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Jul. 8 2010 — 2:42 pm | 66 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

The World Cup, it turns out, is fascinating.

I admit it. I started watching the World Cup out of obligation. An obligation to my social life. I am living abroad and as a friend told me when I tried to turn down an invitation to see the first game, if I didn’t watch the World Cup, I’d have no friends for a month.

So I went to the bar. And then I went again. And again. I drank. A few games later, I watched. I cheered. I asked questions. I absorbed. And now, almost a month later, my head is filled with fabulous trivia about the world’s most popular sport. (It turns out soccer – I mean football – is fascinating.)

But now what? The World Cup ends on Sunday. What do we do with all this new information?

I know that the Spanish exert constant pressure, putting most of their players on the offense as they repeatedly try to score. But that strategy can backfire because their goal can be left with only a few players to defend it. I know England is normally strong, but this year they didn’t even look excited to be there. I know it can be better to get a foul than let the other team score. And fouls are common – players kick and trip and pull their opponents onto the ground. (Maybe we should tell Americans how violent this sport is.)

I know corner kicks are dangerous. I know Ghana was Africa’s last hope, and we all mourned when Uruguay prevented a goal. I know the goalie can’t use his hands outside the box. Speaking of goalies, there have been so many goalie errors this year!

I know a player can’t return once he’s taken out, and the clock doesn’t stop but referees add a few – seemingly indiscriminate – minutes at the end, and there are no commercials except during halftime.

I know Angela Merkel loved that game against Argentina. Where was she during the semifinals?

Most interesting to me have been the outfits. You probably think so too but because I am a woman I’m allowed to say it. Uruguay in light blue and Netherlands in orange was a lovely combination. Germany’s black tops were hot. And while a goalie dressed like a florescent banana disturbed me at first, I know there’s logic behind it: people think the players will be distracted by the color. I still don’t understand why teams must match their jerseys, shorts and shin guards, but players are allowed to choose their own – often hideous – cleats.

I also think I get why people like to talk sports so much. You gather all this information, you don’t want it to go to waste. You want to share it with friends. You want credit for how hard you paid attention.

No, I didn’t watch any games by myself. I only saw one from the beginning. And I didn’t realize the teams switch sides at halftime until Spain beat Germany. But I still count myself as a fan. It took one World Cup, and I’m converted.

As much fun as it’s been, perhaps it’s not so bad to have four years off. I need time to recover. And my friends owe me a serious number of Grey’s Anatomy episodes.

Follow Hanna on Twitter: @Hanna_India

Jun. 22 2010 — 8:34 am | 155 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Bhojpuri cinema finds fans among Mumbai’s migrants (PHOTOS)

Bhojpuri stars Ravi Kishan and Pakkhi Hegde film a song for an upcoming movie on a set in Malad a suburb of Mumbai. Photo by Hanna Ingber Win

MUMBAI, India — An old man sits at a wooden stand slicing lemons for fresh juice as a group of movie fans gathers at a nearby gate. The collection of rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers and other migrants all eagerly wait to buy tickets for the latest Bhojpuri film. Bhojpuri is a Hindi dialect spoken in India’s northern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and among much of the city’s migrant workers.

One of the men at the gate, Rajaram Chauhan, moved to Mumbai from his village in Uttar Pradesh 10 years ago to earn money to support him and his family back home. Wearing an old orange button-down and loose polyester pants with a hole in the knee, he says he earns 9,000 rupees (US$195) a month working a machine. Every Friday he spends his free time by going to the movies, usually a Bhojpuri film in his language. Asked if the movies remind him of home, Chauhan says: “Why would you ask a question like that? Of course it happens!”

As Bollywood films have increasingly catered to a wealthy, cosmopolitan class of Indians here and abroad, regional cinemas have seen a growth in demand from Indians who can no longer relate to the Hindi movies, according to Kathryn Hardy, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. candidate in South Asia studies who is working on a dissertation on Bhojpuri cinema.

Regional cinemas have filled the hole left by Bollywood by producing movies that cater to a local audience through language, themes, music and settings that resonate with them. Bhojpuri films have been around since the 1960s, but the number of movies made each year has jumped in the past decade. About 100 films are now made a year, Hardy said.

Read more about Bhojpuri cinema or scroll down for photos.

Fans wait in line to see a Bhojpuri film at a single-screen theater in Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai. Photo by Hanna Ingber Win

Bhojpuri stars Ravi Kishan and Pakkhi Hegde film a song for an upcoming movie on a set in Malad a suburb of Mumbai. Photo by Hanna Ingber Win

Jun. 9 2010 — 9:10 am | 260 views | 1 recommendations | 1 comment

Looking for hope in child brides

Hasina Khatun lives on an island on the Brahmaputra River in Assam in northeastern India. Hasina was married at 13. She's now 15 and five-months pregnant. Photo by Hanna Ingber Win.

I had written about child marriage before. When I went to Ethiopia, I visited a program for girls who had fled early marriage in their villages and ended up in the capital Addis Ababa. I met a classroom full of such young girls. With their schoolbooks in hand, they looked like kids, not brides. I talked to some of the girls in depth about how their desire to continue their schooling had pushed them to leave their families and traditions behind and flee to what they hoped would be a better life. These girls had dreams, and the courage to pursue them.

This time, in a small village on a remote island on the Brahmaputra River in northeastern India, the story was still on child marriage, but everything was different.

This time, the girl, Hasina Khatun, did not want to continue her education. She had not been to school a day in her life. Hasina was 13 when her aunt had told her she would get married. Like the girls I met in Ethiopia, Hasina did not want to leave her family behind and start a new life with a husband. But unlike the others, she accepted her life. When I asked if she had goals or dreams, she couldn’t think of any.

Unlike the girls in Addis, Hasina hadn’t fled.

Whether in Ethiopia or India, girls who have a baby under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as women in their 20s, according to the UN Population Fund. Girls 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die.

Wherever the girl lives, child marriage increases the likelihood of domestic violence. It generally lowers the age of a first birth and ends a girl’s opportunity to get an education, thereby decreasing her chances of employment and earning potential. Sent away from her family and village, the girl is likely to loose her support network and face social isolation.

In Ethiopia, this information served as a backdrop for what the girls I met had escaped. In India, as I chatted with Hasina inside a bamboo shack on the island, her life felt like a checklist.

Domestic violence? Three days after getting married, her 19-year-old husband told her they would have sex. She said no. He forced himself on her. Check.

Low age of first birth? She’s now 15 and five months pregnant. Check.

Education? She works in her in-laws home, helping cook and clean. She lives on an island with no secondary schools and couldn’t get an education if she wanted one. Check.

Isolation? Her family and friends live 25 kilometers away on the mainland. It takes a boat two to three hours to get there. Check.

Physical health? Hasina’s hemoglobin level, which should be at least 11 grams per deciliter, is 6.4. She’s severely anemic. Check.

As I interviewed Hasina, I had a million things on my mind: getting this timid young girl to open up, jotting down details on the chickens wandering around us, convincing the male translators to ask my questions on sex, shooing away the neighbors and husband who kept crowding around the door.

It wasn’t until I left Hasina and her village of 886 people, got back on the boat and checked into my humble hotel on the mainland that I began to process the girl’s story. I connected my camera to my laptop and began downloading photographs of Hasina.  I sat alone in my room and stared into an image of her face. Hasina does not look like a woman or a wife or a mother. She looks like a sweet young thing.

The girls in Ethiopia will undoubtedly have difficult lives trying to survive as teen migrants in the capital. Many of them must work as domestic helpers while trying to continue their education. But those girls see potential in their lives, and they will strive to achieve it.

Hasina sees nothing.

She has decided that despite what the boat clinic nurses and doctors tell her, she will give birth at home. Her body might be too small and undeveloped to handle the burden of a pregnancy, her home might be hours away from medical help if there is a complication, but she says she does not care.

As a reporter, I kept trying to get Hasina to tell me something positive or uplifting about her life. I thought my story would be better if I could add a happy twist and show what gives Hasina – just like other teenage girls around the world – a sense of joy.

And yet, I couldn’t find anything. Perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions, perhaps I didn’t stay with her long enough. I am sure there must be something that makes this young girl roll over with laughter. But I didn’t find it.

At the time, I wanted that extra information for my story. It would be my ending. Now, as I look at the photographs of Hasina over and over, as I envision her holding her sari up to her face as she whispered one-word answers, I realize I was looking for a piece of joy for myself, too. Without it, I am left with the image of a young girl with a swollen belly and not a shimmer of hope.

Read more about Hasina here.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @Hanna_India.

This reporting was sponsored by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Learn more about this reporting project.

May. 30 2010 — 11:20 pm | 82 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

My maroon velvet cave to Goa

For 800 rupees ($17) I got a spot on a sleeper bus from Mumbai to Goa. I’ve taken an overnight train in India with sleeping compartments (see my story on unintentionally joining India’s masses and peeing on train tracks). But before this trip to Goa, I didn’t even know so-called sleeper buses existed. I could not imagine what they looked like or how one could create a bed on a bus.

Thanks to Google, I got some photos before my trip to help me visualize the dreaming while busing experience. And thanks to Twitter, I got some input before the journey. @dhempe confirmed these sleeper buses exist and wrote, “yup thr r sleeper buses which r very comfortable.”

But then @aparnaandhare chimed in: “except when the driver decides to speed around a corner and you are terrified of falling!”

Eek, maybe this was a bad idea.

@SudhaKanago added: “I had also heard about shady things that go on in the dark :-)

@AndrewBuncombe, the Independent’s Asia correspondent who was recently shot while reporting from Bangkok, wrote “That counts as brave. Will you be able to Tweet from the bunk?”

My transportation choice to the beach was not supposed to be “brave.”

But I needed a break for a couple days, and the pina coladas on the beach were calling.

The bus arrived at the Bandra long-distance bus station — which consists of a couple benches by the side of the road — and my brave mode of transport did not look particularly impressive. The windows were tinted black so I couldn’t actually see inside. I ran over to the man checking tickets, eager to be first on line, and then hopped onto the bus, peaking my head around the driver’s seat and into the vehicle of mystery.

Neither the Google pictures nor the friendly tweets had prepared me for the real thing. I don’t mean to be cheesy, but there’s no other way to describe it accurately — a sleeper bus is super cool.

Mine consisted of two layers of beds, like bunk beds, on each side of the aisle. Everything was maroon and velvet. Maroon velvet cushions, maroon velvet curtains on the windows, maroon velvet curtains blocking out the aisle, maroon velvet ceiling.

I climbed up a metal ladder on the side, awkwardly plunking myself, laptop, camera and beach towel into my compartment. I wrapped a metal chain around my camera and laptop (and, with no where to hook it, around me), spread my beach towel over my legs like a blanket and lied down.

To my surprise and delight, a sleeper bus is incredibly comfortable. Arguably more comfortable than my own bed. Resting my head on the built-in pillow, I glanced at the ceiling and curtains, ran my fingers along the bedding and felt like I was in a super soft maroon cave. As a lay in the bus horizontal, I pulled back the curtain and watched the Mumbai traffic as we headed out of town.

From this view, even the traffic seemed lovely.

Ten hours later, when the bus driver would only pause at the roadside for the men to pee and refuse to stop at a public restroom, and the little boys would repeatedly bounce up and down in the aisle, popping their heads into my compartment every six minutes, I saw the sleeper bus a little differently.

But those first 10 minutes were delightful.

May. 14 2010 — 12:19 am | 126 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

Young Doctors in Assam Must Serve India’s Poor

Photo by Hanna Ingber Win

DIBRUGARH, India — After receiving her bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery and completing a one-year internship, Dr. Sumi Baruah spent two years studying for an entrance exam to secure one of the few prized seats in a medical college in Assam in northeastern India. About 1,200 students compete for 170 seats each year.

Sumi, now 27, says she did virtually nothing but study – 12 hours a day – for almost two years. Her plan was to attend medical college and then work as a doctor in Dibrugarh, a town in upper Assam, serving a mostly middle class population.

The Assamese government foiled her plan.

In an effort to get more medical professionals to serve the state’s largely rural population, the government implemented a rule in October that all graduates with a Bachelor’s of Medicine, Bachelor’s of Surgery (MBBS) degree, like Sumi, must spend one year practicing in a rural area before enrolling in a post-graduate degree course. MBBS graduates, who are given the title doctor, are considered general physicians. Lack of trained medical staff in rural areas has been a major obstacle to improving health care in India.

Sumi was not happy. She says she had heard disturbing stories about rural postings. For example, she heard that if a patient dies, even if it was not the doctor’s fault, all the villagers would come and harass the medical staff.

But Sumi, who is the first woman in her family to work, had no option. She took a position in Dibrugarh district in upper Assam at the Panitola Primary Health Center. The center, which during a recent visit shared its compound with a handful of roosters and a grazing cow, serves about 100,000 people, mostly villagers from the mainland or remote islands on the Brahmaputra River.

The Assamese government has placed 768 MBBS graduates like Sumi in rural postings throughout the state, according to Dr. Bishnu Ram Das, an associate professor in the department of community medicine at Assam Medical College. Some must live far from family and friends in remote locations with few public services and almost no amenities.

During a recent morning shift, Sumi shared a desk with another young female doctor as they treated patient after patient as a crowd gathered inside their modest office. A line of women in brightly colored saris, many holding infants with black circles smudged on their foreheads to ward off evil spirits, waited on benches outside.

The doctors are paid 25,000 rupees ($543) a month during their one-year rural posting and perform basic health care like immunizations and checkups. The center does not have the facilities for blood transfusions or handling complications, which they refer to a nearby hospital.

Sumi says she has had to deal with various problems related to serving a mostly uneducated, rural population, but over the past seven months she has learned how to manage the situation. When a drunkard hangs around the clinic, for example, she now just ignores him.

Despite her initial misgivings, Sumi says she has grown to appreciate the experience.

Sumi also passed her entrance exam and will be attending medical college after she completes the rural posting.

This reporting was sponsored by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Learn more about this reporting project.

Follow Hanna on Twitter: @Hanna_India

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    About Me

    Hanna Ingber Win is a multi-media journalist based in Mumbai, India. In addition to blogging for True/Slant, she works as GlobalPost's correspondent in Mumbai and marketing consultant. Most recently, Hanna was the founding World Editor of the Huffington Post, and she won InterAction's 2009 Award for Excellence in International Reporting in recognition of the HuffPost's foreign coverage.

    Hanna has also lived and worked in Burma, Thailand, South Africa and the States. She has a passion for telling stories about people and how they live.

    She has covered maternal health in Ethiopia, police misconduct in South Africa, migrant workers in Malaysia, Iraqi refugees in San Diego and juvenile sex offenders in Los Angeles.

    Hanna's freelance work has appeared in Washingtonpost.com, LA Weekly and the Hartford Courant and on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "Day2Day."

    She received her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and her master's in journalism from USC Annenberg, where she was a Dean's Scholar.

    Twitter: http://twitter.com/Hanna_India

    Email: hingber@gmail.com

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    Contributor Since: January 2010