I moved my blog to a real website, mostly because with population growth it’s probably a good idea for me to secure a website for my common name so I have something to use when I run for president.
I am back in India for at least four and a half months, hoping to finish the majority of my field data collection for my PhD. For the readers who are new, or the ones who consciously turned off their brain when I mention “sanitation”, I’ll give a little overview of my work and what I’m doing here. For my PhD (at CU Boulder’s Engineering for Developing Communities Program), I study the combined factors that lead to success and failure for small sanitation systems. Usually, this means looking at the role of various stakeholders (government, NGOs, community members/users), observing who is operating the system, sampling the wastewater to see how well the system is treating waste, and keeping my eye out for anything unusual (like a highly motivated community member) that may make the story more complete. For our work, success means the sanitation system is treating waste to regulations, and is being regularly used and maintained by the community. Failure is the absence of one or more of the “success” criteria. The systems I study are community-based, meaning they’re often located in slums, slum resettlements, or other low income peri-urban settings, and the users (or community members) themselves are expected to play a role in the operation and maintenance of the systems. For most of us in the U.S., that would basically mean that your municipality all of sudden stopped treating your waste, and asked you and your neighbors to take care of a system yourselves.
In addition to looking at success and failure, we’re doing a study on community priorities (needs): how those priorities are addressed/unaddressed by projects and how priorities may influence system outcomes (i.e., success). The priorities piece is both the most fun and the trickiest, I get to break out of the norm for data collection and give my participants cameras to ignite the conversation. I also hear a lot about really intense family and personal problems, like disease, alcoholism, and homelessness.
The final major component of my research analyzes the role of resource recovery in successful and failed systems. Resource recovery means when resources such as water, energy, or nutrients are produced and/or recovered during the treatment process. We’re trying to figure out if a sanitation system that treats waste and produces energy (for example) is one that a community will be more likely to invest in, and thus be successful.
I’ve spent the last five months preparing for my return to India by reading, analyzing, and revising. India started to feel distant, and I started to feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of the data collection I hope to accomplish. I’ll be spending even more time on busses and trains, as the fourteen remaining communities are spread all over southern India, and hope that exhaustion only sets in if it comes in that pleasant, accomplished sort of way.
I’ve been here for less than 24 hours, with the goal of completing all my admin on my first day. After three trips to three different Airtel stores to get a new SIM card, I basically accomplished nothing, save for this lovely new portrait of myself:
But, I was reminded of all of the things that I missed and didn’t miss these past few months. I missed when the maids come around with a try of crumbling desserts and say “Madam Sweet”. The cows. My fruit vendor friend who still will stand up and wave furiously even if I’m across the street. My dosa stand friends who always notice if we miss a night for dinner, and didn’t wait half a second before asking me about Trump. The cows. The fact that I have friends who will go out of their way to take me home, and others who will beg me to come over so that they can make sure I’m eating enough beef. The cows. The rava idli:
I didn’t miss the traffic or the pungent smells that waft up from the sink drains or the rivers of sewage. The men who touch my hair and offer their sons for my marriage or give me blessings for an “early marriage”. The dogs who gang fight at 3 am. The men who urinate on the sides of the roads. The slowness.
These next 4.5 months will be long. But it’s so great to be back.