Posted by: lilyhamburger | January 3, 2011

crishmas photo

christmas in dharampur! ha! we did NOT do that last "chrishmash"…

Posted by: lilyhamburger | July 27, 2010

And…it’s still raining

I have a few excuses in mind for why I haven’t written a blog in over a month. First, the internet was down for while. Second, I have been extremely busy wrapping up all my projects at ARCH, so blogging took a bit of a backseat. But third, and probably most influential, is that I am too enthralled in living life to write about it.
The final DVD of my primary health presentations is burning as I write. The past few days I have barely looked up from the computer during work hours because I feel the race against time coming close. I am almost finished with the ARCH website – check it out at! I’ve done their annual brochure, and probably varied the 20 or so key messages about preventing primary diseases into over 1,000 slides, posters, videos, etc. Phew!
Summary of life: RAIN. Dharampur has been transformed by the monsoon – everything is bursting with electric greenery and the river adjacent to campus is rushing with muddy, tea-colored water. The roads are impassable, my laundry never dries, and people are taking vacations from work to plant rice. Just about everything has a different feeling to it, but one thing does not change with the seasons here – peacocks. They still squawk day and night. The other amazing thing is that I have a cold. After enduring the most severe heat I’ve probably ever endured over a long period, I finally feel cool on a daily basis. (Sorry, DC, I hear we’ve switched places. I dare you to go a day without AC and see how that feels…)
A highlight of the last few weeks was certainly a visit from 2 AJWS friends, Andrew and Gabe, and our adventure together to the Union Territory of Daman. Now, if you haven’t been following closely, you might not realize that Gujarat is a dry state. Well Daman, a 1-hour-turned-into-3-by-unreliable-transportation-services trip from Dharampur, is not. Chicken and beer. Enough said. Read Andrew’s blog about the visit to what he termed “Lily’s greendom”: As my time here draws to a close, my friends and I are inventing countless ways for me to stay, them to come with me, or for me to come back. The ladies in the kitchen joke that they’re coming in my suitcase and starting a restaurant in the states. (When Prabha ben found out that people in America eat cows, she backed out.) The most common idea is (in Gujarati): “Lily, you have to come back. Oh, you should come back and stay for good! Get married and come back with your husband!” I have no choice but to reply, “Ok!” An old woman up the street has offered to find me an Indian husband so that I don’t have to leave. She’s not the only one who’s offered this. If I make the excuse that my loved ones are all in America, they all get invitations to move in, too. Who’s in??
Pics at the picasa site (see post below for link)

Posted by: lilyhamburger | June 26, 2010

what i did last weekend:

Posted by: lilyhamburger | June 21, 2010

wanna see?

lots of new things to gander at:

Posted by: lilyhamburger | June 15, 2010

Changes of Pace

I’ve counted, and I’m in my last lap here. I have about a month and half of work left, and the more time has gone by the deeper my roots sink into this ground. (Not too deep, though, I think about home every day!) I have this new ability to joke around with people, and it makes me feel like a real person with a real life here. My health awareness work is off and flying, life here feels ever more MINE, and I have forged my place in this chaotic foreign land. There is a rhythm to life – tea times, daily laundry, “mangoing”, music, bucket baths, noisy guesthouse, my quiet little social scene – but here are some recent changes of pace:

1. Mumbai. When I went to Mumbai 2 weekends ago, I felt possibly the biggest culture shock of my life. It was my friend Alana’s birthday, and we decided to treat ourselves to a break from frugal Indian life and hit the cosmopolitan cuisines and nightlife of the City by the Sea. In my other visits there I have been blissfully overwhelmed by the menu choices – pasta, pesto, real cheese, PB and J. This time I got a legit breakfast sandwich on a bagel, and really good French toast at brunch (don’t worry we were sharing), and a beer with dinner. These little things mean so much. But…I had some troubles, also. Shopping, for one, has never been a strong suit of mine, but after half an hour in a street market selling cheap western clothes, an air-conditioned, rock-music-ed Indian version of H&M put me over the edge. I made my friends leave immediately, even though they might have been interested in some hip urban gear…sorry guys. I still felt uncomfortable as we indulged in the new craze of posh frozen yogurt that has hit every major city these days. Too much. I recovered over mangoes in Toma’s sweltering apartment – yes, this is what I now call my comfort zone – just to brace myself for further shock after dark. I put on a dress for the first time since October, and we crammed into a ladies only car on the train to central Bombay.
When I walked into the bar I almost cried. Shock! Shock! Shock! It was a modern decorated music venue with tables nested in a bee-hive-like nest with neon lights that slowly changed color every 5 minutes. Above the stage there were movie screens with abstract visions of bugs and plants, and along the bar were girls in short dresses flirting with cute guys with aviators atop slicked hair. We drank mojitos and ate chicken and chocolate cake, and danced to a hilarious (but good!) Indian cover band playing “retro” music (read: rock hits from America such as Dancing Queen, Sweet Child of Mine, and Twist and Shout). Any band that opens with Enrique Iglesias has my attention! I quickly recovered from the initial freak-out and had a great time. But, I am scared of coming back to America.

2. Rain. Monsoon season hit exactly as predicted in the first week of June. I was beginning to feel stressed about the complete lack of water in the riverbeds around Dharampur, and really worried about my friends in villages who have to travel several miles several times a day just for a drink! No one, even the villagers, seemed worried at all…they are totally used to it. Whoa. But the rain is here. Halleluja! I love waking up to a thunderstorm, especially when harmless drops of water are coming through the ceiling to make me a part of the party… and the winds are fabulous! Besides the water, cool wind has never been so welcome. Especially in the humidity I just sweat all day and when those dark clouds blow over it’s like walking into the AC. Ahhhh… We’ve had good lightning storms, too, and generally this monsoon thing is gorgeous, poetic, and fun. Things are slowly beginning to turn greener (in Gujarati “lili” means green!) and by July I should be living in a lush tropical paradise.

3. Erin. My buddy from another public health village adventure has arrived on the scene. Erin is on vacation from medical school in Boston and has come to stay with me in my little tiny room for a month, reminiscent of another month we shared in a Tanzanian guesthouse in 2005. This is a change of pace. Someone to speak English with! Someone to laugh with! Someone who understands the frustrations of a disorganized organization! Someone who knows my songs and will sing with me! Someone who is equally appalled at the hygiene standards in this crazy place! Mostly, having another American pair of eyes is an incredible opportunity to share in what is going on here in ways I can’t do with Indian friends. We hear the music with western ears, we see the clothing as gorgeously exotic, we appreciate the food because we haven’t been eating the same things for dinner our entire lives. And, like many Indians, we see the health and sanitation problems of rural India as extreme. Most people I am surrounded by daily do not have the perspective to see broad scale solutions the way Erin, the directors of ARCH, a few other educated NGO staff and I do.
When she first got here I became immediately aware of how introverted I had become. I know, you’re probably thinking “Lily? Keeping thoughts to herself?” But I realized that sharing little thoughts with another person had not been a part of my daily existence here! It is strange and welcome to tell someone what I am thinking and feeling without having to struggle through all kinds of language and cultural barriers. The other thing Erin’s presence has highlighted, though, is how much I HAVE overcome those barriers. I can almost entirely translate for her in conversations and meetings, and I have so many friends for her to get to know. Showing her the ropes here at ARCH has shown me all that I have learned and the life that I have built.

Posted by: lilyhamburger | May 15, 2010

my peeps and magic moments

There is a funny balance I have here of feeling like I am a part of a community, a makeshift family and a group, and then feeling so foreign and out of place and not-belonging. In spite of language barriers (even those who speak English I have to speak slowly and enunciate awkwardly) and extreme cultural differences, I have some surefire friends here.

One makeshift family I am a part of is the group that lives on campus. When the daytime staff return to their families at the end of the day, the 2 directors, a few teachers and docs, and some peeps from other NGOs stay in their own houses on the campus, and I stay in the guesthouse (half of the time Madhu ben is also here with me, and there are constantly other groups and guests). No one who lives here has their family with them, so we are like the lost boys in Never Never Land. The summer is bringing us together. These days it’s too hot to sleep inside, so the whole lot of us sleeps out under the stars together. This means: movies, pillow talk, seeing my boss all disheveled when she wakes up, hearing her snore, etc. And shooting stars!! I now keep a toothbrush at Rashmibhai’s for the rooftop slumber parties – yesssss! – and I usually pass out while the constellations are being contemplated in Gujarati all around me. Also, that house is right next to the river (currently dry) so I wake up to birds whooshing overhead and peacocks in full-feathered mating parades in the riverbed below.

Harashadbhai and I have been waking up at sunrise to go swimming in a nearby river – the only one around which is not completely dry. We go by bike or rickshaw or a combo, and the ante is upped when we bring mangoes to eat as we drip dry riverside. (I have to swim with all my clothes on, which is hilarious but a nice natural AC bike ride home!) I am also beating the heat by napping at Daxaben’s in the afternoon because it’s a lot cooler inside the shaded windows on the marble floor. Sometimes I even get to sleep in her AC-ed bedroom – aaahhhh what sweet relief! It’s a sure way to bond with the boss… but it also sort of separates me from the rest of the staff – none of them get invited to sleep in the AC with “Ben” (madame) – but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. It’s been well over 100 F some days! (I am so lucky to be here and not in a city – far worse there!)

The staff people at ARCH are super friendly and laid back. I have spent the most quality time with Uma ben, who is the cook. She arrives early in the morning and leaves late at night when groups are in the guesthouse – these days that’s every day. She has the biggest smile, and it’s always on. Her voice is always singing and we gossip over cups of early morning tea or pounding chutney on Sundays. The office staff are mostly men, which means we aren’t really supposed to be close friends, but I have gotten sweet invitations to many people’s homes for chicken, mangoes, etc. that always feel like big to-dos. The ARCH staff family recently piled into our new bus (gargantuan tank of a vehicle) and spent an afternoon celebrating Vinod bhai’s engagement day. Here are the pics: Weddings here are more like invite-the-entire-village-festivals, so I am invited to all the neighborhood nuptials…got my new sparkly clothes ready, so stay tuned for pics 🙂

The next layer of friends are people who come through every so often for a few days at a time for trainings or contract work. They are health trainers from other NGOs, teachers from cities around Gujarat, writers from Mumbai, leaders in the movements for improved health and education in rural Gujarat (exciting!) as well as tribal students, traditional birth attendants, health workers (and their babies), who are all incredibly curious about the white girl from afar. Those walls of staring and silence haven mostly been broken down by songs and dancing at this point, as well as some intense Q&A about America late at night. I consider it a privilege and a treat to chill with people who wear nose rings the size of my fist and don’t know how to turn the running water on and off. And I learn so much from conversations with people who can discuss development issues and theories of education in English, as well as the kids who just smile and laugh and hold my hand even though we can’t really talk about anything more than how good ripe mangoes are.

It can feel tiring at times to be the odd man out, especially when I am exhausted from a day of setting up electronics in a hot village without electricity and all I want is to crash onto my mat on the terrace but someone wants to hear what grows on farms in America or watch a soap opera in Hindi. But there are so many magic moments (like sitting on the porch swing with the wind blowing through the mango trees under on a new moon night while kids from Vavar scream out songs, laughing over jokes in 3 languages while making tea with my gang at Rashmibhai’s, tying a bunch of Styrofoam wrapped in a cloth to Chayya so she can learn to swim in the river, discovering while bumping along in Ashwinbhai’s rickshaw with his whole family on a dark village road that I will be the only one eating chicken at this chicken dinner I was invited to, and slurping down mangoes in the back of the kitchen with Madhuben and Umaben after the other staff have gone home) that make me worry that life might not ever get any better than this.

And, after almost 7 months in India, I am still thrilled every time I see a camel.

Posted by: lilyhamburger | April 19, 2010

Impossibly mangolicious

I think it’s time I tried to overcome the feeling I have that putting my life into words is absolutely impossible. Especially after coming back to Dharampur after being away, I have sunk my roots in deeper here and rediscovered the magic of the place. I have gotten used to being here and how I live, yet my every day experiences still constantly astound me. Aside from stuffing my face with mangoes, which is magic enough, here are a few highlights of the past few weeks that I hope give you a taste of what I wish I could share with you in full:

1. I had the honor of accompanying about 30 traditional birth attendants (called dais) on a field trip. These old women are from remote villages and most of them have never left those villages. They are completely illiterate, but play an important role in communities as midwives, so ARCH trains them in hygienic and safe practices for delivering babies at home and also how to send complications to hospitals. This field trip was to show the dais a hospital, which most of them had never seen before, and also to have a little fun and build rapport with them. Well, success. At the hospital they kept repeating everything they heard, investigating the babies in the wards, and commenting on how clean everything was. (Oh how reality changes with perspective!) They sang in the bus on the way there 🙂 We went to the museums in Dharampur and the old ladies in their rainbow of saris (worn tucked between the legs tribal style) were fascinated by everything – including the trees on the streets that were different than those in their villages. It was incredible to watch their eyes light up with wonder at so many things – they reminded me of little kids seeing things for the first time, but these are old, graying, toothless women! What would it be like to see such things at their age? Trying to imagine their perception of the world is mindblowing…[see photos]

2. Recently I spent a few nights in Vavar, a village that I have been to several times for health worker meetings. An ARCH colleague, Vinayek bhai, lives out there and runs the dispensary and informal educational activities for the kids, and he’d introduced me to all his little friends when I had gone before. The kids asked me to come visit before they went on summer vacation, and – how could I refuse those gorgeous smiles, pigtailed girls and skinny legged boys hiding behind Vinayek and whispering questions for him to ask me in his ear – I went. The village is gorgeous, even now in the hot, dry season, and a cool breeze lightened the burden of summer up there in the mountainous fallow fields. After chatting with the boys at the school for a bit, entertained by the constant parade of women and children fetching water at the deep well and the only working bore pump in the village, I walked out the country road to a cliff overlooking a breathtaking valley. Vinayek and I were accompanied by a gaggle of 10-13 year old girls exclaiming about the cashews and mangoes and jungle fruits we passed (and plucked) along the way. (Cashew fruits are strangely acidic, and they are super sweet but burn on the way down!) And we sang all the way home. At night we slept under the stars – bajillions of them visible from the roof of Vinayek’s home – along with the 24 kids remaining at the school hostel before vacation, and our friend Namdev.

The second night I had the same routine, only the school children had gone home and Vinayek’s nephew had arrived so my walk had a soundtrack of good old American hip hop – hilarious, fun, and what a contrast! Vinayek’s sister in law, an educated working woman from a city, didn’t know what she was seeing when an airplane’s blinking lights appeared in the starry sky…

3. Another group of dais (the old traditional birth attendant ladies) came to ARCH for a training this week. They had been here before, so they knew me and kept asking for me to come and chat in the evenings. We communicate through their young trainers – I speak Gujarati and the trainers translate into Koknii, their dialect. Both the old ladies and the young NGO workers had a million questions about America, my family, and airplanes, but then they remembered that I like to sing. They sang a few, I sang a few (I had them clap along to Joy to the World). But then the dance party started…oh. My. God. These old women put on the rowdiest party I have been to in India. They were slapping their booties and singing “garbas” and skipping around in circles and making fun of each other – and of me – and laughing their asses off. They were so silly and energetic I could have sworn they were sneaking into the bathroom to take drinks or something, but the only substance being abused was their form of chewing tobacco wrapped in little plastic sheets and hidden in their saris or belly shirts. When we finally stopped, we went outside and heard a garba going on at the temple down the street, so we danced to that music for a while. What would you do if 40 gorgeous, hilarious toothless old ladies and 4 hip young tribal women asked you to show you your culture’s dance moves? I did the hora (to fit in with the circle dance theme), salsa, some fun African moves I know, and a few made up steps, but I was close to showing them how to pop-lock-and-drop-it because anything would have flown up there that night….phew!

Two days later when their training was ending, I was called into the training hall. They wanted to dance. It was during work hours this time, so we stuck to the circular garba, but all the ARCH staff came to see what the commotion was about. A few of my co-workers joined in, and my friend David who was visiting me from Mumbai. Dave put pics of it up on facebook, along with other photos of his visit, so check me out.

4. Daxaben got a karaoke machine for her birthday. Need I say more?

Posted by: lilyhamburger | April 1, 2010

pics from elf and pop’s visit

Posted by: lilyhamburger | March 28, 2010

Mid-point adventures

This is the picture of my life:

Elf, Pop and Lil see the Taj at sunrise!

So, I am schvitzin in the domestic terminal in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu in the south of India. I have been traveling for the last 2 weeks, and this weekend marks the half-way point of my 10-month fellowship. It’s hot here, but I am feeling refreshed from recent events: first, my parents came to Dharampur for a long weekend (Elf takes her first rickshaw ride, Pop re-learns how to bathe with a bucket and practices saying everyone’s names using pneumonic devices), which was one big love fest! Showing them around was endlessly fun, and they even got to come out to Mamabhacha village and see one of my health education sessions in action. We spent a few days travelling in Rajasthan together seeing some of the most gorgeous art and architecture India has to offer. (Mom’s pics are here: We stayed in a LEGIT PALACE one night. That was culture shock, but somehow I survived… we ended our blissful and HILARIOUS time together in Agra, an ancient city that felt like Mecca to a family who has dreamt of adventures like this, and knows love as big as that. Having that week together – both showing them this life I’ve created on the other side of the world and travelling to see the wonders of the globe together – was deeply meaningful and important to all of us. Especially at the Taj Mahal I felt a real connection to them because we had all individually dreamed of being in that AWE-some place, but I also felt ties to my entire family – from my late grandfather Hamburger who served in north India in WWII, to my grandma Ruth who always dreamed of seeing India, to my Kravis grandparents who had a table made of Agra marble at their apartment in Philadelphia from their trip to the Taj decades ago, to all the inspiring aunts and uncles I have who have instilled in me the desire to see the world and appreciate the comedy in life, and to my brother who is forming his own sense of adventure and appreciation of travel as we speak but has always had an eye for the aesthetic treasures of the world.

After parting from two of my favorite people on this big wide planet, I headed to part 2 of the Mid-Point rejuvenation operation: a week-long retreat and check-in with the AJWS fellows and staff in Kerala. Moving from homestay to hotel to beautiful little rooms in a garden on the water, we spent the week indulging in friendship, English, beer, and deep reflection on what we are going through as volunteers working on all kinds of social justice issues in a country so STRANGE and different from our home. We talked about the challenges of working through cultural curtains and language barriers, trying to do good in a place we don’t belong to. We revisited theories of development – including the complex interconnected issues of human rights, natural resources, and economic growth. (two interesting articles: and We were silly. We wrestled in the grass. We ordered multiple desserts and drinks to the room, all the while discussing our impact as foreigners and how to deal with the guilt of being wealthy in a poor country.

When we took a half day boat tour of the beautiful coconut palm jungled backwaters of Kerala, we all decided to jump of the side of the boat into the murky canal…with all our clothes on. We got out soaking wet at the bank and found ourselves in the yard of a home where a family demonstrated for us how to make rope from coconut fibre, yummy chips from banana and tapioca, and we tasted peppercorns, nutmeg and mace, and juice from the flower of a cashew straight from the trees.

I am returning to Mumbai now, for a last dose of the rush and noise of the cosmopolitan world (and a makeshift Indian seder with my Jewish friends!) Tuesday evening I head back to the peaceful, quiet atmosphere of Dharampur where the mental noises of creating a hygiene and health education program, building a website from scratch, speaking Gujarati, and navigating this odd and surprising daily life will fill my brain once more.

Posted by: lilyhamburger | March 5, 2010

Holi! (colors, not cows)

Why do we want to change the world?

Those words of a modern, educated journalist woman from Mumbai who I met last weekend basically sum up the big question in my mind these days. When I think about people getting sick unnecessarily, my work to convince them to change their behaviors and purchase household items like soap and construct closed bathrooms and eat more balanced meals seems completely just and right. But when I think about the cultural destruction of new ideas, the environmental consequences of so-called “higher” standards of living, and the haughtiness western medical professionals (or public health volunteers like myself) to assume that their way is right for everyone, I feel a little uneasy about how hard my co-workers and I are working to convince people to change and become more like us. I think I need to write more about this, but I constantly encounter this essential dilemma so I wanted to put it out there as a little brain teaser…

So, if you’re in any other country, you may have missed the biggest color war in the world. Last weekend was holi, the most anticipated and heart-felt celebration of the year for tribal Indians – woohoo! (Hindus celebrate, too, only for them Divali is a bigger deal.) Basically, it’s the most genius holiday ever and I had so much fun. First, every neighborhood constructs a huge bonfire. I attended my neighborhoods with 60 teenage girls and 5 foreigners from the school next door. When the band (a bunch of large drums and an electric piano) struck up, I danced in the dusty street with what seemed to be all the youth of the village. The next day, Duleti, is one big color war. All over India people were just throwing colors on each other – in powder or water form, chemical or natural – and in my little corner of the subcontinent I got into the biggest water fight I have ever been in. Whoever thought of this way of celebrating the riddance of evil was a genius. There is not greater affirmation of the best things in life than making a jolly good mess with everyone all over town and staining your clothes with the brightest colors you can think of! A few days off work, getting henna, and having dessert doesn’t hurt either 

Ok so in one small town where Rajesh, an ARCH dude lives, the Holi celebration is amped up to another level. Two days after duleti, villagers from hundreds of villages around the town of Kawant gather and parade through the streets dancing to represent their village pride with the most outrageous colorful outlandish costumes. Basically my eyes feasted on the tribal Indian version of Mardi Gras and what a show it was! There is no way to describe this scene except in pictures. Check em out at

And get ready for Mama and Papa Hamburger to arrive in India! One week from today we’ll be in Dharampur together and it’s pretty much the most exciting thing since sweet mango chutney.

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