It’s all coming back to me…

After spending several days in Mumbai, I was feeling restless. I’m not totally opposed to the tourist experience; but given the choice between staying with friends or a behind-the-scenes tour from a local that leads to traveling to their home town outside of the original destination and meeting their family and staying with them for a few days or the conventional tourist experience, I’ll choose the former options, for sure. For me, the conventional tourist experience is more appealing with at least another tourist or two, and I wasn’t having any luck flagging any down on my jaunts around Fort, the area where I was staying. I also wasn’t giving off the “I’m-searching-for-companion-tourists” vibe, because, let’s be honest, I wasn’t really looking for them. 

I was feeling ready to get going with my project. I was more in the mood for…well, not continuing to spend a lot of money every night on a hotel and then more money to get around and do touristy things. I was beginning to feel like having no plans for a whole week in Mumbai was a waste of time and money. If I had had friends in Mumbai, it would’ve been a different story. Or even if I was more familiar with the city…but felt so big, so noisy, so overwhelming, and mostly, so expensive. I wasn’t feeling it. 

  Fortunately at the peak of my feeling ready to move on, two things happened. I found out that some friends from Pune had moved to Mumbai and I got the approval from AIIS to come to Pune for a few days and sit in on Marathi classes for a few days. I checked out of my hotel on Tuesday morning and headed to the Mumbai CST train station to buy a train ticket to Pune. A few hours later, I was enjoying my first India train ride of 2015 – sleeper class (no a/c and no designated seats, which means that you could have as many as five people sharing a bench in one berth, plus someone stretched out above you and five across and someone above them – and oftentimes more people than that!). I hopped on the ladies car – no men allowed. Just women and kids. 

 The train ride was a bit longer than expected due to some delay (who knows…) but it was pleasant enough. Five hours after leaving Mumbai, I had arrived in Pune. I had tried to make arrangements to stay with some current AIIS students, but relying on my Marathi teachers to communicate my request to students that I had never met before proved to be trickier than I thought it would be. About 3/4 of the way into the train ride, I did get a call from a former student named Jake who is completing his dissertation in Pune and has a flat in the Koregaon Park (KP) neighborhood. Unfortunately, due to the total last minute nature of my arrival, he wasn’t able to host me Tuesday night. So when I arrived in Pune, I whipped out the Lonely Planet and looked up a hotel (I’ve since decided that this book must weigh at least 5 lbs and why lug it around when I can easily buy a digital version?! I’m leaving it in Mumbai.) I ended up at a pretty nice place in KP…pricier than I wanted but it was close to school and it was only for a night. It’s all part of the experience, right?

I was able to sit in on classes at AIIS on Wednesday and Thursday. It was so good to be back and see my teachers, meet new students, share my 2 cents with current Fulbrighters, and try to articulate what exactly I will be attempting to do in a week or so. I was surprised with how much Marathi I remembered but also feeling overwhelmed with how much was locked away in the deep recesses of my brain under a rusty lock whose key is lost under a pile of three years of English and AmeriCorps and St. Louis… 

  Before coming to Pune I had been wracking my brain trying to remember how to say “to the right” and “to the left.” But hard as I tried, I couldn’t remember. Then Wednesday morning I checked out of my hotel and argued a rickshaw wala into driving me to school, saying I would pay him 10 extra rupees for my bags. I was anxious; would I remember how to get there? I had gone every morning for 4 months. Surely it would come back to me. Muscle memory is a powerful thing. The minute I was sitting in the rickshaw I remembered. “Oojwikade ani nunter dawikade. Ha, ha. Tithe za. Ha Deccan College ahe. To the right, then to the left. Yes yes, go there. That’s Deccan College.” 

I spent Wednesday and Thursday in class and getting to know a smattering of students (one of whom had actually read my blog before when he was looking into coming to AIIS). It seemed like hardly anything on campus had changed. Not so for the rest of Pune. There is now a Starbucks in KP. Globalization. Sigh. 

Friday classes were canceled and I headed back to Mumbai to meet my friend, Noor, and her family. After a brief scare of losing my phone (it fell out of my pocket when I stopped at an ATM) I finally caught a bus to Bombay. By 10 on Friday I was at Noor’s place, with a hot, home-cooked meal, a cool shower, and a freshly made bed waiting for me. It was the best sleep I’ve had here so far.

  Today, Saturday, was a chill day. I slept in, read the paper, caught up with emails, did a bit of research, and then went to temple with Noor and her family. This evening we went out and managed to find some postcards. It seems in this digital age, the art of sending postcards is quite passé. But I promised about 30 people a postcard from India. And I will deliver! After a bit of walking and shopping, we had chaat (delicious Mumbai street food) and then walked home. Over some snacks and wine we reminisced on how we first met and all the adventures we had the last time I was here, missing our friend Robin who had been a part of it all. As we walked home from the market tonight, I told Noor,  “I am finally feeling relaxed and comfortable here.” With good food, the comfort of a friend’s home, and the familiarity of the pace of life here in urban India coming back to me, I am starting to feel at home.

Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up early to head to Jawhar, where I will meet Shubada, the woman who will be working with me as my “translator” (read collaborator, co-conspirator, companion) for the next several weeks. There is a seed festival in Jawhar in the afternoon. We will take a day or two to get to know each other and sort out the details for our upcoming journey. Then it’s on to Nagpur to reunite with Ajay and Yogini. And from there, back to see Pournima, and then Sangita, and all the rest of my Mulgavan friends. I. Can’t. Wait.

Food Justice: Think Globally, Act Locally

Tomorrow I will be speaking on a panel at St. Louis University’s Busch Student Center (20 N. Grand Blvd, St. Louis, MO), Room 352-353, from 12-1pm. Here is a little blurb written up by the organization hosting the event:

OneWorld Magazine, in collaboration with the Department of Behavioral Science and Health Education and School of Public Health and Social Justice, is proud to present our Atlas Week Event:
 
Food Justice: Think Globally, Act Locally
Wednesday, April 10th, 12-1:00 PM 
BSC 352-353
 
Come grab a free lunch sponsored by Pickleman’s and Jimmy John’s and learn about local and international food justice issues! Specifically, our presentation will focus on the issue of food deserts: geographical areas vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. These food deserts are usually found in impoverished areas, largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers.
 
Six experts with notable experience in the area of food deserts (see attachment) will speak about their experiences and efforts to combat the problem of food deserts both locally and internationally. Come learn about what you can do to combat food injustice in your area.
 
We hope to see you there!

OneWorld Magazine

 
Speaker Biographies
Dr. Ellen Barnidge is a faculty member in the Department of Behavioral Science. Dr. Barnidge has notable experience with food desert projects and has worked on various initiatives to combat local food deserts. Such initiatives include mapping areas that lack access to healthy foods, holding farmers markets in urban areas, and building community gardens.
 
Akim Dharmawan is a second year doctoral student at College of Public Health and Social Justice Saint Louis University. He finished his master and bachelor degree in two well-known universities in Indonesia, Padjadjaran University and University of Indonesia. Akim has worked on international humanitarian efforts for the past ten years, and plans to continue his humanitarian work to help those in need. Akim’s main general interests are health and nutrition, behavior change intervention, community development, and monitoring and evaluation.
 
Marjorie Sawicki is an associate professor in Nutrition & Dietetics and works part-time in the School of Public Health. She has provided technical assistance for the Healthy Eating with Local Produce-SLPS and Healthy Eating with Local Produce grants funded by Missouri Foundation for Health over the past 4 years, provided nutrition and gardening expertise for the NIH Men on the Move grant for the past three years where farm production gardens were developed to increase access to fruits and vegetables, and a Robert Wood Johnson grant for the prevention of childhood obesity through environmental and policy change. She was market manager of the Old Town farmers market in Belleville, Illinois and coordinates a specialty crop grant, Farm to Table for children learning about sustainability and hands-on cooking at the market. Marjorie was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to serve on the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council for food policy and her name was submitted in December 2011 for appointment to the Illinois Farmers Market Task Force. In January 2012 she was invited to serve as co-chair for an Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity workgroup. She is responsible for launching the SLU FoodCorps AmeriCorps VISTA program in July 2010 and will soon complete a doctorate in public policy with a research focus in food policy. 
 
Aaron McMullin is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer studying food security and sustainable agriculture in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at SLU. She received a Fulbright-Nehru Research Grant in 2011-2012 to study cotton farming and the modernization of agriculture in India. She spent last year learning Marathi and living in a village in rural Maharashtra (a state in central India). She worked directly with cotton farmers, exploring the impacts of new technology and what it is like to grow a commodity to be sold on the global market.
 
Michelle Erhard has served as an AmeriCorps VISTA for two years in the SLU  FoodCorps. Michelle is ending her VISTA service this month and will stay in the St. Louis area working with City Greens Market at Mid-Town Catholic Charities Community Services. As an undergraduate she studied environmental studies and sustainable agriculture at Green Mountain College in Vermont, where she gained a passion for growing, eating, distributing, and educating about local food. Her favorite tool is a wheel hoe and she loves kale and cows.
 
Andy Kissinger: Growing up outside one of the country’s poorest cities, Reading, Pennsylvania, Andy Kissinger earned his degree in anthropology with a focus on food systems from the College of Wooster in Ohio. Since his graduation he has spent time farming in Minnesota and a summer in Cleveland working on a variety of that city’s urban farms. Now serving as an Americorps Vista for the International Institute of St. Louis, his assignment focus is establishing a farmer’s market in northern St. Louis, providing fresh fruit and vegetables to a federally recognized food desert.
 
If you’re in the St. Louis area, stop on by! Who can pass up free lunch and engaging conversation?

Two Options

The story of an environmental activist (Dr. Vandana Shiva) and a farmer (Bija Devi) and their fight to preserve heirloom seeds in India amidst great opposition.
Created by: theperennialplate.com
In Partnership with Intrepid Travel: intrepidtravel.com/food/
For more information visit: navdanya.org/
Filmed & edited by:
Daniel Klein ( twitter.com/perennialplate/ )
Mirra Fine ( twitter.com/kaleandcola/)
Music by: The Orange Mighty Trio: orangemightytrio.com/
Filmed on 5d Mark iii w Canon 24-70, 70-200 2.8 L