Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Brief Summary of My Time in Mumbai

From January 1-15, I am in Mumbai, India participating in a winter institute on sustainable urban development. My group from the Washington University Brown School of Social Work has partnered with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in an effort to create intellectual and cross-cultural learning. The institute focuses on four thematic areas: access to water, solid waste management, financial inclusion, and adequate housing. We are using “group model building” and system dynamics to work directly with the Mumbai slum communities to uncover the root causes to their most pressing problems. I strongly believe this type of work should serve as the cornerstone of our collective efforts to create a sustainable society.

I have been in India for twelve days, and am really getting a feeling for the place. The once overwhelming sights, sounds, and sensations of Mumbai are now somewhat commonplace. While I might still occasionally double-take when cattle appear in the road during our morning bus ride, for the most part I would say I have adjusted to this new city. I know a few Hindi words now, and can say “OK” (tike), “Let’s Go” (chello), and “Thank you” (Tanyevad), although I am still uncertain of the Hindi spelling. Even the rupee currency is starting to come more naturally, and I can tell when a price is reasonable and when I am getting ripped off.

These past twelve days have been a blur of activity, and my busy schedule, lack of regular internet access, and general fatigue after jam-packed days has prevented me from updating my blog. I hope to re-establish a pattern with this post, and will try to give a brief summary of my time in India thus far. Future posts over the next few days will backtrack to cover issues further in depth, and will hopefully allow me to synthesize the variety of incredible experiences I have had since arriving in Mumbai.

On that note, here is a day by day summary of my time thus far:

January 1 (Saturday): I explored the Navi Mumbai neighborhood where my youth hostel is located. The neighborhood is located in Navi Mumbai, a “twin” city of Mumbai located east across a strait from the main city.

January 2 (Sunday): I traveled to the ancient Elephanta Island and witnessed the Gateway to India. I also experienced some harrowing and exhilarating cab rides through the city.

January 3 (Monday): We had our orientation for the system dynamics winter institute at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). I met the amazing students of the Habitat School at TISS, listened to some lectures about Solid Waste Management (my assigned topic for the winter institute), and enjoyed some special Indian food.
January 4 (Tuesday): We had our first day of lectures on community-driven system dynamics, and played the famous SD “distribution game” (look for details in a later post). I also met my fellow team members for the Solid Waste Management SD group.

January 5 (Wednesday): We were introduced to the concept of “scripts” for Group Model Building, which allow system dynamicists to follow a standardized procedure when eliciting modeling feedback from a community. We also had our first field visit to our slum community Rafi Nagar, which was an absolutely incredible experience. I will post much more about Rafi Nagar shortly.

January 6 (Thursday): We had additional system dynamics lectures on stocks and flows at TISS, and analyzed the information we obtained from our field visit. Thursday night, we went out drinking with the TISS students at an American style bar called RUDE Lounge. Let’s just say that Indian students know how to party.

January 7 (Friday): We finalized our reference modes of problem behavior for the community, and embarked on a second field visit to Rafi Nagar. The community was incredibly receptive, and gave my friend Sarah and I Henna (“Mendi” in Hindi) art tattoos. They also proved to be incredible intelligent and adept at system dynamics, and were able to create reference modes for three community diseases entirely on their own.

January 8 (Saturday): This was a very short work day, which involved a short presentation that updated the other groups on our progress in the modeling process. Saturday night, our group went out to an American-style restaurant called “Ray’s Café and Pizzeria,” which felt exactly like the United States. I also experienced the Mumbai public train system, which is very different from an American Metro subway or light rail line.

January 9 (Sunday): This was our day off from the winter institute, and I took full advantage of the freedom. I had lunch with friends, got an ayurvedic massage, utilized the neighborhood internet café, and had a great dinner in Kharghar.

January 10 (Monday): We returned to TISS after the weekend break, and continued developing our stock-flow model for solid waste management in Rafi Nagar. We also visited the community for a third time to elicit feedback on the model structure. On Monday night, I stayed behind at TISS with a friend in order to see what life was like as a Mumbai student. Turns out besides the different density of living arrangements, we have pretty similar lifestyles.

January 11 (Tuesday): I attended a lecture for the TISS class “Sustainable Development and Climate Change,” which justly included quite a bit of U.S. bashing. I also fell ill for the first time in Mumbai, likely due to eating something rotten. Luckily, pepto-bismal kept me relatively at ease during my time of indigestion.

January 12 (Wednesday): We presented our current model to the social relations student group also working on solid waste management. I later got “natural ice” ice cream with some friends, and ate a “veggie franky” for dinner, which is likely the equivalent of an American hot dog (I will do my best to post a picture soon).

Well, that concludes my extremely brief summary of my time here in Mumbai thus far. I will be posting much more over the coming days. I think that the most important thing for me now is to just continue writing; with everything I have seen, whatever blogposts emerge are almost certain to be interesting.

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