Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Where Daddy Goes

While Maya whizzes through the flat on her scooter wearing nothing but her pink sunhat and demanding a plaster (she has developed a strange fetish for wearing plasters on her arm), I gather up my work things, put on my sandals and slip out the door bound for the office. (Yes, I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to work AND wear hippy sandals.)

My work is both rewarding and challenging. And working in India, is also head thumpingly frustrating. I am here to ensure that the ‘implementation phase’ of the programme goes ahead as planned over the next 6 months. That is, to provide sanitation infrastructure into four slums – installing a mix of community toilet blocks, small-scale wastewater treatment plants, low-cost small-bore sewerage networks and individual household latrines. I came here in January to plan all this work for the next 4 years and work out the sums – how much could we do with the alloted funds (supplied by the UK’s Department for International Development) and in what timescale. The programme has a target of reaching nearly half a million people within 4 years from now, but the idea is that we undertake a ‘pilot phase’ which we’re in now, which should identify a way forward for rolling out this infrastructure to 40 other slums throughout the city.

I’m both daunted and extremely excited about this work. On a personal level, this is a dream job for me, getting involved in the urban slum context which is the basis of my earlier thesis and research work at Cranfield University.
The people are wonderful too. There are 5 others in the office who have bent over backwards to help us get ourselves settled into private accommodations, and sort things out like rental agreements, mobile phones, broadband, furniture hire, local bank account to name a few. And of course nothing is straightforward here! You need to provide your state identity papers just to get a gas cylinder into your home for cooking!!

Working in the slums has also been amazing – and humbling. We recently had a meeting with the manual pit emptiers – the untouchables in Indian society who probably have the worst job on the planet – emptying shit from a pit latrine with just a bucket and a bottle of the hardest spirits to numb the senses. (“I only drink when I’m working” said one with conviction). Most of these areas are far away from the city sewers so have to rely on ‘on-site’ sanitation – in other words, digging a pit to store their shit until it fills up and then they get it emptied. We’re trying to devise a manual pump that can be used to pump the shit out of the pit neatly into a tank on the back of a small truck – doing away with the unsanitary practice of getting covered in the stuff, whilst injecting some dignity into their job which is actually a valuable public service – one that the local government should be doing.

I fear I’m ranting now, so will leave it there. More of my updates to follow... nicely infused between Maya's magical world.

1 comment:

  1. Cabron! Great to hear a bit about your travails. Sounds right down your shit-smeared alley! So great to see you are finally in the thick of it, rather than in Peterborough overseeing v clean construction sites. I do hope this turns into a longer stint rather than just the six months. Well, atleast out of England, rather than spending the rest of your lives in hot and sticky Bangalore! Sounds oppresive. We have that comming to us in Saigon... eek. Lots of hugs to everyone! D