As my last blog post I decided to do a reflective podcast to help with processing everything that has transpired over the past few months in India. Kenda – the other CAPI intern in India – was kind enough to make an appearance as my interviewer.
The difference between ‘notified’ and ‘non-notified’ informal settlements is not always obvious; nonetheless, it is important to understand the significance and meaning of each title. This is a topic that has confused me as much as it has interested me, so bear with me as I attempt to unpack some of the complexities within this topic.
In this post, I delve further into the idea of using food as a means of communication. Additionally, I discuss the usage of food in creating familiarity and connectedness within the discomfort of the unknown. Included are two cultural versions of one of my favourite recipes.
I have been feeling somewhat defeated about the divisions that exist in the world today between borders, cultures, and people in general. I have noticed that in spending too much energy on focussing on the differences that exist in the world, there is a feeling of cultivating a social “Self” and “Other”, disconnecting people from each other and misinterpreting the unknown for the unrelated. I admit to have experienced feelings of discomfort and loneliness while living in a more rural area of India. However, rather than yielding to these feelings, I have turned my focus to a sense of familiar curiosity in the food culture of my surrounding area. I have therefore chosen to dedicate this post to the language of food – something that we are all familiar with in one way or another. The ingredients, cooking strategies, traditions, and the ways in which we eat undoubtedly vary, but the basic practice of coming together to enjoy food and nourish our bodies remains fluid. I have a keen interest in food and the way we as people connect with such, so it made sense to spend some time exploring and pondering the topic of food and its use as a point of connection with the beautiful people and culture that I am immersed in.
As mentioned in my previous post, my first month in India was spent at the PRIA office in Delhi where I learned the details and background of the project that I was assigned to. I researched the topic of ‘urban sanitation’ as much as I could; trying to develop a base understanding of sanitation issues in Indian cities before I was sent to the field. This time was well spent, as it eased me into the complexity of the project, and of India itself. However, I still found myself struggling with letting go of the need to “grasp” a topic. In my haste to “grasp” the topic I began to generalize – drawing myself an incomplete picture of what urban sanitation within India means, and filling the gaps with assumptions that were initiated by the relatively little research that I had completed. I’m still unsure about whether my mentality of needing to understand quickly is a product of my personality, or perhaps a product of a school system that conditions students to adopt a learning strategy of continuous cramming and regurgitating information.
Regardless of where the mentality originated, I was unsurprisingly unable to formulate a sufficient understanding of the project and all of the various contributing aspects. However, this process did enlighten me to the fact that I am uncomfortable with surrendering to and accepting the vulnerability that comes with feeling incompetent. Since working in India, I have struggled to find the words to explain my experiences and perspectives, this is largely out of fear of minimizing or misrepresenting anything that I am speaking on. To quote the words of our fellow intern: “How can I write about this city, or its people, without doing it immense injustices?” (Zachary Brabazon).
It wasn’t until I made the transition from head office to the field office in Muzaffarpur did I realize that the answers I had been desperately seeking were not going to be found in a database. I have now been working in Muzaffarpur for almost one month, during which time I have assisted and observed the field team in conducting participatory research with local community members. I have had the opportunity to meet various individuals who are directly affected by the lack of sanitation facilities within their communities.
Although the discussions I have had with these individuals (with the translation help of the PRIA staff) have been centered on the topic of sanitation, each story told was different, and each experience offered significant insight into the daily struggles of living in an area that has received minimal investment from the municipality in the form of clean water, functioning toilettes, and proper sewage and drainage systems. It is the livedexperiences of people that display the successes and failures of a society in its entirety – something that cannot be replaced or accurately represented by a mere number or statistic. For example, numbers and statistics did not prepare me for hearing the apprehension in a girl’s voice when describing her experience of travelling from home in order to defecate in private. My prior research also did not do justice to the mistrust that many individuals feel towards their municipality and other outside forces such as NGOs, due to a history of neglect, and failed attempts to bridge a nexus between civil society and higher representatives.
In trying to make sense of my visits to the field in a way that is mutually beneficial, I have come to appreciate the value in using participatory research as a means of understanding. Engaging in participatory methodology despite a pervasive language barrier has limited my tendency to rely on my own voice, thoughts, and research methods to make sense of a situation or topic that I feel incompetent in. I am stepping into a new web of social, political, and economic dynamics in which I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert in, nor will I become one over the next few months. However, it is through appreciating and respecting this fact that has made it possible for me to fully embrace the indispensable learning approach of what Ernesto Sirolli calls “shutting up and listening”.
First of all, I would like to apologize for my raspy voice that decided to make an appearance on the day of this interview. My immune system has proven to be less than sufficient over the past few weeks. Regardless of this, I have been trying to figure out the best way to structure my first blog post. This has been unexpectedly challenging for me – not in that I did not have enough to say, but in that I had too much that I wanted to tackle. The last month has been dedicated to familiarizing myself with a project titled ‘Strengthening Civil Society of the Urban Poor to Participate in Planning and Monitoring of Sanitation Services in Indian Cities’. The complexities that exist within the issue of urban sanitation in India are profuse. It is therefore extremely difficult to grasp an overall understanding of why basic sanitation facilities do not exist in many informal settlements; and the devastations that stems from lacking sanitation needs such as clean water, and functional toilets.
One particular aspect that has stuck out to me in trying to form a basic understanding of the complex project has been that of the governmental tier in India; focusing on this has been helpful in solidifying (some) context and background of the project. One bit of history that I think worth mentioning is the 74th Amendment Act of 1992 – a constitutional amendment that ultimately gave validity to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) by outlining the structures, functions, and resource generation capabilities of ULBs. Logistically, this amendment was supposed to enable more people to participate in the decision making process of everything from economics to infrastructure.
Once again, it is seemingly impossible to simplify the significance of this amendment and its relation to urban sanitation. Thus, instead of attempting to explain the diversity of this project (which would probably have confused whoever listening, as well as myself, even more), I decided to conduct a casual interview with two of my coworkers, who do a MUCH better job than myself at “boiling it down”. Thank you to Sukrit and Swathi for the insightful discussion!
This is an introduction interview conducted on April 29, 2016 with Zachary Brabazon in Victoria, BC. He will be interning with Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) beginning this June. The themes discussed in this inerview are Zachary’s overall interests and passions; his excitement about his placement; and his strategies for relationship maintance while being away.