Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy Ayudha Puja!

Happy Ayudha Puja! 

Yesterday (Monday, September 18) was Ayudha Puja, which is a festival that celebrates "machinery." Priests came into the hospital to clean and bless the machines that are used to fix cleft lips and palettes. You are also supposed to be thankful for your arms, legs, hands and feet (as they are the machines of your body). Everyone cleans and decorates their cars, motorcycles, and so on. As I was walking to work yesterday, many people were cleaning their vehicles and putting flowers on their vehicles. We went to a celebratory lunch and it was my first experience eating with my hands (if you did not know, Indians eat with their hands). I must say after watching so many people eat with their hands, I have almost mastered it. It is like an art as they mix the rice and the dal and the vegetables just perfectly. 

As I was walking to work... 

The gas station near my apartment all decorated for Ayudha Puja! 

Eating with my hands. Yummy! 
Celebrating Ayudha Puja! 

On Monday night, as I was beginning to watch Finding Nemo, I heard loud music coming from just down the street. I could see the festival's bright lights from my balcony, so I decided to take a walk and see what was going on. I found a tent crowded with people listening to live music. There were various instruments with beautiful women who could flat out sing. I stood in the very back corner with my camera and enjoyed the concert. This man came up to me and said, "come, come." I replied, "no, it's okay. I am just watching from here." Before I know it, he has brought me tea and cookies and gently grabs my arm to take me to a seat. The people here are so nice and welcoming. They were so proud of this lovely show they had put on to celebrate Ayudha Puja. 

Singing away. 
She was an incredible singer.
I also forgot to say that on Sunday morning, I walked outside of my apartment, looked up and saw two HUGE elephants just walking down the street. Unfortunately I had forgotten my camera. So I walked up to them and just watched. To say that I am obsessed with elephants is an understatement. They walked heavily along with two young boys atop each of them. Wherever they were going, it was an amazing and beautiful sight. I remembered that the Jungle Book was set in northern India and I must be near a great number of jungle animals. 

On Sunday I also went to a textile fair that was across my street. It had booths and booths of handmade saris, scarves, etc. So many beautiful patterns and colors. 

There was another tent. It was huge. 

Textile fair. 
If you would like to see more photos log on to www.hannahdobie.shutterfly.com 
I will be frequently uploading allllll of my pictures to this website. 

This will be my last blog post until I return from the Silchar mission on Friday, September 28. Have a great week and a half! 

Sending smiles from India,
Hannah Dobie

Monday, September 17, 2012


This blog is dedicated to my high school economics teacher Vince Durnan.

Well, my Dad left for his 35-hour trip home on Friday. I am so thankful that he came all this way to see where I was living and to get me settled. Hopefully I will have more visitors. (Everyone should know they are welcome to come to this is amazing place.)

While my Dad was here, I bought a cell phone so that I could communicate with my friends here. It took at least 4 hours or more to get a cell phone and in doing so I ran headfirst into the crazy Indian economy. To explain the process, here is the plot line of what my Dad and I had to do in order to buy the phone:

1. Went to the cell phone store and bought a cell phone.
2. Went 50 yards down the street to buy a SIM card.
3. Were told that to buy the SIM card, we had to provide four photocopies of my visa and passport in addition to two passport photographs.
4. Found a shop that took passport photos, which would take 45 minutes.
4. Set out to find a shop with a Xerox machine to make the photocopies. Once found, the shop owner did not understand us, or like us, or both. So we went back to the hospital to use their photocopier.
5. Caught an auto rickshaw to go back to the passport photo shop to get the photos.
5. Walked back to the SIM card shop to submit this information, and then a lengthy form that had to be completed.
5. Got the SIM card! 

The point of this complicated long list is to explain how the economy in India works. Because there are so many people, 1,241,491,960, the goal seems to be to create the MOST jobs possible. As well, because there are so many people available to work, this over-supply creates a situation where the cost of labor is incredibly cheap. So, instead of there being just being a “Kinko’s” that has a copy machine and makes passport photos, there are instead two different shops that each employee 2-3 people. Instead of there being one place that sells the cell phone and the SIM card, there are two. The cell phone store employs around 12 people while the SIM card store employs 3-4. Notice how many people (including the rickshaw driver) that we helped employ in our excursion. Every store and restaurant have an overabundance of employees. At a restaurant, you'll have 3-4 people serving you dinner. The liquor store (where Dad bought his kingfisher beer) had around 10 people sitting behind the counter for no reason.

In other words, you take 1 job and divide it 10 ways. In the States, it would take 1 person to get a SIM card. But there are too many people in India, so as a result of this oversupply they have 10 people do the job that it would take one person to do.

Incidentally, after I got my SIM card, I got a phone call from the SIM card store. It seems that they needed official documentation of my address in the United States, and that information was not on my passport. So we had to make yet another trip to the hospital to copy my Tennessee driver's license and then go back to the SIM card store to give them that. Yet more blanks on the form had to be filled in, etc. etc. So even the purpose of all these rules and regulations appears to be to create more jobs.

My new cell phone! 
On Saturday, I went sari shopping with some of my new Indian girlfriends. It was hilarious to say the least. These girls get their saris at a specific store they particularly like, so they took me there. The store is in "Fancy Bazaar," a hustling and bustling spot that is the main shopping center in town. We walked in this crowded store full of people trying on saris. You find an open “booth,” sit down, and are soon brought a cup of coffee or tea. I was so overwhelmed--space is almost nonexistent, people are rubbing up against one another, and there are dozens if not hundreds of choices of fabrics and colors and designs.

The sari shop. 
Essentially the way it works is you pick a color (blue, red, yellow, whatever). The person who is in charge of your sari selection brings you a huge stack of saris of that color. You search through them and pick three or four that you like. Then, you try them all on, look at yourself in the mirror and pick your favorite. Once the sari is chosen, “a measuring team” comes and takes measurements so that they can make a blouse and skirt, which go under the sari. The sari itself is the flowing piece of fabric that surrounds you and goes over your shoulders and drapes down your body. Everyone wears saris--some women dress in jeans and shirts (Western-style), but saris are still what most women wear.

The girls told me that usually families come and take around two hours to choose their saris--it's an entire outing. In my case the whole process was quite funny because the whole store was laughing at me as I fumbled around and attempted to put on saris, asked questions about what was going on, and debated which sari to get. Ultimately I got a beaded blue sari that is more simple. 

Trying on some saris (not the one I got). 
The chosen one! 

Every Operation Smile mission has a party on the last night. So, I plan to wear my sari to the final party. The real question is whether I will be able to figure out how to put it on and wear it properly! 

On Sunday, we spent most of the day making food for the kids in Lakhotokia and transporting the food to the slum. Several of the little girls ran up to me and were so excited to see me. Despite the misty rain, the kids were ready to eat and play. There was music playing from a building next to the train tracks, so we danced and did some jump rope. I won’t be able to go next week but I can’t wait to see the kids again the following week.

I will not have Internet from Wednesday, September 19 till Friday, September 28 because I am going on a mission to Silchar, India. (On wikipedia the description of Silchar says that polo as it is played today was invented there by a group of British troops.) I will be sure to write all about the mission though.

Sending smiles from India,
Hannah Dobie 

Pictures from Lakhtokai (Sunday): 

The boy who always serves the food. 

Some of the kids eating their food. 

My friend! 

The temple where we serve the food. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Welcome to Guwahati

The drive from the airport to where I am living is about half an hour. The airport is way more rural, so it is nice to see the many acres of tea fields and rice fields as you drive into the city. We were welcomed by my roommates Kristin and Rosie, who are both nurses and have lived here for over a year. As we walked in the apartment, they were about to go feed children in Lakhtokia, a slum that is located immediately next to the train tracks. Kristin and Rosie cook rice, dal (lentils), and vegetables for 90 in huge pots and pans. They’ve been doing this every Sunday for about a year now and the whole endeavor has since developed into something larger called the Pratyasha Foundation. So, Dad and I went along for the ride.

Dad carrying the rice to Lakhotokia.

Into the tuk-tuk we went. Lakhotokia wes particularly chaotic that day because the government had just torn down most of the homeless encampments on the tracks. The poor are not supposed to be living there but they do not really have anywhere else to go. As Dad said, “It was the most intense poverty I had ever witnessed.” But despite it all, the kids love to play and laugh and have fun. The slum has taken to the project, doesn’t hassle Rosie or Kristin or the various helpers, and is all smiles upon the food’s arrival. Three teenagers from the slums help serve the food, and an older couple provides the space where the food is served from, which is the most unbelievable makeshift Hindu temple which has somehow arisen right there next to the tracks in the middle of the slum. As we started serving food to the kids, I turned to Dad and said, “Welcome to Guwahati.”

Some of the kids in Lakhotokia.
Rosie trying to organize the chaos
while the older kids serve the food.

A yummy banana!

Kristin playing with the kids. 

Dad doing "the stance" while the kids eat their meal.


Outside my apartment. 
Another “Welcome to Guwahati” moment was on Tuesday night when a monsoon hit. My roommates called this my initiation ceremony. Although the monsoon season ended some weeks ago, everyone is saying it is coming late this year. The rain began pouring around 4:30 when Dad and I were still in the hospital, so we, as amateurs, decided to wait it out. An hour later it was still pouring, so we got in an auto rickshaw to go home. The driver got as far as Lamb Road, where I live, and said he could not go any farther. We looked down the street, trying to stay as dry as we could under the awning of a tiny market, and Lamb Road had been transformed into a raging waterway. After a few minutes of this, we made a go of it and got out and walked through knee-deep water to get to the apartment. It is important to understand that Guwahati’s sewage system does not work, so I try to not think about what we were walking in. But we were definitely… walking… in… it. Once Dad and I changed out of our wet clothes, we went to the front of the apartment to join the audience gathered at the flood on Lamb Road. We watched as people tried to get through the flood. It was the night’s entertainment for many. Some cars got through, and some did not. It was a great show.

Most of this week we have been doing various errands, and learning the lay of the land. Most mornings Dad and I have woken up very early and we go on walks so that we can learn our way around the neighborhood. Yesterday morning we found a Baskin Robins (yum!), a busy fish market, and the Lodi Gardens of Guwahati (a much smaller version that runs along the beautiful river). I have gotten a cell phone, gone to the police station to register myself, done some grocery shopping, and the list goes on. Thank goodness for Dad coming because he has successfully helped me get situated.

Dad has been taking beautiful photos.
My old friend, the security guard.

The first day we got to the hospital, everyone remembered me (even the sweet security guard) and they were all just as happy to see me as I was to see them. I also just got word that I will be going on every Operation Smile mission that comes to India. I will be working the medical records and will be able to travel all around India. My first mission is next Thursday (September 20) when I will be traveling to Silchar, which is located in Assam about 200 miles south of here. Other missions will include trips to the southern tip of India, Calcutta, and the list goes on.

An adorable patient. 
Anyways, I am so happy to be where I am and more than excited for the coming months. I cannot imagine being anywhere else.

Keep smiling,
An incredible view from my Dad's room. 
Yesterday, we went to a famous temple called Kamakhya temple (you can learn more about it here).

Some men at the temple. 

Kamakhya Temple

A view from the way up to the Kamakhya Temple.


The flood. 
Notice the motorcycle riding through.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wait, what are you doing?

When telling people what I was doing this year, I got this question more than I can tell you. So, let me give you the answer. I decided to take a gap year before going to college. High school got me a little burnt out and the college process got me a little frustrated so I decided this would be the perfect chance to go do something amazing that I was really passionate about.

It all began when I was in Middle School. Raffi Friedman, a high schooler at the time, gave a presentation on a medical mission trip she took with Operation Smile. I thought to myself, I have to do that. When I got to high school, I joined the Operation Smile club, which was under the direction of Ali Friedman (Raffi's little sister). My freshman year, Raffi gave a presentation on her medical mission to Guwahati, India. It was a "mega-mission," which means they did way more surgeries than a normal mission, because the cleft lip and cleft palette population was astoundingly high. Her pictures were beautiful and her stories stuck with me.

And so, I proceeded to go to three Operation Smile student conferences in Denver, Beijing, and Washington D.C. I came to Guwahati in November 2011 and fell in love with the Indian culture, the Indian people and the Operation Smile organization in India. (You can watch the video I made from the medical mission in November here).  It worked out for me to come back here for my gap year. I will be doing a bunch of different things (such as organizing research, helping out with patient records and so on).

Below is a little bit more about where I am and what I am doing...

Guwahati is located in Assam, which is in the very north east of India. Surrounding Assam are Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Here in Guwahati, the people speak Assamesse but in the vicinity there are hundreds of dialects. The population of Guwahati is 2,508,021.

Operation Smile repairs cleft lips and cleft palettes all around the world. A cleft lip is an opening in the upper lip and below the nose. A cleft palette is an opening on the roof of the mouth. The causes of clefts are unknown. However, most cleft patients come from developing countries because the mother is malnourished during pregnancy and the baby does not completely form. People with clefts cannot speak correctly, have a hard time drinking and eating, and are rejected from society. They often never go to school and their parents are ashamed to have them. In the United States, more babies have them than you think, but the problems are fixed within 3-6 months of birth. King Tut, Thomas Malthus, Jesse Jackson, Tom Brokaw, and Peyton Manning have all had clefts of some kind. Surprising, eh?

     Top row cleft lips (left to right): Unilateral incomplete, unilateral complete, bilateral complete
Bottom row cleft palettes (left to right): Bilateral complete, unilateral complete, unilateral incomplete, 

 There is a cleft care center here that treats patients rock the clock. The Indian government has often refused to provide services to Assam in any form because it is so out of the way. But Operation Smile decided to build a permanent cleft care center on top of the MMC hospital here to show the government how to care.  

So Guwahati is where I live, Operation Smile is where I am working, and having the most amazing time of my life is what I am doing. 

Sending smiles from India,