2018 Brings a Focus on Bicycles

We survived the “bomb cyclone” snowstorm here in western New Hampshire and the temperature today is a balmy 3F (-13F with the wind chill) but I’ll ignore that. This is much warmer than Monday’s low of -29F.  What better thing to focus on in my Global Studies class than studying the importance of bicycles and planning a June cycling tour?

This term my high school Global Studies class is focused on the importance of bicycles in the global community. People ride bikes for sport, health, transportation, education, commerce, medical care, among myriad other reasons.  What sparked this focus in my colleague, Story Graves, wanting to organize a student cycling tour to Canada. I had an open block where I needed to teach a class this term so we offered a Global Studies class that culimates in a June cycling tour from Orford, NH to Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Students actually signed up for the class and some have already committed to training and fundraising for the 600-mile round trip ride. Our goal for the tour is to challenge and inspire student learning, confidence, and global awareness.

While I have been riding bikes as a triathlete for past 10 years, I had not deeply considered how important bikes are for everyday life in many parts of the world. Living in a rural area means that I drive. EVERYWHERE.  My bike is used solely for workouts, racing, or social events.  I even drive my bike to places where I want to ride.  Teaching this class has opened the door to a new emphasis on cycling as life for millions of people worldwide.

Here is one story that changed my thinking. Enjoy and stay tuned for updates on our learning and global cycling adventure.

http://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2017/12/22/world-bicycle-relief

Photo credit: http://www.wbur.org. Story by Karen Given

 

 

3 Cities of India

Bangalore view 3

View of Bangalore from the Lemon Tree Hotel

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A Delhi Street

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Morning Drive Downtown Kolkata

Growing up in rural NH and having lived in Maine, Vermont, and now back in NH, I am used to a rural lifestyle. My husband, sons and I live in a small house and own 25 acres of land with a large yard, a pond, hiking trails, forest, and we can’t see anyone from our property. My commute to school is an easy 2 miles. For other major services like gas stations, banks, grocery stores, and so forth we have to travel between 3 and 20 miles.  We do a lot of driving but driving is easy because there is little traffic unless we drive in a more urban area. The region is beautiful in every season and we enjoy spending time outside with only the sounds of the birds and wind.  The population density of Orford, NH where I live is 9 people per sq/km. The population density of the state of New Hampshire is only 57 people per sq/km.

Then I went to India for 3 weeks and spent time in Bangalore, Kolkata, and Delhi. Life is different.

Now, this wasn’t my first experience visiting a city as a country mouse. I’ve spent time in many American cities like Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Seattle. None of those cities really compare with Indian cities. The combined populations of those American cities doesn’t match up to Bangalore, Kolkata, or Delhi.

Let’s start with population and density:

City Population Density
Bangalore, capital of the Indian state of KarnatakaKnown as the Silicon Valley of India 8.52 million with the greater metro area above 10 million(this is similar to the New  York City metro area) 10,100 people per sq/km(New York’s density: 2,000 people per sq/km)
Kolkata, capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Former capital of British India. Oldest operating port of British India. 4.4 million in city proper.Greater metro area is 14.1 million and still rapidly expanding. 24,760 people per sq/km
Delhi, capital of the Indian nation. 16.3 million people in the greater metro area and still expanding. 11,050 people per sq/km

It is an understatement to write that there are a lot of people in India and especially in these rapidly growing urban areas. People are everywhere.

There is little evidence of organized city planning. There are some grand boulevards, green spaces, major monuments and temples, modern airports, multinational corporations, luxury shopping, all mixed in with slums, middle class neighborhoods, hotels and restaurants, schools, local businesses, and sidewalks teeming with food carts, tiny businesses, tea stands, and people living and sleeping on the streets.  People of all stations in life just go about their daily business.

I mentioned traffic in an earlier post. Traffic in Kolkata and Delhi is even worse than in Bangalore. Horn honking contributes to the noise and is used as a means of communication to warn pedestrians, rickshaws, and other obstacles of your oncoming vehicle. In the US, horns tend to be used more to express a driver’s anger at a particular driving situation.

Trash is another ubiquitous sight in Indian cities. Every vacant lot that I observed was filled with trash. It was common to see a loose cow or dog rooting through trash piles evident on the sides of roads and sidewalks. While there were trash bins in some locations, they weren’t as widely available as they are here.  Waste disposal is one of India’s many paradoxes.  For a country that has such massive human resources in science and engineering, waste disposal and clean water are still an issue.

Another urban paradox were the museums. Our hosts generously took the time to bring us to the Indian Museum and the Marble Palace which are 2 of Kolkata’s major museums.  Both had priceless artifacts and paintings but the methods of artifact preservation really need to be upgraded. The impressive Marble Palace was not air conditioned and given the heat and humidity of Kolkata, the extensive collection of paintings were not in good condition.  The Birla Industrial and Technology Museum had some of the best science and math exhibits I’ve ever seen in a museum. This was the first time I’ve seen exhibits with manipulatives that explain different aspects of electricity or calculus. While I didn’t understand everything I was looking at, it was still pretty awesome.

Prior to this experience, I viewed cities through my American “lens”. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia are three of our oldest cities and all have had their growing pains.  There are always issues with trash, traffic, people, etc. in any city. Driving in Boston is chaotic and doesn’t always make sense but when one spends enough time there, it starts to make a little more sense. This is true for Indian cities as well. By the end of our week in Kolkata, we could walk around with a much better understanding of our little neighborhood, what was going on there, and that people go about their business of living their lives.

Women’s Empowerment

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India is a dichotomy on many issues especially women’s issues. There is a big push for female empowerment which was evident in the school. The young women we interacted with were very academically successful, well spoken, and aware of a variety of global issues. We had the privilege of attending a Women’s Empowerment Panel Discussion where 4 students had been asked to give speeches on the topic and then lead a question and answer session.

Indian culture is a patriarchy. Many students not only live with their parents but also their paternal grandparents and dad/grandfather generally have the final say on issues although many girls are starting to speak up more in the home. This is not the norm though. The two big things that I noticed were:  most men that I saw in the 3 cities that we were in wear western style dress. In Bangalore and Kolkata, women wear saris or salwar kameez which is the more traditional dress. The few women wearing western business attire work for the multinational tech firms or were flight attendants in uniform.  In Delhi, some women wore skinny jeans, shirts, and heels and I even saw a few women wearing shorts. I wonder why women wear traditional dress and the men don’t. Because we flew from Bangalore to Kolkata and then from Kolkata to Delhi, we had to go through airport security for domestic flights. There are “women only” lines for going through security and I was not allowed to go through the men’s line in Kolkata and had to walk over to the women’s line to be body scanned with the hand scanner by a female TSA type officer. If the country is pushing for more equality and empowerment, why are there still separate lines? We also experienced this going into different cultural attractions and restaurants. Apparently there are also female only train cars for train travel. How is the concept of “separate but equal” going to bring true equality to both genders in India?

Here are 2 articles that take the issue more in-depth.

Gender Equity Issues in India

Women’s Rights Issues in India: Problems and Prospects