Friday, December 12, 2008

Leeds Met has "buzz" (Times Higher Education)

I just found this article in the online Times Higher Education magazine. It describes that Leeds Met has the most buzz about it, when it comes to web blogs and reviews. I wonder if my own blog here with my occasional reporting about Leeds Met has a little bit contributed to this... (well, actually Leeds Met is tops not in blogs but in news coverage, whereas the blog coverage is topped by Sheffield Hallam).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Leeds Met becomes Leeds Carnegie University

As announced today in our Vice-Chancellor's daily reflection, Leeds Metropolitan University will change its name to Leeds Carnegie University probably by the beginning of the next academic year.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Travel Back

We leave early in the morning, after breakfast. The car brings us directly to the airport in Ahmadabad. On the way we can for the last time "enjoy" the low sense of risk that traffic participants show...

The check-in goes quite fast. Brian has to unpack his suitcase at the X-ray check, but no problems otherwise. The airline rushes us somehow, no time even for strolling around at the airport (there is actually nothing to stroll around...), we are quickly hurdled into the bus to the plane. Then the flight takes off 30 minutes earlier than scheduled! That never happened to me before.

In Dubai I go to the Burger King, and have a large salad - and a meaty juicy burger. The first meat after almost 2 weeks!

The last flight leg goes by without any problems. I have a brief nap, then I watch a couple of movies. Landing in Manchester ok. It is dark and cold. We just miss the 19:22 train to Leeds, so we will take the next one in an hour. Brian takes the route through Sheffield to Doncaster, as this will bring him home earlier.

A big adventure is over. I have now actually been in India!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Last Evening Dinner, and Folk Dance Performances

We are all going out for dinner to one of the restaurants, and we invite our hosts who have made our stay there in Vallabh Vidyanagar so smooth and pleasant. Afterwards some of us go to the area where the West Indian Youth Festival Competition has been taken place since Monday (when there was this procession in the streets). This is located on a large open sports ground, covered by a marquee tent. Traditional Indian music can be heard from outside. We walk into the tent, and see immediately colleagues from the university. Also Kanu Patel is there, as he was involved in the organisation of this whole event, and he points us to seats in the very first row. Behind us are probably 1000 young people, listening and applauding the performances that are ongoing at the stage. We sit down and watch a bit. The speakers are very close, and the sound makes everything vibrate. Kanu offers me a seat in the centre, wher eI have a better view for taking video and pictures. The different groups who are competing in this dance competition wear colorful costumes and perform several different dances. They also provide the music for their dance, with the musicians in the background playing while in the foreground the dancers show their performance.

We leave before midnight, shortly before the whole show ends.

A Day in Ahmadabad

This is our last day. We have done a lot: visited several institutions, recorded material, collected information, created writings. Now I would like to see some more of Ahmadabad - we only had been there for our project activities. I had heard that the old town would be worth seeing. Also I wanted to be a bit adventurous - and take a train.

Strangely enough, nobody of the locals recommended to take the train. Our hosts at the university offered to provide a car, as they have done during all the time. But Brian also agreed that taking the train would be worth doing, to get a bit more immersed in local life. Only Brian, Jane, Asha, and myself would go. We had an invitation to a private home for lunch: a participant of the Creativity Conference last week had invited our group, she wanted to introduce us to her family and offer us some homemade Indian food. After breakfast we take off. First we take one of these rickshaws from the guest house to the train station in Anand. All four of us sqeeze into the small vehicle, and this time I record with the hand-held camera. At the train station there is a large lane-crowd in front of the ticket office. The train leaves in a few minutes, no way that we would get tickets in time. But Asha knows her way: she goes to some dealer stand outside of the station and buys 4 tickets. Each costs 15 rupies, which is 20 pence, for a 2-hour train ride.

We are rushing to the platform. Interestingly the low sensitivity for risk again shows, as everybody just crosses the railway tracks instead of using the bridge... and we do that too.

The platforms are very crowded, for trains in both directions. This is the train line which leads south to Mumbai.

The train is very crowded, people sit on the floor. Nevertheless we find a seat bench and chat a little with the local travellers. The train does not go very fast, max. 80 km/h, so it takes 2 hours until we arrive in Ahmadabad. Trupti, our host, and her husband are already there and welcome us in the station. They drive us a bit around, then we go to their home. The streets are loud, but these side streets are very quiet. A nice well-maintained house, with garden. We sit down, and Trupti wants individual introductions from everyone. So each of us gives a brief CV. I film it, and when it is my turn, Trupti films. We then have excellent food, brought out from the kitchen by the servants. Suddenly a shout from the kitchen: there is a monkey! But before I can get a climpes of it, the monley disappears out of the window from where he (she?) came from.

Jane and myself are taking off, as we only have a short time for exploring the old town of Ahmadabad. Again we feel this mode of surprise, about our desire to see some old things, when the town has to offer so many new things... it seems that many Indians consider some of their heritage as outdated, dirty, full of traffic, crowded, cramped... or is it just because the Old Town is Muslim?

Brian and Asha stay, we will meet at the bus station. So Jane and I take a rickshaw towards the centre. Again the GPS ix very helpful, as I can trace our routes and can indicate the proximity to the train station for example, even though I do not have a map of Ahmadabad on the device.

We see a great old gate and get out of the vehicle. Then we walk towards East and Southeast into the town. Narrow streets, many vendors. We follow just arbitrarily the path, always knowing that we can just get out and take a rickshaw which would bring us right to the bus terminal. Many nice old buildings, often damaged and not cared for. Suddenly a small gate, and behind there is a temple. Houses with intricate masonry work. We have no idea what these houses are, there are no signs, it is all being used for daily life and not kept as a museum.

After one hour we get back onto the main road and take a rickshaw to the bus terminal. When we arrive, we see this is a large area wich many busses... and we have no idea which one would go to Anand. Fortunately, as we go around one corner, we see Brian and Asha, and she guides us to the right bus.

So we go back by bus. Noisy, dusty, but it drives. Takes about 2 hours as well, across country roads, through small towns and villages. Unfortunately it si getting darker already, so my pictures do not come out well... too much motion blurriness. In Vallabh Vidyanagar for the last time a rickshaw, then we are back at the guest house.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Visit at IET, and Driving Back

The educational institution which Adam wanted us to get in contact is IET. This institution has the main mission to bring education to the tribal communities around Surat. They teach English and other subjects which are relevant to these communities in order to not stay behind in this rapidly developing country. IET has a great campus at the River Tapi.

We are welcomed by Ashok Vyas, the director of the institute. He shows us around and explains us the situation. We also realise that Adam and Dr. Jadeja (Sardar Patel University) are on the advisory committee of this institute. Beccy and myself are taking with us information material which we can then present to our home institutions. We visit the president of IET who is located at another building.

Afterwards, we drive through the city to Ashok's home, where he invites us to the usual great tea, and where his wife performs a puppet theatre performance for us, with her hand-made dolls. On a laptop computer we are shown a video recording that was taken in this flat during Brian's first visit back in January. The video shows him and the singer Ray Hearne, sitting in those seats were we are sitting right now.

We take off. Driving back through the town, on that elevated motorway. The city appears very contemporary, but somewhat run-down. Many glass facades of buildings are damaged. We are told that this city has many diamond processing factories and a large textile industry. I would be curious to see the old town centre. There is supposed to be a fort here. But interestingly, our hosts do not mention it, nor do they recommend anything in the old town. Instead they point out the factories and shopping centres that we are driving alongside.

We continue towards North. The road is a long construction zone, due to the conversion into a motorway. We drive again through many potholes. Our driver appears to be even more agressive than before, and even more than all the other drivers around. He honks a lot, speeds at intersections and roundabouts. But the most life-threatening scene happens when our part of the quasi-motorway is very slow, and he just moves across an intersection onto the other lane, right into the oncoming traffic. Lots of honking, but everybody sees our vehicle and moves to the side. This goes so for about 1/2 km, then he returns back to the correct track. From now on nothing can shock me anymore. Beccy is half unconsious and says nothing.

We drop off Adam near the town of Bharuch. No time for sighseeing, we drive further into the night. Eventually the road becomes better. After about 4 hours of driving we are back in Vallabh Vidyanagar.

Somehow after all this Indian food, vegetarian and spicy, I have an appetite for pizza. There is a place, and we all go. The pizza is quite a bot different than expected: an almost solid bottom crust, and on top some tomato paste, with grated cheese strips.

In Surat: Pacific Inn Hotel

The waiter brings breakfast into the room: tea and sandwich. I hesitate: should I trust them to have taken all the hygienic precautions that food preparation requires? When nobody seemed to care about the usual hygienic procedures like cleaning the room / toilet after guests move out or before new ones move in? Well, I have already become quite desensitised in these days, so I actually eat the sandwich. Tastes good. Has a bit of salad which I had avoided so far, because of the water washing (water is always assumed to be contaminated, at least for us sensitive and unadapted Westerners). But I assume now that I have been a bit adapted. And indeed, no problem re. food occurs to me on the whole trip. Only my strange cold or infection in the throat worries me a bit...

At daylight we can have a closer look at this hotel. Has inner court yard, with balconies and bridges.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Arrival in Surat

Back at the hospital, our group splits. Most people will drive back to Vallabh Vidyanagar. But Adam has offered to visit another educational institution which is interested in establishing links with overseas contacts. This would be in Surat, a few hours more to drive from here. Beccy and myself have been interested in this, but she does not feel so good today - some of the spicy food has not been kind to her. We are considering cancelling that trip, but Adam convinces here that it would be good to go. So the other ones take off, and Beccy, Adam, Asha, and myself stay behind.

We sit in the garden, chat with out hosts while it gets dark. A great view onto the starry sky. At 8pm the driver from Surat arrives, we say good-bye and drive off into the darkness. The driver seems to want to make up time, he drives quite energetically over the potholes. Often we "test the suspension" - yes, it still works ok.

After 45 minutes we get a call, from the people back at the hospital. They found an ID card, with the name "Reinhold Behringer". What the hell...? I check my wallet, everything is there. I did not take my passport with me. What could this ID card be? Then I realise: it is my German driver license! Just a few months ago I had been looking for it for a few weeks, because I had replaced it and could not find it. And now this old grey paper document has again disappeared. Fortunately Dr. Yoshi would bring it to Vallabh Vidyanagar on Thursday, so I would have it back then. I have to find a better place to carry it with me than the mobile phone pocket.

A few times we cross railway tracks of those narrow gauge lines. I mark the position on my GPS, to be able to explore them sometime in the future, maybe. The ride goes through a lot of construction. After a while, the air begins to smell "chemically" - there are many factories outside, we are driving through a very industrial area. Around 11:30 we arrive in the outskirts of Surat, at the Pacific Inn Hotel. Makes a nice impression in the dark - before I enter the bath room. There are the usual buckets and fossets/taps on the wall, no surprise there, but the bath tub is something that I must take a picture of: it has stains, traces of dirty water, I would really not want to step in there and take a shower, not talking about a bath. And the toilet... well, I will be kind to the readers and spare them a detailed description of what was swimming in there... I wanted to take a photograph as evidence, but then I shy-ed away because it was just too disgusting. The whole think looked like something from the movie "Trainspotting"...

Well, no time to think much, I switch off the air conditioner and go to sleep.

At the Narmada Dam

After the workshop we drive up towards the mountains, to the Narmada Dam. We have to get a permission first, because the entry into the whole area is secured. Then we go to one of the viewing points. The dam is quite big, a colossal thick concrete structure. It blocks the water which would normally flow down from the mountains to form the Narmada river. This project has been envisaged in the 1950s but has been partially completed just recently. There is a lot of controversy about it: safety concerns, the large impact into the eco-system, and the displacement of the tribal population. Resistance has been persistent, documented on a website about this project: But Dr. Yoshi points out the benefits of this and other dams: regulated water, electricity, and as a consequence an increase of the living standard.

We drive to the visitor centre, from where we get a very good view of the dam.

Further along the lake we see the natural beauty of the landscape. There is a crocodile swimming somewhere.

At the Narmada River

We arrive at the Hospital Jalaram Aarogya Dham, Vasantpura, in time for lunch. This is a charity hospital for the local tribes who live in the area. They provide medical care for free. The building is located near the Narmada River, where we how hold our next workshop. After lunch we walk down to the river. It has not very much water, very flat, it looks like one could just walk across it. Some of the group begin writing, others paint. Dr. Yoshi from Sardar Patel University explains to us some of the background, as further upstream there is this large controversial dam. A few km south from here there are mountains raising from the otherwise flat plain. We are told that during the Monsoon season, the tigers and leopards come out. I would like to see that!

Towards Narmada Dam

On Tuesday morning we are again on the road, this time driving towards South. We are heading to the Narmada River where a 2nd workshop will be held, with painting and writing activities. The drive takes a few hours, on country roads. We make a stop in a small town, where we pick up a few more workshop participants. There are narrow gauge railway tracks, which belong to the large 2'6" rail network that links the countryside. A few years ago there had been steam trains, but as I had read on the internet, these have all been decommissioned. A real pity, as I would have liked to see some of those old locomotive sin action.

In the town there is again music: but this time it is not related to a competition or a festival, but has a more serious background, as the music accompanies a pilgrimage which people undertake towards some temples miles away. When we continue, we see more pilgrims along the road, people dressed in costumes, and one is always dressed as a horse. I really feel like I am in another century - it is very rural here.

While in the car, I realise that I have forgotten to pay my council tax. So I take out the laptop, and while the car speeds over potholes, I try to access the website for paying my dues. However, my debit card gets refused several times! Is this a consequence of me getting cash with it at the cash machine on the first day in India? Well, I will have to pay my tax after the return to the UK. Hope that refused card is not a serious issue... I check actually my bank account, and everything seems ok. A very strange feeling, to be here in the middle of another century, on the other side of the globe, in a car that seems to fly over the road, and check the bank back home.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Folk Dance Festival

After we return to Vallabh Vidyanagar, the ladies in our group want to buy some Indian clothing. I have no specific plans, I will just walk around. But when the car enters the town, the road is suddenly blocked: there is a truck on which people are dancing, dressed in costumes. I get out of the car to do some more filming, this time legally without any restrictions, using the HD camera. I keep the audio recording running, the head cam, and also film with the regular camera. Three devices at once - have never done that before.

The truck is moving, and ahead of it is a long procession of music groups and dancers. As I learn, this is the West India Youth festival, in which universities compete in categories of dancing, singing, etc. This festival goes on for the whole week, in a tent on the large sporting area between our guest house accommodation and the H M Patel Institute. This procession here through the tree-lined alleys of Vallabh Vidyanagar shows someting quintessential of India: a cacophony of sounds, because all the bands play together, and they play different music pieces. Very nice colourful costumes, in stark contrast to some of the beak housing along the streets. Traffic that is uninhibited by the procession and adds to the sound carpet, with honking horns, motorcycle noise, and cars and buses driving by.

Again in Vadtal

On Monday we relax a little. The conference had been completed sucessfully, and we are quite glad about this. I want now to experiment a bit with my hear-worn camera, to try out the "subjective experience recording". For this, I would like to go back to Vadtal, as this busy buzzing scenery seemed to be most promising for this kind of recording.

Our driver from the university brings us first to the "Garden of Knowledge", which is near the Vadtal temple. A wonderful gazebo-like structure stands there in the centre, shaded by trees. But as I want to take pictures, a group of white dressed guards comes towards me and tells me that it is not allowed to take pictures here. What a pity! This must be because of the post card stores, who want to preserve their business. It is obviously ok for them to take pictures, butnot for us ordinary visitors. Well, I now find a good use for my head-worn video camera, and I record unobtrusively as I walk along. Unfortunately the quality of these videos is not very good, as the camera is a very unsophisticated 640x480 PAL video standard one. The colors are washed out, and the audio is dreadful. Fortunately I also record the audio through my in-ear microphones onto the digital recorder, which give an excellent sound quality.

But at some point I switch the camera off, as we began talking - I do not want to record conversations, as this may be an intrusion into privacy. I am just interested to capture the surrounding soundscape.

Around this garden there live some kind of "holy men", as we are being told. These men are not even allowed to look at a woman, because then they would loose some of their holiness... well, there are weird things in this world.

When some of the guides realise that I am German, then ask us to wait and meet one of their guests - who is from Germany too. After a while he appears, also dressed into the traditional white local costume. He lives here for a while, getting rest and inspiration for his life. He tells us that he is actually here on business, as an industrialist who works on developing a technology for saving the environment: creating fuel out of garbage, and using some kind of solar / wind energy. It sounds to us quite unbelievable, and the guy may be just a bit nuts. But when I later search the web, I find a few links to this kind of technology, among them a project with technology from Germany: So maybe this guy was not nuts at all...

We see some parts of the museum, a house with floors and walls built from cow dung. Then we go again to the temple town, where there is again music and a large crowd of people. It appears that there too photography and filming is forbidden, something that I had not been aware at our last visit. Also I realise that last time I had entered the temple through the wrong door - there is a separate entrance for men and women.

I film a bit more with the head-worn equipment. But as I later find out, the quality of this recording is also reduced because of the camera mounted on the head: I would have to walk around like I had swallowed a stick, being a human tripod. No head shaking, no nodding. This would make interactions quite unnatural. But when behaving "naturally", the resulting video is just not a pleasure to watch.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Online Conference between us and Yorkshire

On Sunday we prepared for the conference in the evening. We planned to use Skype to link to a group who assembled in the Sagar Street Gallery in Castleford. Jake would deal with the computing there, and I set up the laptop here. There were some problems initially, but we got it working, even with video. For a while we used also the online conference system DimDim. Our group showed some of the poems and paintings that had been created, and we presented the results of the interviews. We had been a bit sceptical before, as the mobile internet connection appeared not to support the require bandwidth. But in the end it worked out fine.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

In and around Villabh Vidyanagar

On Saturday we visit the painter Kanu Patel in his home and atelier. He gives us some very nice presents: booklets and brochures with his paintings. He shows us several of them, and I consider buying one. Price would be £100, not too bad, but quite high considering the local expense level.

Our group then begins preparing for tomorrows online conference with our project partners in Yorkshire. We set out an agenda, and I collect bits of work, upload them to our shared server where our Yorkshire group can access them.

In the afternoon we are visiting the Sardar Patel memorial, a few kilometers east of Vallabh Vidyanagar. This is a whole park and conference center, with information displays about his life and legacy. The guides there take a few pictures of us which we will later receive by email. One interesting moment occurs at the end of our guided tour through the facilities, when the main guide shows us a powerpoint presentation on his PC: first it appears like there would be some thought-provoking questions, but we soon realise that this has a strong anti-Muslim inclination, and we do not really know how to respond to this. The slides seem to indicate that the Hindu minority is making a lot of concessions to the Muslim minority - quite explosive material (no pun intended, in the light of the events in Mumbai 2 weeks later...) and very provocative. We decide not to go into a deeper discussion, but we leave slightly concerned about the very difficult situation of these two groups who appear to be quite hostile towards each other.

We visit a nearby temple. This area is very rural. A herd of sheep and cows passes by on the road, guarded and guided by a shepherd. We then drive a few miles north towards the town of Vadtal. First it looks from the outside like an unremarkable village in the middle of nowhere. But as we come closer, there are suddenly many people, walking through a sort of town gate into a large square, surrounded by buildings. Music is played from loudspeakers. In many small stalls, drinks, food, and other stuff is being sold. The whole place appears very busy.

In the centre of this square, there is a temple. Inside are colourful statues of some gods. I have no clue what this all is about, but the atmosphere is very intense and lively. When we leave at sunset, we see a few monkeys climbing on the roofs.

Friday, November 07, 2008

2nd Day in Ahmadabad

In the morning we have a breakfast at 8am. I keep taking Strepcil lozenges to remove the soreness in my throat, and I seem to have slight success. This morning we will attend the morning prayer of the students - there will be a few hundred of them, and Brian and myself are invited to say a few words. But before that, I use the opportunity to take a few video shots outside of the campus. I put my in-ear microphones on and record the sounds of the passing traffic and the voices of the people, while recording simultaneously with the HD video camera while walking along the street. The people look at me slightly amused, but friendly, and often wave and begin talking to me. They often pose for a picture, and then they even thank me for taking a photograph of them.

The contrast here in this city is remarkable: busy noisy street traffic on one side, with busses, cars, rickshaws, modern store fronts, advertisement for internet. This is the 21st century, as it is in many cities around the globe. But in side streets off the main street appears a different side of life: quiet, with small dealers selling services, fruit, and other items of daily life. This appears to remain from another century, back in time.

At 10:00 there is the morning prayer of the students in the prayer hall. Brian and myself are invited to attend - and to give a short address to the students. We walk into the hall and take a seat on the front bench, facing towards all the students (I estimate about 300), who are sitting on the floor, rotating their little mobile spinning wheel. On the right to me is a musician who plays on a type of mobile harmonium a prayer song.

Brian talks about poetry and the environment. I talk about the Leeds Met Gandhi Hall and the use of technology for creative purposes. Each of us only has 10 minutes, and what we say is sentence by sentence translated into Gujarati by our host Dr. Jadeja who accompanied us from Villabh Vidyanagar.

Afterwards we visit the Tribal Museum which is on the campus of the university. It shows arts from different tribes in India. Many people in the countryside still live in tribal communities, and the museum shows some of the tools and the housing that is common.

In the afternoon we head home with our vehicles. We pass a famous mosque where just now the Friday prayer takes place. This mosque is famous for its intricate windows. Adam, our poet from Gujarat / Bolton, takes the opportunity to participate in this prayer. We get out of the car and have now to cross the street - not easy when there appears to be no working traffic light in sight! Actually there is one at the nearby intersection, but it does not seem to have lights for pedestrians - it just combines three different traffic streams into an endless traffic stream which to cross appears to be highly suicidal. I record a video of the crossing, when Adam goes ahead, and Brian and Asha follow.

We continue towards Vallabh Vidyanagar and arrive at the Guest House around 16:30. Since our stay began here, I had not yet explored the area and surroundings, so I begin a walk on the main street towards Anand. I am not very well, my head hurts, and I have almost used all tissues for blowing my nose - so I look for finding some more tissues. I go to a few stores on the side of the road, but when I show them my last package of tissues, the store clerks / owners shake their head. Even at a "medical store" no tissues are available. When I mention that the tissues can be also in a larger box, the store owner goes back into the storage and brings out a dusty green box with tissues. The last and only one. It has the printed note "expiration date September 2005". I show this to the clerk, and he rightfully replies that tissues do not really expire. Well, they are a bit rough, but fulfill their purpose.

I walk further, take pictures of building construction and high-rise apartment houses. A cow follows me for some reason, and the guys who sit at the side of the road have a good laugh about this. After darkness sets in, I wave to a rickshaw taxi and drive back.

We have been invited by Sunil Shah for a nice dinner - his wife cooks an excellent fusion cuisine which has European and Indian elements.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Activities in Ahmadabad

On Thursday we take up our original program for our project: we wanted to organise workshops for writing about climate change and the situation of the rivers. So our first workshop takes place at the Sabarmati river in Ahmadabad. We leave early in the morning, as the drive on the motorwaYtakes at least one hour. We will stay for one night at the "Gandhi University" in Ahmadabad, which was founded by Gandhi in 1920.

Our first stop is this university in Ahmadabad. We meet with the Vice Chancellor of this university where we have the usual Indian tea. I really like this tea: it comes with milk already (no choice - too bad if one does not like milk in the tea). In addition, it has all kind of spices: I taste some Ginger, also Cardamom. A distinct taste of Christmas honey cakes. A pity that the amount of this tea (which is very strong) is so small: it is always served in expresso-sized cups. Since it is boiled together with the milk, a skin immediately forms on top of the tea - something which I could live without.... (already as a child I did not like when the milk after heating had that skin). But the taste of the tea is just fantastic - and it helps to sooth my aching throat. My infection seems to get worse. during the drive to Ahmadabad I had headache and did not feel very well.

The VC of the university explains to us the basic principles under which they operate here: modesty, back to the roots, back to rural life. Students are required to work with the spinning wheel, to make their own yarn. Technology is seen somewhat as hostile, threatening. Accommodations are modest and simple, people have to stay in double accommodation. We are asked to do the same, unless we would feel uncomfortable about it... and our spoiled western individualism wins, as we agree that we would be a bit uncomfortable with this.

The beds in the guest rooms are indeed very simple: almost just a wooden board, with some blankets on it.

We drive to the Gandhi Ashram, which is located at the banks of the Sabarmati River. There is Gandhi's house, and the houses of some of his friends. A museum is there, with interesting exhibits. In the bookstore one can buy his works.

We camp behind Gandhi's house for our workshop, from where we have a nice view of the river. There is a lot of construction going on: the whole river banks are being rebuilt. It looks like a dam more downstream will raise the level of the river. Big concrete walls are being put in place on the sides, to keep the water in the river. Supposedly this will lead to a revitalisation of the river banks... but some of the people whom we interview do have doubts. Some remember how the river was many decades ago. Right now it is actually fed not with its own waters, but with the waters of another river: the Narmada river. To some, this is a violation of spirituality of the river gods...

We also meet an ardent supporter of this project, who believes this project will be an improvement for all people. Some details from the official side are here:

The workshop goes well. I record several interviews, other participants write poems and essays, others paint - or take pictures.

Around 3pm in the afternoon we are done, and we visit a local woman poet and comunity "activist" who has been engaged in mitigating the violence between Muslim and Hindu fanatics. A few years ago there had been riots between these two population groups, and just a few months ago there had been a few bombings here in Ahmadabad. The woman leads a street theatre group, which performed in the streets to engage people to think. Very interesting - she also read a poem in Gujarati language, to which our whole group listens intensly - just the song of words is very interesting, without actually understanding the meaning.

It is slowly getting dark. We are done with our program for the day, and we conclude it with a visit in a bazar. This is actually just like a large department store, with several floors where different stuff can be bought. As we leave the car, I am the very first one to buy something from a street vendor: a map of India. I am able to negotiate the price down to half (90 Rupies), but later another member of our group gets the same map for 50 Rupies... so much for my bargaining ability.

At the side of the road, an old lady boils some tea in a bolile cart cooker. The procedure looks slightly unhygenic, but the tea water (with the milk already added) actually boils and bubbles, so that I loose my fear and actually buy one - for 5 Rupies. Tastes delicious!

In the bazar I find a very useful item: a wiper for the floor to remove water. I actually buy it: I see an urgent necessity for the shower in our accommodation back in Vallabh Vidyanagar, as the water just keeps accummulating on the floor and does not flow into the outlet, due to some unevenness in that floor.

We drive back in darkness to our accommodation at the Gandhi University campus. My headache which had disappeared during the day, wsa now back, and I decide to get an early rest, without any dinner. A short update on the work blog, then I have a rest.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Online Access with Problems

During the travel to India, I was extensively using my mobile phone, sending SMS updates to Twitter (user: "rbehringer"). This also linked to my Facebook account, so I probably had gotten on the nerves of my friends there with the frequent updates of my status. The flight on Emirate Airlines from Dubai to Ahmadabad even allowed the use of mobile phones on the plane - for me the very first time that I had this opportunity. I made no calls, but sent a couple of txts.

I had hoped to have internet access in our accommodation, but there was only a phone socket - no sign of ethernet, and no wifi anywhere. Mobile access still was ok, but I stopped sending txts, as I was not quite sure about the roaming charges. At the institute, I tried to connect my laptop computer in the IT lap to a ethernet cable, which worked fine with one of the PCs there. Strangely, however, the laptop computer showed no sign of any connection, as the cable was plugged in... as if there was a different technical standard. No wifi was available, but for one day I borrowed one of the USB modems, which basically provided internet access over a wireless cell phone connection. On Tuesday, Brian and I took a rickshaw taxi to one store which sold such USB modems. However, as we had no permanent address here, we were unable to purchase one; also we would have to buy a connection for at least 4 months, which was a bit unreasonable for just the two weeks here.

On Wednesday, I went with Sunil to another store, and here we solved the problem of internet access: Sunil as the resident here signed the contract, and I paid for the item and a set of pay-as-you-go minutes, which the other store had not offered us. So form then on, I was a proud customer of Tata Indicom - with 121 kbps, anywhere I would go! Great - from now on I could at least update the working blog for this project: However, it turned out that the connection was not always reliable; I had a few drops, and when uploading lots of data (e.g. my pictures onto Flickr), the connection sometimes got interrupted. But I was glad anyway, to have some access from my laptop.