips that allowed us to explore different areas of the country other than Delhi. On our first weekend in India, our group traveled to the Taj Mahal for a day trip. It was so majestic and beautiful and we were all so excited to be at a place of such magnificence.
We had another free weekend later in the month where the group split up and ventured to the cities of Jaipur, Rishikesh and Amritsar. Those in Jaipur rode elephants, saw the pink city and basked in the amazing architecture. The group that went to Amritsar stayed in the Golden Temple for the night and went to a ceremony at the Indian-Pakistani border. In Rishikesh, some students stayed an ashram – which is a spiritual center for yoga and meditation – while other students explored Hindu temples, the Ganges, and the Himalayas. This short adventure allowed us to see a little bit more of India.
Somehow, between keeping up with classes and hanging out with our homestay families, we also found time to explore Delhi. Many of us visited the Bahai temple, a beautiful white temple in the shape of a blooming lotus flower, and sat for the Bahai service reading from the Quran, Hindu scripts, Bible, and Torah. The Lodi Gardens offered a much needed escape from the bustling and booming city with beautiful lawns and lakes, scattered with 15th century tombs and Islamic mosques that you could explore. A group of us went to Qutab Minar, an ancient Islamic mosque with a huge minaret and intricate mosaics covering the terra cotta finishing. Green parrots swarmed the complex, making it a peaceful and beautiful place to stay.
A relaxing afternoon at the Lodi Gardens
We spent a lot of time exploring the markets, for buying both culturally appropriate Indian clothes and souvenirs. These markets included Lajpat Nagar, Dili Haat, and Khan Market, and ranged from crowded narrow alleys where sellers claimed to ha ve “fixed prices” to Tibetan street markets exploding with colorful tapestries. The culmination of Delhi was perhaps centered on our final weekend trip to Old Delhi, the historic heart of the city. What an assault of the senses indeed! The spice market was pungent and loud, the streets were hot and packed with people, the Red Fort was grand and imposing, and the mosque was peaceful and serene. After living in India for a month, it felt like a quintessential experience and an enduring way to say goodbye.
The Central Market – Lajpat Nagar
Our time in India was challenging and impactful in so many ways, and we can say with certainty that we learned so much from all of our experiences. All in all, we had a fantastic time in India and were all sad to leave our homestays, our staff and the country itself. However, we were consoled by the fact that we had an exciting five weeks in South Africa just around the corner.