It’s hard to believe my time in India has already come and gone. It was a good trip, as always – full of hectic meetings + early morning flights + learning + sensory overload + wonderful people – but far from my best. Though I was there 2 weeks, it felt more like one since the other was a blur spent in bed and doctor’s offices. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The key highlights of this trip were definitely World Water Day (March 22) and our inaugural WaterCredit Forum (March 26). Each year one of Water.org’s partners, Gramalaya, organizes what we believe is the largest World Water Day gathering in the world. More than 21,000 people – probably 99% of whom are women – come from over 400 villages throughout Tamil Nadu to celebrate their access to clean water and safe sanitation, and to advocate on behalf of those who don’t.
A sea of bright saris flooded my eyes, all sitting underneath a giant bamboo-lattice roof to protect from the searing heat. WaterCredit loan group members had matching saris; that was a totally unexpected, absolutely thrilling sight to behold. There were dances. Children dressed up as animals and did pantomimes about good hygiene (“I’m a bunny. I like to play in the dirt. When I’m done playing, I must wash my hands before eating my carrots.”) and water quality (“I’m a tiger. I roam around all day, looking for something to eat. This makes me thirsty. Sometimes I find water in a pond. But I shouldn’t drink it if it’s dirty, because it will make me sick.”).
I sat on the dais as a guest of honor, a garland of freesia around me, and was overwhelmed by joy and pride. Unfortunately I was too wobbly to do much more than smile (keep reading), but hopefully that was enough for my first time. I plan to celebrate many more World Water Days in a similar setting. It was incredible. A few pictures here, and a fabulous Water.org video clip here.
The WaterCredit Forum was more staid in comparison, but still served its purpose and was a big success (if I may say so myself!). We attracted a great range of microfinance, water/sanitation, banking, venture capital and development organizations. Most participants came from India, though Africa, North America and Europe were represented. The morning saw plenary sessions and excellent presentations by our MFI partners BASIX and Guardian. In the afternoon, we split into groups for interactive discussions about opportunities, challenges and other innovations for WaterCredit moving forward. The entire day felt like one big highlight. Microfinance Insights has written an article about the Forum already; Microfinance Focus will publish a full report next month.
The one — but big — downer of the trip was a bad case of Bombay belly I got, which was double-whammied with a virus that left me woozy, in pain, with a 104F fever and wishing I were not on the road. Poor timing and then some. Even so, it was an opportunity to learn about the kindness of strangers (and colleagues!) and gave some insights into Indian medical care.
The day after I started feeling nauseous and lost my appetite, I woke up barely able to move. Nearly in tears, I wobbled downstairs to the hotel lobby, where my colleagues were preparing to go on a site visit. They took one look at me and said, “to the doctor you must go – now!”
Next thing I knew, I was whisked away to a tiny, bird-chirpy corner of a residential neighborhood and plopped into a chair at the home of some Dr. G. Ganapathy. I was told he was “one of the top physicians in all Trichy – studied in the US, very famous man.” Sounded good to me.
Five minutes later, in walks a delightful elderly man – who we’ve clearly woken up early – with a gentle step and sparkle in his eye. He asks me where I’m from; it turns out he spent 2 years in Sacramento, which in Tamil Nadu was as close as next door. (Later, having recovered, I would accompany him to his home so he could proudly show me photos of him, his wife and Alcatraz.)
For the next two hours, I was poked and prodded, slept on his home-office-bench, got 2 injections, was force-fed honey with fresh sweet lime juice, and continued to feel awful. Not to worry, said Dr. Ganapathy, I was going to get better. I wasn’t sure I believed him – but the one thing that definitely did make me feel better was realizing that we’d made an appointment at a moment’s notice, had never once been asked for insurance cards, and I was being treated almost as if I were family. It was comforting beyond words. (Why can’t a “developed” country like the US understand this?!?)
For the next several hours, my colleagues Nayakam, Aananth, Damodaran and Jose kept close watch over me. We ventured out once, for a couple of hours to see some Water.org work. I got sick again, nearly fainted, and decided not to do that again. Bed was the best option of all – I slept 17 hours in one day.
That evening we returned to the doctor, keeping him up both early and late. Once again he welcomed us with open arms. My fever had risen, so he kindly spent another 2 hours poking and prodding, and asked if I wanted to go to hospital. My colleagues flatly refused and insisted on taking me to their home instead. I will forever be grateful to Damu’s wife Viji and daughters Priya and Preethi for welcoming me with open arms, feeding me sugar-salt solution and (delicious!) rice porridge, and nursing me back to a semi-normal state. The following morning, after some tender coconut – the local palliative of choice – I was allowed back to the hotel and we moved on to Chennai. It would still be several days until I was back to normal (to be honest, I’m still not there yet) but the worst was over – and I’d had lessons in the kindness of colleagues, humanity of the medical profession (especially when not constrained by worries like malpractice) and a stern reminder to be kind to my palate in India!