India and my friend Megan

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My goodness-seeking, service-oriented, creative, beautiful friend Megan is in India. I’m not sure if India is a place I’d ever be brave enough to experience, but my Megan is there now. This is an email that she just sent yesterday that I am copying and pasting from my iPhone on my Word Press app. Amazing. I am sitting in my husband’s truck waiting for him in small town Champion, MI in the UP. It is still a beautiful winter wonderland here and I am blogging from the truck. Nice. Love technology. Love love love it.

Megan’s new work is a powerful want to make a difference in the lives of those less-fortunate and her way with words has always been powerful. Here they are! Enjoy!
I thought this email was packed with so many wonderful things to share with anyone and everyone. So here it is. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

Hello!

Hello from India. I’m in India. I say this repeatedly, often, in my head. For so long India was just an idea in my imagination… and to see it before me, to be in the middle of it, it’s a bit surreal. I see things familiar, and I think, “this is India!” And I see a lot of people, crowds, cars every which way moving in traffic (crossing the street had never been such a challenge…. I did feel like the proverbial chicken), and monkeys and cows and pigs in the street, and I think, “this in India.”

It’s quite a sensory experience.

The one place I’d say the sensory experience has been lacking a bit is via my taste buds. I’ve tried some of the food, but mind you, we’ve been in many rural, very poor areas. Street food at times is the only option. And it just seems like its stomach trouble on a plate. So I have been cautious with food, meaning I’ve had my fill of peanut butter and nuts for a while. And have been getting my carb fill, too: nan bread, lots of rice. Really looking forward to some raw veggies when I get home!

Speaking of (not) raw veggies, me, Rachel (the director) and Dom (the sound guy) were all unwinding in our unheated hotel room, up in the Himalayas. It was pretty chilly. We dined on some sort of packaged creme cookies, pistachios (from Trader Joes, I brought those from home), and potato chips. And beer. We went to bed, awoke the next day. Half a box of cookies still on the table. The door was left ajar for a slight moment, as we had been walking in and out of our hotel room… and as I walked back toward the room, and Rachel had been in there, she walked out to see a monkey run in, grab the cookies, and then proceed to run (fly) past me, up onto the hotel roof. Then it sat at the edge of the roof, looked at me, and started to eat the cookies.

“Ah, don’t keep your door open!” the hotel staff then informed.

We filmed on the terrace of the hotel shortly thereafter, and from above, an empty water bottle had been chucked at the camera. Same monkey. Perhaps he didn’t like the cookies.

So yes, it’s a bit of a zoo here, at times.

I am writing from the seventh hotel on our trip… have two more different hotels after this, in two different cities. We’ve been hopping all around, go-go-going. I’m a bit tired, but it’s all been really great. Truly.

Let me update about the project. On that front, in regards to covering the story about microfinance to women, we’ve really had some EXCELLENT interviews. With AMAZING leaders. And have captured just some INCREDIBLE footage.

We did go to the site where a lot of people (to be more specific… thousands) bathe in the Ganges. I didn’t realize that’s where we were going until we got there. Funny, too, that the night before, as I imagined this serene spot along the Ganges, up in the Himalayas, that I thought we were going to, I said aloud, “Perhaps I’ll take a dip, too”, as the man we were following (known here as the Bill Gates of microfinance in India, his name is Vijay Mahajan) he was to take a swim, and we were to film it. Well we arrive in the morning, and Hello thousands of people. I had seen pictures, but didn’t realize that THAT was where we were going. HOLY COW (I say this with a new appreciation in India). Really, WOW. Thousands of people. Men washing. Women washing each other. A woman dunks her naked baby three times in the frigid, rapidly running water. I didn’t go in.

I’ve included a set of pictures, linked below. The man in the orange get-up, that was taken alongside the ganges, as thousands bathed.

Lots of barefooted people here. Yes, lots of people here are poor. Very poor.

I’ll write more on that later.

As for our project…

So we traveled through the Himalayas some three days with Vijay Mahajan, who is famous in the microfinance world. Standing before him, I was awed. It’s been an unprecedented education opportunity, for me, to connect with him, and learn alongside him. Chat with him. And as I spoke with him, at one point for 45 minutes on end in a car after having arrived to our hotel, and we just sat and talked about microfinance, and helping the world’s poor, I just thought, “How the hell did I get here?!” It was just two weeks ago that connecting with him was a pipe dream. And now, he has a picture of me in his blackberry, and he told me (as we parted ways), “Call me for whatever you need.” Pretty cool to call on Mr Vijay, especially when it comes to microfinance. I told him I would.

Another woman we’ve met, and who is to be a feature in our film, her name is Anupama Joshi, and she was the first female air force pilot in India. AND (here is where comes the cool part), she questioned the reason that females needed to retire from the military after 15 years in India, when men could serve without limit, and all who served 20 years started to get their pensions. So she brought her question to the courts, and started to fight for equal opportunity in the military, because she thought service should be merit based, not gender based. She had a lawyer, but found that she was telling him everything to say, as she had lived the experience and had common sense, compelling arguments in her head, so she separated from the lawyer, and continued fighting the case, on her own. After seven years of it being drawn out, she won. And now women can serve in India’s military as long as they want.

She got lots of media attention due to the whole event, meeting Bill Clinton and Chelsea, and other world leaders.

She now runs an organization to extend financial services to the rural poor, and has built an organization serving 15,000 within two years.

She is awesome, and I know I will be connected to her for life. She had the crew over to her house for dinner a few nights ago, and the food was AWESOME. Hello Tandori Chicken! (Yes, I who rarely eats meet ate chicken… when in Rome). Mind you, as we walked in that night, Abba had been playing on the CD player. And a dance party DID later ensue (Paul Comes, I thought of you, it’s true. Equally true, you’d have a crush on Anupama).

You guys will all meet her through the movie… as I imagine you’ll all be obliged to watch the movie when it’s done….and maybe you’ll even one day meet her in person when she comes to visit me in Chicago :).

She’s 42. And she kicks butt.

Tomorrow, Anupama is meeting us to go speak with and interview Ela Bhatt, a 77-year old woman who has dedicated her life to helping poor women of India and other parts of the world, and is internationally renowned for her grassroots activism.

Needless to say, I’m quite excited to meet and talk with the woman!! She’s an activist, a do-er, AND an elder. I love!

OK, I must get to bed (truth: going to read about Ela Bhatt some more, and think about my interview with her tomorrow, to be prepared!). Happy though to have gotten SOMETHING, anything down to connect with those I love, elsewhere in the world.

Sending love, sunshine, and happiness! I’m back in Chicago in one week (Monday, March 14).
Looking forward to catching up with Chicago!!!

Love,
Meg

LINK TO SOME PICTURES, THOUGH I STILL HAVE MANY MORE TO UPLOAD:
https://picasaweb.google.com/meganhryndza/India#

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