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. 


  1. H-child, I loved your description of the over-supplied economy. Also, the pictures of children eating AND smiling are beautiful. Stay safe smiling girl.
    Mrs. R (shay shay)

  2. Hannah,

    I'm officially going to start following your blog and be insanely jealous that you're in India while I have to wait another 3 years to go back. :P You are just an incredible, incredible person. I have no more words.