Monday, October 19, 2009


Hello from the K.V. Kuppam block in the Vellore District of Tamil Nadu! The three RUHSA researchers (Lisa, Ann and Sara) are wrapping up their projects and realizing, sadly, that there are only nine days left in their stay here. RUHSA has become our home away from home, and there is so much more that we want to see and do before we leave!

Our days here look like this: breakfast is at 7:30, usually idli with sambar or groundnut chatni, along with coffee and a little fried dahl thingie. Then we go about our projects: Lisa has been visiting one local village with her translator, conducting a survey on local knowledge and attitudes towards waste management, Sara visits the milk societies to interview the farmers about milking procedure and economic losses due to a common bovine bacterial infection, and Ann is making the rounds with her translator to interview women from six villages about food security. For lunch we usually avoid the white rice mounds in the mess hall and go to Hotel Paul or one of the small street establishments for paratha or chapati. In the evenings, we go for a bike ride, play frisbee, practice guitar or visit with villagers we have come to know through our projects.

There are so many characters here we will never forget: Immanuel, our advisor who hooked us up with bicycles, travel arrangements, and can make just about anything happen with the push of his intercom buzzer... Anandan, the daytime security man who is like an overly concerned parent... our translators, who each have their own distinct strengths and shortcomings as employees!

Our weekend trips have been amazing adventures. We went with Shruti (another foreign student at RUHSA) and her friends from CMC to Pondicherry for a weekend. There we walked through incredibly diverse fishmarkets, were blessed by an elephant at a Hindu temple, and sampled French pastries at an amazing bakery! The three of us then took a bus to a rural venue to see A.R. Rahman along with Bryan, Dianna, and some of their friends from Karigari. This was quite the experience- imagine 17,000 Indian fans, dozens of costume changes, backup dancers, musical guests, and fireworks along with one of the most popular artists in the country.

We also accompanied Bryan and Dianna to Trichy to stay with some students and celebrate Diwali with their family. Between climbing a huge hill that overlooked the entire village, having a private tour through a Hindu temple, and jumping from a 20 foot wall into a deep well, we will never forget our first Diwali.

In nine days we will be off on our travel break, and though I'm sad to leave RUHSA, I'm soooo ready to start trekking in the cool mountain air and to see some of the things North India has to offer! Poi Varein!
Above: Biking around the village. Below: In Pondy with Shruti

Friday, October 2, 2009

Adventures of the Kodai Roadies

Monkeys, mountains, and Tibetan momo - after a long overnight bus ride the 3 Kodai-bound Oles (Erin, Susan, and John) arrived in paradise! We arrived in Kodai last week, and quickly fell in love with it here! After the suffocating heat of Chennai, the cool, breezy (and at night somewhat frigid) temperatures of Kodai are a welcome relief. We have had to dig out all the warm clothes that we brought, and also visit some local shops to stock up on 1980's-esque sweaters. The local love of colorful sweaters may have already rubbed off on us, but we are staunchly holding out against the pressure to wear camoflage earmuffs.

We have greatly enjoyed exploring the town over the last few days and also meeting the PHCC staff that we will be working with for the next 5 weeks. The past few days have been busy touring the area and looking for project ideas. We visited coffee plantations, shola forests, grasslands, and a 2000 year old farming village! The Palni Hills are absolutely beautiful - when you can see them. The monsoons are coming and we have had some serious rain while we've been here! Despite the rain though we are getting a feel for the unique beauty of the area and an appreciation for the incredible biodiversity of the region. During our hike yesterday we saw over 4 dozen different plant species (all pointed out by Praba, our PHCC botanist friend) in a few hours! It was really quite incredible. We've also had some sweet wildlife sightings while we've been here - more bonnet macaques than we can count, Indian bison, Nilgiri langur, rare birds, and a LOT of cows. Over the next few days we are going to be starting our research projects - more to come on those details! (when we figure them out...)

Other than learning about the Palni Hills ecosystem we've been exploring the town and enjoying Kodai's fine culinary specialties - honey, chocolate, and eucalyptus oil. Well, the last one you can't eat. But the other two you can! And we have...along with visits to our favorite pastry shop, Daily Bread. Is it bad that the owner knows us after only a week here? That combined with the copious amounts of chai/"coffee" that we are drinking will probably send us into diabetic shock any day now...

We are missing our other oles...come visit us soon!