Holy Cow, India is Hot.

Hi friends, family, and unknown followers. This week saw a little more action than last week. My fan fell from its shelf, crashed to the floor, and shattered into a million pieces. Thankfully, I made friends at the electronics shop and they replaced the blade for me and I fixed the rest myself. My friends at a local fruit stand also got so excited to see my second return to their shop that the owner accidentally knocked everything off his counter when he jumped up to wave hello and then gave me two mangoes, a papaya, a banana, and a cucumber for free with my purchase. I think he was trying to educate me on fruit diversity since I’ve exclusively been buying mangoes and apples.

My ability to eat and communicate is really all over the place. I’ve both gotten openly mocked and genuinely complimented for my growing talents of eating with my fingers. About 90 percent makes it successfully into my mouth on the first try, up from last week‘s one percent. I’ve also had great communication that resulted in a friend recommending hiking trails and day trips and offering to let me borrow his bike for the summer (that one is still very TBD as my scabs and soul are still healing) and horrible miscommunications that resulted in me riding on the back of a motorbike for over an hour after someone at CDD offered me a ride home and thought I lived somewhere in the entire opposite direction. Apparently you can get sore from that. Still I’m V grateful that English is most often the common language amongst people here so things really could be much worse.

Vortex treatment system – very common technology in India
In real news though, seven field interns arrived to work with Eawag and CDD. They’ll be augmenting the existing field teams from IIT Chennai while they accomplish the internship requirement of their masters programs. They will be here for six weeks and will conduct as many of the site visits to small sanitation systems that they can during that time. It took me about eight days to learn all of their names since they say them so fast, but they’re all really sweet and most aren’t from Bengaluru so they’re also stoked on exploring the city and as much of Karnataka as they can (translation: I’ll have travel pals). The first two days they were here Rohit conducted a training, where he introduced Eawag’s 4S project, showed them the survey application and the lengthy questionnaire, and did some role playing. The best part was we got to start visiting some sanitation systems to get the interns familiar with some of the technologies used in India. One is located about eleven steps from the CDD office in Kengeri (the ‘neighborhood’ in Bengaluru where we’re located). I won’t bore you with all of the technical details, so here are some pictures:

Anaerobic Baffled Reactor Chamber
This is actually a sanitation system
Anaerobic Baffled Reactor

Clogged Biogas Digester

Clogged Planted Gravel Filter

We visited five systems of all different kinds and applications. One had just recently stopped working following a wedding, since wayyyy too much wastewater went into the system and basically completely flushed it out without treatment. One was a system where the residential welfare association (basically their name for apartment manager) prioritized aesthetics above all else and put giant planters on top of the manhole covers so we got to spend the better part of two hours watching the operator chip pieces out of the concrete covers until he could leverage them open. Seems like a very sustainable practice. Another was a pretty complex system designed for just one household. Right across the street from that house was a cluster of slum dwellings that obviously lacked sanitation facilities. This is the story of India. Everything that is nice and well-equipped here is directly next to a slum dwelling or an informal landfill and much of the mentality is that once your property line ends, so does your responsibility. I’ve also read more documents than I knew existed from the national and state pollution control boards (think EPA, but way less money, resources, and enforcement authority) on sanitation regulation in India. There are essentially no regulations for existing constructions or for single households and small buildings. The main regulation is that all new constructions that exceed a certain number of apartments (20-150) or square meterage (1000-20000) must also propose designs for on-site sewage treatment before they receive consent for construction (the numbers vary widely even within the same pollution control board document). This is a major step forward, and apparently one of the people who spearheaded the EcoHouse is responsible for implementing these new regulations. The challenge remains, however, that informal settlements (slums), single households, and existing apartments/office buildings/other industrial applications have almost no regulatory requirements. Add that on top of the fact that only 24 people work for the national pollution control board and thus cannot adequately monitor or enforce anything. It’s such a complex problem and scary to think that India soon will have the largest population of any control in the world. Sorry, that may have been too many technical details, or as some of my non-eng friends like to say “plumbing.” Speaking of, it took me until literally today to realize that the pen holder on my desk is a model of a squat toilet and the pens go in the hole. This place really gets me.

It also took a whole five days until someone asked me about Donald Trump. I mostly was embarrassed and apologized profusely. Pradeep told me, ‘the whole world is watching.’ Side note: Pradeep is also vegan and a total hippie and it’s such a funny thing to learn just how much of a flaming liberal he is—he always comments on politics, food waste at CDD, people who eat meat. There’s an option on Indian ballots to select ‘None of the above’ so that you exercise your right to vote but can also voice protest to the presented parties. Pradeep has chosen that option for the past six years. Anyway, the southern states here just had local elections and apparently the coverage of the U.S. election still far outpaced local election coverage. Speaking of their local elections, right before elections appears to be the time where things actually happen. One of the large roads near the CDD office is being paved (literally the only road I’ve seen that doesn’t have eight thousand potholes) because of the election. Thankfully, that is not a tradition in the U.S., otherwise Trump may already be building his (dumb) wall.

One fun surprise of the week was new roommates. The Swedish girls left on Friday, and Lukas came back on Sunday so I had moved to the downstairs apartment and left to spend sometime in the city exploring. To my shock when I got back, the door to the downstairs apartment was locked from the inside and Lukas wasn’t due to arrive for another few hours. While I contemplated which window to break or locked gate to climb, I rang the bell in the off chance someone was there. Lo and behold, two Indian men were enjoying themselves at my kitchen table and looked equally shocked to see me. There was a slight miscommunication and the owner of the EcoHouse thought the apartment would be available for a few days. No matter, I just have two new Indian roommates to share it with this week. They also gave me a reason to be thankful for the heat. Where Alex is from, it’s currently 51 degrees (~123F). I didn’t even know anywhere other than the sun could be that hot. The grool thing is that Alex is an anthropologist/sociologist and studies the Dalits (aka the ‘untouchables’) and the effects of increased access to education on their vocations and quality of life. Dalits are primarily waste-pickers who scavenge the informal landfills and are often unable to find other formal employment, but there have been increased resources devoted to vocational training and integration into the education sector that in many cities has had a large positive impact on the Dalit population. I mostly sat and listened to Alex with my jaw on the floor. Might be adding that to my running list of PhDs to get once I finish this one. Rankesh borrowed the Agatha Christie book I bought at the used bookstore in the city (really trying to maintain a high level of academic reading over here) and was thrilled to find a fellow mystery enthusiast. 

Over the weekend, I went with some of the new interns to Bannerghatta National Park. It took us almost four hours to get there, and the same to get back, and it can’t be more than 15 miles from my apartment. I made the mistake once, while sitting in gridlock, of calculating how fast on average cars travel in Bengaluru. Nine miles an hour was the result. It’s a little slower in the heart of central Bengaluru and slightly faster on the outskirts where I live, but nine is usual. My friends were under the impression that everyone would be sleeping on Saturday morning because Friday nights in Bengaluru are known for their night life. Unfortunately, they were totally wrong. Anyway, I met them at the office in the morning and we took an auto (tuk tuk) to the bus stop, took a bus to the metro, took the metro to the downtown bus station, and took a bus to the national park. I’m positive a cab would have actually been both cheaper and faster. By the time we got there, thousands of people were ahead of us in the line for the safari part of the park, so going into the zoo was our only real option. The zoo has nothing on Denver’s and the cages can be a little sparse, but they do have some beautiful animals and a plethora of children running between the tiger and bear exhibits yelling ‘Shere Khan’ and ‘Baloo’. Due to my nearly 23 years as a research assistant to Primatologist Grace Davis, I was successfully able to identify all the primate types at the zoo prior to reading the signs. 

For Grace.

On our return, we stopped at a nice restaurant for dinner. There was even a live animal show! I got to watch a whole family of rats run back and forth across the pipe right above our table. But we were too hungry to care (actually I think I was too hungry to care and my friends were just used to it) and it’s been a whole two days since so I think I made it out unscathed.

This week, the remainder of the field teams arrived and over the next few days, site visits will be arranged and the fun data collection will begin! The new teams are from IIT Chennai. Basically the running theme of my time in India is I keep meating people who dump information and connections into my lap. Jaykumar is a post-doc at IIT who when I told him about my research interests said he’d arrange for me to travel ‘a few kilometers’ to Chennai (in Tamil Nadu, the next state over, at least an overnight bus ride) to network with their civil engineering department and visit the community-based systems near his village. So that’s cool, except it’s in the 40s there so maybe not actually ‘cool’.

Lukas also returned from vacation. Within four minutes of his return I realized he’s eighty times more hardworking than I am so that’s going to be a nice motivator, and again I’m being completely spoiled by how willing everyone is to help me and take care of me.The first of many lessons learned from him was how to order food for delivery to our apartments that don’t even have a real street address.

Here are some more cow pics:

One thought on “Holy Cow, India is Hot.

  1. Hi Allie!
    In case you're wondering who from Jordan is visiting your blog… I met your entire family in Rwanda a few years ago (and you briefly at an EWB thing at your parents' house but we didn't really talk) and saw your blog through Grace's FB. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your experiences and info about your interesting project (I did EDC too, and now working on a WW system in a refugee camp)! You're a great writer! Hope you keep sharing all the technical info for us nerdy engineers… sanitation issues are not discussed enough. Keep up the great work!


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