Category Archives: Equality

Navigating Pokhara as a Cripple

Ah Nepal! High Mountain ranges snow, trekking… What a dream right? Well Nepal had a whole different set of plans for me!

Annapurna mountain above Begnas Tal
The beautiful Annapurna mountain range that we enjoyed waking up to at vipassana, but that I could not trek. View from the vipassana centre.

I arrived into Nepal to realise, once I had crossed the border, that I had forgotten my ukulele on the bus in India. Shit. Detachment, one of the lessons taught by the Buddha, which almost sounded like an ironic reminder a couple of days before starting my vipassana meditation retreat.

My other gift from India was an upset stomach, I didn’t feel like eating too much food and felt like sleeping a lot, so that’s exactly what I did.

Vipassana

The path to the vipassana centre was beautiful. The path taught there was beautiful too.
The path to the vipassana centre was beautiful. The path taught there was beautiful too.

I successfully completed my 10 days of silent mediation retreat, sitting 10 hours a day in meditation, with no hot water to take a shower. What a challenge! As if it wasn’t already hard enough, I got hit hard on day 5 by diarrhea and a very upset stomach that felt like witchcraft was going on in there.

But I made it! Without even trying to escape!

Happy Holi!

Chloe at Holi
The festival of colours, Holi, is a day where people throw coloured powders on eachother.

As a reintroduction to the “real world”, the day we got out of meditation was Holi, the Hindu festival of colours! Of course we wanted to celebrate, and with my new vipassana friends we set out armed with bright colours powders and started painting each other’s faces. We took special care of my friend’s and my own blond hair that were perfect canvases for mixing colours.

The streets were loud and crowded, and it gave me a buzz to have so much contact with people after 10 days with none!

When I first entered a dancing crowd, I felt people moving around respecting other people’s body spaces as much as possible. But later on in the streets, I got a few butt and boob brushes that I couldn’t identify, and even a few butt grabs that were seriously unpleasant and disrespectful, and if I couldn’t identify a potential harasser I would hit him back. Damn.

I did try to wear a mask to protect a bit of my lungs but it got coloured from the inside as well!
I did try to wear a mask to protect a bit of my lungs but it got coloured from the inside as well!

Shit happens

But the real shit happened when a young man walking towards with his friends me grabbed my breast. Totally. In shock and angry, I turned around to stop him, but he pushed me violently to the ground and ran away. I felt sharp pain in my knee, and noticed that a concrete block had drawn a deep cut on my knee. I sat down for a few minutes, trying to figure out what had just happened, when I noticed a girl walking up to us nursing her breasts. “Did you also get that boob grab?” I ask her, and she nods. Yes. That man had ran off just to keep on attacking other women.
Suddenly I didn’t feel angry any more. I felt pity for that miserable person who didn’t know any better than grabbing women’s breasts on the streets, and I felt deep sadness for the girl who looked so hurt. Wherever she is I hope she is okay right now.

This is when I realised how powerful Vipassana had been. When, a few months ago, in India, someone had poked my butt in a crowd, I got so angry that I spend days and even weeks raging over the event. I felt desperate, angry, disrespected, hurt, and couldn’t get over the fact that this society often didn’t consider women as equal and I had been a victim.
But not this time. The attack had been far worse. Not a poke, a stranger had been holding my breast fully in his hand, on the street, without any invitation to do so. And then he pushed me to the ground and by the depth of the cut I knew it was badly damaged. But I didn’t feel angry. He can keep his own misery for himself, he will not make me miserable. I did feel sorrow for the other girl. And also for that poor guy. So miserable.

The women around helped me clean my wound, then my friend piggybacked me up the hill so I could reach our hotel. First mission: take a shower, second mission: clean and attend to the cut. Without putting holi colours in it if possible.

Experiencing the hospital in Pokhara

Chloe's knee x-ray from hospital in Pokhara
Not your typical travel pics… but no broken bones!

The following morning, when I tried to extract myself out of bed to go to the bathroom, I knew the situation was bad. I couldn’t bend my knee and could barely carry any weight on it. I decided to go to the hospital which was quite an interesting experience!

The landlady from our hotel insisted she come with me to the hospital: “If you go, you understand nothing. Difficult. If I come, easy.” Deal. So we take a taxi to reach Metro City hospital, where they unload me in a wheelchair. At that point, my knee was extremely painful, swollen, and I could barely bend it.

First thing I notice once in the wheelchair, is that the hospital is barely adapted to this form of transportation. There are doorways, small steps, steep inclines, which make the ride difficult and painful.
Once in a room, a women comes to me and introduces herself as doctor. She is not wearing a medical blouse nor a name tag. She says that if the pain is unbearable I can pay for emergency. When I ask her to explain what that means she says the doctor is not here, he will be available this afternoon and will have to see the wound and x-ray. But she can do a dressing and give me painkillers. I decide that I do not need this kind of service, so I am wheeled out of the room and my host goes to buy a “ticket” to see the doctor this afternoon. Then we buy some crutches. At least now I can walk around!

One of my favourtie things was when my friend was tired of my slow pace and would pick me up for a ride on his motorbike!
One of my favourtie things was when my friend was tired of my slow pace and would pick me up for a ride on his motorbike!

When we go back in the afternoon, I hobble to the doctors office. It is both a waiting room and office as the doctor sees the patient in front of everyone. If privacy is required, there is a bed hidden behind a curtain. My knee consultation is thus public. I am directed to the x-ray, then back to the doctor’s office.

At the x-ray, I feel really unsafe when the operator loosely covers my body with some protective wear, doubling it over my genitals and asking me to hold it close. I’m having my dose of radiation for a while I guess!

Good news: no broken bones! I get a new dressing, worse that what I would have done myself, then I get a knee brace. Now it is less painful to walk!

What to do with a wrecked leg in a tourist place

Phewa Lake in Pokhara
A beautiful lake and quite a nice place to be forced to stay… Still, after 10 days of roaming the same street I did get quite tired of it!

Everyday I looked with envy towards the sky, where multitudes of paragliders were hanging out enjoying the view on the Annapurna mountain range.
I spend hours at cafes and restaurants with my friends, enjoying a conversation with a cup of coffee and some warm sun.
Once my vipassana friends had gone, I didn’t have time to feel lonely: some magic appeared in the form of a small American dirt biker and her black Swedish friend.

“Hello Stranger! “

Sitting in a restaurant, waiting for my lunch, I observed a cool looking guy relaxing on the couch with his computer. Minutes later, with a cry of excitement, a girl runs in tapping her feet like and excited Japanese schoolgirl I am front of anything too Kawai.
I made up a scenario in my head where the girl had just rented her hiking equipment and was excited to join her friend for a hike. Not exactly right but it was a fun guess!

Rocking the pink hair, souvenirs from Holi!
Rocking the pink hair, souvenirs from Holi!

Before I even had my meal, the girl walked up to me: “Hey stranger! Would you like to join us?”. And suddenly I was part of the gang.

The two had big biking dreams, and planned to rent dirt bikes to ride up the mountains. During one week I had all the discussions of them making numerous plans, and eventually they did set off with an extended team on my last day in Pokhara!

The girl moved into my room, so the rent was really cheap. Three times cheaper than a bed in the dorm of most hostels! Plus we had our own private bathroom and space to make a mess, which is what I totally did.

During the week, various travellers momentarily joined us for a meal or more with the “Hello Stranger” technique. Pokhara was a friendly place and even striking up a conversation with a stranger on the street could lead you to hanging out together for the day!

Tibetan singing bowls sound bath at Nirvana

I went almost every day to Nirvana's free sound bath sessions, and also had a private!
I went almost every day to Nirvana’s free sound bath sessions, and also had a private!

A vipassana friend had told us about some free sound bath sessions at a hidden rooftop place called Nirvana. Luckily, we ran into it while we were roaming the streets and we joined one of the “chakra healing” sessions.

After vipassana and my new-found skills to scan the sensations over my whole body, it was an overwhelming sensation to be immersed in the vibrations of the singing bowls. I could feel the vibration concentrating on the right side of my body, one the same spots where I would feel the pain during the meditation sessions.

I joined nearly every day and was welcomed as family, and could feel my body releasing in different ways during every session. Aju, one of the practitioners, paid extra attention to my knee and even did some hot water therapy. I think it did help!

Sick of it!

“What a good time she spent!” you must be thinking. Truth is, I got sick again. Or maybe the bugs never went away. Most of the days I spent in Pokhara, I still had that bad diarrhea, and even worse, I had no appetite at all.
I had been dreaming of veggie burgers, of nachos, of fruits during vipassana, but I could barely eat more than one meal a day at that time. As a consequence I was extremely weak and had to spend a lot of time sleeping or resting my body.

I found a lovely French/Nepali restaurant which had MY FAVOURITE FEMINIST MAGAZINE and these adorable babies stole my crutches. That day I ate 2/3rds of a crepe and fell asleep for the day.
I found a lovely French/Nepali restaurant which had MY FAVOURITE FEMINIST MAGAZINE and these adorable babies stole my crutches. That day I ate 2/3rds of a crepe then fell asleep for the day.

My knee was still hurting a lot and with basically one main street that I had walked very slowly dozens of times, Pokhara had kind of lost its charm to me.

In the depths if my despair, I had my father and pharmacist back home helping me out with the medical issues, and I got my greatest friends on a Skype call where we barely managed to see each other but I was super happy to hear them all excited on their skiing weekend, and it gave me the motivation to book my plane back home in June!

The challenges of staying in a place that does not have the word “accessibility” on their menu.

How to attract even more touts as by being a white blonde traveller with blue eyes? Have crutches!
How to attract even more touts as by being a white blonde traveller with blue eyes? Have crutches!

It could have been worse, but Pokhara is definitely not a place I would call “accessible”. There are sidewalks (unlike most of India) but they are often broken and blocked by roadworks or motorbikes.
There is steps to access almost every shop and restaurant, and even my bathroom had a high step to enter!

In these moments, you learn to be grateful for small things. For one, I was blessing the inventor of western toilets. Seriously, how do you do when you can’t bend your leg?!

By the end of the week I spent there, the cut was closing nicely and I could walk slowly without crutches and was also able to fold my knee a bit. Slowly getting better!

Navigating Pokhara Lakeside's narrow paths is easier said than done with crutches!
Navigating Pokhara Lakeside’s narrow paths is easier said than done with crutches!
These toilets at OR2K look fantastic but the cowboy doors were VERY difficult to deal with for me!
These toilets at OR2K look fantastic but the cowboy doors were VERY difficult to deal with for me!
Assistive technologies for the disadvantaged. I hold eternal gratitude to the people who invented a contraption to allow females to pee while standing. It saved my life a few times as I couldn't bend my knees to use squat toilets.
Assistive technologies for the disadvantaged. I hold eternal gratitude to the people who invented a contraption to allow females to pee while standing. It saved my life a few times as I couldn’t bend my knees to use squat toilets.

7 reasons we wouldn’t want to live in an Indian university campus

Edit: I reverted the title to its original one: “7 reasons we wouldn’t…” instead of “7 reasons not to…” as this article is entirely about our opinion and shouldn’t be understood as an advice article.

Edit 2: I had a great discussion with some important people from the uni, who explained many things I would never have guessed otherwise. I changed once again the title from “we wouldn’t study…” to “we wouldn’t want to live…” as I have rightly been pointed out, most of this has nothing to do with the quality of education but with the accommodation and lifestyle. Once again, this is from a Western perspective and experience so it probably wouldn’t apply to Indian students. I have been told that some people have felt offended by my post: I wasn’t aware of some sensitivities and would like to apologise for being hurtful. I have written this as an insight of what we felt living in this campus and discussing with local students, but did not want to hurt anyone, please do not take this personally , I really do not mean it. 

With Simona, we have been staying at Ettimadai campus of Amrita University for almost 3 weeks. It is about one hour away from Coimbatore (if the train isn’t too late), and basically in the middle of nowhere. We had a lot of fun with the local girls we met at the hostel, who were really cool and taught us a lot about Indian life, even dressing us up in the evening! Although we found it fun to discover hostel life, we often talked about why we could never do what they are doing now: voluntarily put ourselves in this kind of campus for 4 years of studies.

Chloe and Simona with local friends
Getting dressed up by a full team of professional saree fitters. These girls are awesome!

Warning: this article has been thought up by Simona and myself during our long complaints about what we don’t like here; what we say here is from the perspective of us as people used to a certain level of comfort and freedom, and if you don’t come from the same background you might not understand why we’re complaining and there’s a possibility you find this insulting. Sometimes we’re being sarcastic; sometimes we believe there’s a real problem behind.
So hey, whether you feel offended or you totally agree, let’s have a discussion about this!

1. Being denied any kind of responsibility

Students at Amrita University stay in “hostels”, but not our kind of warm and welcoming European hostels with a party atmosphere. Here, the word “hostel” refers to the massive buildings with loads of single rooms or shared dorms. First year students share a room between 3 or 4 people, then they get individual rooms. Students have to be back early in their hostels, depending on the year of studies and gender (see picture below), and are not allowed to stay in friends’ rooms after 9:30pm.

Amritapuri Hostel
Here’s the hostel we’re staying at, with nice mountains in the background! Our hostel has 2 of these kind of wings on either side, and in rows from A to H. That’s approximately 800 rooms! We’re on the furthest side and there’s only one entrance to the building so it’s a long walk around…

Students are generally not allowed to go outside of campus. The campus is surrounded by walls 2 metres high, complete with barbed wire on the top. I know, I know, it’s to protect us from the elephants. But still. If students want to go outside, they need to ask several days before, with written permission from their parents.

Basically, we feel like students are treated as children here.

Edit: cut out some unnecessary complaints. Also, I learnt more about Indian culture, and the kids (as people under 18 years old) don’t have the freedom and responsibilities that we have in Europe, also because of safety considerations. I still feel that student are treated like kids instead of adults, but now I kind of understand  why.

2. Rules are more restrictive for girls

As if it weren’t enough to have super-restrictive rules for students, they make it worse for girls! For example, first semester female students have to be back in their hostel by 8pm, while guys are allowed to stay out until 9pm! Also, these first semester girls are not allowed to go outside AT ALL while guys can ask for a pass. Nope, no days outside in the city, no going back home, please stay inside of your hostel for a semester!

Hostel rules at Amritapuri
A sample of hostel rules. Notice how most time restrictions are more restrictive more girls… I know, the picture is terrible, I’ll try to get another one!

Come on, it’s 2016! The campus feels overprotected and super-secured, why wouldn’t girls be allowed to stay outside of their dorms as long as guys can?

Edit: I could make it more “politically correct” but haven’t received any satisfactory explanation on this one so I’ll leave it like this for now. I still cannot understand this kind of rules. Please comment if you can tell my why it is so!

3. Comfort, or rather the lack of

The hostel rooms are very basic. We were lucky enough to get our own attached bathroom, but this is not the case of most girls here (I’ll just switch to speaking about girls as we didn’t experience the “Boys Hostel”!). Our attached bathroom has a western toilet and a shower above it, with no hot water (well it does get tepid around 11am). The other girls have 3 even more basic bathrooms at the end of each corridor, with an Indian toilet and a tap. A tap. No shower for them, they have to bring their own bucket to “take a bath” as they say.

hostel comfort
What you can expect from your hostel room. We didn’t know about the hot water though!

The beds (“cot”) are basically an elevated sheet of metal with a hard mattress on the top. Some Indians seem used to this, many complain about as much as we do.

There are bugs all over the place and they seem to love our room. We realised that despite being beautiful creatures dragonflies are as dumb as moths when they come hitting our lamp in the evening. Trails of ants cross our room and the corridors. We discover new bugs almost daily! And the mosquitoes definitely love our exotic blood.

Yeah, sometimes the bugs we get are pretty rad.
Yeah, sometimes the bugs we get are pretty rad.

Nothing seems to be ever clean, everything is dusty, even when we try our best. Back at the Ashram, we laughed at the “perfectly engineered stone” a woman was using to smack her clothes clean. But when it was our turn to wash our clothes, we were clueless about how to use this wonder of technology. Give me back my washing machine!

Edit: once again, cut out some unnecessary complaints.

4. Currycurrycurrycurrycurrycurrycurrycurry

You name it. Spicy is on the menu for lunch, dinner and breakfast. I managed to keep up with the breakfast for a while when I had big days at work. But now I can’t do it any more, and we skip breakfast most days. The other options are some terribly un-nutritious white bread with super-sweet jam or biscuits and fruit.

It’s not that the food is not good. But for us, it is always the same thing. Curry and rice. I did come to the point where I recognise the different kind of curries and would be excited if my favourite was served, but it is still the same thing. Rice and curry. We’re craving vegetables by themselves, without being drowned in some spicy sauce. I didn’t miss Western food as much in countries where there was more varieties in the dishes, but here I would love to have a “regular” sweet breakfast and some non-spicy food with fresh veggies from time to time.

campus food with papaya and pineapple
The first meal we got on this campus was delicious, but we never had fruits ever since.

In tea and coffee there is always milk, no way no get your hot drink black. I have to deal with my unhappy stomach quite often as a milk-intolerant-and-mostly-vegan person.
We are not the only ones to complain about the food: most girls, especially from other states, complain about the food. They don’t like it; find it too spicy, or not spicy enough.

Last but not least, we students from EPFL miss our beer after a hard day at work! Alcohol is forbidden on campus, and in some occasions we couldn’t imagine what would happen if it were allowed 😉

5. “Modest” clothing

In Ettimadai campus, the dress code is more relaxed than at the Ashram. However, women are still expected to cover their legs and shoulders outside of the hostel. Inside the hostel, many girls seem to spend days in their pyjamas and never leave the hostel; I would do the same if I had to put on “appropriate” clothes to go outside!

For the guys, it seems to be acceptable that they wear shorts, and some of these look more like underpants! Once again, even though the rules are same for everyone, the guys seem to be freer than the girls in clothing options. The girls complain about their uniform, they say it is not comfortable.

Indian in puffer jacket at 24°C
It was funny to notice that when the temperature drops, Indian pull out their puffer jackets. Even if “cold” is 24°C! That day, we were so happy to feel cool!

The problem with the clothing is the heat. If there wasn’t any dress code, it would make the heat more bearable. And if it wasn’t that hot, I would still be annoyed by having these rules but I wouldn’t complain too much about having to cover myself up.

6. Gender separation

I’m glad I came with a girl-friend here, but we heard many stories about girls coming to uni with their best (guy) friend, and not being able to sit on besides another without being scolded! One girl told us about the “one laptop” rule, which is the distance to be kept between friends of opposite genders.

Simona and guys in the background at Anokha
The moment we experience the most “mixity” between genders was at Anokha festival (see video below!). Girls and guys were casually hanging out and dancing together. We still laughed when noticing the physical proximity with guys 🙂 Also, an hour later (around 8:30pm actually), guards walked through the crowd blowing on their whistles and yelling “Girls back to hostels!”. As usual, the guys were allowed to stay outside and have fun later in the evening.

The girls also told us about arranged marriages. They told us, defeated, that their parents will find a suitable husband for them soon. Our friends don’t seem happy about it, rather resigned. Next generation might be freer to marry whoever they chose in a “love marriage” at least they hope it for their children.

7. The great Firewall of Amrita

Once we managed to get internet access, we discovered there was a great censorship on websites classified as “entertainment and arts”. That means no ukulele tabs, no “opinion” websites talking about the news, no sports coaching websites… I couldn’t even access my bank or the Creative Commons website when I was looking up open source licensing! Surprisingly, we could still access Facebook, YouTube and eBay… but not Skype, WhatsApp pictures, etc.

censorship at Amrita university
Seriously, not even this website about Open Source licensing? I am very disappointed…

As I had to go to IT to ask them to unlock my bank’s website, I asked them what the firewall was for: “to block porn”. Okay. Even though I find it abusive, I could understand the block on “entertainment”. But arts?! What is that for?

Anyway, the wifi often happens to be not working at all, and with the frequent and long power cuts we have other problems too.

So these were our main reasons for definitely not wanting to study here for an extended period of time! I hope you are not too shocked or upset about what you just read! Please feel free to comment 🙂

Edit: more than feel free, please do comment if you can explain any of these things that we couldn’t, or if I said something very offending without realising it!

Two months in India

I feel like I have barely written my post about my first month in India, and now it has been two months today already !

Even though I miss most of them, the sunsets are still really nice over here.
Even though I miss most of them, the sunsets are still really nice over here.

Since last time, I calmed down about some things that annoyed me most, but some others annoyances are getting worse. Many events have occurred over these last four weeks. Amma has left the Ashram, I went on a couple of girlie escapes from there too, I went swimming in the Ocean and made some new Indian friends. My project started happening, the 500 and 1000 rupee notes have been declared illegal and Trump got elected. I started working again on some projects from back home, I moved into a new room and new students arrived.

Project Time in Coimbatore

One month after starting my project, the designing session was over, and we started production. If you’re curious about the manufacturing, have a look over here.

The Ricycle's first prototype bike
With my Ricycle bike and manufacturer after our first 4 days of work.

The manufacture workshop we were working in is located on another campus, 300 kilometres away. Don’t be fooled by the “short” distance, it actually takes 10 hours to get there.  In my new flat, I was happily surprised by finding two Dutch students in the living room. They were also doing a project here and it was nice to meet some new friends, and watch movies in the evening.

Amritapuri Ettimadai surroundings
The campus in Ettimadai (near Coimbatore) is surrounded by mountains and has a friendlier atmosphere than Amritapuri. It is also cooler in the evenings and has less mosquitoes, which is also enjoyable.
One great thing about the Coimbatore campus is the Swimming pool... until dozens of kids jump into the water for training along the width of the swimming pool. The Ashram swimdress also makes training more intense!
One great thing about the Coimbatore campus is the Swimming pool… until dozens of kids jump into the water for training along the width of the swimming pool. The Ashram swimdress also makes training more intense!
odissi dance
We were lucky to attend the Odissi dance performance at uni. The dancer was also very pedagogic and explained the meanings of movements and songs.

Ashram Life

Since Amma has gone, the Ashram is calmer, there are less people around but also less activities and shops closed most of the time. The swimming pool has been closed for technical problems. One day, after meditation, Amma scolded her swamis and devotees who arrived late, and sent them to run around the meditation as a punishment. Since then, devotees walk or run around the hall “for fitness”, because Amma told them to do so and her intention makes the action stronger. I find it hilarious to see the Indians in shirt and dhoti (“skirt”) run around the hall barefeet. But I joined them by doing 10 laps every few days followed by strengthening exercises, and it is a soothing practise. I hope to heal my knee who hasn’t recovered from the unexpected marathon in June (Run24Dorigny).

robots and food, two of my faves
One day, a colleague from the lab invited me to have a dinner he cooked in the lab, from Northern India.

New friends arrive, and old friends left. We have been playing music after dinner, eating loads of cake to finish our food cards and eating enough watermelon with Chris to carry baby watermelons in our full stomachs.

Akshay with a snake
The Ashram is sometimes like a zoo… after rats, pigeons and crows in my room, cockroaches, ants and millipedes crawling all around, here is a snake found just outside the building.

Sweet Escapes

Don’t ask me why I hadn’t escaped the Ashram earlier. Once I did it I was asking myself the same question. Part of the answer comes from numerous bank holidays and strikes we were not told of, otherwise we would definitely have gone on a week-end somewhere!

Houseboat in Alleppey

With 3 other girls from the Ashram, we decided to take 2 days off from spiritual life and go on a houseboat tour. The backwaters of Kerala are a very famous network of canals and lakes where houseboats can be rented overnight.

Justine, Lise, Teresa and I, enjoying the cruise. How great to find ourselves in a girls group on the backwaters!
Justine, Lise, Teresa and I, enjoying the cruise. How great to find ourselves in a girls group on the backwaters!

Beach time in Varkala

Another escape from the Ashram, just a few days ago, was to the beach in Varkala. My new friend Khan had told me about a music and arts festival he was organising, and as I was coming back from Coimbatore it would be the occasion to visit this beach resort.

gigantic jellyfish
Simona and a gigantic jellyfish. Loads of them were washed up on the beach, and many others stinged us while we were swimming. No jellyfish fights like back in New Zealand here!

I had too much to say about these adventures so read more about the houseboat tour and Varkala here!

Trump, feminism, shitty feelings, etc.

When the US elections were going on, I was in the workshop in Coimbatore. I was looking at the ongoing results with fear. When Trump was declared next president, I didn’t know what to think about the situation. I was in shock.

“To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” Douglas Adams (thanks Johann!)

I didn’t think Clinton was the best candidate, but I believed she was infinitely better than that misogynist, racist and islamophobic  guy. I felt terrible because as a women, I felt personally attacked by his repeated offences on women. I felt terrible because society didn’t care that much about sexual assault, and thought it was ok to have a president who could do such things to women. I felt like crawling in my bed and crying, waiting for the storm to go by.
I felt terrible because these elections were bringing up bad memories of harassment I had tried burying deep inside,  and I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Women were hurt all around the planet. I felt hurt not only because of the guy I feared, but also because I somehow identified as the woman I realised I admired, because she came so far and a white man less qualified got the job: “I cried because it does things to you to always come second.”

The only thing I hold to know, is the hope that you sometimes need to take a great fall to get back on your legs. Lets do this together.

Illegal Tender

Just the day before Trump became president, we had another piece of bad news. It was after dinner, the Dutch and I were watching a movie. Jelmer suddely rises and pauses the movie: “Guys, are you ready for this?!” and he reads the news about the new money situation. The government had suddenly declared that all notes of 500 and 2000 rupees (approx 8 and 30€) were worthless pieces of paper, from midnight the same day.

Our first reaction was: “Should we get a taxi to Coimbatore and get drunk?”. But we quickly resumed our movie, confident that we would soon be able to change our old notes into new and withdraw money from the ATM.

One week later, the situation was slightly getting better: after waiting in line for 2 hours I was able to withdraw 2000 rupees from both of my cards.
One week later, the situation was slightly getting better: after waiting in line for 2 hours I was able to withdraw 2000 rupees from both of my cards.

That was, we were thinking in our European mindsets. We didn’t expect banks to be locked down for 2 days and ATMs empty for a week. We didn’t expect the banks to refuse to serve foreigners. And we definitely didn’t expect a maximum amount of 2000 rupees (15€) to be withdrawn per day.

Luckily, at the university and Ashram, we didn’t have to pay for anything, and the situation could’ve been far worse. I couldn’t imagine being travelling around or having to pay for my stay somewhere and catch a plane with no money. We even managed to escape to Varkala with almost nothing, as we heard that the tourist spots accepted old bills. We also hoped that the money situation would be better in a city than in a village: it wasn’t.

In Varkala it became a joke: “No money!” we told the vendors, “No money no problem!” they answered, “come tomorrow!”. When I couldn’t afford soap, it was suddenly less fun.

At that moment, I realised it was a real serious situation. Government was fighting corruption, but wasn't able to foresee the consequences of taking out all the biggest notes. People didn't have money. Banks neither. There were people queuing in front of each bank for hours, not even sure to be able to deposit their old currency or withdraw from their bank account.
At that moment, I realised it was a real serious situation. Government was fighting corruption, but wasn’t able to foresee the consequences of taking out all the biggest notes. People didn’t have money. Banks neither. There were people queuing in front of each bank for hours, not even sure to be able to deposit their old currency or withdraw from their bank account.

Spiritual Pause

With Amma gone, the spiritual vibe of the place lessened. With all this travelling around and a new flatmate, I was practising less meditation and yoga. Now, with more uni students around, the conversations are more about fun facts about India rather than spiritual discoveries. I have read a few great books that helped me understand what is going on, and I’m looking forward to Amma’s return to get back into spiritual mood.

Monkey sitting on a branch.
Pensive monkey in his monkey tree… picture taken in the village where I will implement my project.

Not “Finding myself in India”

So many people talk about “finding themselves in India”. I was feeling like I lost myself. With all the rules from uni I didn’t dare break, and all the fear instilled in me by people who had never been to India themselves, I didn’t recognize me in my habits. Add to that the discovery of spiritual stuff and I was getting lost, not found.

I walked in the street gazing down, afraid of the disgusting dirty looks I once noticed when I walked past Indian men. I was staying in familiar places, not even trying to explore. I was locked by a fear that wasn’t mine, the fear people had for me when I said I was going to India. Just like in Brazil, I wasn’t scared, but people made me feel insecure.

Where did my inner explorer go? Where is the crazy girl who keeps running away on adventures? I haven’t even climbed up the highest building of the Ashram, and that’s a mere elevator ride.

Getting high, on 14th floor, but still not on the rooftop.
Getting high, on 14th floor, but still not on the rooftop.

When we went outside for the first time, and I could pull out the GPS on my phone to check the directions or train stop, I was back into my normal self. Not lost, confident, and having loads of fun. It was a great way to prove myself that I could do it, I could travel India with my friends and I could do it alone. These baby steps proved me that India wasn’t that different from countries I’ve travelled, I know how to be safe, and I’m not afraid.

After a MONTH AND A HALF, I went swimming in the sea. It was awesome, and I caught the cutest sunburn I've ever had. I can't believe I waited this long.
After a MONTH AND A HALF, I went swimming in the sea. It was awesome, and I caught the cutest sunburn I’ve ever had. I can’t believe I waited this long to go to the beach.

Giving a hand

With the Cybathlon going on, showcasing the cutting-edge prosthetic technologies, I couldn’t help thinking about the low-cost available options when I met a kid with several limb differences in my project village in India. What if we could (litterally) give him a hand?

e-NABLE

The e-NABLE community has been designing, printing and fitting hands and arms for children with upper limb differences. So far, they have solutions for hand- differences (missing fingers, functional wrist) and forearms (no functional wrist, functional elbow).  All of the prosthetics are open-source so that anyone can print their own and edit the design, allowing constant improvement and adaptability.

Isabella design:
Isabella design: “This device was created for those that have a functional elbow and a considerable amount of forearm but no wrist or not enough wrist/palm to power a wrist driven device.”

Here is a webpage listing all their released designs.

UnLimbited

The UnLimbited Isabella and Alfie designs have fingers powered by elbow motion. If the bearer of the prosthetic bends their elbow, the fingers will close, enabling them to grasp objects.

The prosthetic is printed in PLA to allow thermoforming, and is fully scalable to be adapted to the recipient.

UnLimbited Alfie prosthetic fitted to a happy girl.
UnLimbited Alfie prosthetic fitted to a very happy girl, Sophia. Picture from Thingiverse.

Source files on Thingiverse

Look at those smiles when they try their new arms on for the first time!

3D-printed hands

Before learning about the 3D-printed arms, I knew about the Robohand initiative and 3D-printed hands. Here are some designs:

Cyborg Beast

Cyborg Beast 3D-printed hand from Thingiverse
Cyborg Beast 3D-printed hand from Thingiverse

Basic Robohand

Basic Robohand design from Thingiverse
Basic Robohand design from Thingiverse

Sexual Harassment

A photo posted by Chloe Dickson (@chloer.dickson) on

Someone touched my bottom today. At Amma’s birthday, a joyous celebration with 50,000 people attending. The worse about it, is that I expected and feared this event. Countdown: 11 days in India before being subjected to sexual harassment.

For sure, I was an easy prey. In everyday life at the ashram, there are many white people so the Indian don’t really pay attention to us. But here, with dozens of thousands of Indian attendees, we did get noticed. So the white blond girl, she will get her backside poked. Yeah, she is definitely provoking with this tunic that only covers her bottom and not her entire thighs. And she a westerner, they’re open about sex right?
The guys were “lucky”, I yelled behind me as soon as it happened, but it might have been the young jerks rushing in front of us. I was ready to swing my water bottle in the face of my harasser, but I could distinguish him in the crowd.

Every day, I have to be careful about my outfit: I have to cover my legs, my shoulders, my backside with a long tunic and my breasts shape with a shawl. Because showing some skin might be exciting and provoking for men. Dammit, I have to hide all of my body for my own safety, while MEN are not dealt with if they have unappropriate behaviour. And they get to wear “miniskirts”. They don’t have to hide their body that much.

I somehow knew it was going to happen at some point, and I am extremely angry and upset it happened. How come they can feel that it is normal to touch a women’s bottom? If you say that this is the way it is in India and I should just get over it, then you’re part of the problem.

(here I am assuming that it is a man given the context and the people surrounding me at the time it happened, but I would be as angry if it were a female aggressor)

Background picture: gender segregation for dishes. I shouldn’t judge but this feels like a pretty messed-up culture. I eat most of the time with a male friend, I think it is an inappropriate behaviour.