Agricultural Oasis…

…While the female volunteers were observing deliveries today, I was quickly summoned into a vehicle at the hospital. As the driver and technician spoke only very broken English, I was under the impression we were leaving to tend to an emergency or pick up a patient. We were driven as fast as possible (about 15mph) on the extremely rough main road for several hundred meters before turning down a very pleasant and well-maintained street. We meandered through nice homes interspersed with lush farms and buffalo basking in the warm sun. We then turned into an appealing compound where I could immediately tell there was no emergency.

After a few moments of confusion as to why we were there, one of the men I had worked with at the hospital the day before came from around the corner and welcomed us all to his home. Over the next half-hour, his brothers, cousins, and other relatives slowly materialized from the surrounding homes to welcome me and say hello. Now knowing that this was to be a tour, I immediately switched gears and tried to take in as much as I could from this unique opportunity.

My first impressions of this home were its unexpected serenity, lush green vistas, and organized cleanliness that seem to not exist anywhere else I have yet visited in India. I was shown their buffalo (not the North American kind, mind you), cow, sheep, German shepherd, and local peacock. It was the most beautiful property I have seen in India and I felt honored to be able to see it let alone be welcomed so royally to it. Upon the owner’s insistence, one of the men was sent to bring fresh buffalo milk for me to try. He returned ten minutes later, first with chairs, then with a table and cloth, and finally with a tray of cookies, snacks, and steaming hot glasses of the freshest buffalo milk possible.

I’ll admit, I had some reservations at first. Being used to pasteurized cow milk from a sealed and refrigerated plastic container, I felt a little anxious drinking hot milk straight out of a buffalo sitting five feet away from me in the middle of an Indian wheat field. But I was committed at this point and was rewarded by an unexpectedly delicious first sip. I even let down my primary defense of using hand sanitizer before touching anything I eat as I politely took cookies and snacks handed to me. The buffalo milk is much thicker and fattier than cow milk, which is one reason why it is strongly preferred over cow milk here. Milk that isn’t fresh is sold in non-refrigerated cartons here and has a very bitter, almost sour taste. The buffalo milk went down very smoothly but was much more filling than a normal milk and I was fully satisfied. But as soon as I lowered my glass, I saw the next one coming. I had read about this kind of hospitality before and happily started in on what was now becoming a challenge to overcome.

I took the opportunity to battle language barriers in order to learn more about agriculture in India. What I learned was fascinating. Being a farmer here in India is much more of a luxury and symbol of being elite than in the United States. One acre of farmland here in Tigaon is valued at one crore 50 lakh (Rs 15,000,000 or about $286,000)!!! I know this value to be correct because I have heard it from separate independent sources, including the doctors, here and in Faridabad. This family’s farm was 20 acres, one of the biggest I have heard of yet here. They grow wheat from November to March and then rice from April to October. I believe they said they can harvest the wheat every 90 days for a yield of about 1600kg per acre and sell it at a price of Rs 20/kg, by my calculations giving Rs 640,000 ($12,100) per wheat harvest. Here, that is a substantial amount of money.


The buffalo are also very valuable and are capable of generating a large income. One buffalo can produce 15 liters of milk per day, which sells as about Rs 40 ($.80) per liter. I obtained the value of buffalo but I will check it and edit the post tomorrow to let you know. My note seems a little high but I think they really are that valuable. The family owned five adult buffalo and five newborns sat right next to us as I enjoyed my milk.

After my inquisition and finishing a generous pint of thick hot milk, I was taken on a tour of the fields, where grass is grown to feed the livestock, the product out the other end is set out to dry, and wheat and rice are grown to sell. The crops were remarkably green given the dusty brown surroundings I have become accustomed to here. The cow and buffalo pies were stacked strategically to use for cooking at a later date. The sustainable nature of this farm was especially striking after the disregard for pollution and litter so prevalent in the cities here.

–My generous and hospitable hosts, and owners of a true agricultural oasis–


Rural Birth…

…I amended my previous post (Busy In The Village) after new insight and clarification gained today. Be sure to check out where I have noted the change in the discussion of the caste system’s impact on child and maternal health care.

Today, we went back to the same hospital in Tigaon. I learned that the two doctors, one homeopath, and one dental surgeon here provide healthcare to more than 45,000 people throughout their village and the nine surrounding communities. As soon as we arrived, the female volunteers were taken into the delivery room and observed two side-by-side and nearly simultaneous child deliveries. Unfortunately, males are not allowed to view normal deliveries in India. Even male doctors and fathers are not allowed in the room during labor. I say “normal deliveries” as opposed to Cesarean sections because C-sections fall under the classification of surgeries. I know this to be the case because last Monday, on my first day here, I observed a C-section during which the operating room technician was also male. Although I did not get to see today’s deliveries, I made sure to record a detailed account of what the ladies told me about it after.

–The primary OR in which I observed a C-section on my first day–

Just as in the operating room last week, everyone in the delivery room was required to be barefoot or in simple sandals. The expecting mothers were placed side-by-side and labor was induced in both. One female doctor and three nurses tended to both patients. The volunteers said that, as I had similarly noted during the C-section last week, there was little done to comfort the patients. At times, the staff was shouting at the women forcefully and even slapping them on the legs to work harder. The only protective equipment used by the staff were latex gloves. There were no masks, eye protection, or gowns. Everyone was in street clothes although the doctor did wear an apron because she had an important engagement to tend to and left part of the way through the procedure. The volunteers’ first reaction to the delivery was that “it looked like a crime scene in there.” When I asked what kept the staff from getting exposed to blood, they said simply, “Quick reflexes!”

–The hospital catering to a population of 45,000 people–

The first woman to deliver was the older of the two women who has two daughters and desperately wished for a son. After two hours of exhausting labor that could be overheard throughout and outside the small hospital, she gave birth to baby boy. The doctors and staff do not notify the mother of the gender of the child, however, until the placenta has been delivered and the mother has stabilized. It is believed that some women have died from shock related hemorrhaging due to overwhelming depression of having delivered a daughter. The placenta was delivered and all celebrated cheerfully the birth of her baby son.

The next woman to deliver was 21. It was her first child and labor for her appeared to be much more difficult. She delivered a baby girl. The volunteers noted that upon announcement of the baby’s gender, the mood was much less celebratory and the mother was given consolation as if to say “at least you’re young and it’s just your first child.” She will likely try again for a boy, just like the other mother.

In a similar manner to government incentives for pre and post-natal care, I also learned today about financial incentives related to child raising and contraception. If a mother bears a second female child here, an account for that daughter will be automatically created and the government will place Rs 25,000 ($500) into it to be withdrawn once she becomes 18. Apparently, many mothers and families do not take adequate care of or properly nourish their second daughters, sometimes even leading to death. Condoms and birth control can also be obtained from the hospital for free and the government will actually pay men approximately Rs 1100 ($22) to have a vasectomy. I believe there is also an incentive for women to have tubal ligation, but I do not know what the financial incentive is.

–Men huddled around a fire in the chilly morning fog next to the hospital–