Meora

A child in he corner coughs

mud walls clean and brown

distended stomach could hold a melon,or a sickness

I cannot name

our salesman has oiled hair

but a fresh smile

he will not speak Kumaoni

because he dislikes it’s deep sound.

In Hindi he describes the stoves we sell.

Flies dot the floor like

sesame seeds on bread.

Remember this simplicity.

Remember the quiet and

the silent saturating

scent of smoke.

Remember the smiles,

unabashed displays of missing or damaged teeth

and remember the lines each smile brings around eyes

like a sunrise

creasing a familiar sky.

How language can do so

much but also so little.

Even when you are the other

you are also still the same.

The Pilots

Pilot.

Adjective.  Done as an experiment or test before introducing something more widely.

Theory. A set of mini-interventions designed to tests mechanisms for encouraging household adoption and use of improved cookstoves (e.g., finance plans, demonstration and promotion campaigns, and stove types).

Reality. A cycle of endless sweating, brainstorming, training, surveying, stove demonstrations and meetings with no end in sight.

If we could just explain the benefits of improved stoves to households and they would purchase and use the stove – this would be an easy job. However, households have many reasons why they are not interested in these stoves – they can’t afford them, don’t understand why they are needed, or don’t care about them because they have many more pressing concerns.

In order to determine which set of techniques best encourages adoption, we conduct several “pilots”, each testing a slightly different combination of payment plan, promotional campaign, and stove demonstrations. Before the pilots begin, there are weeks of planning. Days upon days are spent sitting in hot offices in meetings, sitting with villagers doing focus group discussions, ordering stoves, training stove sales staff, and planning the field campaigns. After each pilot there are brainstorming marathons to discuss what worked and what can be improved. 

For one pilot, we planned to distribute pamphlets describing the benefits of the improved stove as part of an intensive promotional campaign. Of course, our plan hit some snags. To begin with, the pamphlets were shipped from Mumbai and arrived late. This delay meant that when Vasu and I arrived in the village to confirm that all households had received the fliers, none of the pamphlets had been distributed yet. Instead, we found very young village boys (ages 9-11) sitting and very slowly writing information about the planned stove demonstration that was taking place the following day… and there were still several hundred pamphlets that were blank.  So, Vasu and I grabbed pens and helped fill out the fliers with the necessary information – those years of learning to write Hindi really came in handy! Some of the village boys that were helping us had gone to school that morning, but their teacher didn’t show up, so left the school (and unfortunately common occurrence). We finished filling in the demonstration information after about an hour – and then the village team passed them out to every household.

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Posters promoting the improved stove were hung throughout the village.

 

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Some demonstrations were given to groups of villagers.

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Since households in the village are naturally clustered by religion and caste, we ended up doing a group of demonstrations to many small subsets of villagers. These households lived in a Hindu area in one of the villages…

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And these households lived in a Muslim are of the village…

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We did our best to target the demonstration at the men and women who would purchase the stove – but of course, many children attended the demonstrations, too, crouched at the feet of the adults, and loving the show.

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The Greenway Smart Stove (a natural draft, front loading stove) burns brightly during a village demonstration.

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We also conducted household level demonstrations in some pilots–  neighbors often came to watch, too.

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The point of conducting so many pilots is that we hope to identify the most successful set of intervention strategies, and scale them up across our entire sample. However, the reality of conducting so many pilots is that it often feels like a never ending cycle. Learn some lessons; plan another pilot to learn some more… around and around and around.

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After hard days conducting stove sales in the sun, we didn’t need any pilots to determine our favorite way to relax and cool down – the answer was definitively watermelon! If only our questions about the best approach to stove sales could be answered this quickly (and deliciously).

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Hidden Mountain Bungalows

Vasu and I retreated to an amazing hidden gem for a night after the Mukteshwar Marathon madness. Sonapani is an eco friendly resort nestled on the side of the mountain. Each little bungalow has solar hot water (for bucket baths) and is simply and beautifully furnished. Meals were served in a lovely dining room where we ate on the porch and shared tales with other guests. After the mountain marathon run, my legs were incapable of going up and down stairs, prompting many humorous moments.

 

One of the bungalows.

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These shoes have seen hundreds of miles.

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The best chai – black, with fresh ginger.

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The best cheerleader, Himalayan companion, chaiwalla, and spider remover: lovely lady Vasu.

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This weekend we trekked to the nearby Dak Bungalow, a 110 year old British building that has been restored as a homestay by an absolutely lovely couple. We trekked to the Bungalow for a few hours, passing many trees showing the classic signs of fuel gathering (bottom and easy to reach branches have been chopped and carried away).

 

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These Dak (Mail) bungalows were built ten miles apart by the british. The old signpost still stands (or perhaps leans is more accurate) marking this spot between the outposts at Kathgodom (the modern train station) and Almora, the large town we saw in the distance.

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And then a storm hit. Power was gone for over 24 hours.

Wind blown flower petals scented the air as the first drops fell. The birds fell silent as the rain found it voice. Wildfires stared on the mountain opposite us and raged all night and into the morning; an unbroken circle of flame. Our candles flickered and faltered in the wind.

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In the morning, we ventured out for a hike but kept sprinting to nearby shelter when the rain found us.

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The Dak Bungalow is in the middle of the village Peora, which was one of the villages that we surveyed for our cookstove research project. Over several days last summer, we walked through the entire village randomly sampling households – here’s a view of the village.

 

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We had such a refreshing stay before trekking back to work.

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Marathon in the Mountains

The Mukteshwar Marathon at 7,500 feet. My first half marathon. My fastest! The first 6 miles, all downhill, curving along mountain sides. The second 6 miles back the same route, up sharp turns and past shockingly beautiful vistas.

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Friendly faces all along the route. Chirag volunteers cheered the runners on and offered fruit, biscuits, trays of salt, water and gatorade.

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Many fellow runners were lived in the Kumaon Hills. It was very inspiring to see so many local runners- kept incredibly fit by life here. Several women ran in traditional clothing. Many people ran in sandals or shoes with untied laces. Couples ran holding hands up the mountains. Many Delhi-ites (Delights) were forced to walk; unacclimated. Mountain children often walk over 5k each way to reach their schools; gangs of them showed up to run the 5K, like those below.

 

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I hope I can run next year 🙂

Snapshots of urban life

For something different I though I’d share a few photos of urban India, 2013.

I spent 24 hours passing through Delhi on my way from Orissa to Uttar Pradesh.

Across India trees are both protected and hunted. There is a growing movement to protect trees in urban areas as an anti-pollution measure. Delhi even has a Tree Ambulance that roams around helping trees (supposedly). However, deforestation still occurs across India as land is converted to farmland or used for mining and rural households search for firewood.   At the nice hotel where I stayed in Bhubaneswar I woke early one morning to see a poor woman cutting down one of the branches from a large tree in front of the hotel – she was there at the crack of dawn before the guards arrived.

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AC units on a building in Delhi

 

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A common scene – motorcycle parking lot. More and more vehicles “ply the roads” of India- many of them motorcycles.

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This Jeremy Scott collection seems utterly out of place at the Delhi Adidas store. The idea of wealthy Indians in India wearing clothes styled after the totem poles build by pacific northwest Native American (“Indian”) cultures (like this and this) is so strange.

 

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View of Connaught Place, Delhi, against the ever-polluted sky.

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A relaxing dinner solo in Delhi at Sidewok.

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Delhi now boasts a few Starbucks – a the only coffee shop in India I’m aware of where I can add soymilk to my drinks. It was mobbed… but a delightful treat for a vegan in a foreign land – and a very attractive place to rest and work, too.

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Yesterday we came to Lucknow for meetings (a 1.5 hour drive from the TERI guest house and office in rural Uttar Pradesh). Here’s a classic view of a cow walking though a very busy urban street. These cows generally survive by eating trash left on the street. I find this to be a ridiculous double standard for a culture that believes the cow to be a very sacred creature.

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And finally, a reminder of home – Durham, NC

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Why am I in India?

I just realized I’ve been in India for almost a month now – this means I’m terribly over due to start posting. I suspect most blog readers are familiar with my work in India, but I thought the best place to start would be with a summary of what I’m doing here, and why (for a brief overview, see the conundrum).

About 40% of the global population still cooks using solid fuel (such as wood or dung cakes or residue from agricultural crops) in traditional stoves. These stoves burn very inefficiently, and are often used in rooms with little or no ventilation, which means that the women and children who usually do the cooking are exposed to very high concentrations of household air pollution (HAP). The World Health Organization’s most recent Global Burden of Disease report ranks household air pollution as the 4th greatest global health risk factor contributing to illness and death – about 3.5 million premature deaths per year. This is a huge problem – and responsible for more illness across the world than most people realize. I’ve asked a lot of people what the consider the first, second, and third greatest health risks across the globe, and no one has accurately named them.

 

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(Lim et al, 2012)

 

The health risk is mostly due to cardiovascular disease and lower respiratory infections (pneumonia). In addition to adverse health impacts, traditional cooking practices (cooking itself, as well as gathering and preparing fuel) take time that could be used for earning household income, and can often expose women and children to risk. Reliance on fuelwood leads to deforestation and degradation of local forest resources (Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves). The mixture of pollutants is not only harmful for health but also has negative climate impacts as well – mainly through emissions of black carbon, the second most potent greenhouse pollutant (Ramanathan and Carmichael, 2008).

Many improved cookstoves have been designed in an attempt to address these adverse health, livelihood, and environmental impacts. However, households are often not interested in the technology for many reasons – it may be too expensive, culturally inappropriate (i.e. they cannot cook their customary foods), or not something they are interested in, particularly if they do not understand the adverse impacts of their traditional cooking. This lack of understanding is widespread- and it is understandable — if your family has been cooking this way for generations and you haven’t observed negative impacts, it is hard to understand what all the fuss is about. 

My research focuses on the intersection between household behavior (households stove and fuel choice), household air pollution (measuring levels of emissions), and health and livelihood impacts. On this trip to India, I will be working with our Indian partners to launch several pilots to study mechanisms for encouraging households to adopt (and continue to use) improved stoves.

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Here is an example of a woman cooking on a traditional mud stove in Orissa, India. I visited this household about two weeks ago. She is cooking in the kitchen (not all homes have a separate room for the kitchen) and using wood and dung cakes in her stove. There is a small opening cut into the ceiling for smoke to escape, and a piece of pipe acting as a chimney to capture some rising smoke. However, the room was very smoky.

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In addition to their traditional stove, this household also has a double-burner LPG stove (that burns liquid petroleum gas). The LPG stove was just around he corner but sat unused while the woman roasted grains over her traditional stove. She prefers to use her traditional stove because she felt it provided a hotter flame that made the cooking go faster. She kept the LPG stove to use for smaller cooking jobs like tea. There is also an issue with getting LGP cylinders – hers is from the black market, since getting official LPG connections can take a very long time (sometimes up to a year).

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I visited several villages in Orissa with one of the Principle Investigators for our cookstove study in Orissa, John.

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In my first two weeks in India we also took an afternoon to explore a nearby temple in Orissa – the Konark Temple dedicated to the sun god. The temple was built in the 13th century. John and I hired a tour guide who was comical but excellent. This was my second visit to the temple and I learned a lot more on this trip.

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After the temple visit, we went to the ancient Khandagiri caves carved into a hillside for Jain monks. The cave below is carved into the shape of a tiger’s open mouth.

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It was scorching outside but under cover of the incredible Hat I climbed to the top of the hill to survey the view of Bhubaneswar below.

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I welcome all requests / suggestions for future blog posts!