Friday, August 28, 2009


[guest post by Ryan]

India has been a crazy, crazy whirlwind so far, and it will only get moreso. We flew out of Vietnam on the night of the 17th, spent a handful of hours in Bangkok and then flew into Kolkata (Calcutta) early the next morning. After clearing health inspection, immigration and customs, we got our (many) bags and attempted to buy a SIM card for our phone so we could give the taxi driver directions to the person's house where we were dropping off some extra bags. We found out that India has extremely tight security around their SIM cards...without several letters, foreigners can't get one at all. So we figured out the taxi system and talked our way into using someone else's cell phone to call the woman. We went to her house, dropped off our bags and immediately had to head out to the train station. The drive there past through much of the city; slums and nice sections. The mix of vehicles/bodies on the road was very surreal---trucks, buses, cars/taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, regual rickshaws (yes, actual human-pulled carts), push-carts, water buffalo, cows, donkeys, dogs, pedestrians and several harder-to-describe conveyances all competed for use of the same roads. Chaos reigned.
Once at the train stations, we figured out how to buy tickets onto the train we needed and then where to catch the train---neither of which were easy tasks given the amount of English the others' spoke and the amound of Bengali Cori and I speak. We found the train, but we were too late to buy seat tickets. So Cori and I sat on the edge of the train car with our legs dangling outside the train for most of the three hour journey to Katwa. During the journey, an amazing array of goods were offered for sale: coffee, tea, water, comic books, learn-to-read books, clean seats (via children sweeping your seat and surrounds), snacks of all description, shirts, ties, belts and many other things could all be purchased from vendors climbing on and off the trains. The biggest surprise to me was that no one offered any livestock for sale (or at least not that I noticed). I'll also spare you the details of the fun of using a squat toilet without TP on a jerky train...
Anyway, near the end of the journey, a couple seats opened up and Cori and I took them, as the romance of sitting on the edge of the train was waning with the increasing downpour (it's monsoon season here). Shortly thereafter, a transvestite (apparently working as an uninvited entertainer, which is common in India as it turns out) worked her way up the aisle to my seat and promptly sat in my lap, kissed me and attempted the cuddle me, much to the amusement of the other riders. Thus I learned that lap dances from transvestites were another item on sale in Indian trains. In any case, after a bit longer we finally arrived in Katwa, where we took bicycle rickshaws to our hotel and met with our collaborator there.
The next day, after very little rest for our weary selves, we sampled from 6:30am until 1pm when the skies opened up (monsoon season, remember). The sampling was particularly difficult because the dogs here are actually feral so, for the most part, we had to actually catch them ourselves instead of having help from locals. We did attract a lot of interest from locals, however; at one point we had at least 200 people crowding around watching what we were doing (and, I think, taking bets on whether or not we'd get bitten). We've also been interviewed for the local news and by a local blogger in India. After the rain started, we headed off to our collaborator's school, where he is a teacher. We met most of the teachers in a meeting, received small gifts, made a little speech explaining our research and went on our way.
The next day's sampling was partially recorded on video, some of which is posted on YouTube and linked from this blog. It involved our first sampling at a hospital for mentally challenged individuals— this wor does take us to many interesting places where we meet many interesting people. After sampling that day, we shared a bottle of whiskey with our collaborator and his friends (and sung American and Indian folk songs while doing so), went to be at 10:30pm and awoke at midnight to pack and head to a 1:10am train. We waited at.the tiny train station until 4:15am, when the train finally showed up (at which point we were told it always ran 3 hours late). So we arrived in Kolkata at 7:45am for our 7:15am flight out of Kolkata. After an hour's taxi ride through Kolkata rush hour, we arrived at the airport to wait in a long, crazy line in order to be able to explain our situation and buy tickets on the evening flight to Bhubaneswar. We then spent a couple hours driving into Kolkata, a few hours running errands downtown, a couple hours back to the airport and then took the flight to Bhubaneswar. Sampling there went well, though I'll save that for another blog post. I think Cori is posting about our sampling in Hazaribagh after Bhubaneswar and that takes us to now (tonight in a random hotel in Ranchi about to fly to Chennai tomorrow morning).
I also have one more post on PNG and one on Vietnam on the way, as well as a couple more on India. If I can ever get the time to write...

608 dogs sampled
26 flights
11 time zones
188:15 traveling hours [note this only counts flight-associated travel time]
47,085 travel miles
21 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)
17 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)

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