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Dietary differences and health in India versus the U.S.

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I was never a big fan of vegetarian food. As part of my everyday diet since I was a child, I would consume at least some meat (either beef, pork or chicken). However, when I arrived in Mumbai, I found very few non-vegetarian places to eat, and learned that beef or pork is not sold in the markets. Only chicken is available for purchase at markets, and sometimes, fish.

Although I have been in Mumbai for almost two months now, I still find the respect cows receive here fascinating. In this city, they live freely in the streets and are not threatened by human presence.  Hinduism (which is the main religion in India) preaches that human beings should care for everything that lives and the cow falls into the highest honor category as a sacred beast. Some people believe that cows play a big role in daily life because the cow provides people with milk and the dung may also be dried and burned to cook or warm the house during cold season. Across the state of Maharashtra, indeed, selling beef is prohibited and killing cows is a major offense by law. Those who violate the law face up to five years in jail.

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Protecting clients in microfinance

Imagine you are a farmer with a few scattered small plots of land where you cultivate beans, peanuts and maize. There is a machine you would like to buy that helps you harvest the land more efficiently . This way, you spend fewer hours in the field, and will have more time to earn additional income for the family by doing motor repairs in the community. However, you barely have any savings at the moment because you spent most of it on unexpected medical expenses for your five-year-old child. You decide to take out a loan at a microfinance bank. After a visit to the bank where you indicate your interest in a loan, a loan officer visits you two days later at your home to see if your business actually exists, and to gather financial information about the costs and income that your family has (not just the farming activity). You have all this information more or less in your head (there is no written administration) and you share it with the loan officer. After the loan officer has done the financial analysis back in the office, he/she calls you to say you have been accepted as a new client and you make an appointment to come to the office to sign the contract and other formal documents before you can take out the loan. There is only one problem…you don’t know how to read.

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The magic of the auto-rickshaw in Mumbai

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When you’re in a hurry when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you’re stuck in horrible traffic, your best transportation option is one of the more than 300,000 auto-rickshaws (also called autos) that operate in Mumbai. Well, at least that is what I was told when I first arrived to this frenetic city. These small three-wheel cars play a very important role in the complex public transportation system operating in Mumbai that includes buses, trains, trams, monorails, taxis and more recently, Uber. Continue reading


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3 Key Insights on Disability Inclusion from India

Since I’ve written a good bit about microfinance these last weeks, I want to turn back to disability inclusion for my last post of the summer, and think beyond financial inclusion a bit. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to get a glimpse into a program that’s supporting not just the base of the pyramid in India, but a particularly vulnerable segment of it. As can be expected, though, there is much more work to be done. Disability inclusion is hard – really hard. Just as they are in many other social institutions, people with disabilities (PWD) are frequently excluded from the benefits of well-thought through and intentional development (including financial inclusion) programming. While disability inclusion is definitely on the international development agenda, it’s certainly not the day’s hottest topic or sexiest research agenda. A few of the main challenges I noticed during field work, in talking to disability NGOs and in desk research are as follows: Continue reading


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Tea and Its History in India

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When you walk on the streets of Mumbai, you can find on every corner typical street tea stalls, which are also called cutting chai corner. I never considered myself as a tea lover, but every time I passed any stall, I could not resist feeling attracted by the wonderful smell of tea. Although many people cautioned against trying street food, it was just impossible for me to withstand the tempting scent that arose from that the tea stalls. Continue reading


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8 Weeks Spent 8,000 Miles Away

This last blog entry was penned in no-man’s-land. My passport has been stamped – I’ve officially departed India. And, I now occupy an in-between space. I’ve “officially” left this country yet I haven’t gone anywhere. The hour or so before my flight, stuck in limbo, seems like an appropriate venue for a reflection of my time spent here. Continue reading