Immersed from the get-go

     Hi CASI followers! I hope you are all doing well and enjoying your
summers! A lot has happened since I last wrote…
So my first homestay was quite the experience! I reached Chirag, the
ngo I am working for this summer, on Monday May 20th and was sent to a
home stay for six days, from Thursday, May 23rd to Wednesday, May
29th. At first it seemed like a fairly daunting task to be facing by
myself: living with a family of twenty-one members, of which only two
members spoke very little English; with no phone, electricity, or
running water for six days, but by the end I made some great friends
and learned a lot about the culture of the hills region in India!
 I was definitely overwhelmed on the first day I arrived at my
home stay because of two factors. Number one the language barrier; it
was the biggest hurdle to overcome because the mother and
daughter-in-law were the two members of the family who were around the
most and they did not speak any English. It caused me to have to learn
some basic Hindi words and phrases fast such as food (khana), boiled
water (ubla hua paani), thank you (dania vad), I am going to
Kasiyalekh (mai Kasiyalekh ja rahi hun) and other such phrases. In
addition, there was, in my opinion, an abnormal amount of flies in and
around the house; that took some getting used to. It got to the point
where I was okay with flies being on any part of my body except for my
face, there were just too many to try and fend them all off,
especially when you were eating
.If I had internet there would be a picture of the house I stayed in and the youngest daughter, Poojah, 23, making dinnerPic 1 Pic 2

Once I was able to accept that these two factors would be a part of my
life while I was at the home stay my remaining time there was a blast!
I learned so much about the agricultural lifestyle because I was
living it. The family would go to sleep around 10pm and wake up at
4:30am; they would start their day by collecting fodder to feed the
animals, milking the cows, collecting water from the pump by the road,
cooking breakfast, and then heading up the hillside to start
harvesting their crops. While I was there the family was harvesting
their wheat (gahoon) crops. I was lucky enough to get to help in the
process! Once the women collected the wheat the entire family would
sit on the porch and pound the wheat on the ground to collect the
kernels. They would then sort the kernels from the wheat stocks and
the kernels would be sold in the market; the whole process would take
around two days to complete per section of wheat brought down from the
hillside. I helped the family with the pounding of the stocks to
collect all of the kernels. It is a very tedious and time consuming
process and certainly gave me more respect for the amount of work the
women and men have to put in to provide for the family. After the
women let me help them with the wheat they were more keen on letting
me complete other tasks…often it was more a form of entertainment for
them rather than a help because I was not as efficient or skilled as
     I helped everyday to carry water up the hillside to the
household. There was a communal pump for the village next to the road
where everyone would go to get their drinking water. I was only able
to carry a bucket half the size of the other women on my head and even
then I had difficulty not spilling it all over myself! It is amazing
how they are able to balance jugs of water on their head and then
walk/hike up a hillside at least six times a day! The women also let
me try to make chapattis; chapattis are the flat, round bread that is
eaten with most meals. The chapattis were made from scratch before
every meal and I would often sit in the kitchen and watch the women
make them. It looks simple enough to do, but wow I was wrong. Not only
was my chapatti not circular (it ended up having more of an oval
shape), but the woman had made at least three more chapattis by the
time I had made one. After that experience I left the dough making to
the experts, but helped out wherever else I could!

Here is a picture of me helping to cook dinner one night!

    After the first couple of days where I explored the region and
helped out at my home stay I visited the Chirag office in Kasiyalekh.
Chirag has remote offices in surrounding villages where various
activities take place and Kasiyalekh was the perfect fit for me
because of the project I have decided to work on while I am here. I
will be working with Kumaun Grameen Udyog  (KGU), an organization
started by Chirag. Chirag is a non-for-profit organization, but KGU is
a for profit firm who feeds all of its profits back into Chirag health
and education programs. KGU has created a shop called Kilmora, which
sells all local goods made from efforts spearheaded by Chirag. There
are garments, shawls, stoles, and scarves created by a local weaving
center; toys, hats, gloves, and tea cozies made by local knitting
groups; and chutneys, spreads, apricot oil, and apricot scrub made
from local fruit cooperatives. I will be working with KGU on various
fronts, but the most pressing matter is their operations management
system. As of right now their entire inventory as well as sales and
delivery processes are done by hand, which is very inefficient and
causes for a lot of unnecessary duplication of information. I am going
to computerize the system by creating excel documents, which the
employees and administration can utilize, and also hold a training
program for the employees to learn how to use the new system. I am
very excited for this project because I will get to utilize a lot of
skills I have pick up from Wharton classes, and I will get to learn
about the cultural differences which cause businesses to run
differently in India than in the US.

Here are some pictures of the weaving center, apricot product process
and a knitting group in Kasiyalekh.
 (Pic 5) (Pic6) (Pic 7)


5 thoughts on “Immersed from the get-go

  1. Hi Alex,
    I just heard about your internship from your dad and it sounds like an unbelievable experience! I am so proud of you and know you are going to gain amazing global perspective. Your takeaways are going to help you so much in the future in all realms of your life. I can’t wait to hear all about it first-hand over one of our lunches. I even hear that finance and accounting has come in handy! 🙂 I’ll keep reading your blog to stay up to date. Enjoy!! Christine

  2. Hi Alex!
    We can’t believe you are in India and having such an incredible experience!! We are so envious and hope you enjoy everything about your time abroad!! Can’t wait to hear all about it!!!!

    Clare and Jill

  3. Hi Alex! Ah this is making me nostalgic for Chirag 🙂 I’m so glad you are really immersing yourself with everything. Even the flies are not bad. I’m also incredibly jealous that you got to carry water! Others just looked at me, laughed, and said they didn’t want me to hurt my head. I hope at least that has given you some of a workout! How’s that going?
    Your project sounds great too! I’m excited to hear more about it 🙂 Just a though: It may be helpful to design it with a no-internet mindset. Ie: What happens if multiple people are working on the same document on different computers?

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About Alexandra Iqbal

I am an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. This summer I am traveling to the northern region of India where I will be working for CHIRAG - The Central Himalayan Rural Action Group for 10 weeks. I will be working with micro finance and supply chain management of the fruit cooperatives in the region. I am looking forward to an exciting and cultural experience this summer! My journey in India starts on May 17th when I arrive in New Delhi.