Friday, December 31, 2010

Pizza alla nutella

When I first met Mathilde, she told me that her favourite pizza was the ‘Hawaiian pizza’ - pizza with pineapple (!). It took me almost seven years to explain her that this could not be an Italian pizza: beside the fact that pineapples do not grow in Italy, the true Italian pizza is either the Margherita (tomato and mozzarella) or the Napoli (tomato and anchovies).

What could I then tell her when we found in the menu of a pizzeria in Trastevere, in the heart of Rome, la ‘pizza alla nutella’???

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In partenza!

After having spent Christmas with their respective families, les M&M’s are leaving today for their holidays. First stop: Rome for a few days, and then we’ll see. Possible destinations so far: Sicily, Puglia, Malta, Egypt… we haven’t yet decided; if you have a place to suggest or recommend, please do it. We’ll decide at the last minute.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our pictures from Ladakh

It took us a while to screen and reduce the 450++ pictures we took in Ladakh to a more ‘manageable’ ±260.

But finally here we are: you’ll find our pictures from Ladakh at http://picasaweb.google.com/mmmarchisio, as usual.

Vote your favourite one!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Pansigh’s Family

Let’s conclude our chapter on India by revealing the face of a silent hero in our Blog, a recurrent name in our posts, a character at the margins but often present in our stories and that our followers and readers have learnt to know and appreciate...

Ladies and gentlemen: Pansigh (and his family)!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trovate le differenze

1993

2010

Ci sono voluti 17 anni, ma alla fine ce l’abbiamo fatta, e la 5aA del Liceo Scientifico Niccolò Machiavelli, classe 1992-93, si è ritrovata ieri sera sul divanone da 20 (sic Fabiz dixit) del Cacao Lounge di Sesto.

E dopo qualche sguardo iniziale è stato piacevole riscontrare che (a) a parte qualche capello in meno e qualche figlio in più, alla fin fine non siamo cambiati molto: belli come 17 anni fa, e (b) che tutto sommto siamo rimasti cazzoni come 17 anni fa…

E la prossima volta speriamo di rivedere anche quelli che questa volta non ce l’hanno fatta a venire!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Burj Khalifa

Architectonically Dubai is certainly an interesting place to visit, with some landmark buildings that are at the forefront of civil engineering and architectonical science in the world: the Burj al-Arab, the 321 m high sail-shaped hotel floating on a man-made island, the National Bank of Dubai building, the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, etc.

But the flagship construction of Dubai is certainly Burj Khalifa, 828 m, the tallest building in the world, almost twice taller than the previous tallest building in the world.

And I have to confirm it: it is really impressive, from both the outside and the inside (or, better, from both the ‘below’ and the ‘above’).

But more than the building itself - which, I repeat, is pretty impressive - what struck me the most was to watch the documentaries on and listen to the testimonies of the workers that were involved in the construction of this building. Because behind such piece of work, there are real people…

Dubai

A crazy place. Paradoxical. Excessive. Almost unreal…

An artificial oasis between the dunes of the Sharjah Desert and the waves of the Gulf’s waters: futurist skyscrapers in the middle of nothing, high-speed highways that cut longitudinally the city, and crowded luxury malls (the biggest in the world). But also trendy bars, sophisticated cafes, super-fine restaurants, ultra-deluxe hotels. And building yards over building yards: this city is ‘under construction’: it almost did not exist 20 years ago - or, at least, was far from being even closer to what it is today - and it has certainly not yet finished to expand…

It’s difficult to describe or frame Dubai; I have never seen something similar. I would say it may somehow resemble to something between Dallas (or Crystal City) and Disneyland…

Can’t really say that I ‘liked’ it, but I certainly found it interesting and worth visiting, and - all in all - glad to have spent two days here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Inter-Mazembe 3-0

Abu Dhabi, 18 dicembre 2010: FIFA Club World Championship's Final - Noi c’eravamo…

Friday, December 17, 2010

La mia prima sciata della stagione

Traditionally, the skiing season for Italians starts on December 7th, day of Saint Ambrogio.

With only a few days of delay, I officially inaugurated today my skiing season 2010-11. In Dubai, United Arab Emirates…

Hello Dubai

A couple of days stopping over in Dubai on my way back to Italy?

Why not…

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bye-bye Delhi

My last picture of Delhi: Chanakya Puri's tree-lined avenues, on my way to the airport

The 10 things that I will miss more of Delhi:

- My lunches with Shairi

- Our dinners + Risk at Massi and Muna’s

- Our Friday lunches at Amici

- Our Sunday afternoon runs with Riccardo and Toshi in Lodi Garden

- Our ‘Bollywood’ evenings lounged about on our couch

- Our Saturday breakfasts on our terrace

- Chanyaka Puri’s tree-lined roads in October and November

- The Ford Foundation’s pool

- The ‘Indian miracle

- Pansigh

The 10 things that I will miss less of Delhi:

- The people pushing and cutting the line while queuing

- The traffic

- The unceasing honking

- The pollution

- The 48 degrees for six months a year

- The 10 degrees inside the house for two months a year

- Fighting with each taxi driver, tuk-tuk driver, or rickshaw driver

- The people throwing the garbage out of their car because ‘anyway, there are those paid to clean’

- The people spitting out of the windows of the bus when I am passing close by with my scooter

- The food

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A couple of days in Delhi

To finish packing and shipping our stuff. A few random thoughts:

- If I think back to when I arrived, I only had three luggages (and I already felt overloaded). It’s incredible how many things accumulate in - all in all - a relatively limited amount of time…

- Second move in six months, after that from DC in July. Our ‘nomadic’ life is certainly enriching and exciting, but sometimes (particularly when you have to deal with moves and shipments) you just wish you could settle down and put your roots somewhere - at least for a while…

- An empty house is always sad.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Find Charlie (Ou est Jacques?)

‘Best Route in Minnesota’, 30 m, 6c, quite technical, it goes up vertically along the edge of a massive pillar that sustains the huge vault of the cave at the end of Pra-Nang Beach - beautiful! One of the best routes I have ever climbed…

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My days in Railay

Breakfast

Climbing

Blog

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The biggest democracy in the world?

Welcome sign at the Indo-Pakistan border, Punjab

When prodded in front of the huge corruption scandals that surrounded the organization of the Commonwealth Games, several Indians responded to me with what seemed to me a pre-packed answer, a nursery rhyme repeated by heart: ‘well, at least we live in a democracy, and these things become public’. As if living in a democracy would make these things less serious. As if living in a democracy would make these things more tolerable. As if, in the end, everything can be justified because... at least we live in a democracy.

Since my arrival in India, I have been bombarded by this slogan: ‘India, the biggest democracy of the world’. Which, telling the truth, I always found a bit annoying.

It is certainly true that if we consider ‘democracy’ merely the ‘electoral system’, with more than 700 million people that voted during the last national elections in 2009, India is the largest democratic country in the world. But this to me is not a merit. This is simply the consequence of the fact that India is the second most populated country in the world, and that the first one, China, with a single-party electoral system, cannot be technically considered a democracy.

But if we look at the concept of democracy more broadly, we notice that Indian democracy has plenty of flaws.

India is a country where the cast system still exists (to the extent that a question on which cast people belong to was about to be introduced in the questionnaire for the next census) - and, no wonder, where the majority of the political class belongs to the highest casts. India is a country where, despite the fact it was probably the first country to have a woman as prime minister, women are highly discriminated - and certainly cannot properly exercise their democratic rights. India is a country where, with more than half of the population living in poverty, most of the people do not have the means (access to information, education, time, etc.) to properly take up their democratic rights. Technically all these people - those belonging to the lowest casts, the women, the poor - have the right to vote. But is this enough to consider India a democracy, or - better - the ‘biggest’ democracy in the world?

But even considering democracy in the narrowest sense, i.e. the electoral system only, I found disturbing the rhetorical and populist use of this word in India, as - as I said earlier - anything comes second to the fact that we (they) are in a democracy. I truly believe that organizing a 1.2 billion people country with profound cultural, ethnical, religious, and linguistic differences democratically is indeed commendable, and I admire India and the Indians for having achieved that. But being a democracy should be a means to achieve the highest good, and not an end in itself, to praise yourself in front of a mirror.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Will India’s growth outpace China’s?

A few weeks ago the Economist published an article stating that India’s growth would have soon (by 2013 if not earlier) overtake China’s. This forecast was based on two main arguments. First, the impact of the two countries’ different demographic trends on their economies. According to a study by Morgan Stanley quoted by the Economist, China’s workforce will in fact soon age and shrink - mainly because of the effects of the Government’s ‘one-child’ policy - while on the other side India will benefit for many years from an opposite trend: a young and growing workforce. Second, the comparative advantage of India’s democracy vis-à-vis China’s single-party, authoritarian Government – which, according to the Economist, favoured and will continue to favour business development in India.

I often shared the Economist’ smart and wit analyses, but, even though I don’t consider myself an expert of India (let alone of China), this time I tend to politely disagree – if not with the conclusions of the article, at least with the arguments used in support of the thesis.

Demography. I don’t have the elements to contradict the demographic projections of India and China quoted by the Economist - so I assume these are correct, and that in fact demographic growth will be a factor in favour of India’s growth. But my immediate question would be: what would this young and growing workforce do? How will it be absorbed by the labour market, considering that half of India’s population live in poverty, and thus have limited access to education and limited economic opportunities? I am not saying that the young and growing workforce does not represent an asset for India, but I think that to exploit this asset a number of structural changes need to happen – and these will not happen in the short-run. Certainly not by 2013.

Democracy. I sincerely believe that the weight that has been attributed to democracy as a critical factor for economic growth in India is overestimated. I can’t see what specific, concrete advantages in terms of economic growth being a democracy bring to India. The economic literature, including the Economist, often quote the abolition of the ‘licence raj’ (the set of licenses that were required by the Government to set up and run a business in India) in the 90s as the measure after which Indian economy began to boom - but I can’t see why this could have not happened in a non-democratic India as well. On the contrary, the example of China (and the Economist acknowledges it) seems to demonstrate that rapid and shared economic growth is possible even in non-democratic and authoritarian systems. In general, I think that the emphasis given to the concept of democracy in India (‘India, the biggest democracy in the world’) in every sector, including - as in this case - economy, is rather demagogic and rhetorical – but this would be perhaps the subject of another post.

At the same time, I think that the article overlooked or underestimated a number of other factors that on the contrary may prevent or constrain economic growth in India.

First, the fact that India has a very poor infrastructure system, e.g. bad roads, slow railways, limited and unreliable access to electricity, etc. Infrastructure development is commonly considered a necessary condition for large-scale development, and Indian infrastructures are objectively in very poor conditions. The Economist maintains that India’s growth will be based on a ‘knowledge-intensive’ industry, which requires fewer infrastructures. But beside the fact that even a knowledge-intensive industry needs reliable access to electricity, a functioning telecommunication system, etc., the counter-argument is that to have a ‘knowledge-economy’ a country needs to have a highly educated population – and India, with still one third of its population illiterate, seems far from fulfilling this condition.

Second, widespread corruption, which drains public and private resources, and adds costs and reduces competitiveness of the private sector.

Third, poverty. With more than half of the population poor, the costs of any social security system will necessarily divert a significant amount of resources that could be otherwise used for more productive purposes.

To conclude, will India’s growth outpace China’s? I sincerely don’t know, and I don’t have the elements to hazard either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. But if this will ever happen, it will hardly happen - in my opinion - in the time-horizon predicted by the Economist.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My first week in Railay Beach

Random thoughts:

- Rock climbing is still the activity that fulfils me the most. When I climb I literally enter in another dimension. It's a kind of magic!

- After one year and half of inactivity, two considerations: (1) My technical skills are still rather good. (2) Unfortunately, at 36 the body does not respond anymore as when I was 22...

- A third consideration: interestingly, at 36 I feel mentally much stronger than when I was 22, and I feel I can control my fears and emotions on the rock much better.

- We are in Thailand in December, and in a week I didn’t see the sun a single time: it has been either cloudy or rainy the whole time. Climate change is real: do something!

- Travelling ‘solo’ makes you more open and receptive to the outside, while at the same time it allows you a lot of time to think and reflect by yourself - and I think it is a healthy experience once in a while. But I think I fundamentally remain a ‘company traveller’.

- I like Thai food, but after only one week I crave ‘un piatto di spaghetti allo scoglio’...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cristina

Do you remember Cristina, the free-lance photographer who travelled from Italy to India by train, and that we hosted for a few days a few weeks ago? (click here if you don’t recall her).

We like her pictures. We believe she has eye, talent… ‘touch’. We feel her pictures emanate warmth, passion. (And we think she should be a bit more ‘bold’ in promoting herself - but that’s another story).

Cristina has a very nice website where some of her works are displayed: journeys by train (her favourite theme), musicians, miners... However, she thinks her website is still ‘not ready’, and doesn’t want it to be shared widely yet.

We respect her will, and while waiting the website to be finally ready, we post here one of the pictures she took during her journey to India - a gift she left to thank us for the hospitality…

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I survived India

It’s difficult to describe how I feel leaving India. I have to say in fact that I found India extremely rich, stimulating, and challenging. I rarely felt the sense of amazement, astonishment, and admiration that I felt here in India - and I am saying this having travelled quite a bit. Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, Ephesus and Pergamum, or Petra for instance did not produce the same shivers that I felt in front of the Taj Mahal.

At the same time I can’t say I fell in love with India. Certainly I couldn’t ever be one of those persons that leave everything and retire in an ashram after having visited India. Quite the opposite: I found India (or perhaps Delhi) a bit too overwhelming, aggressive, stressful, and tiring - and although I didn’t look forward to leaving, I can’t deny that in the past couple of months I didn’t mind the idea of leaving.

I enjoyed my stay in India, and would have not had problems in staying longer - on the contrary. But now that I am about to leave, I feel I will not miss it...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tortilla Española

Among the friends from India we’ll miss more, Patricia (and among the dishes from India we'll miss more, Patricia's tortilla!).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why (2)

- Because better bald than with moustaches (or not?)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why

- To celebrate
- To see how I look like
- To hide the gray hair
- Because I was told that bald men are sexier
- To be lighter when I climb
- To strengthen the new growth
- Because I couldn't do it shorter than this
- Because I didn’t do the military service
- To be more hydrodynamic
- Because I’m bad, I’m bad - you know it - I am bad...
- To save at the hairdresser
- To get used to how I will look like in a few years
- To prevent lice
- To save shampoo
- To see how I would look like if I were a Buddhist monk (or a Hare-Krishna)
- Because what matters is ‘the inside’
- Because anyway they will re-grow (eventually)*
(*) hopefully...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Off to Railay Beach,Thailand

Wrapped-up my stuff, handed over my work, paid my bills, closed my bank account, sold my scooter, taken leave from my friends and colleagues (and from my thick hair), I decided to fulfil an old dream and to allow myself a couple of weeks rock-climbing in Railay - arguably one of the (if not ‘the’) top climbing spots in the world.

The next two weeks will serve me to enjoy a hobby that I love very much but that I have never had time to practice it as much as I would have liked, to relax and clear my mind before starting a new job* that apparently will be very demanding, to put in order our pictures, perhaps to finally read ‘Delitto e Castigo’ (Crime and Punishment). But also to let my thoughts settle and reflect calmly and thoroughly on my experience in India.

Delhi is miles away, but do expect a few more posts on India in the next weeks...

(*) Sorry, I know I have not yet revealed what our next destination will be, but it’s only a little superstition. My appointment is subject to medical clearance, and I am waiting the results of my exams. So, please be patient for a few days more. As soon as the appointment is official, we will announce our next destination J

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Diabolik!

Before

After

Monday, November 29, 2010

Farewell(s) week-end

Flashback. Rewind. Let’s get back for a moment to the last week-end. And sorry for not respecting the consecutio temporum but the last weeks have been so dense that it is difficult to keep our Blog behind all the past events.

Last week-end has been our ‘farewell week-end’: on Saturday the dinner at Massi and Muna’s - which I already described in one of my previous posts; and on Sunday eve our ‘joint’ farewell. On the terrace of Yvonne (the perfect place for parties - too bad to have discovered it only now), Riccardo, Valeria, Mathilde and I said good-bye to our friends and to India.

As in all farewells, a mix of feelings overlapped in my heart and in my mind, and will certainly have more time to reflect on them more in depth in the next weeks.

Certainly the fact that also Riccardo (to Beirut), Valeria (to Rome), Roberta and Bernal (to Vietnam), Marco and Olga (to Sri Lanka), Toshi and Saki (to Wien), and Luigi and Cecilia (to Namibia) (friends with whom we shared our experience in India) will be leaving soon make our leave a little bit less sad...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Varanasi (2)

Undoubtedly Varanasi has its charm. The image of the city that emerges from the night's mist at dawn seen from a rowing boat in the middle of the Ganges is somehow surreal. The image of the lights of the fires that are lightened along the banks of the Ganges at night to cremate the corpses of the devotees is somehow ancestral. And the image of the Ghats corroded by generations and generations of Hindus that have repeated over centuries and centuries the same rituals is indeed mystical.

But as for India (with the exception of Ladakh perhaps), as much as I found Varanasi interesting, stimulating, ‘different’, I could not fall in love with it.

It was definitively worth visiting Varanasi, and we are happy to have chosen it as the destination of our last week-end in India. But if not even Varanasi has been able to light our heart, perhaps time has really come for us to leave...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our last trip in India

Apparently Goethe, after a trip to Naples, said ‘vedi Napoli e poi muori’, meaning that you cannot die without having first seen Naples.

Similarly, it seems you cannot leave India without having first visited Varanasi, the Hindu holy city where thousands of worshippers plunge every day in the Ganges River to wash away their sins and throw the ashes of their beloved ones in its waters.

Several friends of us went there. Some loved it, others hated it. But they all agree that you must go before leaving India.

And so we decided to spend our last week end in India there, wondering whether we will belong to those that love Varanasi or to those that hate it.

Do wait for our return on Saturday evening, and we will share our impressions...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

(Half) Marathon man (2)

The first and last half-marathon I run was the Stramilano in Milan, about 23/24 years ago. I can thus rightly consider the Delhi Half Marathon I run on Sunday as my baptism to a long-distance race in all respects.

And the immediate feedback could not be more enthusiastic. I enjoyed running. I enjoyed exploring my limits. I enjoyed this disciplines that merges muscles and brain, lungs and will, endurance and focus. And I like to think this will be the first of many others…

In completing my first 21.097 Km, I would like to send a special thanks to Riccardo and Toshi, friends and training mates in this adventure.

Riccardo was the one who, with his enthusiasm and his passion for this discipline, motivated me to enroll to this race. He was the one who taught me how to train, and the one who pulled me for the first 10 km on Sunday, setting the pace and lavishing advices during the race (when to drink, when to suck a candy, how to deal with the slopes, when to accelerate and when to hold myself, etc.) - allowing me to achieve my objective.

Toshi is a mystery of the nature, a case-study for the anti-doping commission: he is the one who trained the least among the three of us and nonetheless the fastest among us. The only explanation we could find is in the Japanese delicacies that his wife Saki prepares him every day for lunch. Not sure what the algae in his lunch box contain and whether they would be allowed by the IAAF… The Sunday run at 4.30 pm in Lodi Garden with Toshi had become a nice ritual. And it is indeed a pity that we could not meet at the departure on Sunday - too many people - but it was nice to meet and hug each other, exhausted but happy, at the arrival…

A special thanks to Massi and Muna as well. Their dinner on Saturday night was not exactly what the ‘marathon runner manuals’ prescribe (and in fact I finished digesting it at the eighteenth kilometer the following morning), but it will be hard to find such a good friends wherever we’ll go. We will miss you.

But completed a challenge, we started immediately thinking to the next. Perhaps the Romaratona in March 2011?...

(Ah, I almost forgot, the timing: 1.39.18 J)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reconciliation with Delhi

When, just after the eighth kilometre of the Delhi Half Marathon I turned left from Mansingh Road into Rajpath (the boulevard that runs from the India Gate, the All India War Memorial, to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India) and I suddenly saw that imposing palace in front of me, enlightened by the early morning light that dissolved the Delhi’s November morning mist, my heart leapt - and that image is one of the images of India that will be stuck in my memory and that I will bring with me forever.

Truly, the Delhi Half Marathon somehow made me make peace with Delhi.

I have never hidden that I have never been too fond of Delhi. Too big, too chaotic. Too dusty, too polluted. Too overwhelming. Too hot for nine months and too cold for two. I have never been as sick as in Delhi: terrible colds, flues that knock you out, stomach and intestine infections. I was only lucky not to get dengue or other vector-borne diseases... In short, not my city. And not too sad by the idea of having to leave soon...

But this run in the crisp air of a November morning, among the tree-lined roads of southern Delhi - for once closed to the traffic - with the sun that first shyly and then more overbearingly warmed up the city, made me observe Delhi from a completely different, perhaps deceiving, angle. And it's like if I have re-discovered it.

I know this is a very rare, probably misleading image of the city. But I am somehow happy that this is the last image of the city I have, and that this will be how I will remember Delhi.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A (small as it is) moral dilemma

I would like to ask for your opinion and advice on the situation below.

With our departure approaching, we entered in that phase in which we started taking stock of our stay here in India and wondering ourselves what we gained and what we are leaving out of this experience.

And whether we like it or not, we could not avoid reflecting on what we leave to Pansigh and his family, and what it will happen to them after we are left.

Pansigh, our factotum: our cleaning-man, our cook, the one who does our grocery, pays our bills, irons our clothes, calls (and talks to) the plumber, the electrician or whoever is needed. Trusty, humble, always merry. And great chatterer (even if he hardly speaks a word of English - our conversations sometime look like dialogues of the comedy of the absurd…)

Pansigh, an invisible character of this Blog: discreet and apparently invisible, but always somehow present: I am sure most of you had already known him (and sympathized with him) much before this post.

What we gain and what we leave. During our experiences abroad we get to know and interact with a lot of people, and, overall, we give and gain in equal measure. But the relationship with the ‘household staff’ is completely different, distorted. It’s not an even ‘give and take’. We overbearingly enter in their lives, often taking over a previous ‘boss’ - as Pansigh uses to say - and with time they establish a relationship that is something between the dependency and the symbiosis. They work for you but they are a bit more than simply employees. They somehow become part of your family, and you, whether you like it or not, become somehow responsible for them…

Because so dependent from you, because so vulnerable, a recurrent question in these days is what it will happen to them after we leave. Or, to put it a bit more broadly, what are we leaving to them: does (and if yes, how) our short transit in their lives make their lives a bit better off?

When in Ethiopia, I used to offer English classes to my guard and my maid, Abush and Tigist, hoping that a better knowledge of English would have opened up more opportunities to them after my departure. With Pansigh, for a number of reasons, a similar thing has not been possible.

We discovered however a few months ago that Pansigh and his family (his wife and two kids) have never visited the Taj Mahal, and we thought that our ‘legacy’ to them could be to allow them discovering this Indian wonder.

And now our request for your opinion and advice.

When we first mentioned our idea to Pansigh, he replied with a non-enthusiastic ‘yes-yes’. We were a bit surprised by his lukewarm reaction, but in the end we simply thought it was his different way of expressing feelings. Cultural differences.

When we mentioned it for the second time, asking Pansigh whether he was free to go this coming Sunday, he vaguely replied that it would be better for him to go sometime in December. We started becoming a bit suspicious on why was he keeping on humming and hawing at this proposal.

When, on the third time we discussed this issue, he discovered that we were not going with him, he mumbled something, eventually concluding that he would go ‘95% yes’ - which, for those that know a bit India and the Indians, is a polite way to say ‘no’.

And here it comes our request for your opinion: how would you interpret Pansigh’s reaction, and what would you advise us to do?

As far as we are concerned, we figured out two possible explanations. First: we have a completely different set of values. We think that a visit to the Taj Mahal could be a lifelong experience for an Indian that would otherwise never have this opportunity - something that will last in his memories forever. But perhaps we are simply applying our mindset and set of values to Pansigh’s, without thinking that perhaps he could not care less - and that he would rather prefer a watch (as he has been asking me for months) than a cultural excursion with his wife and kids to Agra.

Second possibility: he is afraid. He is afraid of doing something that he has never done. He is afraid of going out of the world that he knows and that he has known forever: the 'house-market-house' way. He is afraid of doing it alone. He may not even have the instruments to do it alone.

And thus our question: does it make sense (and is it right) for us to insist, to push Pansigh to do something 'we' believe will enrich him, or are we doing him a violence, are we putting him in a difficult situation, i.e. choosing between saying ‘no’ to his ‘boss’ and doing something he doesn’t want to do or he is afraid to do?

We thought that a trip to Agra could enrich a bit (certainly not change) Pansigh’s life, but perhaps he would be really happier simply with a watch…

Sunday, November 14, 2010

É arrivata Mathilde

Directly from the bush!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gram Sabha (2)

(Continues from previous post)

“Mr. Matthew. Have you ever attended a Gram Sabha*?” asked me the District Collector** at the end of our meeting at 6 pm.

“Ehm... no...” I shyly answered.

“Would you like to attend one?”

And before I could even think to an answer I was in the Collector’s car running in the dusk towards an unknown village in the Pali District, Rajasthan...

[…]

Several of you asked me more than once what exactly my job consists of, and - I admit it - I have always been rather sparing of details.

Let me however take this opportunity - my recent trip to Rajasthan to discuss with some local authorities and village representatives about a project I am currently working on - to give you an example of the kind of things I do...

In order to reduce poverty and unemployment in rural areas, the Indian Government has issued a few years ago an act which guarantees rural households the right to be employed for at least 100 days a year. A kind of unemployment subsidy - but slightly different. Basically, if a rural poor ends up being, for any reason, unemployed in the course of the year (for instance because of a drought or because the labour market is stagnant), he or she has the right to go to the local authorities and be hired for (up to) 100 days.

To do what? Usually these people are engaged in labour intensive public works, such as the construction of water conservation and water harvesting structures, flood control or small-scale irrigation facilities, feeder roads, afforestation activities, etc.

This employment guarantee program was so successful during the first years of implementation that the Government decided to extend it to the whole country. Today the program covers all 615 rural districts in the country and employs more than 52 million people per year. About 0.5% of the GDP (mica bruscolini) is invested for the implementation of this program every year. Indeed, it’s a massive program, probably the biggest social protection and rural employment program in the world.

Now, two observations can be made looking at this program through ‘climate lenses’, the lenses that I am supposed to wear. First, several of the activities supported by the program, such as the construction of water conservation and harvesting structures, tree planting, etc. do actually contribute to reduce the vulnerability of rural people to the effects of climate change (i.e. uncertain or low rainfalls, floods, etc.) - even though the program was not deliberately designed for this purpose. For instance, the construction of water conservation structures may allow farmers to bear longer dry seasons. The construction or the reinforcement of river banks may prevent or reduce the risks of floods, and so on. At the moment these public works are undertaken simply to provide an employment opportunity to rural people, without really taking in consideration the possible effects of climate change. However, if properly planned, these activities could actually contribute to reduce the vulnerability of villages and communities to climate change.

The second observation that can be made is that the durability of the assets built through this program is often limited by the fact that their technical design does not take into consideration the potential effects of climate change. Imagine for instance the cases of a rural road that is severely damaged by heavy rains or of a bridge that is washed away by a flood because their design did not factor in the fact that there would have been more frequent or more intense rainfalls as a consequence of climate change.

What we are trying to do is - to use a technical jargon - to make this program more ‘climate resilient’, that is to say trying to find a way to avoid that the effects of climate change undermine the benefits produced by this program. And, at the same time, try to maximize the unexploited potential of this program to reduce the vulnerability of rural people to the impacts of climate change.

It may sounds a bit cryptic, but let me explain. With our work we basically try to do two things. First, to increase the awareness of local communities on the future impacts of climate change and their capacity to select and plan interventions that reduce their vulnerability to the effects of climate change - for instance, more water harvesting structures if the length of the dry seasons is expected to increase, or more river embankments and flood control structures if more floods are expected, or more efficient drainage systems if more precipitations are expected, and so on.

Second, to support the review and revision of the infrastructures’ technical standards to ensure that the new constructions take into consideration the likely effects of climate change: higher banks if more floods are expected, more resistant roads if heavier rains are expected, and so on.

This is an example of one of the projects I am working on. Interesting, isn’t it?

[…]

After a few hours driving in the dark on the bumpy roads of the Pali District, Rajasthan, we finally reached this remote village, whose name and location will remain unknown to me, where hundreds of people were waiting the Collector to start the Gram Sabha. And to start discussing which activities should have been included in the work-plan of the village for next year…

(*) Village assembly

(**) A District Collector is an officer of the Indian Administration placed at the district level in charge of handling law, taxation and revenue collection, planning permission and natural emergencies.

Friday, November 12, 2010

London-Delhi, via DC

The story of Lauren and I is certainly curious. It seems in fact we have spent our past years running after each other. We met in London seven years ago during our Masters. After graduation we both temporarily moved to Northern Europe: Lauren to Brussels, and I to Paris. Not more than one year after we met again in DC, where we both found a job. We spent a few years there, meeting each other from time to time for a drink or so, until when Lauren left to Manila. Not later than one year after, I was on my way to Delhi.

We had completely lost track of each other until yesterday, when we met - absolutely by chance - at a workshop.

Who is following who? And, above all, where will we meet next time?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Indian mourning

Today our landlady has died. Or ‘is gone’ or ‘is not anymore’, as the Indians say, because it is too sad to pronounce the word death.

She used to live at the ground floor in our building. Her building. A refined, well-mannered old lady, extremely kind and polite, with whom it was always pleasent to have a chat whenever we crossed each other on the stairs.

She died today. The sad news was brought to us by Pansigh, our factotum, in tears. Because he, together with his wife who used to accompany her every day to the park for a walk, were part of her ‘enlarged family’. A family suddenly without head.

Likewise, when I went downstairs to offer my condolences to the daughter, I could not restrain myself to shed a few tears, probably because - perhaps unconsciously - we had also become part of her family.