January 22, 2010

Team at aadharshila

Some of the smartest, most creative branding professionals in India, at aadharshila

Baroda and vocational visit to aadharshila

I love Baroda. After visiting the city palace yesterday, we spent quality time with our host families. You can see mine to the right: Kavita (homoeopathic doctor), me (Whitney), Savir (VP marketing Inox India), Ashna, Jingle (adorable cocker spaniel), and Tanvi. Ashna and Tanvi are identical twins, and both are athletic and artistic. It will be very hard to leave such a warm, vibrant family and city.

The power of Rotary is incredible. It just so happens that my wonderful host Savir Julka and Alok Desai, CEO of Baroda's leading branding agency aadharshila, are fellow Rotarians at RC Baroda Metro. As a PR professional for Atlanta's communication firm Jackson Spalding, I loved spending the day with Alok's team of designers and client service representatives, comparing business strategies, creative processes and even firm cultures. It is a true privilege to shadow others in the same professional half way around the world. Thank you to Alok and his team for spending time with me.
JSers, it's great to see friendly faces from Baroda working hard for great clients like ours. They eat lunch together each day as many of our PROI partners do, and they welcomed me to the table. They gave a special shout out to JS Creative, Cultivation and Communication!

Some Have Better Connections Than Others!

Many thanks to Blake; aka 'Black Bear' for his lengthy posts. He speaks for the team on our general impressions and we are grateful he has the ability to find connections without interruption and sufficient bandwidth. Rotary continues to astonish us with its breadth and dynamic reach for community betterment. We are humbled at every turn.

January 21, 2010

Anand to Vadodara (Baroda)

We wrapped up our much needed R and R on Wednesday morning. Whitney and I were able to spend a few hours at the pool for some color, so hopefully we won't look so pasty in our photos. I hear it's pretty chilly in the States right now. Must be tough! The pyramid in the photo was a little strange. Apparently a room for meditation, it had a single plastic lawn chair centered under the peak of the pyramid. Groovy... After our midtrip rest break at the hotel we stayed with our hosts in Anand for only one day and night. It was very unfortunate scheduling that had our rest time taken out of our Anand visit, but we made the most of it.

We visited two sites before the main event Wednesday. The first was a hospital that, through matching grants with other Rotary clubs, is able to perform eye surgery to remove cataracts, and to also insert artificial lenses. It's a prestigious enough hospital that they receive paying customers, which also helps finance additional surgeries on the poor. The doctors routinely visit area villages for eye exams, which is how they identify their surgery candidates. Truly great work. Also, I'm having enough trouble with uploading photos, so I'm not going to delete this one, despite something happening to my hair, and Amy looking away...

Our next stop was the Vallabhbhai Patel and Veer Vithalbhai Patel Memorial. I had never heard of the brothers, and I thought I knew a good bit about Indian Independence. Vallabhbhai Patel was later known as Sardar Patel (Sardar means leader) for his roll as the Iron Man of India. He was instrumental in Indian unification after Indian Independence, as the princely states still existed and had to be coerced into joining the India instead of splintering. Sardar was the third man behind Gandhi and Nehru, and would have been chosen as India's first Prime Minister, but Gandhi decided it should be Nehru. The memorial was a huge building with an auditorium, and had banners with quotes from him and about him, above news articles and his and his brother's personal history. Around Anand and Baroda is where all of the Patels come from, so nearly everyone we run into is a Patel. It's amazing how regional last names are here.

Rotary club of Anand Round Town has for the past 16 years put on a song, dance, and arts competition for the areas schools, which host 50,000 students. It's a big deal, and is televised regionally to over 100,000 homes. It's a labor of love that gives these students an avenue to express their talents, at great expense to the Round Town club. We were invited onto the stage to address the students and to say a little bit about ourselves, so hopefully we can get a copy of that video! The photo is of their Michael Jackson tribute.

My host's son, Harsh, was the emcee for the event, and was a natural, despite professing to be nervous. You can see my host Himent and his sone Harsh posing with me in this photo. We are trying to convince him to do grad school at Georgia Tech, as he is finishing up his undergrad in Mechanical Engineering. Himent and I stayed up late philosiphizing, and discussing the differences and similarities of our two cultures. I'm dragging a bit today, but I'm glad I got to make the most of the one day.

We drove to Vadodara this morning, a city the British had anglicized to Baroda. Like Bombay becoming Mumbai, Baroda is becoming Vadodara again. The city is bustling, but it's one of the cleanest we've seen in India thus far. It was once the seat of the state of Vadodara, and had/has a Maharaja. We were fortunate enough to visit our first palace in India here.

The name of the palace is Lukshmi Vilas Palace, if you want to google or Wikipedia it. The photo doesn't do the scale justice. I had to walk about 400 yards away to get the whole thing in one frame, and the tiny little people in the grass below the center are about 100 yards from the palace. The tower is 300 feet tall. Truly massive.

The current Maharaja and the family live on the second floor, and tours only cover the ground floor. It's a beautiful structure in need of a serious renovation, but since it's still private, the family hasn't been keeping it up. There were cracked windows, and grass was growing out of the joints in the stonework. We couldn't take pictures inside, so this is all I can show you. You'll have to visit yourself to see more. The audio tour had clips from the Maharaja talking about the difficulties in growing up in such a large home, such as it taking thirty minutes to get his tea served because the servants have to walk so far. Man, it's a rough life.

We aren't sure on the history, but I think that when Sardar Patel forced the unification of the princely states into India shortly after independence from Britain, The Maharajas got to keep their estates and titles, but no longer ruled. I need to get a book on laying out the formation of India. It's very complicated.

There is a nicely manicured golf course around the grounds of the palace. I believe Bill gets to play it tomorrow morning, and personally I hope he shanks every ball, lucky jerk. :-) I'm going to try to upload a video of the palace, as one photo isn't enough, and it should appear at the bottom. This will be our first video, if it works, as we've been bandwidth constrained to say the least. Oh well, it failed... Here is another photo from closer up.

We are here Vadodara until Sunday morning, when we will take our first and only train ride to Surat, the diamond capital of India. I can see the emails from Karen now, and it just got expensive! Near Vadodara is Champaner/Pavagadh, a UNESCO World Heritage site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavagadh. It wasn't on the schedule, as the Vadodara club has a lot of projects for us to see, but they are very graciously trying to fit a visit in and work with us. Hopefully it will work out, as we certainly don't want to miss out on any Rotary projects.
Well, it's getting late, and I need the rest. This darn post took over two hours because of the photos. Hope you enjoy the update!

January 19, 2010

Since I finally cleaned the salt from my shoes, I thought it was time to post my pictures of the Rotary windmill project. My teammates (Blake and Whitney) did a good job of describing the alternative energy endeavor, but you might like this visual interpretation.

The life of a salt farmer is meager. A typical family makes around $500 a year.

Laborers like this young girl will suffer severe health ailments from the acidic salt water. Notice how she toils barefoot.

The Rotary windmill project gives hope of a better life by cutting down fuel costs.

At the halfway point


We are two weeks into our trip here, and we have been at a hotel the past two nights for our mid trip break. The rest comes at a good time, as Whitney and I were getting over colds, and while we were here Renee got food sick. Also, we are very good sports, but being 'on' for two weeks straight, with our days stuffed full of activities, is exhausting mentally and physically. It's been tough as well meeting so many new families, just getting to know them and then having to say goodbye, only to start over in the next town.

We have a good internet connection here, so I figured I'd take a minute to upload some good pictures from our stays, and talk a bit about what we've covered so far. We started of in Rajkot, and saw a number of factories that made bearing races, rubber gaskets, auto rickshaws and stainless steel products. We visited a few temples, a meditation center, and ate a lot of food! We were still very naive about India, and hadn't stopped counting cows yet. A great example is this photo.

The family in this house would bake bread for the cows every morning, and they were clever enough to congregate at the correct time to chow down. We couldn't get enough of this and were such tourists, snapping away with our cameras while our hosts rolled their eyes.

Our next city was Porbandar. We spent only 2 whole days there, so we didn't get to know our hosts as well, but we had a great time. We visited the birthplace of Gandhi, which was very cool. We also visited caves that played an important part in the early life of one of their gods, a large concrete factory, and viewed the sunset from a mountaintop shrine that was hundreds of years old. Very spiritual.

I was also a big hit with the kids! I'm a little loath to post this photo, as it will ensure that the rest of my trip will be the equivalent of a human jungle gym. The kid on the left is my host's child, Math (I think that's how they told me it was spelled, but pronounced like Mech).

As you can tell, I'm having some issues with layout, can't get the photos and text to work right, but hopefully you get the idea. Next up was Bhavnagar. We spent 3-4 days here, and were here for the national kite flying festival on the 14th.

Later that evening, Devang got a call from his cousin, and said that one of his colleagues was throwing a party for his one year old grandson. Although I was very tired, we went to the party as it was supposed to be something I would regret missing. This thing was huge. There must have been 3,000 people there, and about 3 acres fenced in, carpeted, the perimeter was lined with catered booths, there was a huge sound stage, and the Punjabi pop band Deler Mohendi was playing. The family must have spent a small fortune. It was also proof that a lot of people around the world dance like white people. Truly an amazing site, and I got to experience Punjabi music live, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

As I mentioned earlier, we were here for their national kite flying festival, so that whole day was spent flying kites. There were kites everywhere, and every roof and terrace was packed with kite fliers. It's a form of play combat, as anyone who has read The Kite Runner may be familiar with. The strings are coated with glass particles, and it feels a little like sandpaper. You fly your kite and dive and swoop at an opponents kite, and right when you cross strings, you let out a lot of string so it's like a bandsaw cutting across the other string. I had a lot of fun, despite being such a rookie, and finally got the hang of it near the end of the night, cutting my first kite. I had cut one earlier, but it didn't count as it was on accident, and it was my terrace-mates... Oops! You have to tape your hands up to not get cut, but I still manage a few battle wounds.

After Bhavnagar was Wadwancity, and it's twin Surendrenagar. We were only there for a couple days, but we saw some very interesting things. In one stop that was very cool on many levels, we visited the Little Rann of Kutch, a wasteland made so by the yearly flooding of ocean water during the monsoons. It's a protected habitat of the Asiatic Wild Ass. As funny as it is to say, and hear them say it, we kept trying to tell them we usually call them donkeys. :-)

The main reason we visited was the salt farms that were mentioned in a previous post, and the region was so desolate that it made for some beautiful, and heartbraking, photos. Here is one of the salt rakers. They rake the salt crystals to encourage their growth, and the windmills save so much money on diesel, that it may allow the farmers to send their children to school instead of having to eke out an existence in the dessert. Very moving, and a direct way to improve the lives of these poor people.

My host Bhavin, seen here at his bearing factory, showing me a disassembled bearing, was kind enough to take me to their Rotary corporate cricket fundraiser to watch an entire match, which was just eight overs a side. It went faster than normal because one batsman had 5-6 sixes in the span of 4 overs and pretty much won the match single handed. I've been learning the game after an extensive teaching in Rajkot, and must confess to enjoying it more than Baseball!

After leaving Wadhwancity, we headed for Ahmedabad for some sight seeing before checking in to our hotel here near Anand. We visited Adalaj Wav, a 500+ year old step well used for collecting water in this arid region. It's five stories deep and very ornately carved. It was pretty amazing.

Later, we arrived at Gandhi's Ashram, where he stayed from 1915 to 1930, before departing on his famous salt march (hopefully my facts are correct). It was pretty touristy, but I found this quote writ large on the wall to be pretty moving.

We are still having a great time, and are looking forward to the last few weeks we have with mixed emotions. We welcome the new friends, but realize that every day brings us closer to the end. I have to wrap it up to get ready for our next Rotary meeting where we will give our speeches talking about us, our families, and our lives. We have all improved our public speaking so much, and the progress is evident. It's been a welcome break from our hectic lives back home, but we also can't wait to get back home to see our friends and family!

Hopefully you enjoyed the photos. I had at least two dozen more I wanted to put up, but I just don't have the time to do it. I'll have to do a separate post in the coming days of just humorous photos.

Take care,


January 18, 2010

Indian wedding crashers

Through our GSE experience, we've witnessed the global relationships that Rotary builds. We've been welcomed into the homes and businesses of Rotarians, and last night we were fortunate enough to attend our first Indian wedding. The father of the groom, Devang Desai, happens to be a member of the Rotary Club of Vidyanagar. Thanks to our GSE coordinator in Anand, Kamalesh Parikh, and his lovely daughter who escorted us.

Recharging for Part Two

About halfway through this trip of a lifetime, we are fortunate to get some much needed R&R at a local hotel in Anand. Then we'll hit the ground running again tomorrow evening for our last two weeks.

From Bhavnagar, we headed to Wadhwan where we met another group of incredible Rotarians and saintly hosts. We visited a beautiful garden developed and maintained by Rotary in the heart of the city (where unsalted water is not easy to come by). We also visited a school for blind women, where the love and compassion of the founder and the children in her care moved me to tears. Perhaps most impressive was the windmill project Rotary recently started in the desert to assist salt farmers 60 miles from the Pakistani border. The windmills pump salt water from the ground to salt ponds where farmers rake for hours, tilling the salt to maximize the size of granules. The water evaporates over time, and farmers sell salt to industries after the seven month harvest. Rotary's windmills save farmers about 60 percent per year over the diesel alternative. There is nothing but cracked earth as far as the eye can see in this desert, and farmers live in these conditions for seven months at a time.

After Wadhwan we made our way to Anand, stopping to see a step well built in the 1400s and Gandhi's ashram. We have vocational visits coming up, and I'll be visiting one of the largest ad agencies in Gujarat. Cannot wait.