Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Images of Kolkata

My vegetable lady. I make a conscious effort to support women run enterprises. In a country that there is still gender-based employment bias there is a reason for a women to be working. (aside from the upper-classes of course)

Even poor people need a place to hang out

Bridge crossing the Hoogly (Ganges)

Queen's way - Which queen I don't know, there are too many in this city.

Slums are a reality in many countries, however the mortality rates for people living along railroad tracks are higher than any other area.

Golpark at night (the neighborhood where my office is) - It gets dark by 5:00 pm!

Random factoid - Armenian immigrants came to India as traders, and established settlements in most major cities in India. Job Charnock allegedly invited the Armenians to Calcutta at the time of is founding in 1689 and created one of the largest Armenian communities in the country. This is one of the few buildings that still belong to their community.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Things that I miss from back home...But really don't make a difference in the end

-Office Depot. YOU try finding index cards in this country.

-Solid/Stick Anti-perspirant. You can find stick deodorant (NOT anti-perspirant) and there is spray anti-perspirant (which I had never used before).

-Not having to haggle at market. Sometimes you just want to pick up your tomatoes and go with out being gouged simply for being a foreigner.

-Not having to go to the market! I miss giant, all-encompassing grocery stores :-p

-Cleaner air. I must say that I think Indian was absent during the ratification of the Kyoto Protocols.

-Internet at home. I have access at work. But I don't always get a lot of personal net time, because work gets in the way!

-Better income! I'm not starving or living on the streets, but my standard of living has definitely dropped down a notch.

-Good desserts. Been totally craving cheesecake! India does have sweets. And there are places that have western desserts. But they are just not the same.

-Having an oven and a full stove and all of my kitchen equipment (from my blender down to my calphalon pots). Cooking it's just not the same.

-I miss my favorite restaurants, dishes. I miss the food a lot.

And in the "They DO make a difference" category:

-The weekly Sunday calls with my family. I miss hearing your voices.

-My friends. I cannot convey how much I miss our talks, hanging out, late nights, good times, bad times.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wont you be my neighbor?

This is my neighborhood...all are welcomed :-)

I even have a popular drug house, because you all know how much I hate to buy my heroin at not-known places!

And if you ever need to get a root canal while you get contacts for your glass eye

Kolkata's own version of the Tidal Basin - Where I go running every'ish morning

And lastly, a little piece of non-thematic randomness:
Work peeps

At work

At play

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Andy's Kolkatan Love Den

Some domestic pics of my apartment in Kolkata. For those familiar with the city I'm staying in Dhakuria.

Dining-like area

Sleeping-like area (bed big enough to comfortably accommodate 4 ;-)

Living room

Reading nook


My Own Balcony - For those Evita moments

View from the roof -1

View from the roof -2

Monday, November 21, 2005

A movie going experience

I have been fortunate enough to see a few movies in India (ranging from stereotypical bollywood masala, to western - Zorro and Harry Potter rocked!, to international arthouse cinema - thanks to the 12th annual Kolkata International Film Festival). What has been most striking to me is that Indians (maybe it's just bengali's - subs care to comment?) LOVE their movies.

They REALLY get into them. Half the time I was more enthralled with the audience than the film. My movie going experiences in the west were either the sterile hushed atmosphere of theaters in the US or the ghettofied fired chicken eating outings of Puerto Rico. In Kolkata, it is somewhere in the middle.

I've been scolded for laughing too loudly while someone is eating pan-fried noodles next to me. People talk to the screen, cheer the hurry, clap at poignant moments. The audience totally engrosses themselves in the movie. It's amazing. I would think that coming to a film in India would be a directors dream, I assume this is the kind of emotional attachment that most western filmies dream of!

Now I wonder, if audiences get this involved in films, what does that mean for the theater!? Let's see if I can find out.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Provoking thought of the day

In speaking of the construction of heterosexuality as being the only "natural" sexuality, one wonders:

If 'normal' behavior is so natural, then why does it require such a set of controls--from religion, to law, to do state--to keep it in place? One would argue that the patriarchy needs the institution of heterosexuality in order to survive.

Paraphrased from an essay by Nivedita Menon, "How natural is normal? Feminism and compulsory heterosexuality."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On fags and trannies

Being an outsider looking into the queer community of Kolkata (and to a certain extent India) has been a pleasant, frustrating, entertaining, disappointing, enlightening experience.  At the very least my vocabulary has expanded in terms of gender and sexual variant terminology.

Let’s start with: (these definitions are taken from Narrain and Bhan’s "Because I have a voice: Queer Politics in India")

Hijras: as a community they represent an existing Indian tradition.  Traditionally hijra communities were comprised of hermaphrodites and men who underwent radical castration (removal of both the testes and the penis), but presently include those who go in for hormonal treatment and those who undergo sex-change operations.  The community has its own culture and ways of living, including their own festivals and gods and goddesses.  

Kothis: A kothi, though biologically male, adopts feminine modes of dress, speech and behaviour.

Though there are supposed to be other gender- and sexuality-based identities in India today (aside from your run-of-the-mill lesbians, gays, bi’s, and trans) the two above are the most common.  What stroke me the most is that like everything else in this country (and most of the world for that matter) the queer community is still very patriarchal.  Kothis and Hijras are genetic males.  At the forefront of the gay movement in India there are mostly men.

Though these communities self identify as being “gender non-conformist,” the reality is that they still subscribe to a traditional view of what it means to be female.  At a time ripe for re-writing definitions of gender, of what it means to be male and female.  Most groups are holding on to hetero-normative understandings of gender, sexuality and the body.

I have been asked to help a local LGBT group that works with youth to develop some interventions to work with kothi youth.  When I asked who is working with females, the issue was dismissed as someone else’s responsibility.  When asked what was hoped to be accomplished with the youth, this point of view arose:

“We think of ourselves as women. We put make-ups, wear woman's attires, etc. As per her, motherhood is one of the aspects of womanhood. Since we cannot give birth to a child, why can’t we adopt nor do something for the orphan children.”

Is this really the best we can do with the next generation of queer activist!?  Turn them into house-wives!?

A dear friend working in India has had a frustrating time with a lesbian group because they do not want to recognize male-identified women.  Or lesbians who fall outside of their narrow gender view.

I like to think that being non-sexual or gender norm allows for a certain degree of greater vision.  But when confronted with the reality of narrow minded faggots, dykes, chicks-with-dicks, and dudes-with-cunts I wonder what the fucking point is!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Andy's Work Plan

I finally have a concrete action plan for my work here. Below is what in theory I am working on in the coming year. I know that a lot of individual steps are missing (and that they are not true goals and I don’t really have concrete objectives), but I would greatly appreciate if y'all have any feedback on my work plan. I'm probably over reaching here, but it's better to have too much to do that not enough. :-) Let me know what you think.

To strengthen the effectiveness of ARC’s programs by developing comprehensive interventions for youth sexual and reproductive health in collaboration with government and other key partners in West Bengal and Jharkand.

Integrate HIV prevention interventions to ARC’s existing sexual and reproductive health programs in West Bengal and Jharkand.

Action Steps
Social Diagnosis
Assess and inventory current HIV activities in WB and Jharkand, research effective HIV/RH programs.

  • Literature Reviews
  • Interviews with HIV/AIDS and youth serving organizations
  • Mapping exercises of current interventions in WB and Jharkand

Epidemiological Diagnosis

Examples of Epidemiological data to be collected:

  • Vital statistics
  • Prevalence
  • Morbidity
  • Incidence
  • Mortality

Behavioural & Environmental Diagnosis

Assess and analyze behavioural links to HIV risk taking among youth in ARC project areas along with factors in the social and physical environment that could be linked to behaviours.
Systematic identification of health practices and other factors that seem to be linked to HIV risk taking.

Include non-behavioural causes (personal and environmental factors) that can contribute to health problems, but are not controlled by behaviour. Determine the importance and relative changeability of each behavioural cause.

Education & Organizational Diagnosis

Analyze the causes of health behaviours Determine predisposing factors - any characteristics that motivates HIV risk taking prior to the occurrence of that behaviour

  • Knowledge
  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Behaviour

Determine enablers - characteristic of the environment that facilitates HIV risk taking and any skill or resource required to attain specific behaviour.

  • Accessibility
  • Availability
  • Skills
  • Laws (local, state, federal)

Determine reinforces - rewards or punishments following or anticipated as a consequence of behaviour.

  • Family
  • Peers
  • Teacher

Administrative & Policy Diagnosis

Determine administrative and organizational concerns which must be addressed prior to program implementation; collaborate with WB and Jharkand SACS and Youth Affairs Coordinator in this analysis.

Administrative Diagnosis:
Analysis of policies, resources and circumstances prevailing. Analysis of organizational situations that could hinder or facilitate the development of the HIV prevention programs.

Policy Diagnosis:
Assess the compatibility of the program goals and objectives with those of CINI and NACO and its administration.

Design and Implementation

Convene a workgroup for each state consisting of ARC staff, government representatives, peer leaders, and youth service recipient to develop and/or adapt HIV prevention interventions to be integrated into the existing sexual and reproductive health programs using the data gathered in the previous stages.

Facilitate a process for integrating and implementing the HIV interventions in the currently running projects in each state.

Outcome Evaluation

Measure the program effectiveness in terms of intermediate objectives and changes in predisposing, enabling, and reinforcing factors

To strengthen youth participation in SRH/HIV issues by developing leadership skills among youth

Develop a methodology for imparting advocacy skills for SRH/ HIV among youth leaders

Action Steps
Social Diagnosis
Assess and inventory current youth leadership activities in WB and Jharkand:

  • research effective youth leadership programs
  • inquire about perspectives of youth leadership among target population
  • Literature Reviews
  • Interviews with youth serving organizations
  • Mapping exercises of current interventions in WB and Jharkand
  • Focus groups with target populations

Administrative & Policy Diagnosis
Determine administrative and organizational concerns that must be addressed prior to program implementation collaborate with WB and Jharkand SACS/Regional and District Youth Coordinators in this analysis.

Administrative Diagnosis:
Analysis of policies, resources and circumstances prevailing
Analysis of organizational situations that could hinder or facilitate the development of the HIV prevention programs.

Policy Diagnosis:
Assess the compatibility of the program goals and objectives with those of CINI and NACO and its administration.

Internal (ARC) Capacity Building
Facilitate a process for developing a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) for ARC.

The YAB will serve to voice the needs and opinions of the target population, as well as, to foment leadership skills among the board members.

Development and Implementation
In collaboration with the YAB develop a methodology using the data gathered previously for instilling advocacy skills among youth leaders.

Facilitate a process for conducting youth leadership/advocacy building activities.

Outcome Evaluation
Measure the program effectiveness in terms of intermediate objectives and changes in predisposing, enabling, and reinforcing factors

To strengthen CINI’s ability to address SRH issues by increasing staff’s awareness and knowledge of overarching sex and sexuality issues and defining the concepts for use in programs.

Facilitate a process for expanding CINI’s concept of sex and sexuality and develop definitions to be used agency wide.

Action Steps
Situational analysis
Within ARC: Learn about staff’s understanding of sex and sexuality through:

  • Guided discussions
  • Informal focus groups with field workers
  • Interviews with key individuals

Within CINI as a whole: Learn about senior management and other divisions’ staff understanding of sex and sexuality issues through:

  • Guided discussions
  • Views with key individuals
  • Participation in CINI’s “Journal Club”
  • Research sex and sexuality related topics and acquire tools and resources

Intervention Development
Develop training/in-service modules on Sex and Sexuality based on research findings and tailored to specific groups (e.g., upper management, program staff, and field worker).

The purpose of the training/in-service is to:
Foster an understating of sex and sexuality issues
Set the foundation for developing uniform definitions to be used across programs

Implement Activities
Conduct internal capacity building workshops/in-services

Follow-up trainings with guided discussions for forming uniform definitions.

Outcome Evaluation
Measure the program effectiveness in terms of intermediate objectives and changes in predisposing, enabling, and reinforcing factors

Evaluation Process
Process evaluation will be conducted throughout the project period to ensure progress. Process measurements include, but not limited to reports from each objective that will be used in designing the interventions.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Sukhii Jonmodin (Bangla for Happy Birthday - I Think)

Merry celebrations for the anniversary of the birth of:

James Thurston
Ricardo Poprawa Salgado (my little bro)
Deepti Tanuku
Raj Singh

Love ya!

Things I've had to adjust to while living in India

-A reduced concept of personal space. Does every Tom, Dick, and Vikram really have to lean on me? Why must you stand right next to me (shoulders touching) when there is plenty of space for you to move down!

-Higher pollution levels. But it's ok, I actually like my air chunky, it makes it more real that way. One time there was a sign that said that fine particulate was 300% above safe levels. Yummy!

-Having to pay someone to do the dishes, sweep, mop, and wash my clothes. As convenient as it may be to have someone do that, I encounter a couple of problems. 1) Things are not done how I like them and I have no way to convey that and when I have she ignores it. 2) Hand washing and line drying is actually really rough on your clothes.

-All the chicken is skinless. Fried skinless chicken is SO not the same.

-Onions the size of walnuts, anorexic garlic. The pumpkin is really good though. :-)

-Very different office work environment.

-Concepts of cost, Indian Rupee vs. U.S. Dollar. I make INR 15,000/mth, 5,000 of which goes to rent. INR 10,000 is actually not a lot when you have to eat, pay for transport, pay for utilities, language classes, socialize, etc. But I still think in U.S. money to I keep finding myself going "Whoa, that's only 500, so cheap!" when in reality that is 20% of my weekly allowance!

-Having to choose between Indian food or Chinese food everyday (except on the nights I cook for myself). As tasty ass it may be, it does get old day in and day out.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Does anyone else have a problem with this?

I don’t know how I feel about the Catholic Church making commercial movies. Making commercial movies about HIV. Movies about HIV in India. How is the religious dogma going to compromise with scientific fact? How can they avoid the moral browbeating?

India uses movies to spread anti-AIDS message
By Vaibhav Varma, Channel NewsAsia's India correspondent

Using Bollywood movies to fight the battle against HIV-AIDS - that's what the Indian government and the country's Catholic Church are doing to try and reach a wider section of the population.

The title of the Hindi movie 'Aisa Kyun Hota Hai' means 'Why does this happen?' in English.

It looks at how love, loyalty and commitment are fast fading among younger Indians, especially those living in cities.

The film's main message - that strong family backing/support is needed to help stop the spread of HIV-AIDS across India.

What's unique about 'Aisa Kyun Hota Hai' is that it's the first full-length film to be produced by the Roman Catholic Church in India.

Said Father Dominique Emanuel, Bishop, Archdiocese of Delhi: "Right now there are several needs of society and the church thinks that Hollywood or Bollywood or Tollywood - whatever you like to call it - is the one medium which reaches the masses. Without having to tell anyone to come and listen to your message, they are drawn there."

First-time director Ajay Kanchan says the key challenge is making movies with a strong social message that still appeal to the audience, especially young people.

Ajay Kanchan, director of 'Aisa Kyun Hota Hai', said: "India in the next 50 years or 20 years is going to be very different from the India in the last 100 years and the outcome will largely depend on how the younger generation is going to respond to the twin challenge of communal polarisation and HIV-AIDS."

'Phir Milenge' or 'We'll Meet Again' is another mainstream film with a strong social message - a warning that the AIDS spectre looms large over the country.

Central to the movie's theme is society's lack of acceptance of HIV-infected patients.

Its commercial success has prompted a wave of similar works.

India has 5.1 million AIDS victims, the second highest in the world.

And, the battle only threatens to grow larger.

Now that Bollywood has stepped in to lend a hand, HIV-AIDS awareness and education may well reach new heights. - CNA/ir

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A cultural perspective on a cultured evening

Kolkata has the reputation of being a city of culture. Countless poets, philosophers, and artist have emerged from this place. Bengalis themselves are renowned throughout India for being intellectuals. As such, there is never a want of activities to suit one’s taste for a high-brow evening. From dance recitals, to art shows, to concerts all can be found here.

Which brings me to last night; I went to the marvelous concert of a French blues quartet. Their jamming session was amazing and totally infused the evening with rhythm. As expected the audience was mostly Indian, with the odd expat or grungy backpacker peppered in. Like most Kolkatan cultural events, I later learned, it was free of charge. But what struck me the most is that like my previous theater experience this even was sponsored by western organizations. I’ve only been able to attend a couple of events I’ve been invited too, but all of them have been western sponsored or themed.

I am not saying that ALL artsy events in Kolkata are western influenced (there was a huge Bengali rock concert earlier that I was not able to attend that was organized by a Bengali TV network) but in my admittedly limited experience there does seem to be a heavy western arm in all this. Could it be because western businesses have greater funding for cultural events? Or is it still a form of colonization when western powers control cultural events in other countries? Granted the same could be said for the development field, of which I am a part of.

If you are curious, no I am NOT hanging out with any expatriates, besides my flat mate I only have fleeting acquaintances with other expats in Kolkata (did I mention that the members of the British club are mostly Indian!?).

I don’t necessarily have a point with this rambling, just a random observation based on very limited data.

Hope all are well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Random Kolkata Images

And the price for most random anti-drug campaign goes to:

Whose "peno" is he rubbing with that coy little smile?

Escargot curry anyone?

Communist roots

Rain is just cool

Lunar Halo

Big, Fat Snail - hanging on for dear life