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China

Hello at long last!

Thanks to the Great Firewall of China, I was unable to access my blog during my 10 days in Beijing (nor could I use YouTube, Facebook, or Google occasionally). Censorship wasn’t the only challenge I faced during my time in Beijing– my study in China turned out less extensive than I hoped it would be. After my contact fell through, I reached out to as many groups as I could, and attended a few events to meet people in the green energy industry in China– which is actually a pretty big network. However, having a large network seemed to make finding people to meet with harder. I spoke with several individuals informally about my project, and based on their information along with my previous research into the energy situation in China, I am not optimistic about the possibility of applying the revenue-generating model in China, especially not among the “floating populations” I originally hoped to work with. Firstly, China has pretty strong electrification rates, especially anywhere near the urban centers in the eastern part of the country. The only places that completely lack electricity are remote communities in Western China– which would not only have been excessively difficult to access and navigate on a budget and without Chinese, but also lack significant cell phone usage.

Despite the challenges with the study, I had a fantastic time in and around Beijing during my time there. I saw several temples, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City. I climbed the Great Wall of China, explored Beijings streets, and learned to navigate its subway system. I ate scorpions, countless dumplings, and plenty of other Chinese favorites. I also took some time to relax a bit after my time in the Caribbean, Africa, and India. Beijing was definitely not my most exotic or adventurous stop, but it was very enjoyable.

After a great ten days in and around Beijing, I flew for twelve hours in Los Angeles. I believe that I mentioned before that I really enjoyed the flights on this trip– however, twelve hours was a bit brutal! After a quick lunch with my brother in Los Angeles, I flew another two hours to Denver, where I landed Wednesday evening. Since then, I have been adjusting to the time zone and spending time with my family before I leave for Georgetown on Monday.

This trip was the most incredible experience I have had in my life. Although I picked up a few small things for my family and close friends, I made sure not to buy any souvenirs for myself– all I took with me were memories and photographs. I learned so much in each country and over the trip as a whole– much more than the information I hoped to gain from the study. I picked up information specific to each country including local customs, city layouts, world cuisine, and bits of several languages. There were also lessons that spanned across the trip as a whole that I will be able to apply universally for the rest of my life– how to travel safely with a sense of adventure, what it takes to fill up a schedule, and that people across the world are not that different from one another. Although it’s hard to specifically think of any fundamental internal change, I am certain I see the world differently as a result of this trip.

I’ll be sure to post pictures from China and a few stragglers from India in the coming day. Otherwise, the rest of the project will involve planning and writing the final paper in the coming months. I also plan to pursue a few of the solar opportunities I found in Haiti and Africa with the help of Georgetown Energy– hopefully we will be able to help a few entrepreneurs empower their community and earn sustainable income with their own solar charging stations.

Photo Backlog

Hello everyone! I know I haven’t posted photos for a while, so here are a few gems from Zambia through part of India. Apologies for the delay, but I hope you enjoy!

Sunset on the Zambezi River, near Victoria Falls

They squeezed 17 people into this car on the way out to eastern Kenya!

A little bit of paradise in Alendu, Kenya

I spoke to these children in Alendu about solar and the importance of using the environment well. I don’t think they caught much of what I said…

Most boring flag picture- just at my hostel in Nairobi before leaving for the airport.

Bugolobi Market in Kampala. I used to come here and get STUFFED for about $4.

Rubare, Uganda. I hope to work on solar in rural areas nearby.

Near Rubare

From the cramped 17-hour train from Delhi to Bombay

University of Mumbai

Gateway to India

Me in front of the Gateway- I was carrying my rain coat for the periodic spurts from the monsoon.

Near the Gateway to India

A small park in Bombay

Just one course from my wonderful, gigantic Thali dinner in Ahmedabad

India Wrap Up

My outlook on India has definitely improved as I prepare to move on to China, my next and final destination. I was definitely unimpressed by the loud and dirty streets of Delhi, and I felt as though I was being hassled too much to really enjoy the sights in Agra. However, moving down to less tourist-focused parts of the country has made me appreciate (and like) India much more!

I began the week by heading down to Bombay. After 17 hours on the train, I arrived to find a fantastic city culture! They are much more laid back in Bombay- cabs usually use the meter without prompting, tourists are hassled less, and some of the restaurants and coffee shops are fantastic! I was definitely happy I took the trip down there, even if I only had about 48 hours in the city. However, it probably competes with Lusaka and Port-au-Prince as my favorite city of the trip so far. In fact, if I had to choose a developing city to live in, I think I could survive in Bombay more than anywhere else I have seen!

After Bombay, I stopped in a city called Ahmedabad on the way back to Delhi for about 28 hours to meet with SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association), which is a gigantic union if Indian women. They have recently been working in some revenue-generating approaches to solar, which was certainly helpful for my study. Along with meeting a solar street light producer, I took some time to relax in Ahmedabad and enjoy a sizable Thali dinner that came in several courses with amazing service. I would estimate that such a dinner experience would cost about $40-50 in the US. In Ahmedabad, I paid just $13 for the city’s finest dining experience. It was definitely worth it.

After my interviews in India, I am not convinced that the revenue-generating approach to solar that I have worked on in previous countries will be usable here. There are several conditions that lead to this, but a few of them include India’s different income levels, low cost of charging cell phones, and better grid conditions than Africa (despite the massive blackout that occurred in northern India a few days ago). The model I have previously worked with involves microsolar. Although microsolar technology has been successful in domestic use, larger solar proliferation efforts will most likely employ micro grids and solar farms.

In any event, I’ll be taking this afternoon to see a few sights around Delhi, and to take a few more pictures. I leave the hotel tonight at about 11, so I’ll plan on spending some time posting pictures this evening.

I still find it hard to believe that my trip is almost over. However, China should certainly prove a challenge. Unfortunately, my contacts fell through in China, since my main contact in Inner Mongolia will be on vacation while I am in the country. This means I will have to scramble again like I did in Senegal. Let’s hope some targeted e-mails and calls can generate 5 or so meetings in and around Beijing. If all else fails, I’ll definitely have plenty to do in China. See you all from the Far East!

Off to Bombay

After a semi-productive few days in Delhi and an enjoyable (although eventful) trip to Agra, I am off to Mumbai this afternoon. There, I will meet with a few solar firms and stay with a Georgetown alum that actually went to my grade school in Colorado as well! I am a bit nervous for a 17+ hour train ride, but I’m excited to see Mumbai, even if it will be for only about 48 hours.

Yesterday, I went to Agra to see a few historical spots, with the Taj Mahal being the most important. I have seen plenty of pictures of the structure, but seeing it and the surrounding area in person is something else. One could argue that it is the most beautiful human-made structure on earth, and the story of why it was built is nearly as beautiful as the building itself. Unfortunately, I realized as I sat down on the train from Delhi that I left my camera battery in the charger back in my room. I was able to buy a camera with film for $14 though, so let’s hope the pictures come out ok! If not, there are plenty of shots of the building.

The whole day ended up costing me about $50 more than I would have liked to spend, partially because of the camera issue, and also because my train back to Delhi was delayed by 4 hours! I met with another American who was on the same train, so we decided to take a car back to Delhi for about $30 each. I think a few countries ago I would have stuck it out and saved the money. But, after a few months on the road and ten hours of walking around Agra (all after waking up at 4;30 that day), I was too exhausted to sit on the floor in an Indian train station for that long. In any event, I made it back, and now I’m ready to head out again!

After a brief visit to Mumbai, I’ll be heading up to another city called Ahmedabad to meet with a few other groups focused on solar, finance, and rural communities. I am very much excited for these meetings, as they should be the most informative of my encounters in India.

I can’t believe my trip is drawing to a close! After I return from this journey (which will include about 40 hours of train-time), I will be hanging around Delhi for two days before bouncing along to China, my final destination. I’m getting a bit exhausted from all of the traveling, so I’m just working on keeping my energy  and enthusiasm up! In any event, think it’ll be nice to see a familiar face in Mumbai.

Hello from New Delhi

I arrived in New Delhi yesterday morning after a full 15 hours of traveling. I was pretty exhausted, but glad to find that the place I am staying is relatively comfortable (compared to the horror stories I have heard about Indian hotels), and that it has pretty fast Internet! I spent yesterday adjusting to the new location and getting over a bit of sickness while planning out my itinerary for the country. I think India will prove to be the country in which I am most mobile. My plans are to have a couple of meetings tomorrow, followed by a Saturday of sight-seeing. On Sunday, I will leave on a 16 hour train ride to Mumbai, where I will spend 2-3 days seeing the city and meeting with solar experts. After that, I plan to head up to Ahmedabad to speak with a very interesting group called SEWA that I learned about from a few professors at Georgetown. Finally, I’ll come back to Delhi next Friday or Saturday just in time to grab my 3 am flight on Sunday morning to Beijing.

Now that I see how much there is to see and do in India, I kind of wish I had more time here. I think to do and see everything I’d want to, I would need at least 3 weeks here! But, I’m going to do my best to take advantage of the time I have, carefully balancing my study with the rare opportunity to see so much history with which I am completely unfamiliar. I am definitely looking forward to it.

India is certainly an adjustment from Africa. Although some of the nice things in India are better than in many African countries, such as Internet, roads, and the airport. However, a few things here are actually much worse- the streets have a few interesting scents (to say the least), and there is trash everywhere. In addition, you have to be much more on your toes about getting scammed here. In any event, I am excited to get beyond the grimy streets of Paharganj and check out some of the more scenic parts of the country. As always, I’m sure I’ll adjust and find what I like here.

I’ll plan on posting again from Mumbai, unless something interesting comes up here in Delhi. In addition, now that I have a reasonably fast Internet connection, I should be able to finally post some pictures from Kenya and Uganda. Look for those in the coming days. Namaste!

World Cuisine So Far

I know I have a few readers out there have obsessions with food, and, to be honest, some of my favorite parts of this trip have been the dishes I have gotten to eat. So, I thought I’d write a bit about what I’ve been eating so far! From delicious and local dishes to hilarious attempts at western cuisine, I have had some very enjoyable eating experiences out here so far. So if food is uninteresting, feel free to skip this one. Otherwise, here are some of the more interesting meals I have had along the way.

In the Dominican Republic, I really focused on eating local food. One of my favorites was la Bandera Dominicana (the Dominican Flag), since it is such a staple of the Dominican diet. I had to walk about 3/4 of a mile round trip to get it at a place called Villares Hermanos, but it was totally worth it (it also only cost just over $3). It has rice and beans, stewed beef, and egg salad.

Out in the Central Highlands of the DR, I was served my first home-cooked meals of the trip, which included la Bandera, and yuca, which is pictured below. It’s made up of a relative of yuca, eggs, and vegetables.

On top of that, I was given freshly brewed coffee from locally grown beans at most houses I went to to talk about electricity projects. It was always delicious, but they put TONS of sugar in it!

In Haiti, I had a bit of trouble finding affordable, edible options for meals. For the first few days, I would eat breakfast in the hotel, unavoidably expensive lunch (usually $15-$20), and then snack on my small supply of trail mix and PB&J for dinner. After a few days, I got a bit more adventurous (and hungry), which eventually caused me to try finding a restaurant in my travel guide that was more affordable. There, I was able to eat “national rice,” which was very similar to the rice and beans in the DR, with fried chicken, a kind of broth, and fried plantains. This proved to be a much more affordable and filling option. However, when I traveled into Fonds Parisien, I got to eat more home-cooked dishes. Most of them involved some variation of rice and chicken– but they were always fantastically substantial after long days under the hot son. I actually got to have goat one night out there. For a nightcap, I was served some drink that was very hot and very thick, with plenty of rum in it– but I can’t remember the name.

I ate very locally in Senegal due to my living situation. Since I was couchsurfing, I had access to some majorly out of the way restaurants for tourists, which were very popular with locals. My host took me to the same two restaurants most of the time– one near his place in Pikine, and the other in Dakar itself. Both served traditional Senegalese dishes, which were made up of rice or couscous, beef, and sauce that was either slightly sweet or spicy. Although it is not considered normal in Senegal to eat bread with couscous dishes, I usually asked for a bit of a baguette with my food, since it was always fantastic, and could serve as a bit of a chaser for less savory plates– it was worth the glance or two. My favorite Senegalese dish is pictured below– it’s called mafé. The sauce was perfectly spicy. Unfortunately, the red thing was more spicy than I bargained for. Apparently, it’s something you can squeeze onto a dish if you REALLY like spicy foods– it’s about as potent as wasabi. I ended up taking a decent sized bite out of it, and my mouth lit on fire! It took about five minutes of water and hiccups to get back to a place where I could eat again.

One of the highlights of Senegal was the way you can eat mangoes there. In the process pictured below, you pick a mango from a stand, the person washes it for you, you cut it, you eat it, and he gives you water to wash your hands after! Delicious, and enjoyable.

In Zambia I learned to eat with my hands, a very common custom in Africa. You take something called n’shima, which is like a more solid version of cream of wheat, and use it to pick up meat, vegetables, sauce– anything really. I never received instruction in proper technique, since there weren’t many rules around it. I ended up a complete mess at the end of every meal!

Zambia was also the first country in which pop was cheaper than in the US. Throughout Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda, you can get a Coke in a glass bottle for less than $0.50– it’s like the 60’s! Unfortunately, you either have to pay for the bottle or drink it on the spot– but I thought that just added to the novelty.

Kenya was not particularly a highlight for cuisine. Nairobi is actually packed with easy fast food places that were necessary evils during busy days. Fortunately, I got to have some local food when I traveled out to rural Alendu near Lake Victoria. I was served home-made chapati (a type of flat bread) alongside all kinds of stews and vegetables (and even an amazing avocado salad). I think my favorite foods in Kenya were the fruits. Some of the people who had spent time there explained that one could tear a branch off of any random fruit tree, throw it on the ground, and expect a new tree within a few weeks. Although this was a bit of an exaggeration, it is fair to say that nearly everything sweet grows well in Kenyan soil. The mangoes, avocados, guava, papaya, and bananas all blew my mind!

Uganda was not unlike Kenya as far as food goes. However, I was a bit more on my own in Uganda, since my hostel in Kenya served all three meals. This allowed me to explore more local options. Most of it was pretty basic– chapati served with meat, rice, and broth, but once I discovered the street food, there was no going back! The first item I tried was something called a rolex. It’s not the watch. A rolex is basically an omelette wrapped in chapati– they are absolutely amazing! A rolex, some fried beef (or goat), a mango, some extra chapati, a drink, and some cookies would all cost about $4-5! And they were absolutely delicious! I had to eat them out of plastic bags, but I didn’t mind.

In Uganda, I discovered a new favorite soda that I wish I had tried earlier, since it is all over Kenya as well. It is called Stoney Tangawizi– it’s basically an African ginger beer, and it is perfectly sweet with a nice bite. Once I tried it, I drank about 4 each day until I left!

That’s the story on what I have been eating and drinking so far. I am sure India and China will have plenty of interesting options– I’ll be sure to post about the highlights later.

Packing List

As I await my flight to New Delhi in the Ethiopian airport, I thought it would be a good idea to catalogue my belongings for the trip to give my readers an idea of what I have had with me throughout the summer, and to potentially help the next grantee when he/she compiles and consolidates the necessities for the trip.

 

In any event, I have officially joined the cult of backpackers out there– everything I have on me can be fit into a single backpack– I chose a basic daypack by REI. I usually carry my computer case with some essentials separately from the backpack since, when I am carrying everything, I am mostly going to or from airports– which means having electronics handy is helpful. I originally thought about bringing more, by the previous grantee, Alex Bozzette, convinced me that it was good to simplify for a few reasons, the main one being security. If at any point a hostel or residence seems unsafe, it is important to be able to carry everything around the city with relative comfort. Although that situation has not arisen yet, I am glad I am prepared for it– and I am glad to have as few things with me as possible.

 

With this in mind, here is a list of everything I have with me (in no particular order).

 

Backpack

Underwear (7)

Socks (5)

Toiletries

Interview shoes

Interview pants

Interview shirt

Interview belt

Light cotton shirts (2)

T-shirt (2) (one was a gift from my hosts in Zambia)

Long-sleeved T-shirt

Jeans

Raincoat

Regular shoes (all purpose hiking/running shoes)

Regular belt

Shower flip-flops

Regular flip-flops

Quick-dry towel

Quick-dry towelette

Contacts and glasses

Silk sleeping sleeve

Pillowcase

Shorts

Athletic Shorts

Computer

iPad

iPod

Phone (basic Nokia)

Camera

Chargers/chords for the previous 5

Headphones

Passport

Wallet

Emergency cash

Copies of necessary documents

Interview forms

Basic first-aid kit

Water Bottle

Circumnavigators Flag

 

That’s everything I keep with me off the top of my head. Needless to say, I have to wear the same clothes all the time, and either wear them dirty or do laundry very often (I have leaned towards the former). Those of you that know me well are aware that I am a bit materialistic when it comes to my clothing and style. I think this trip has been good for me– limiting what I keep with me and constricting my understanding for what is required to feel comfortable. I’m not saying everybody should only own what they carry on their backs– but the experience has been really good for me.