Archive for June, 2014

Frustration and Calmness


Patience has always been one of my weaknesses. Being a part of the peacebuilders fellowship and having to work in the field where not everything can be planned ahead, I am already feeling my patience being tested. I have always enjoyed flexibility and not having to sit in an office all day has been my ideal job, but waking up in the morning and not exactly know what to expect is a whole different story, especially in a place where I am not used to. I want to get this work done. I want to get it done properly. It is real people and their true suffering we are talking about after all. Not certain on how to walk that path is getting me anxious…

The almost unbearable hot and humid weather, which often followed by a heavy rain, coupled with unstable internet connection add up to my frustration. Thanks to Janine’s calmness and continued reassurances that keep me relaxed and optimistic.

Just when I started to get restless again and felt that I had to be doing something ‘concretely’ productive (though wondering around the city, talking to people, and taking a bus out of town were an unforgettable experience to explore the dynamic of the city), Janine and I heard back from the ActionAid Myanmar. We both had a good feeling about this and we were right.

We met with Dr. Ahamad, the country director, briefly and had a meeting with Dr. Kumar, who is an Advisor-Governance and Field Operations. Both doctors were very kind, informative, and welcoming. Dr. Kumar sat calmly on the other side of the table while Janine and I explained him about our fellowship and our expected outcomes of the project. He then kindly agreed to take us along to visit the villages and to live with the locals. Just before leaving his office, Dr. Kumar turned towards me and said “They won’t think of you as a foreigner”.

“I don’t speak the language though”. I argued (which I probably should not have given his amazing experiences and the lack of mine).

“They won’t”. He repeated with a reassuring smile.

Thinking back, this is one of the reasons why I chose to come to Myanmar. I was hoping that my identity as an Asian, among many others I identify myself with, would allow me to “fit in”. I am hoping that the people would open up to me and share their stories if they wish…

Again, I am writing this blog on a plane ride. Due to my family emergency, I have to come back to Thailand for a few days. Coming to the airport right after the meetings, I am still wearing a “longyi”. It would be interesting to see how people, including my family, react seeing me in this. This will be another small social experiment for tonight.

Smiling to myself, I take another deep breath and remind myself that things will be just fine…


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Yes, lets see where this bus takes us….


Sometimes its useful  to wander around a new environment and observe. Namsai and I get on a local bus today. It is hot and crowded.

We don’t know where it is going but this does not matter too much as everything is new. We  pass many interesting places; the shipbuilders yard where large ships are being constructed: a water hospital;  a very large modern bridge to span the substantial Yangon river; the Asian General Electricity company…. Actually severeal hours later it seems that we are no longer in Yangon and we agree that now would be a good time to get off the bus.

By chance we have followed a river that has had a great deal of stagnation, pollution and sewage. People’s homes have backed onto it and once several laughing boys were jumping in and swimming.



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Addis Ababa Helps Out

I need help

I need help

I arrived in Addis Ababa last night. I have only been here for a little over 12 hours, but I have plenty of thoughts about the place already.

The main thing is that everybody has been extraordinarily helpful. This is good since I have needed a lot of help. When I first was leaving the airport, I needed a taxi to get to my hostel. The address given on the website was vague to say the least—it gave a neighborhood, but no street—and the woman I spoke with didn’t recognize the name. But without hesitation, she called the phone number listed on the page and asked where it was. It turns out she knew the place, she just didn’t recognize the spelling, so she got me a taxi and I was on my way.

When I arrived, the man in charge didn’t have my reservation. I showed him my printed confirmation, but he said he didn’t have it. Instead of turning me away, he had me take a seat in the restaurant while he figured it out. So I sat in the middle of a bunch of chattering Ethiopians and waited for him to return. I had little to do but stare at the TV, which was showing The Evil Dead for some reason, so I watched people be gruesomely murdered as I waited. The man (I still haven’t learned his name) returned periodically to let me know that his “guys” were trying to find me a room at another hotel. Sure enough, they found one, and he drove me over there, dropped me off, and gave me a key. He returned to pick me up in the morning and took me back to his hostel to give me a room. A shining example of customer service, he was.

View from Atelefugne

The view from my lovely new room

I hope that the people I meet will continue to be as accommodating of my incompetence as those two were, because I know there is more to come. It is inevitable in a foreign country, especially a country as foreign as Ethiopia. I still need to find a phone, an apartment, and a good means of transportation, all of which offer plenty of opportunities to end up lost, confused, and in need of help. I’ve been served a quick reminder that independence only really works when you know how to do things. I don’t know how to do things here. Not yet, anyways. I expect it will be another week at least until I find some legs to stand on, and until then, I hope I don’t fall on too many locals.

I have been devising ideas on how to begin the actual research, and am keeping an eye out for any relevant information I come across, but it will be some time before I can really get into it. It would certainly be unwise to try and dive into it before becoming more grounded in this country, not to mention my partner doesn’t get here for another week. I look forward to truly starting to work though. My imaginings of how the project will come together have gotten a lot stronger since getting my first glimpse of this country. Hopefully it’ll start becoming reality soon.

Never forget that windows are good metaphors

Never forget that windows are good metaphors

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Day One Myanmar

Wash day

Wash day

My co-researcher Namsai asks; “Janine do you know how to Blog?”

Hmm, now that you ask…not really. I have a quick look at various suggestions. It seems that I should write a story that I would be interested in reading. Right. Good. I quite like to read stories that make me laugh or intrigue in some way. I feel bereft of all intrigue.

Namsai is blogging away. The words are pouring from her fingers. It seems that I am bloggingly illiterate… at least for the moment.

This first day has been gentle. I am happy to relax into this new environment as my flight from India was delayed leading to one missed night of sleep. However, my taxi driver sang most of the journey from the airport to the hostel. It was a very nice. Later he takes me back to meet Namsai’s flight. We recognise each other easily and talk into the early hours.

I have walked around the city streets in the morning watching the pink robed monk children chant for alms and receive food and money; I have met wonderful calm smiling people and found a computer adaptor plug in a bathroom plumbing shop.

WE have walked past the large hospital and open drains and groups of men doing lots of drainage maintenance work. Which is good because we have a torrential rain in the evening and the road is flooded within a few moments. After India it seems very green and clean. The states of Tamil Nadu and Andhara Pradesh have not had the monsoon rains for three years now so Yangon seems heavenly to me. The temperature has dropped from Chennai’s 39 degrees to Yangon’s 21 degrees. The humidity is high in both cities. The roads here seem well organised, with designated lanes and there does not seem to be a lot of traffic.

What I am surprised about is how expensive it is for accommodation. So much in American dollars. I met several locals who say that the pace of development has been very fast here. Just one year ago they said it was a green quiet city with virtually no traffic. Now there are hotels and buildings and development everywhere. I wonder how the locals can afford to live with this kind of change. The cost of living is going up fast. I wonder whether people will continue to be calm and relaxed.

2012-01-16 02.29.05


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First Steps into the West Bank

Day three of our Israel/Palestine adventure started more or less like day two ended, we got lost. Somehow this appears to become a reoccurring thing here in Jerusalem. This time it was on the search for a supermarket. After some walking around and backtracking we managed to find a little place to buy Pita and Hummus. With these provisions for the road, we embarked bus 19 leaving near Damascus Gate for Ramallah.

We had both seen the wall and the checkpoints before, but nonetheless they remain an intimidating sight. We crossed the checkpoint without any trouble and saw the West Bank for the first time. Ramallah is a very busy and hectic town, where everything is a little more chaotic and disorganized in the best way possible. Cars are driving going through roundabouts in the opposite direction, you hear constant honking and at the same time everyone is so willing to help these two westerners that have no idea how to get from A to B.

Once there, we went to the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation, a group affiliated with the Green Party in Germany, which was hosting an open day, celebrating their office’s 15th anniversary. Great people, that made us feel very welcome and promised to help in the future should we need anything.

The way back to Jerusalem took a little longer than expected, because we naively decided to go during the rush hour. Apart from that everything went smoothly and the Israeli soldiers with their big guns only looked at our passports for two seconds.

I have to admit, that the climate is taking its toll. It is only 7pm and I feel exhausted from only walking around a couple of hours. I guess I will need a few more days to adjust to this.

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First Impression of Yangon


Due to flight delay, I arrived Yangon late last night and did not get to see much of the city but I was very excited to meet Janine, my working partner here in Yangon. Having similar goals in mind for this project or simply because of her calm and caring personalities, we got along well and very much looking forward to working together.

My first impression in Yangon is that the city is more developed and westernized than I had expected. It almost seems to me that the city itself is changing and modernizing rapidly that maybe the people might not be able (or maybe do not want to?) to follow the pace. It is very interesting to sit in a totally western café (you can only pay in US dollars) and look out side to see people carrying a tray of fruits on the top of their head or eating betel nuts. Maybe because of the opening economy of the country, Yangon is surprisingly a very expensive place to live in. There is a high demand for everything, including accommodation, which Janine and I have been trying to sort this out and we will have to continue doing so.


Bogyoke Market, Yangon

One other thing that really strikes me is that the people are really nice and friendly. I came in the country not having any picture in mind about how the people might be, but they would have met my expectation in any category. Right when I sat foot at the airport, a couple of teenage girls just kept smiling at me that I got self-conscious and was wondering if I dressed inappropriately or if there was anything on my face. People are really open and helpful with general information about the city and directions, but being a foreigner in a country that I do not speak the language, I also keep reminding myself not to trust anyone so easily and double check everything. However, doing this kind of work when I need to build trust with the people and gather their stories, I wonder where should I be drawing that line and boundary when I start working…

Overall my first day in Yangon was long but interesting. I am really looking forward to observing and learning more from this city and the people. I am looking forward to hear about their stories of water issues as well as any other stories they are happy to share.

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Day 2 in Jerusalem

It’s Day 2 here for Lukas and I in Jerusalem, and we just got in from exploring the city and our surroundings. There is so much to see here, and we are trying to take it all in and learn our way around the city.

After Lukas and I arrived in Jerusalem yesterday afternoon, we spent the evening walking around the Old City and reminiscing on our previous trips here. Lukas knows his way around the city better than I do, which is incredibly helpful because I am terrible with directions and navigation. Our apartment is in the perfect location – we can see Damascus Gate, one of the entrances into the Old City, from our apartment window. We didn’t spend too much time exploring, because we both had a hectic day of travel, and I am adjusting to a seven hour time-zone difference. Today, we spent the morning exploring Ben Yehuda and Jaffa Streets, which have loads of restaurants, bars, and places to shop. After taking a break this afternoon, we found ourselves back in the Old City, where we explored the areas we weren’t as familiar with. At one point, we found stairs that led to the roofs of some buildings, and there was a gorgeous view of Temple Mount. Later on we found ourselves lost and walking along the outside wall of the Old City, and eventually we made our way home. Tonight, we are going to be meeting with one of Lukas’ friends for drinks.

The average person probably would have no idea that there are issues concerning water here. No one seems in desperate need, and its fairly easy and cheap to buy a bottle of water. Of course, we aren’t in the West Bank, where the issue is more prevalent, but if you look closely you can see some divides here in Jerusalem. Some homes in certain neighborhoods have black water jugs to catch rain water. From some of my background research and my previous visit, I’ve been told that these neighborhoods are mostly Arab. While walking around today Lukas and I didn’t even notice them at first – but once you see them, they become hard to miss. These jugs clearly show divides between people within Jerusalem.

Tomorrow we are hoping to go into Ramallah and start contacting some organizations for our research. Hopefully we wont get too lost along the way, but with my lack of directional skills, we will probably get at least a little confused.

Here are some pictures from these first couple of days!


This first photo is a view from our apartment. It’s hard to make out, but on the right side you can see Damascus Gate and the Old City. We got so lucky with our apartment. The location is perfect, and we don’t have to walk very far to see famous sites, go out to eat, or go shopping.


This is the Western Wall with the Temple Mount (the gold building on the left). These are two of the most iconic images of Jerusalem and Israel. Jerusalem in general is gorgeous, but when we were on this overlook looking out at these two historic sites is one of my favorite parts of Jerusalem.


Another picture of the Temple Mount. Lukas and I found ourselves lost in the Old City, and somehow ended up on the roof of some buildings. We hope that we can find this place again, because it is so peaceful looking out above Jerusalem.

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Water, Water, Water

It is so incredibly hot in Ahmedabad city (Gujarat state, India)! When temperatures hover between 42 and 45 degrees celsius, the brain simply does not function much. The primary thought when the head, the heart and indeed the soul meet, is the need for water. Water is literally the source of life at the moment – all you want is to keep drinking water. Food is secondary. Not drinking water for even an hour has immediate implications on health – headaches, dryness setting in mouth, lethargy from dehydration and in general an inability to move hands and legs to do something productive.

That is me. I need water all the time and I have it. I do not step out of the house (I almost always step out only in the evenings )  for even 10 minutes without a bottle of water.

And then there are the people I see the rare times I step out during the day. Working on construction sites in the hot sun, sweeping streets, pulling carts, generally doing all kinds of manual labour with family in tow. Yes, they bring their children along because where else would they leave them? In their homes which are on the footpaths (sidewalks)?

Young boys carrying sodas up almost 500 steps up a temple visited by tourists in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. It is the middle of the day.

Young boys carrying sodas up almost 500 steps to a temple visited by tourists in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. It was the middle of the day when this picture was taken.

I will not forget the little boy of not more than nine who asked me for my bottle of water as I was walking down the street at 11 pm after a fun night out. Mind you he began by asking me for money and when I said I wouldn’t he asked for my bottle of water. I, with a tiny bit of reluctance, gave away my precious almost full bottle of water. How do you refuse someone who asks for water? I knew he was probably thirsty and needed water but my head convinced me that he wanted to sell the plastic scrap and make money. Well, okay! It was still better than giving money. When I turned a second later, he was gulping down the water and I watched as he downed the entire bottle (a large bottled mineral water) in one shot.

Tears in my eyes, I walked back to take him and buy him some food and more water but he disappeared quickly into the crowd. The contrast between my life  and those like me and him and those like him is stark but when it comes to water – access to water – the chasm is so deep and wide that all you can do is stand at the edge – with binoculars if need be – to know what is happening at the other end. Just seeing and knowing will in itself will be the beginning of the heart and mind seeking ways to not just have “them” cross the chasm and reach us but to bridge the chasm so we can meet halfway. For water, an increasingly scarce commodity, is something we must share – those of us that have access to it and control it with those who don’t.

Through this Fellowship, our fellows in Burma, West Bank, Ethiopia and Mexico will bring us those heart breaking stories of people struggling to meet their water needs. Bring those binoculars out so you can see at close quarters all that we are trying to show you.

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From Peak to Peek


Though not within the purview of this particular study of water conflicts in Mexico, Long’s Peak rises in my backyard as a reminder of the juxtaposition of Nature’s majesty and the barren wasteland that lies at the end of her convoluted resource chain.

It is from this peak that the headwaters of the Colorado River flow, winding their way through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California, before crossing the cartographer’s line into Mexico.

En route, the Colorado is diverted, reverted, pumped, dumped, silted, salted and dammed, until it sludges onto formerly productive agricultural lands south of the border: “The Colorado, a river whose importance is absurdly disproportionate to its size, has the worst problem with salt of any American river.” [Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert at 460.]

Treaties and litigation appear to have had little long-term mitigating impact on a burgeoning resource allocation and preservation issue that pits power brokers against politicians, farmers against taxpayers, and peoples of states and countries against one another.

The views at either end of the Colorado River’s tortuous journey through time, furrows and canyons, could not be more diverse .   It will be interesting to see whether the conflicts that are carried downstream along this river and its tributaries bear any resemblance to those that we will encounter as we launch upon our own travels through time and space.

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On my way to Burma

It is dark and hot and noisy. Soon, in  a few hours time,  I will go to Chennai international Airport and begin the journey to Burma. I am feeling quiet and  serious as it seems like a big task. A little daunting.

I have spent the last week reading about water conflict and finding out more about Yangon and Burma in general. There have been helpful training materials from Pushpa.

My doctoral study on hold for the next few months whilst this project is underway. It seems wonderful to be able spend some time in the field and I am very mindful of going quietly into this. I have made some contacts with scholars and health professionals from Yangon. There has been fascinating reading on the various NGO initiatives.

I am looking forward to meeting my fellow researcher Namsai and I am glad that this will be a shared project. We will meet for the first time tomorrow night  when her flight arrives from Thailand. We will then look for an apartment and a place to base ourselves.

There is much to learn and I suspect I am moving into a state of readiness. Something is changing within me as I  prepare to listen and observe.



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