A few observations

I’ve been in Yerevan, Armenia for about three weeks. Through conversations with Armenians, or my own observations, I’ve learned a few things…

  • “Welcome to Armenia. It is a beautiful, nice place and I hope you love my country.” –something (or a variation) that almost every Armenian has said to me. So much pride in the country, which I understand. It’s a wonderful country that’s been good to me so far!

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  • Almost everyone’s surname ends with the suffix -yan or -ian. Think Kim Kardashian…
  • The hospitality is unreal. I have been served so many cups of coffee and tea, and have been given so many candies/pastries/fruits.
  • Pomegranates are a symbol of Armenia. They symbolize unity and fertility, because their seeds are individual units that come together to comprise a whole fruit. Grapes are another symbol.
  • Storks are a symbol of good luck.
  • In some cases, license plates can cost more than the car itself. If the license plate has five of the same numbers, it is probably expensive. From my understanding, it’s a status symbol… But I’m not completely sure so don’t take my word for it.
  • Many ‘traditional’ Armenian churches are not elaborately decorated on the inside so as to not distract people from praying.

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  • State hospitals that are funded by the government must have five mandatory clinics: surgery, general medicine, pediatrics, a maternity ward, and an infectious disease clinic that is separate from the rest of the hospital. The hospital may have more than these five clinics, but in order to get funding, these five are the minimum.
  • Almost everyone, including the younger generations, speaks Russian. It’s pretty common to hear people switching languages in the same conversation, and to see labels/signs in Armenian and Russian.
  • I’ve heard a lot of music from the U.S. and Latin American countries (aside from Armenian and Russian music).
  • Coffee is served in small cups; tea in big cups. It is also common for people to be drinking coffee later at night. Also, Armenian coffee is different than American coffee in that it’s stronger, and the beans are ground more finely. The grounds are kept in the coffee (not filtered out), making the coffee thicker, too. It’s also served and consumed at very hot temperatures that are turning my mouth into leather. Super tasty, though, so it’s worth it.
  • Fresh fruit and flowers are everywhere. Literally sold on every street corner.
  • There’s an active night life here that is also relatively kid-friendly. It’s not uncommon to see families walking around at 10 pm.
  • There are several underground crosswalks and malls with shops, clothing stores, cafes, flower stands, etc. It’s another life underground.
  • Many of the universities in Yerevan are within walking distance. In the U.S., we have a university with several colleges within (for example, the University of Iowa has the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Medicine, etc.), but the universities are their own entities here. For example, Yerevan State Medical University, where we are working, is home to the medical students and public health students. It is separate from other universities that focus on music, art, journalism, etc.
  • Everyone uses their phones a lot. Several of the people I’ve met have two or more cell phones. It’s not uncommon for people to answer phone calls during meetings, dinner, etc.
  • Purple Forget-Me-Not flowers are symbols of the Armenian Genocide, which is still a crucial, painful aspect of the country’s historical memory. Images of these flowers can be found everywhere, from paintings, to stickers on the windows of stores, to decals on cars. The genocide is something that our Armenian language instructor spent a great time telling us about, and it’s a topic that’s come up from time to time during our time here. It’s a heartbreaking, atrocious, important part of history that needs to be more acknowledged by the global community.

Re-learning the little things

My first week in Yerevan, Armenia has truly been wonderful. It’s a beautiful city that’s safe and easy to get around. Yerevan is also home to some really welcoming people; the more I get to see and learn, the more I am enamored. We’ve had a few hiccups, though, with the language barrier and navigation. Because we don’t have Wifi/3G here, and thus no GPS, navigation consists of memorizing street names and occasionally asking a friendly-looking person for help (I always ask women…because solidarity). My Armenian is pretty limited as well, and we haven’t met too many people our age that speak English. However, I’ve been able to introduce myself, ask people their names, go grocery shopping, ask for directions, and get a taxi.

It’s the little things you don’t realize you take for granted until you’re in completely new surroundings. But it’s also the little accomplishments that amount to big successes.

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Here’s my past week:

Monday, June 4: We met with Dr. Artashes Tadevosyan, our host at Yerevan State Medical University (YSMU). He has been so helpful and accommodating. We also met the graduate public health students who will be helping us with our project, Ines and Ana. Our meeting with them was brief, but they seem really sweet and intelligent. Ines told me I was cute so that’s another bonus. After, Artashes showed us around YSMU, namely where the cafeteria is located. We got lunch with him and his wife, Dr. Natalya Tadevosyan. I tried a soup called sepaz (probably incorrect spelling) that is yogurt based with a grain and cilantro. I was a bit thrown off by the yogurt at first, but grew to enjoy the flavor. Natalya said it’s common to eat it first with another side dish. There wasn’t too much more for me and Hannah to do, so Artashes let us have the rest of the day to ourselves.

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We had to get groceries, and luckily there are two small grocery stores near our apartment. As simple as grocery shopping is, this proved to be a challenge for us. All of the labels are in Armenian and/or Russian, and some of the packaging is different than in the US. While we could easily figure out what milk and eggs were (thank goodness), we couldn’t find butter. We also didn’t know how to order from the meat counter since we didn’t know the words for chicken or pork. Additionally, Hannah and I are quite a spectacle (she’s rather tall among Armenians and I’m a foot shorter than her…and also possibly the only Asian in Yerevan), so we received many stares from the employees and patrons of the store.

Artashes suggested we buy produce at a street stand because it is probably better in price and quality. This was also challenging due to our lack of grocery vocabulary. Body language, pointing, and general gestures have been a life save. Luckily the guy working at the stand was really nice too. The produce was amazingly inexpensive. We bought a pound of potatoes, half pound of peas, two tomatoes, two carrots, and two cucumbers for 1800 dram, or roughly $3.75. We also got some flowers for our apartment. Flowers are also inexpensive here, and there are flower stands on almost every corner. There are some really beautiful arrangements!

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Tuesday, June 5: Artashes didn’t have too much for us to do on Tuesday, so he let us have a free day. We went shopping for a little bit, but we mainly used the day to familiarize ourselves more with the city and central points. One of the more touristy attractions is called Kazkad (pronounced ‘cozz-cod’, which I think means ‘cascade’?). The Kazkad is essentially a large flight of stairs up the side of a hill, with art and fountains on a few different landings. While it was really warm out, it was a great booty workout with some wonderful views of downtown Yerevan.

We also saw Mt. Ararat, one of Armenia’s national symbols, for the first time. Although Mt. Ararat is located in present-day Turkey, it once was within Armenian boundaries. It is said to be the mountain on which Noah landed his ark after the great 40-day flood. The fact that it is no longer within Armenian boundaries is a source of pain for many Armenians.

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A little past Kazkad (actually, quite a long walk further up the hill and through a park) is where Mother Armenia is located. She’s a personification of the Armenian nation, looking very powerful upon a pedestal. More information about her can be found here. It’s quite an interesting story.

After climbing 53 flights of stairs (according to my phone), we were heading home when we stumbled across a talent show. It ended up being a group of young girls, probably age 11 and younger, singing and dancing in groups. To be honest, I started crying after their first song. I think it was the mixture of jet lag, hearing an English song, and watching them perform and remembering how it felt for me to perform when I was their age. I also was touched by young girls learning skills about confidence, expressing their creativity and talent, and having fun/being comfortable in their own skin. We don’t get that enough. Hannah and I went to dinner at a restaurant that Artashes had recommended, called Cafe Central. It was raining pretty heavily by the time we were done with dinner, but running through the rain was a fun end to a busy (and hot) day.

Wednesday, June 7: Artashes has several research projects going on right now, with one of them focusing on endocrine blockers, specifically DDT and other pesticides and their effect on the reproductive system. He had to go to a fish hatchery to collect water, algae, and fish samples to determine whether pesticides/other agricultural run-off had gotten into the fish hatchery’s product. To get there, we had to drive to a village outside of Yerevan. On our way to the site, we passed by a field of poppies and saw several stork nests, a sign of good luck. There were also some amazing views of Mt. Ararat.

We were free for the rest of the day and went to the Arev Petrosyan gallery. Some really beautiful pieces.

We also met up with the Tadevosyans in the evening to get ice cream near Republic Square. Every night from 9 to 11 during the summer, there is a light/water show that accompanies songs at the fountain. Each song has different light/water choreography. Natalya told me that the water is supposed to look like dancers. It’s both beautiful and classy.

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Thursday, June 8: Artashes had a meeting with the Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment (AWHHE), a local non-governmental organization (NGO). He told us we wouldn’t have to go because the meeting would be conducted in Armenian, but we decided to go anyway to see the dynamics of an NGO meeting in a different cultural context. The women (and three men, including Artashes) introduced themselves. They also had us introduce ourselves. I was trying to show off a bit, and introduced myself in Armenian. Not sure how well my introduction actually went, but they smiled politely, and someone told me they understood what I was trying to say. So we’re making some progress here. Most of the presentations were in Armenian, but a few were in Russian. I’m always really impressed with how quickly multilingual people can switch between languages (this is known as ‘code switching,’ as I’ve learned in some of my linguistics classes).

The conference attendees talked about endocrine blockers, crop residues, pesticides, etc. and their effects on the public health of Armenia. While tensions were high about some topics, like how Armenia is compared to other countries in the world, they all agreed that they need to be more accountable in their health reports to the Armenian people.

After the meeting we walked a short distance to the National History Museum at Republic Square. Armenia is a very old country, with rich, fascinating history. The artifacts at the museum were in incredible condition considering their age. I could spend forever in museums, and would’ve spent more time there if I wasn’t so tired. I’ll probably go back, considering the entrance fee is only 2000 dram (roughly $4).

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We went home to rest for a bit, and decided to go back to Republic Square to see the light show. On our way, we saw several waves of people–it seemed like all of Yerevan was at Republic Square. It turned out to be a concert of what I think is a Russian band, whose name is Black Star Mafia. Even though we didn’t understand anything, it was a fun (and free!) experience with some catchy music! Definitely checked their music out after and would recommend it to others.

Friday, June 9 and Saturday, June 10: After our MHIRT internship, we are planning to travel to a few countries within Europe. We bought our tickets to Athens, Greece which was really exciting! I never thought I’d be able to go to Greece in college. Hannah and I felt kinda burnt out, so we decided to go to Swan Lake to read and write. There are two pairs of swans at the lake, a pair of black swans and a pair of white. It was rejuvenating to sit and think. We went out for a beer after and met a guy who invited us to a garden party at a hotel. On Saturday we decided to go to the garden party and met a few people who were fun to talk to. We went out with them after, and ended up being out until 5 in the morning. Everyone knows I’m not much of a party-er, but it was pretty fun to meet people our age who could speak English and show us around!

In total, a great first week. A few downs, but mostly ups. I like constantly being reminded that I have a lot to learn about other people and places from other people and places. I like being reminded that I’m still a child in a lot of ways, but an independent woman in many others. I like being somewhat away from my comfort zone where I’m almost forced to adapt and grow. And I really like seeing myself in the world, and myself and the world. So lucky to have this opportunity.

First full day in Yerevan

We did a lot of cool things that I will mention chronologically in list form. Below are various photos related to the day. I tried to caption them, but if the captions don’t show up I’d be happy to explain.

  1. Woke up really early because of jet lag and the sun coming through our balcony windows.
  2. Talked and then fell back asleep.
  3. Decided to find a cafe to eat at, although we may or may not have been advised against leaving the apartment……….
  4. Managed to find the cafe due to our excellent navigation skills. All the signs are in the Armenian alphabet, but luckily some of the signs have the names spelled out in the Latin alphabet.
  5. Ate a yummy breakfast! I had granola and warm milk with a cucumber/orange/ginger juice.
  6. Went back to our apartment to meet Dr. Tadevosyan.
  7. Walked around to see the main parts of downtown Yerevan, including Republic Square. Became more familiar with our orientation of the city. Obtained an Armenian cell phone (one of the old kinds that you buy minutes for). Also got some yummy donuts at a fun restaurant. They were croissant-like in texture, but had a doughy center. They were sprinkled with a ton of powdered sugar. Also got some flowers for our apartment. Flower vendors are abundant here.
  8. Went back to our apartment to rest.
  9. Went back out to explore. Looked like we were lost, but luckily two helpful women redirected us. So hospitable!
  10. Explored Republic Square and the surrounding areas.
  11. Found a cool park with a fountain and stone boat.
  12. Went to Kazkad, another central point in downtown Yerevan. There are several sculptures from various international artists. We did not walk the stairs.
  13. This took a few hours. We were hot, sweaty, and tired. Went back to the apartment because Dr. Tadevosyan said he might call us to get ice cream. Rested and spoke to loved ones. My sister is graduating from high school today!
  14. Debated on getting dinner for a long time. We were so tired and our feet hurt.
  15. I fell asleep for a little bit because it’s who I am. Woke up to Hannah saying, “Shanea just fell asleep but we can meet you for ice cream!” The time: 9:30 pm.
  16. Met Artashes’ wife, whose title is also Dr. Tadevosyan. She also works at Yerevan State Medical University.
  17. Got ice cream and had a lovely conversation with the two!! They are both so intelligent and quick-witted. I was convinced to try Armenian coffee. Unlike American coffee, the coffee beans are ground into a fine sediment and left in the coffee. It is very strong. Big mistake to drink it so late.
  18. They showed us around another nearby part of town, where there’s a good lunch place.
  19. They walked us home. I was so glad we went to see them despite how tired we were. They are lovely and I’m even more excited to get to know and learn from them. A fantastic day!
  20. Fun fact: my phone says I walked 30,793 steps (11.4 miles) and climbed 24 flights of stairs. Not sure how accurate this is, but still fun to know that I am ✨exercising✨🏃🏻‍♀️

 

 

Flights and first night

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We left Cedar Rapids on June 2 for Detroit, about a one hour flight. From there, we flew for eight hours to the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I sat in the very back of the plane, but was lucky to get a window seat. The flight was overnight, which made jet lag a lot easier to manage.

The man who sat next to me approached me saying, “Ni hao,” which is Chinese for ‘hello.’ This has happened to me several times by several different people, and normally makes me roll my eyes while explaining that I don’t speak Chinese. Then I saw him pull out a large bag of what I thought were prunes, which made me think, “Oh great, digestive problems.” He also had a bag of Popeyes Chicken that he had previously purchased at the Detroit airport. I really need to check myself more, though, because he turned out to be an incredibly nice person. He asked me the standard small talk questions (where I’m from, what I’m studying, etc.), and I reciprocated. He was born and raised in Egypt, but has lived and worked near Detroit ever since. Then he pulled out his bag of prunes. After closer inspection, I noticed they were dates, and asked him just to confirm. He said, “Yes, usually when we break fast we start with dates and water.” “Is it okay if I ask if you’re fasting for Ramadan?” I asked. Again, he confirmed and offered me a date. To be polite, I told him I don’t eat dates that often, and that this was a real treat. Then he offered me another date. I tried to politely refuse, but he was really insistent, so I agreed. He asked if it would be okay if he prayed next to me, which of course I had no problem with. We talked a little bit about Ramadan, traveling, Egypt, and his family. We also talked a little bit about my future plans. He was so kind, which reminded me of two things. One, to not be so judgmental after awkward first impressions. And two, the importance of working to understand and stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors, and other folks who may be part of marginalized communities. We ended up having a really pleasant conversation, which I could’ve missed out on if I hadn’t kept an open mind.

The flight from Paris to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, left an hour late and lasted about four and a half hours. It seemed much longer, though–probably due to the afternoon hour. I sat between two people from Canada who were part of the Armenian diaspora. As with my previous flight mate, they both were kind and had interesting stories. We arrived in Yerevan at around 9pm local time to meet Dr. Tadevosyan. He was kind enough to meet and drive us to our apartment. Upon meeting us, he exclaimed, “They did such a good job at describing what you look like that I knew exactly who you were when I saw you!” This is because Hannah is really tall (about a foot taller than me) and kind of looks Armenian, while I’m always the short Asian. He also grabbed both of the suitcases I brought and hurried through the airport. Arthur, our Armenian teacher in Iowa, told us that chivalry is alive and well in Armenia, and this confirmed that statement. During the drive to our apartment, Dr. Tadesovyan was pointing out buildings and streets and explaining them to us. When we got to the apartment he took Hannah’s 54-pound suitcase and carried it up ten flights of stairs. It was pretty impressive considering he’s just a few inches taller than me.

Our apartment is incredibly nice and comfortable. It’s adjacent to Yerevan State Medical University. It’s also completely furnished, with a small kitchen, bathroom (with a washer), and combined living/sleeping area. We have a balcony with a great view of Mother Armenia too!

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Despite having carried a huge suitcase up so many stairs, Dr. Tadevosyan showed us all the intricacies of the apartment, telling us about the potable and tasty tap water, light switches, complex locks on the door, etc. We are so lucky to be living here, and his hospitality has made our initial experience that much better.

Shifting gears: the MHIRT program in Yerevan, Armenia

In December, I was applying to the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research and Training (MHIRT) Program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a program that aims to expand and enhance “research capacity to create a culturally sensitive and culturally competent workforce” while promoting “diversity in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social sciences research workforce. The NIH expects efforts to diversify the workforce to lead to the recruitment of talented researchers from underrepresented groups; improve the quality of the educational and training environment; balance and broaden the perspective in setting research priorities; and improve the Nation’s capacity to address and eliminate health disparities.” The University of Iowa has sent students to Romania and The Gambia, a country in Western Africa. More information about the MHIRT program can be found here.

I finished and sent my application the morning I left for India. Originally I had applied for a program in The Gambia because of my interest in women’s health and environmental health, but due to political turmoil, the directors of the program proposed that I go to Armenia. The director of Yerevan State Medical University was formerly roommates with the director of UIowa’s MHIRT program, so the connections were in place. I am not a picky person, so I happily said I would be willing to go to Armenia, eager to learn as much as I could. Because the University of Iowa has never sent students to Armenia before, the directors noted that I would be part of a pilot program, with only one or two other students going along with a professor from the College of Public Health. Again, I was excited to have the opportunity to create stronger connections with fellow students and professors. I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the participants of the 2017 MHIRT program, and completed three orientation meetings that prepared us for international research and travel.

We met with Dr. Kelly Baker of the University of Iowa’s Occupational and Environmental Health department in the College of Public Health a few times during the semester. Dr. Baker’s research mainly focuses on water quality. We originally thought we would be researching water quality’s effects on women and children’s health in Armenia. However, after Dr. Baker traveled to Armenia in April to meet with Dr. Tadevosyan, the director of Yerevan State Medical University, they both decided that water quality research was not the most pressing research topic. Rather, they decided that growth stunting would be a more worthwhile project for the summer.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 20 percent, or 1 in 5 Armenian children are affected by stunted growth as compared to the world’s average. This statistic is puzzling due to the adequate nutrition of the Armenian diet, combined with the incentivized and subsidized pre- and post-natal care that the Armenian government offers. Thus, the rates of growth stunting should not be so high. This summer, during the months of June and July, we will be researching why the rates of growth stunting are reported to be so high. We are wondering if it’s due to inconsistent measuring techniques, inconsistent reporting to larger institutions of health, or if the WHO simply needs to include more genetically shorter populations into the world’s average height standard. For the first few weeks we will be reviewing hospital records to determine average heights and lengths of children under 24 months (these records will be made anonymous–without any identifiable patient information). After, depending on human subjects approval, we will be visiting two regions in Armenia: the more urban Yerevan region, and the more rural Lori region that was also most affected by the 1989 earthquake. If we are approved, we will help measure children to obtain a larger sample size.

We’ve also been taking Armenian lessons from one of the only Armenian people in Iowa City! It’s a beautiful language with its own unique alphabet. There are also several sounds that are not in the English language, which makes pronunciation very hard for us. A lot of the words have multiple syllables, which makes it hard for me to memorize. Arthur, our Armenian teacher, has been very patient and helpful, and often tells a few stories about growing up in Armenia during our lessons. He is very thoughtful with the vocabulary he brings–it seems like everyday words that all are very useful. His descriptions of the country are filled with pride and beauty, which made us incredibly excited to live and learn in Armenia.

Final post about India… for now.

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the past year researching and writing my double-honors senior thesis in Global Health and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies about the chulha/cookstove issue. While it may seem that this issue is far removed from issues in the United States, I think it is incredibly important, especially since almost half the world still uses biomass cookstoves. Additionally, the gendered aspect of cookstoves has a personal connection to my life. I’ve included the abstract and introduction of my thesis, in which I lay out my argument and my personal connection to the cookstove issue. The rest of the body of my thesis is more based in research, and I would be happy to send you the final draft upon request.

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Reflections on Indian Women’s Use of the Chulha in Rajasthan: Reproductive Labor, Women’s Health, and Transnational Feminist Environmental Advocacy

Abstract:

An estimated 2.7 to three billion people in the world use biofuel cookstoves to cook meals and warm their homes, presenting various environmental and health issues. Using the Indian chulha, or ‘traditional’ cookstove, as the locus of my project, I present existing research, integrating a brief history of British colonialism in India, reproductive labor, health impacts on women, and development efforts to show how complex, multifaceted problems require complex, multifaceted solutions. I supplement the existing research by drawing from my personal experiences and relationship to chulhas. My honors senior thesis is heavily informed by my personal experiences as an Honors TA for the multidisciplinary “Big Ideas: People and the Environment” course, and my field experiences in rural Rajasthan, India. I adopt an interdisciplinary, transnational feminist approach, arguing that current research on the health issues caused by cookstoves would benefit from a deeper consideration of the relationship between the feminist concept of reproductive labor, postcolonial history, and the political economy of capitalist development. I also argue that while rural women’s personal priorities and development needs should be met, development sectors should focus on how to reduce environmentally destructive consumerism and how to make environmentally-friendly products more aspirational to the socioeconomic classes that have access to these products, thus promoting transnational feminist environmental advocacy.

Getting There: Critical Assertions and Personal Reflections

I’ve always admired strong women. Indeed I owe my life to strong women. My mother, a widowed woman, and at the end of an abusive relationship, knew she wanted to have children, and took it upon herself to realize her dreams of a family. At the age of 49, she adopted me from China as a single mom. Two years later, she adopted my younger sister from Vietnam. Adoption is challenging enough for a heterosexual couple earning two incomes, but my mom is persistent, strong-willed, and resourceful. She managed to jump through the hoops of the international adoption system as a single woman, travelling to Asia with only my grandma, hope for the process, and determination in herself.

My mom also owns her own business. For the past 20+ years, she has owned and operated House Beautiful Maid Service, her home-cleaning business that employs one other person. She and her co-worker clean up to 25 homes a week in Iowa City and surrounding areas, dealing with varying levels of grime and customer complaint. My mom’s occupation used to embarrass me–that she didn’t have a “real,” salaried job in an office with co-workers like my friends’ parents. Looking back now, though, I’m ashamed that I was ashamed. I’m ashamed that I was embarrassed. My mom’s job as a house cleaner is important. The keeping and maintenance of the home is an important form of reproductive labor that allows her clients to live more comfortably, with a few less tasks on their to-do lists. But I’ve also come to realize the privilege that come into play with my mother’s job, particularly the obvious power imbalance between a lower-middle class, high school-educated woman performing feminized labor and the people she works for, with enough disposable income to afford a housekeeper to come into their home, unnoticed, on a bi-weekly basis.

Whatever others think of her work, it amazes me that my mother overcame the tragic death of her first husband, the abuse of her long-term partner, adopted two girls from Asia, and raised them on a single income of a housekeeper. She has inspired me to be curious, determined, persistent, and passionate about what I do. Her interest in the world has influenced my own, which leads me to the next part of my story. It is how I came to write this thesis.

It wasn’t obvious I would write a feminist, interdisciplinary thesis when I started college. After I graduated high school, I started at the University of Iowa as a Human Physiology major on the pre-medicine track, as a lot of recent high school graduates seem to do. As a first-generation college student, I had never heard of public health, global health, or gender studies. I thought the path I chose would be the best way to help people. Because I never had to study much in high school, the change from not having to try to having to compete for grades in the science classes I was taking during my Freshman year was drastic. It made me apathetic about my schoolwork, and my interest in it quickly deteriorated as did my motivation for staying with it.

This changed when I decided to take Gender, Race, and Class in the U.S. (now called Diversity and Power) to fulfill a general education requirement in the Spring semester of my Freshman year. The themes of social justice, race relations, inequality, gender roles, and marginalized communities captured my attention. I became excited about going to class, completed the readings, and asked questions. Thinking back on it the class inspired me to change majors after two more unhappy semesters as a science major. In the Spring semester of my sophomore year, I decided to combine my interest in health and Spanish with Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality (GWSS) studies. I thought the degrees complemented each other well, and I was excited about my potential again. The first GWSS course I excitedly signed up for was Sexual Ethics with Professor Diana Cates in the Spring semester of my Sophomore year, one year after taking Gender, Race, and Class in the U.S. Again, I was refreshed to be learning about how sexuality, religion, and ethics interact to influence people’s health decisions. While I thought the entire class was interesting, what I remember most was an analogy she made relating women to trees: “I like to think women are like trees,” she said. “They grow strong roots deep in the ground that interact with their environments and each other, and their branches move in the wind, flexible yet steady, returning to their original position.”

Somehow Professor Cates’ metaphor made me want to stretch my branches in new directions. Because I had not participated in many university activities during my first year of college, I wanted to prove to myself that high school was not the peak of my young life. I wanted to prove that I was still motivated, intelligent, and talented. I wanted to prove that I could still be successful. Because of this decision to branch out, I decided around that time to try out for Iowa Andhi, the University of Iowa’s South Asian fusion dance team. It seemed like a fun way to get back in touch with the dancing I had done throughout childhood and high school, as well as a way to make more friends and learn about South Asian culture. Since joining, Iowa Andhi has been instrumental in connecting me with strong, intelligent, talented women that empower me, as well as connecting me with new friends who also are a part of the multicultural sector of the university. It has also grown my branches by increasing my awareness, understanding, and appreciation for the diversity of South Asian cultures.

Then I met Professor Meena Khandelwal. She had guest-lectured in some of my other global health and GWSS classes about microfinance and the cookstove conundrum in Rajasthan, India, and this increased even further my interest in South Asia. In the Spring of 2016, I applied to be a participant of a Fulbright-Hays Group Project Award (GPA), led by Professor Khandelwal, that sought to explore how women living in rural Rajasthan negotiate with and resist development efforts centered around their ‘traditional’ cookstove, known as a chulha[1], in an interdisciplinary way. Other University of Iowa professors from the fields of engineering, geography, anthropology, GWSS, history, and urban planning were interested in the cookstove issue, and each approached the conundrum from the perspective of their own expertise. The GPA was organized as a seminar that included Hindi lessons, meetings with local Rajasthani non-governmental organizations (NGOs), visits to rural Rajasthani villages with homes that used the chulha, and a conference that featured experts on chulhas, tangentially related issues, and development.

After my acceptance, and receiving more information about the seminar, I started to do my own preliminary research about the cookstove issue. After reading that 2.7 billion people in the world still use fuel-burning cookstoves, and that the smoke that the stoves emit is a great cause of health concern (especially for women), I decided that this research would be a perfect fit for combining my global health and GWSS senior research projects. I asked Professor Khandelwal if she would be my advisor, to which she agreed.

As part of the senior research process, I had to enroll in an independent study, but rather than doing a traditional one, Professor Khandelwal fortunately came up with the clever idea of including me as the Honors Teaching Assistant for her interdisciplinary, team-taught course entitled Big Ideas: People and the Environment that was informed by inquiry-guided learning. This course connected issues of cookstoves, environmentalism, reproductive labor, health, development efforts, and the role of the neoliberal state and its economies in rural Rajasthan to similar ones in Iowa. The pedagogy of the course was (and still is) interesting to me, not only because five professors of different fields took turns in teaching the course from their areas of expertise, but also because the students worked in groups, and were actively encouraged to consider problems in interdisciplinary ways that can lead to deeper, more profound understandings and future questions.

As the Honors Teaching Assistant, I did what most would expect: attended each class, completed each reading, helped facilitate discussion in small groups, and held office hours. However, my learning went much deeper than that. Hearing and reading about Rajasthan, cookstoves, environmental degradation / environmental science and engineering, and reproductive labor in a formal setting was all new to me. I was learning with the students enrolled in the course, while also trying to facilitate discussion about gender roles, reproductive labor, and neoliberalism–topics that I felt reasonably comfortable discussing due to the GWSS and global health courses I had previously taken.

I struggled at times, however, with my role in the course. Many times I did not feel acknowledged by the students, who saw me as their equal rather than as an Honors TA, and being soft-spoken and mildly awkward at my best didn’t help. I sometimes questioned my ability to engage with the texts deeply enough so that I could discuss them with the students in a confident and intelligent way. I usually felt awkward around the graduate teaching assistants and other professors of the course for the same reasons. This, in turn, made me feel more self-conscious and awkward, and sometimes I questioned my conversational abilities and intelligence. Since I was going to India with all of these professors, I tried, nevertheless, to internalize as much of the information from the class as possible to be culturally and intellectually prepared in attempts to seem competent.

When I left for Rajasthan, India the Saturday after finals week of the Fall 2016 semester, I was nervous about my role but also excited and proud that, like my mom, I had used my tenacity and intelligence to be accepted among a sea of applicants interested in travelling and learning abroad. For a young, independent woman and developing feminist scholar it was a wonderful opportunity for growth. Other participants included five professors–the same ones from the People and the Environment course–three graduate students, and four other undergraduate students, all from very different fields of study ranging from anthropology, to GWSS, to social studies education, to biology, to geography, to international studies, to social work. Entitled the “Promises and Pitfalls of Development Efforts in Rajasthan, India” the seminar sought to

explore the story of cook-stoves in southern Rajasthan, as a window into the complex and inevitably unfinished project of ‘development’ in India and elsewhere […] by familiarizing ourselves with the local language and culture and with the aid and collaboration of India researchers who have long been immersed in the cook-stove conundrum. The goal is to understand people’s personal experiences with ‘improved chulhas’, including those of researchers who design them, manufacturers who produce them, NGO workers who implement them, and village women who are expected to use them. This kind of conversation can help to demonstrate the value of [humanities-based] area studies expertise for a broad range of disciplines and for engagement with vexing problems of serious public concern.[2]

Increasing my knowledge of South Asian area studies was an obvious aspect that peaked my interest. I was slightly familiar with Indian culture through my contact with the diasporic student organizations of the Indian Student Alliance and South Asian Student Alliance, but was eager to learn about Rajasthani culture specifically. Learning Hindi has always been a goal of mine, especially listening to my friends in Andhi speak it between run-throughs of our routines set to Bollywood music. I also liked the challenge of learning a non-Romance language with its beautiful Devanagari script (even though we mainly focused on conversational Hindi).

The seminar’s description made me excited about the opportunity to personally witness and experience what I had learned about in the People and the Environment course. I was interested to see the tension and harmony of several disciplines and pedagogies coming together to understand a problem. Much of my undergraduate studies are interdisciplinary, so it was intriguing to see various scholars–many in my own fields of global health, GWSS, and development–engaging and collaborating academically and ‘on the ground’ to better understand a pervasive problem. My primary interest after reading the seminar’s description, however, was to learn how the women of Rajasthan exercise agency amidst historical, social, cultural, symbolic, and technical complexities by continuing to use chulhas. I wanted to learn how women, the ‘target’ of many development schemes, use their agency to resist and negotiate with designers, manufacturers, and NGO staff–all fields that are historically and currently dominated by men. The critical, multidisciplinary, feminist approach of the Fulbright-Hays seminar was crucial in my development as a feminist scholar and understanding of the cookstove conundrum.

Beyond the intellectual excitement of the course was the travel I got to do in India. We visited Delhi, India’s national capital; Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital; the Taj Mahal and a Mughal fort during a day trip in Agra; but spent most of our time in Udaipur, Rajasthan. My time in India was almost entirely positive. I did have days where I felt ‘off’ due to the normal ups and downs of life and feeling tired from the full days we had and complexities we saw every day. The guilt I felt for being a Westerner, with limited knowledge of the language and culture, and a larger carbon footprint than any of the chulha users have, also contributed to my ‘off’ days. Continued discussions with faculty, fellow students, and local Rajasthani NGO workers about privilege helped ease this sense of guilt and hypocrisy, so I never had a day that I considered ‘bad’. Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed learning with this group of people, local Rajasthani NGO workers and organizations, and other cookstove and development experts.

There were five distinct aspects of the experience that have made a lasting impression on the ways I think about cookstoves specifically and development more broadly, all of which have gone into the making of my honors thesis. The first was in the interdisciplinary format of the research seminar. It was similar to the People and the Environment course not only in content but also in the different perspectives and pedagogical methods that informed–and contested–each other. For me, the biggest and most useful aspect of this experience was that we gained an embodied understanding of fieldwork during our visits to villages and of Rajasthani culture. While the course and the seminar explored the same topic, my experience in the seminar allowed me to see the value of reproductive labor, feel the warmth of the chulha, and listen to families explain the complexities and reasons for not adopting the chulha. Compared to learning in a conventional classroom environment with two-dimensional photographs, talking to people who actually use chulhas allowed me to more easily gain a sense of empathy and develop a greater sense of understanding.

It was also rare to see this number of professors interacting with each other, especially from different fields, and it was tremendously interesting to watch and experience how interdisciplinary collaboration works. During the People and the Environment course, the professors rarely disagreed with one another, and when they did, it was noted in the PowerPoint slides–almost scripted. In India, this was not the case. There were several times throughout the seminar when Professor Udaykumar, the engineer, and Professor Khandelwal, the anthropologist and GWSS expert, debated about the symbolic, technical, and material meanings of chulhas, wood, and wood collection during group discussions. Other faculty members would interject, adding perspectives from their field, thereby altering the course of the conversation. After fifteen minutes of debate, a faculty member would say, “Let’s hear what the students have to say,” leaving us (or maybe just me) caught off guard after trying to keep up with the conversation. Being caught off guard paralleled my impressions of not feeling competent during my time as a TA–trying to internalize information, feeling awkward and nervous in expressing myself, but still trying to make meaningful and thoughtful contributions. Nevertheless, these discussions honed my ability to think critically in the moment. They were intellectually stimulating and rigorous, keeping me on my toes and ready to contribute my perspectives that were better informed by what I was seeing and experiencing in Rajasthan.

Being able to witness, and, at times, participate in, conversations among academic experts in this way reinforced the idea that there is no one way to approach a problem. The disagreements I witnessed often led to a more complex, nuanced understanding of the problem, and to different, yet connected paths of thinking about other problems. I also appreciated being able to talk more candidly with professors. In the average classroom setting, I am normally quite shy, contributing only when I know my answer is correct, when I think I have a comment that is especially important, or when no one is contributing and the professor appears desperate for class participation. I am usually too nervous to ask questions in class, and save them for the professor at the end of lecture. This experience, however, was different. Because of the application process, I knew that all the students were just as intellectually curious and interested in the cookstove issue as I was. It was encouraging and motivating to be thinking, asking questions, and working with the same people, all day every day for a month. The increased, almost familial contact with students and professors allowed for more exposure to different perspectives, pedagogies, and their interactions, more holistically informing my subsequent research. After a week, the pressure to impress everyone went away as we continued to engage with the complexities of the cookstove problem at hand. The ratio of professors to students also made the experience seem more personalized–I felt it fostered more discussion and less lecture, while highlighting the genuine care that the professors had to ensure I and the rest of the group were growing as scholars and as people.

The second experience took place at Swaraj University, and shaped my understanding of the research process. Swaraj University does not offer a formal degree due to its fundamental disagreements with the institutionalization of learning, but it does encourage its students, whom they call khojis (meaning ‘seekers’ in Hindi), to develop a personalized, environmentally- and self-sustaining, multidisciplinary curriculum to create change that is meaningful to them. Swaraj University believes that everyone, regardless of gender, class, caste, age, language, etc., can be both a teacher and a learner. During our visit at Swaraj, University of Iowa members were broken into groups to be ‘teachers’ about topics that we had interest / experience in. I was supposed to be a ‘teacher’ of Bollywood dance due to my experience with Iowa Andhi. While I felt like a ridiculous phony (as Holden Caulfield would say) trying to teach Indian students my age how to do Bollywood dance, the khojis were graciously willing to learn, and they taught me several moves from their own states. I really appreciated the concept of simultaneously being a teacher and learner–it reminded me that everyone is able to make a contribution, regardless of positionality. It made me hopeful about my participation in conversations to be had in the seminar, as well as my future honors research on cookstoves.

The third experience was one that caused a bit of discomfort in the group. During our first visit to a rural village that used chulhas, I got into a bit of a heated discussion with one of the graduate students. We were in a villager’s home that was dimly lit due to lack of electricity. I already felt uncomfortable as NGO workers and the fluent Hindi speakers of our group spoke with a woman and her husband about how she used her chulha. Meanwhile, the graduate student was taking several photographs of the home and surroundings with flash and the shutter sound. From my perspective,this was distracting and almost rude–the woman seemed uncomfortable enough without us taking photos without asking her permission first. I also found the sound to be distracting as I was trying to hear the woman and translator share their stories. I quietly asked the other graduate and undergraduate student with us if they agreed with me, which they said they did. During a break in the conversation with the woman and her husband, I quietly said to the graduate student, “Hey, I think it’s a little unfair that we asked them not to take photos of us while we take pictures of their homes and possessions.” She replied, “I’m just doing what I’m told,” to which I responded, “Yeah, but you still have agency.”

The situation was complex and raised questions related to the kind of transnational feminism I wanted to practice. When I spoke up, my intention was to advocate for a poor, Rajasthani woman whose home was being observed by Westerners she didn’t know and probably would never see again. During a group discussion, I talked about my concerns about the romanticization of poverty, something I felt strongly about because of my own class background. Some of the professors counted with how inconsequential the issue of photographs were compared to other issues facing the family. Others talked about how homes are not thought of as private entities as much as in the U.S., leading me to reconsider my own Western assumptions. Looking back on it, I’m not sorry I caused some tension for a few days. I’m still glad I spoke my truth about class and gender that I so deeply felt at the time, and the discussion that followed reminded me of the importance of reflecting on my own positionality. These concerns informed my research process and the writing of this essay.

The fourth experience came out of our visit to Barefoot College, a learning organization that seeks to demystify and decentralize knowledge, making it more accessible to poor rural populations so they can improve their lives in sustainable ways. Our tour guide, Ramnavasji, works at Barefoot College as a puppeteer, using the traditional and highly popular storytelling medium of puppetry to perform puppet shows at local villages in order to tell stories and create awareness around issues such as legal literacy and public health initiatives. Before becoming a puppeteer, Ramnavas told us of his life as a low-caste street sweeper who couldn’t even enter temples because he was a Dalit, also known as ‘Untouchable.’ As he was talking about his experiences as a person of a low caste, I was struck when he said, “I see my puppets as better than statues to God. I’m not able to go into temples for being Dalit, but these puppets are for everyone.” This reminded me of the importance of storytelling and how local forms of art and knowledge can be used to more effectively communicate messages–for everybody. Ramnavas’ story deeply stirred my passion to tell the story of cookstoves and the importance of work, especially women’s reproductive labor, in my honors thesis. It also made me consider how I am making both myself and the knowledge I am trying to produce as a young scholar accessible.

The fifth experience occurred on the last day of the development conference when Professor Khandelwal was making some final remarks. She had reminded us to consider material relationships and processes, and not to become complicit in these processes when thinking about representational discourse. Her words especially resonated with me because I was trying pretty hard not to represent India in a negative way, both in my blogs and my photos that I was sharing. Outside of Iowa Andhi, many people in my networks have vague or negative understandings of India. I thought that if I tried to represent India positively, with brief mentions of the trash, animals, sewage issues, etc., more people would be likely to explore for themselves. Of course, this comes with its own problems. It made me consider material relationships and processes more as my research continued, and how to balance them with the kind of politics of representation I wanted to practice .

Here I am, two years later, writing my senior thesis about strong women, reproductive labor, the political economy of capitalist development, and trees (broadly) as they impact the environment. The strength and reproductive labor performed by my mom; the intelligence and quirky metaphors of Professor Cates; the varied, nuanced, yet entirely rich experiences of my research thus far; and the attentive, thoughtful suggestions by my thesis advisor Professor Khandelwal and my GWSS Senior Research Seminar teacher Professor Rasmussen have informed my research and writing. They have reminded me of the importance of my voice, positionality, cultural awareness, and the reasons why I decided to research and write about the importance of understanding how chulhas are a locus of gender, environmentalism, engineering, and development efforts. They serve as a focal point of how reproductive labor impacts health and is influenced by outside pressures such as the neoliberal state and consumerism.

In this essay I will use the story of Indian women’s use of the chulha, the one I went to India to understand, to explore the relationship between postcolonial history, reproductive labor, women’s health, development efforts, and neoliberalism. In so many ways this is not simply a story about women in a small village in India wanting to use their traditional cookstoves. Through my honors teaching and research I learned that an estimated 2.7 billion people in the world collect and use wood as a source of fuel and warmth (Khandelwal et al., 2017). In the state of Rajasthan, India, where I visited, the majority of rural villagers living near/in the Aravalli Hills are dependent on fuelwood. The villagers, primarily women, perform various forms of reproductive labor, much of it centered around the chulha. While professors stressed concerns about environmental degradation, deforestation of the Aravallis, and desertification of the Thar Desert on the Pakistani border, they also focused on the cardiovascular and pulmonary-related health issues faced by the women who used these stoves and their families. Yet they also complicated this already complex story for us. While research shows that women’s cardiovascular and respiratory health is negatively affected by the reproductive labor they perform, this labor can also be understood as a source of women’s empowerment and self-importance. Although many aspects of Western narratives of women’s empowerment are valid, they often lack an intersectional framework, and prioritize liberation through formal education, participation in paid labor, and engaging in electoral politics. These narratives are not necessarily relevant in the Rajasthani case, for one must ask what kinds of work, education, and politics are being prioritized–by whom and for whom. It is important to not adopt and apply a White, Western, hegemonic form of feminism that does not consider Rajasthani women’s sense of empowerment and self-importance from their own cultural context.

Deeply influenced by the feminist interdisciplinary way of understanding chulhas in rural Rajasthan, I argue that current research on the health issues caused by cookstoves would benefit from a deeper consideration of the relationship between gender, especially the power and agency in reproductive labor, postcolonial history and the political economy of capitalist development. Through my personal, academic, and field experiences I came to see that rural Rajasthani women’s personal priorities and development needs should be met. At the same time, development sectors should focus on how to reduce environmentally destructive consumerism while making environmentally-friendly products more aspirational to the socioeconomic classes that have access to these products.

I have tried to create in this essay a space for transnational feminist environmental advocacy, as Western preconceived ideas of ‘women’s empowerment’ have failed to consider local women’s perspectives of the value of their reproductive labor within their communities and to consider the complexities of what a life without reproductive labor (e.g., wood collection, cooking, etc.) would look like in actuality. Additionally, I have argued that neoliberal capitalism and consumerism have contributed substantially more to climate change than the subsistence strategies of rural, ‘tribal’ women living in Rajasthan. Because of my range of learning experiences, I have better able to research how postcolonial histories, reproductive labor, health, and neoliberalism interact to create this complex story of women and the environment.

[1] Chulha is the Hindi word (with the English plural form of chulhas) that refers to a ‘traditional’ stove that burns firewood and other forms of biomass fuel. There are several models of the chulha, ranging from a more simple three-stone hearth upon which a single pot can rest, to clay structures that can hold and heat several pots. I will be discussing the various problems related to chulhas later in my essay.

[2] From Professor Khandelwal’s abstract of the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Award, “Promises and Pitfalls of Development Efforts in Rural Rajasthan.”

On my time in India and other reflections

There are no words that I could string together that could adequately and eloquently describe my experience in India and what it meant to me. Every day was different, filled with opportunities to learn about aspects of Indian culture, Hindi, Rajasthan, Udaipur, cookstoves, development, fieldwork, my group, and myself. Learning about my group’s quirks and how we address personal and professional stresses led me to realize the importance of multi-faceted, collaborative problem solving. While I grew tremendously in my self-confidence and, more importantly, in my knowledge about chulhas, I think it is also important to note that India should not be used as a site for me to talk solely about my personal problems and growth.

India has its own set of unique issues. But it also has its own set of unique strengths. It is not a place of victimhood. Throughout my time participating in the Fulbright-Hays seminar, it became incredibly clear that there are creative, innovative, and effective solutions that are being imagined and realized by the Indian people. In many cases, these solutions are achieved under constrained resources. This is important and highlights the creativity that we need to combat climate change. The West, with all of its destructive consumption and huge carbon footprint (bigger than that of India), could learn something from this.

***

My time thinking about chulhas and the Fulbright-Hays seminar did not stop after we returned. The Spring semester started the day after we got back from a 30-hour flight. It was intense and I almost fell asleep in class during the first week. As part of the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Award, we were supposed to meet as a group two separate times. During our meetings, we caught up with what we’ve been doing, and other thoughts/revelations about development efforts, the chulha, environmentalism, and women’s issues. The meetings were a nice way to catch up with everyone, reminisce, and reflect. One of the most memorable quotes, though, was from Uday.

“People living in the Global South are on the frontlines of climate change. When our leaders threaten to put walls up, remember who they’re keeping out.”

This further reaffirmed that people living in the West, with our horrific carbon footprint and destructive consumption, should be most responsible for addressing our contribution to carbon emissions and climate change. We should not restrict people from entering our borders out of fear. Especially when we have little idea of the conditions they’re trying to leave.

I met with Emma, my lovely roommate that I had in India, a few times. The first time we met for coffee, I quickly said hi and ordered a London Fog (Earl Grey tea with milk and honey). I came back to learn she had ordered the same thing while she was waiting for me. She is too lovely. We were meant to be roommates. I am thankful for her being there and laughing at my jokes, making me laugh, and her constant thoughtfulness.

Another fun thing that happened was a concert featuring Prahlad Singh Tipyana and the Kabir Singers. They sang “the poetry of Kabir, a great iconoclastic mystic of North India, in the vigorous and joyful folk style of Madhya Pradesh’s Malwa region.” Dr. Philip Lutgendorf provided some translations of the songs. It was a joyous, pleasant concert, and reminded me of the cultural show we saw in India on New Years.

singers

In the middle of the semester, the Fulbright-Hays professors organized and hosted the Provost’s Global Forum, Women’s Health and the Environment: Going Up in Smoke. The forum featured several experts in the cookstove and development sectors, including Dr. Madhu Sarin, Dr. Kirk Smith, and Dr. Gautam Yadama. The forum was filled with keynote speakers and panels comprised of experts (and a few graduate students) from fields of cookstoves, development, environmental science, engineering, gender and women’s studies, and health.

pgf_2017_web_graphic

I was lucky enough to be featured on a panel on WorldCanvass, the University of Iowa’s journalistic program that showcases international topics relevant to the experience of a global citizen. My panel discussed women’s health, while I tried to talk about my experience in Udaipur. A link to my panel can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsj0q-_pLcA. My panel is the second in a three-part series, so be sure to check the other two panels out! It was great to be able to meet and hear scholars talk about their work in the flesh. Observing experts from various fields debate with each other reminded me of the conference in Udaipur, but on a larger scale. It also reinforced the need for multifaceted approaches to problems.

The entire Fulbright-Hays group had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Yadama because he served as the external reviewer of our group project award and conducted interviews with us to write his review. Emma and I met with him a few days before the conference to talk about our experience in Rajasthan and what we learned. I mentioned how I loved how the street, market, and everyday life all blended together without much distinction. I noted how I admired the creative, innovative solutions that people imagined despite potential constrained conditions. Dr. Yadama replied, “We have a word for that whole phrase in Hindi. The idea of creativity and innovation under constrained resources. Jugaad.” Language is beautiful.

The Women’s Health and the Environment conference was also extremely helpful to me when I was writing my thesis. I am triple majoring in International Studies (with a Global Health emphasis); Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies; and Spanish. I decided to write a double-honors thesis, combining my Global Health and GWSS majors. My thesis writing process was very similar to my learning process in India: lots of feelings of uncertainty, not feeling like enough of an expert, questioning myself the entire way. It also does not help that I am a chronic procrastinator… Three weeks before my thesis was due, I had only written about 20 pages. Out of 60. I forced myself to sit down one weekend, and got 25 pages done in 24 hours. I was very tired, but the exhaustion was worth the progress. It was a 24-hour period in which I finally committed to an argument, a direction for the essay, and my ability to complete the thesis (because I definitely considered not doing it). Meena was my advisor, and was a tremendous help in improving my writing and refining my argument. Mary Ann, my GWSS advisor, was also a tremendous help in organizing my thoughts and cheering me on. I am so lucky to have such intelligent, empowering women in my academic life to motivate and inspire me to do more. I am so lucky to have had such caring, thoughtful, and intelligent Fulbright-Hays group members who challenged me intellectually and personally, made me laugh, and care for me when I got sick. I am so grateful to the people we met in India, especially in Udaipur, for letting us come and taking the time to teach us about Rajasthani culture, Hindi, and chulhas. There is always more to learn, consider, and critique, but my experience over the winter and during the semester has been one of the most eye-opening experiences in my life. It has certainly been the most in-depth, multifaceted learning experiences, in which I got to see what field work looks like, learn language, attend conferences, observe discussions, and write. I cannot fully express my gratitude, but I hope that I can one day put this depth of knowledge and breadth of experience to use.