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Better late than never . . .

Where to begin?

I'm writing in December, two months since I returned from India, and I feel like I'm still absorbing a lot from the trip. I saw so much while I was there - it was an incredibly busy trip, and I'm not entirely sure where to start . . .

I had the chance to go to India because the country program organized a study trip to introduce staff to the work that they're doing with self-help groups. Self-help groups (SHGs) have existed in India for a long time, but over the past few years we've been focusing on helping women organize into SHGs, and working with SHGs on a variety of programs. SHGs often start for savings and credit purposes. Women will get together, pool their savings and lend money to each other from that pool. After they have some experience with savings and lending and have built up a certain amount of savings, groups may have the opportunity to borrow from a rural bank, taking a loan of between two and four times the amount that they have saved. The SHGs also provide a platform that helps women work together to address issues in their communities, as we heard time and time again in our visits with SHG members. I knew a bit about CRS' work with SHGs going in to the trip, but I was really impressed with what I saw and heard about it during the trip.

Beginning at the beginning - we got into Delhi around midnight. The plane was full, and I was sitting near the back, so by the time I got out, there was a crazy crowd at immigration, and it took forever to get through the line. And that was jus the beginning of the masses and masses of people - there are just so many people in India.

Walking out the doors of the airport in Delhi, the humid air reaches in to you, heavy, oily, with faint hints of other smells underlying the prevailing acrid odor of burning rubber. Even in the middle of the night there's a bewildering crowd waiting outside for arrivals, most of them men offering taxi services or wanting to carry your luggage. We piled ourselves and our luggage into the van, and set off for the hotel.


As best I could determine, the traffic rules in India are fairly simple: 1) drive in the middle of the road unless about to turn; 2) yield only to larger vehicles, and then only if absolutely necessary; and 3) apply horn liberally. Outside of the cities, rule #2 is modified to include livestock. I got my introduction to the system in the middle of the night, exhausted from the flight and completely overwhelmed by all the activity around me. We were on a highway, so all the traffic was exclusively vehicular, but it ranged from motorbikes to buses to auto-rickshaws, which look rather like oblong tin boxes on three wheels (and which can apparently carry any where from two to six passengers, depending on how close everyone is willing to get) to the large trucks that are only allowed in the city late at night, and which are decked out in bright paint, tinsel garland, fabric, pictures of plants, animals, gods and goddesses, and whatever else was pleasing to the eye of the decorator. A friend who worked in Pakistan for awhile compared the experience of being passed by such trucks on the highway to being dive-bombed by the Merry Pranksters. Watching them, I was reminded of walking down the midway at the New Mexico State Fair when I was in Albuquerque in September - machinery and flash and glitz and grime, seasoned with a sense that, at any second, something could go horribly wrong.

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