Monday, December 20, 2010

Mumbai: A City of Extremes

By Rachel Ferchak, SUSI web manager

Immediately after I stepped off Lufthansa Flight 934 at midnight, the murky humidity hit me like a stone wall. That same humidity was incessant the entire week I was in Mumbai, India.
My first impressions of the city were those seen through the dusty windows of a 1970s bus, which took our group of Ohio University students an hour away to our clean, air-conditioned hostel in Mumbai Central.On the rickety bus ride through the city, we passed homes with tin roofs and walls made of billboard signs. There were families sleeping on concrete sidewalks with their only extra clothes hanging on thin lines of rope.
The faint smells transitioned from diesel fumes to dust, from manure to burning tires. But, as we neared the hostel, the city began to smell like smog and traffic. In fact, the weather for Mumbai often reads “smoke” or “haze” on
After nearly 24 hours of travel, we had finally arrived.
Culture Shock
Mumbai is a city with two different worlds: extreme wealth and abject poverty. On one hand, it is home to the glitz and glamour of Bollywood. But on the other, Mumbai has nearly 1.2 million people living on 20 rupees per day, or less than 50 cents, according to The Times of India.
Many Americans don’t see the side of poverty that I witnessed in Mumbai. Everyday, I watched children playing in the chaotic streets, children who were dressed in outgrown, filthy T-shirts and shorts. Dirt and dust were the only things covering their delicate feet. Young children carried their infant siblings.
Everywhere I went, children held out their hands asking for money. The only English words they knew were “food” and “money.” Although we were told not to give the children money, we were told to treat them like children. We crouched to their level and asked them, “Aapka naam kya hai?” or “What is your name?” in Hindi.

The children would immediately respond by putting their hands down. Their faces lit up as they gave their names. Then, I would open a bag of Chickadees cheddar snack crackers and give it to them. And, usually, they smiled and walked away.

Nearly half of Mumbai’s estimated 20 million people live in slums or shantytowns. Entire families live in 9-by-9 spaces, which function as the kitchen, bedroom and living room. In terms of material possessions, these people have virtually northing. But, they do have community. They depend solely on each other for love and support, and they can relate to one another.

One evening, I walked through an alley by our hostel. Shanties aligned either side of the street. As I wandered down the street, families gathered for their evening meals, and children ran around playing with the other neighbor children. On a single mattress without shelter, one young woman read to her sleepy infant. A grandmother, mother and two children slept outdoors on a cot. It’s almost as if the people in the shantytown are tucked away in a completely different world. Upon exiting the street, sure enough, there stood the main road with an illuminated McDonald’s and three-story shopping mall.

The Taste of Mumbai
In India, it seems as though everything has a zip to it: omelets, plain rice, McDonald’s sandwiches, you name it. But one thing I found particularly odd was the masala soda and masala spice chai. Masala is generally a mix of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. So, I’m pretty sure you can imagine what masala soda would taste like. Many of us tasted the beverage, and we all had similar facial reactions. Our faces puckered up, and we struggled to swallow. The drink resembled carbonated salt water. One sip was enough for me.

Although many of the others on my trip were craving pizza by the end of our week, the food was one of the things I enjoyed most about India. But I tend to like strong flavors and spices. I’ve heard that most international food served in America is completely different from the native cuisine, but I did not sense much of a difference between American-Indian food and authentic Indian cuisine.

Because of religious restrictions, India is a vegetarian’s paradise. Restaurants are labeled either “veg” or “non-veg.” Even if the restaurant is “non-veg,” rest assured that there is always a vegetarian option. For example, I sampled the mildly spicy, lightly fried
McVeggie at McDonald’s. Or at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the menu includes options such as the Veg Zinger, Veggie Snacker and Veg Rice and Strips.

A Change of Heart
Nervously, I followed a group of four women through narrow, damp alleys. Where am I? Fear and confusion started to set in. Those feelings increased with every step. The men who passed me stared, and I felt uneasy.
I was told prior to this walk, that I was going into one of the darkest areas of the city. And I sensed the weight of that darkness.
Ten minutes later, I, along with three other women from OU and four Indian women from the Mumbai Aruna Project, arrived at a run-down, four-story building. We walked through the doorway and could see nothing. My heart pounded. Our eyes struggled to adjust as we staggered up the filth-covered staircase. Then, finally, sunlight appeared from a room at the top of the steps.

The Indian women instructed us to take off our shoes, enter the illuminated room and sit on the large couch. We obeyed.
As we entered, ten Indian women — all of whom were between 14 and 25 years old — sat on the couches laughing, putting on makeup and styling their beautiful black hair. They are my age. My age.

With the help of the women with the Aruna Project, we were able to converse and interact with the girls. Their eyes sparkled as they laughed. But we knew that behind those young faces, there was something different about their lives. Something we, as American women, could not understand.

After saying our goodbyes, we entered another room. And that is where my heart sank. The girls in this room told us they were 15 years old, but they were obviously closer to 10. I can still see the face of one child with round glasses and pigtails. She could not have been older than nine.
How could anyone do this to his or her child? I thought. Each of these girls sees an average of seven men every night. Prostitution is the only life they know.
The majority of the women were sold into the slave trade by family members when they were between the ages of 7 and 11. These 40,000 women are forced to attend to the more than 300,000 men who go to the brothels every night.

The sexual slave trade is like a cell, the women at the Aruna Project told us. (Many of the women who work at the Aruna Project were once prostitutes, and they can speak from experience.) When these little girls first enter the brothels, they are kept in chains and not allowed to see the sunlight for a few years. During those years, the girls are psychologically and physically abused. They are beaten down so that when they are finally released from the chains, they will not want to leave. As the girls get older, they are given more “freedom,” but if they go outside the brothel, they are accompanied by a pimp. Eventually, they are allowed to travel by themselves; however, they must pay.

We often wonder,
Why don’t they just run away? As a part of the psychological abuse, the women begin to believe that the life of prostitution and sexual abuse is better than life on the streets. To those women, life on the street means having no food, shelter or money, all while still being sexually abused.
But there is hope: the Aruna Project.
The Aruna Project is a Christian organization dedicated to the rescuing of women and children from the sexual slave trade. Because of the years of abuse these women endure, the Aruna Project must build relationships and trust with them. The Project offers counseling, health care and skills training so the women will be able to function independently in society. Since the organization started nearly ten years ago, it has rescued more than 150 women.

The Project not only rescues women, but it also reaches out to their children. Aruna has a partnership with the Salvation Army, which provides a home and schooling for the children of prostitutes. I had the chance to visit the Salvation Army and play with the children, ages five through 14, who study the core subjects, as well as English and the Bible. It warms my heart to know that these children are the future. Let’s just say that that was the best way to spend my last day in India, with hope.

Friday, December 10, 2010

President McDavis congratulates graduates at OU sister school in Ghana

By Rachel Ferchak, SUSI web manager

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis delivered the keynote address for the 7th graduation ceremony of the African University College of Communications (AUCC) in Accra, Ghana. During the commencement ceremony on Nov. 10, McDavis spoke on the theme, “Broadening Educational Opportunities through International Communication.”

Throughout the keynote address, McDavis also spoke on the importance of communication in preserving democracy, particularly in Ghana. He also stressed the significance of higher education to developing ideas and values within a nation.

“You must continue to encourage your nation to support, foster and advance communications. It is through the valuation of communications that your country can continue to prosper and maintain its democratic tradition,” McDavis said. “You are the next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators in Ghana. It is up to you to take what you have learned and apply it in a productive way that will continue to elevate Ghana and the rest of Africa.”

To view additional photos of the AUCC graduation ceremony, please click here.

Not only did McDavis speak at the commencement ceremony, but he also visited other OU sister institutions and met with
students from OU and OU alumni who are from Ghana. At the University of Education in Winneba, McDavis met with the Chancellor and top administration. The meeting in Winneba culminated in plans to formulate a memorandum of understanding between both universities to collaborate in pedagogy and research projects. There is an already established relationship the two universities, since OU has provided a graduate education to some of the faculty at this OU sister institution.

A team of four OU faculty members accompanied McDavis to Ghana, including Dan Weiner, professor and executive director for the Center of International Studies; Stephen Howard, professor and director of African studies; Yusuf Kalyango, assistant professor and director of the Institute for International Journalism; and Paschal Younge, associate professor of multicultural music education.

The IIJ will set up a journalism summer study abroad program in Ghana administered by both OU and the AUCC in Accra, Ghana. Kalyango will visit Accra, Ghana again in late June 2011 to finalize the study abroad program with the faculty at the AUCC. McDavis and his team from OU expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the great hospitality exhibited by the people of Ghana. McDavis’ team was particularly inundated by the generosity from the main host, Kojo Yankah.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Traffic Tweets in Mérida

By Craig Reck
In Mexico

IIJ Foreign Correspondence Intern
E. W. Scripps School of Journalism

It's the holiday season in the United States. The Black Friday deals are gone, presents are being wrapped and people are making plans for New Year's Eve. As everyone prepares for their end of the year celebrations, law enforcement officials are likely preparing for the parties as well.

Traffic checkpoints are not uncommon in the United States. Local police officers can be seen waiting for bar patrons to leave their favorite watering hole. Highway patrolmen set up the orange cones along the roadsides. These efforts have a clear purpose of reducing the number of accidents caused by revelers who couldn't resist the alcohol-infused Egg Nog.

But what if there were check points every day? Is there a need for daily traffic stops? How would the general populous react to the constant police presence?

That is exactly what citizens of Mérida, Mexico have to deal with. Some check points stop drivers, while others let them pass through without a second glance. Some people say the retenes (Mexican check points) are used to catch drunk drivers, which is a believable reason. So why are there retenes in the middle of the day that let cars pass through anyways?

I can't say. Both the Mérida municipal and Yucatán state police departments refused to give me an interview. I was told the retenes are a sensitive matter of security. In fact, I was warned not to take pictures of the check points because it is disrespectful to the officers and I might lose my camera.

So I turned to the Internet for answers, and I was amazed at what I found. The Twitter user "retenesmerida" is adding some transparency to the clouded work of Mérida's police check points. One of the co-founders agreed to an interview, but only through email. Anonymity is a priority for retenesmerida.

Since September of 2009, retenesmerida has informed its followers of the numerous locations of check points around the city. But retenesmerida isn't exactly doing all of the work. All sorts of Twitter users report checkpoint locations to retenesmerida by adding an "@" before the user name. An example would be:

JoeSmith @retenesmerida Check point on Main St. between Oak and Elm. They're stopping everyone.

JoeSmith's notification is then retweeted by retenesmerida to its more than 6,000 followers. But now there's more to this online informant. The co-founder said, "It has converted into a type of megaphone that users send reports about other happenings in Mérida, like general news or transit or accident reports."

Even though they are doing nothing illegal, the retenesmerida co-founders remain anonymous for fear of intimidation and harassment. There are currently no Mexican laws against the sharing of retenes' whereabouts via the Internet, nor has one been proposed.

Until it's legally or physically stopped, this Twitter user, and its more than 6,000 followers, will continue to provide transparency to the roadways of Mérida, Mexico.