Poop compost turns me naan.

My sanitation selfie. One of many.

Here are some of the main highlights since my last blog post:
–Spent an hour long bus ride standing on one foot because that was the only space available and tried not to pass out into the laps of the men sitting around me.
–Took a second standing bus ride where I was sent to get on the front with the women and had my worst nightmare almost realized when I had to test my upper arm strength to hold on, and only my fingers and toes were actually inside the bus. Thankfully, the sweet Indian women held my bags for me and I didn’t fall off to my death.
–Ate breakfast with a cow while I was apparently the only one to notice her standing smack in the middle of the restaurant.
–Chased a goat across the top of a treatment tank since she kept getting in the way of my pictures.
–Didn’t get a single mosquito bite in Tamil Nadu, and immediately came back to Bangalore and got twenty bites.
–Put my feet in the ocean, which was 90 percent waste and 10 percent monsoons, but it’s the ocean so who cares.
–Went to the most southern point of India, and took a 15-hour train ride back with an Indian Grandpa who kept worrying about my happiness.
–Was again force-fed too much seafood at the town panchayat office, while they apologized for the spice, but really my nose was just dripping from a residual common cold.
–Peed in a squat toilet in complete darkness because the house didn’t have electricity. Actually, mostly just hoping that I peed in a squat toilet and not everywhere else.
–Helped lift a goat off a five-foot-high wall, because it somehow climbed up but was panicking about getting down.
–Stepped in a pile of trash to get to a treatment system and accidentally sank down to my knee, but didn’t lose my chaco. 
–It’s corn season and that’s the most important part of my life right now. 
–Discovered after two months of living at the EcoHouse that there is another terrace behind a locked gate full of flourishing eggplants and chillies. Rupesh is making me a copy of the key.
–Spent five minutes trying to decide how to spell the word ‘chillies’.  
The trash pile my upper shin became too intimate with.

Lukas kept joking that I would go to Tamil Nadu and never come back. I almost wish I’d stayed there. The heat was entirely worth the palm trees and endless fresh seafood and ocean views. It’s a gorgeous state, and the only thing that I liked better about Bangalore is that I have a real bed there that isn’t moving at 70 kilometers per hour. We finished our field visits with a few more treatment systems, also built after the 2004 tsunami. The systems we visited were a bit of a change from the previous week’s visits, as both had regularly appointed operators and extremely knowledgeable local government officials. We’ve frequented the town panchayat offices to speak with the Executive Officers, who are most often in name in charge of all infrastructure in their jurisdiction. In 97 percent of the cases, the EOs are largely unaware of the sanitation system implementations, and in 50 percent of the cases, not a single soul in the office is familiar with the fact that there is a treatment system built in some of the communities. We struck luck with these two communities, and were able to spend a significant amount of time speaking with the EOs and got a ton of information. And by us speaking to the EOs, I mean I mostly watched Balaji speak Tamil to the EOs and waited for his summary. 

My heaven.

The first visit was spitting distance from the ocean, so I forced (begged) Balaji and Milan to take me to the beach. The EO that we had just visited made a call to a friend who works at an old Danish fort right on the water, so he let us tour the tiny museum for free. But who really cares about a museum when the ocean is right outside. I ran/cried the entire way to the water and didn’t even mind the multiple families who wanted my picture. Right after, we got to go to Balaji’s aunt’s home where she promptly spoiled us with fresh fish, prawn biriyani, and the most delicious meal that I’ve had so far. Unfortunately, when you eat a meal in a real home of a real person in India it’s horribly rude if you refuse the food, so five full helpings later you roll yourself to the couch. His three-year-old nephew cried when we were first introduced, but an hour later brought me an ice cream cone and sat in my lap to play candy crush.
The Danish Fort (background) and duh (foreground).
We took an overnight bus to Nagercoil, where I was woken up to the sunrise shining on these massive rock faces spotted with palm trees on either side of us. I think I was too paralyzed from sleeping on yet another bus to be able to successfully take a picture, and am certain that that community will be included in my dissertation research based purely on how beautiful the place was (kidding?). As was our habit, we got off the bus only to board another one that took us out of the town into the small villages. We went down dirt roads on some of the smallest streets I’ve seen a bus go so far and a couple hours later arrived at the final site visit of Tamil Nadu, and probably the most southern wastewater treatment system in India. The area looks completely different from everywhere I’d been so far, and I’m told that it’s exactly like Kerala (another southern India state), so I’ll be going to Kerala ASAP. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that much green or that many palm trees in one spot.
Balaji and Milan left on an earlier train, and when I boarded mine a couple hours later, I shared a car with an Indian grandpa who refused to let me turn down the offer to share his home cooked meal. I think I actually slept for 12/15 hours on the way back to Bangalore and would 10/10 recommend a night train over a night bus to a friend. When I got home in the morning, I had just enough time to take a shower for the first time in three days (which is like ten years due to the humidity and sweating in the south) and eat one tomato before my translator arrived and we headed off to a site visit in the Bangalore Rural District. It took almost two hours for us to get there and we had to walk the last bit, as most of the roads in that community were not car-friendly.
I spent the next four days in three communities. Two are communities where I will be trying to fully pilot my data collection, and one turned out to be a community that isn’t ideal for my research, as two public toilets were built without being commissioned, meaning the community has never used them nor was ever informed or involved in the projects. For the two communities that are a good fit, I’ve been learning some really fascinating things about their perceptions and interactions with their sanitation systems. In both of these communities, there are five people who are stoked on sanitation, and then about 650 who have zero interest. The people who are dedicated have helped plan and manage the sanitation systems for the past ten years, often investing their own money and sacrificing time from their jobs to make sure that their community has a place to use a clean toilet. Overall, there is still a pretty big lack of knowledge of the treatment systems and a disconnect between having clean toilets and having a functional system. In both of these communities, the management groups participated in several meetings where they were presented with treatment design options and help create a management structure. They were taken to visit other toilet systems in Tamil Nadu and learned from those self-help groups. They went to multiple days of training to learn how to fix broken pipes and clean out blockages. But, even with all of these efforts, both systems are failed. In one case, the system hasn’t been used in a couple of years because it required major repairs and desludging that were beyond the financial and technical capacity of the self-help group. In the other case, the toilets are still being used, but they now bypass most of the treatment system because a large concrete wall fell into the gravel filter, creating a nearly impossible challenge without external intervention. And that’s exactly what they lack: ongoing external support. The NGOs or local government were involved in both systems for the first year or two, possibly optimistically up to four years, but have since moved on. When I’ve asked if the managing groups have the phone numbers, or even in some cases, the names of the people who implemented the project, they have no idea how to contact the organizations.
Wall in planted gravel filter.
Water jugs lined up waiting for supply to be restored.

Another interesting element is trying to understand the users’ perceptions for resources recovered during the wastewater treatment processes. I’ve started to get into some discussions of psychological barriers that are in place to using biogas or water that came from human waste. In some communities, there is no issue. It’s a resource, a way of generating income or saving costs, a no-brainer. In others, education or early adopters becoming champions of the biogas or compost or water has been effective in encouraging the whole community. Still in others, it’s untouchable, just as are the people who produce the waste because a mixed-caste community isn’t conducive to seeing waste as a resource.
My favorite part of my research so far has been using photovoice. I wasn’t sure what to expect from giving people cameras and asking them to take pictures of their communities’ strengths and weaknesses, and at first the pictures were pretty concrete and conventional, being mostly pictures of actual concrete or lack thereof. But then every so often, there is a person who wants to tell a deeper story. In a community that I’ve been working with, one woman took 60 pictures of 60 families in her community because she wanted to tell me the stories and struggles of every family. She apologized profusely for not being able to document the remaining 200 families. She told stories of death and disease, of the drunken men, of the widowed women, of leaking houses during the monsoon, of the families who don’t have houses at all. She also told stories of the children who had gotten an education, of the woman who started a candle business, of the families who shared food with the elderly, of the one drain that wasn’t clogged. I’m going to be forever indebted to the people who have bared their lives and shared their most intimate stories with me.
Truly everything under the sun exists in India. It’s a country that never ceased to surprise me no matter how adjusted I thought I was. One moment you’ll see a woman sweeping dirt into her neighbor’s yard, the next you’ll see the neighbor feeding an old widow in the community. One moment you’ll feel bothered and harassed and uncomfortable from unwanted male attention, the next you’ll find a man kindly helping you climb over piles of trash and arranging a car home for you free of charge. One moment you’ll be frustrated by having to ask twenty times for one phone number or by it taking four weeks to schedule a site visit, the next you’ll meet some of the most ambitious, motivated and hard-working people in the world. One moment you’ll wonder if there’s any hope, the next you see a woman sharing biogas with her neighbors. These moments give me a tiny flame of hope for India, but just at the same time I wonder if that flame of hope is enough to keep the people here warm at night. 
Because everyone gets new clothes for Ramadan.
On one of the busy field work days, I finished my interviews and then rushed to my friend Fairoz’s house to celebrate Ramadan with his family. We became friends since he’s an Ola cab driver who lives right by our office, and our paths have crossed several times. I think we actually became friends within the first eleven seconds of meeting, as we’re both fascinated to learn about other religions and cultures. He also is the one who was shocked that I hadn’t had Indian beef yet and is determined to make up for lost time. His two children, his mother, all of his brothers and sisters and their spouses and children were there. We all crammed into their little living room and feasted. His wife made an unreal amount of food. We had beef biriyani, chicken biriyani, multiple chutneys, multiple cucumber dishes, custard, fruits, a carrot dessert, an almond dessert, three other mystery desserts, and probably at least three other mystery dishes. I actually felt the food fill my stomach and ¾ of my esophagus before I was able to successful beg them to stop putting food on my plate. Fairoz only agreed to let me stop eating so long as I finished all of the beef and chicken. Fairoz is the only one in his family who went to school, and he’s the only one who can speak English so when he wasn’t translating, his family and I mostly just laughed at each other and communicated through mouthfuls of rice and beef. Every single one of his siblings also invited me to dinners at their homes, and have enough hospitality that I think I could fill my remaining five weeks of dinners with their offers. The entire five or six hours I was at their house, neighbors would stop by to give everyone small gifts of money or food and wish everyone a happy Eid Mubarak. They told me about their month-long fast, and their customs for celebrating. We watched Animal Planet, and then lived out a real life version when a snake was found in the toilet. We talked about religious conflict in the north, and racial conflict at home. It was amazing. Probably one of the coolest things that I’ve ever gotten to be a part of in all of my travels.

After 14+ straight days of field work, the parents will be visiting and I’ll be taking a few days to go to Goa to either lay on the sun at the beach, or more likely, lay on the beach in the monsoon rain.

My habitual cow picture.

For my grandma, and my other non-FB followers. My first experience with compost made from human poop.

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