Several Moments

Max Morris here. Here a few moments that I appreciated during the past two weeks.

We packed up everything from the hotel, lugged all of our bags two blocks to the train station. We set up all of our packs and made a little circle waiting for our train. After a while of being panhandled and encouraged to purchase what we believed we zipper pulls, I decided to pull out some watercolors. After about 5 minutes of painting, I’d drawn a crowd of 5 people who just watched me paint. It was something else.

I got sick the morning after we got into Sainji Village. That was an experience all in its own. Eventually Will and Chao took me to a hospital and apparently I had some kind of parasite. I’m all good now.

Sanitation in Sainji 2014

During the second phase of implementing the communal wastewater treatment system for the community of Sainji, we were reminded that this is an ambitious project and it will take much longer than anticipated to complete. Even though this project is taking much longer than planned, we are confident that this project will be completed.

First Day Funsies:
Our first day in Sainji was dedicated to letting the team members familiarize themselves with the community and seeing the work done from last year’s implementation. Creating a bond with the community and knowing who you are impacting is really important. We also spent the first day doing material inventory to see where we can start and how much more material is needed. Right after the first day, we tackled phase 2 at a speed of lightning.

Community Meeting Success:
We held a community meeting the third night (something we couldn’t do last trip). As we waited for community members to show up in the community courtyard, we were nervous because only the children were gathered around (rumor went around that we were providing chai and biscuits for the meeting). As we were about to start, more adults started showing up. Kunwar (our NGO) began the meeting by introducing the team and summarizing what Cal Poly EWB India has done during our past trips. He also explained very well what the current project is. This confirmed the strong partnership we have with our NGO, the Gharwal Organization for the Upliftment of the Needy. We then began discussing with the community about what we planned on doing during this trip and explained that another trip will be required before the completion of this project. Everyone was hoping that the project would be completed this year, but we hope we were able to convey how much is still needed for the completion of this project. A couple members asked some technical questions about the design of the tank, our formwork design, and the pipeline. We were very happy to receive and answer these questions. Another important point that we were able to convey was why each of us were standing there in Sainji doing something for strangers across the other side of the globe.

As we were preparing for the community meeting the day before, our faculty mentor, Dr. Jansen, asked us all “Why are you here? Why are you doing what you are doing?” He expressed that we should explain what inspires and motivates us to be there in Sainji, helping people who are basically strangers to us. He said if he was a member of Sainji, he would be skeptical why these strangers were so willing to help the community out. We each know why we chose to be in Sainji, but the community may not fully understand why we are doing this for them and may be skeptical of our motives. I was really glad our faculty advisor brought up this point. We spend so much time getting to know the community, their culture, their wants and needs; but we sometimes forget to let them understand us and our intentions. We are not some really rich people who have a lot of free time to just fly to another country to do manual labor. We are there helping them because each of us love helping others through finding solutions with all the resources we have available. After conveying this to the community, the community members applauded. We then received more applauses as we explained how we want them all to really own this system.

Cake Pan + Cake Baking (in engineering/cm terms -> Formwork +Concrete Pouring)
We then started designing and building the formwork for our 17 cubic yards of concrete walls for the 32ftx8ftx8ft sedimentation tank. We designed a unique reusable formwork that was two feet high. The plan was to pour the 8ft wall in four lifts of 2 ft. After sawing 2×4 studs by hand, we all practiced the skill of hammering pieces of wood flush to each other. Hammering is a lot harder than it seems. There were numerous times where one of the boys in the village would hammer better than I did. We heard “not perfect” a lot from Vikesh (one of our main helper). There was always so much pressure when the older men in the village watched me try to hammer a nail straight. They would take over my hammer and easily fix the crooked nails I drove in. I learnt a lot watching them. After working non-stop for over a week, we were finally ready for our first concrete pour. As the community members rallied to the site to help with the first pour, they expressed their worries about our formwork design. We explained that there shouldn’t be an issue. The concrete mixing and pouring started off a little rough because there were more teenagers/kids out helping than adults. We all couldn’t keep up with the speed of the pans flying left to right. But as more adults arrive, the pour went faster. Towards the end of the pour, part of the formwork started bulging out. The community’s worry came true. The men insisted on taking part of the formwork apart, scoop out the concrete, nail the formwork together again, and continue pouring concrete. We were nervous about this plan, but we ended up letting the community members take charge. We ended the first long pour day with the sunset and some rain.

We improved our formwork design by creating a copy of snap-ties using all thread wires, bolts, nuts, and pvc pipes. Without a holiday, we jumped right into our second pour. Again, the community members expressed their concerns about our formwork sitting on top of 2 ft of concrete without any bracings. We were a lot more confident in this design and explained how this formwork would not fail. By the end of the pour, everyone was amazed by the success of formwork. It required a few fixes for every pour, but we were able to successfully pour the 8ft wall by the end of the trip.

Manual Labor:
During these four concrete pour days, we had numerous help from not just Sainji, but from the closer communities as well. It was amazing that children from other villages, teachers/volunteers at the school, and older men in the villages came out to contribute manual labor without any pay. During every concrete pour day, it was my understanding that we would pay every adult who took time away from their busy lives to mix and pour concrete. However on the last day, I was pleasantly surprised when Kunwar wrote down the list of laborers for us. There was only a handful of names. I mentioned a few names that I thought Kunwar might have forgotten, but he told me these people just came out to volunteer. This moved me. Tending the fields, cows, and goats are extremely important for this community, but they instead came out to volunteer their time and manpower. This was probably a result of the community meeting. Kunwar then told me that everyone was impress with the team’s hard work during this trip. Neighboring communities saw the walls of the tank get higher and higher and are already questioning Kunwar when will it be their turn to partner with us.

Although we have not yet completed this implementation, we can already see how we are impacting the community members mentality about improving their quality of life. I am very grateful to have traveled twice to such a beautiful village with such beautiful people. Each community member that I have come into contact with have touched my life in many ways.

Monkeying Around in Shimla

At 3 in the afternoon on our first day in Shimla, Chao nad I decided to visit the Jakhu temple. The previous night wed seen and enormous statue illuminated on the top of a hill overlooking the city, and we were determined to visit it. Consulting our Lonely Planet map -which we’d found to be notoriously unhelpful – we started walking towards where we thought the temple might be. After about 30 minutes of choosing on gut instinct where to go at countless forks in the road, we miraculously hiked up to the foot of the temple. A covered pathway wound up in front of us.

Chao and I had picked up some hefty sticks to defend against monkeys on the walk up, but we decided it would be more respectful to not being monkey-beating sticks into the temple.

We cautiously made our way up the walkway. Some moneys got close, but we stuck close to some dogs that the monkeys shied away from. We reached the end of the covered path and saw the enormous statue. A giant, red stone figure that easily rose 100 feet in the air. He wore a cloth around his waist, excentuating his enormous legs. In its right hand it held a grand scepter, and his monkey face had a slight grin as it watched over the hilltop city in front of it.

Also, it was surrounded by monkeys.

Chao and I hesitantly made our way around to reach the temple – monkeys ran around us, and we very much appreciated the company of the stray dog who tagged along. We deposited our sandals in the shoehouse and went to the temple, ringing the large bell over the doorway. Inside, we looked around at the depictions of the monkey god – Hanuman – and his experiences. Satisfied with the modest temple, we walked out, determined to make our way safely back to the hotel. We steered clear of the large monkey that sat in the middle of the path, edged close to a dog that was chasing monkeys for fun, and stood next to a man who was walking confidently. It all seemed like it was going well, we’d almost made it back to the covered walkway.

We walked into a large family, and stopped to talk for a moment. Suddenly I saw a large monkey making its way towards the group. It moved quickly, and towards Chao – I yelled her name as the monkey, quick as you could blink, hopped up onto her backpack, reached an arm around, snatched her glasses and took off.

I ran after it, determined to try to get the glasses back. However, the animal ran away and made its perch on a fence in a large group of the dastardly animals. As I stood there waiting, the same family yelled at me, telling me not to go after it. I walked back and a boy handed me some pellets of food to lure the monkey into releasing the glasses.

As it sat, chewing on the pair of glasses, Chao yelled to me that she had an extra pair of glasses, but that monkey looked really smug about his victory, so I stuck around. The family took Chao by the hand to get more food to lure the monkey with, and I threw some food to try to tempt the thief (unsuccessfully). It sat with its prize in hand until the man came back with Chao. They tried to entice the monkey to come over, but it jumped from the fence and sat on a building 30 feet away. A young boy climbed onto the roof and chased it back towards us. Through a quick exchange, someone grabbed the glasses back, gave the monkey the food, and walked over to Chao, glasses triumphantly in hand.

We nervously talked to them and took some pictures of the monkeys. Chao kept her glasses safe in her pocket, then we hurriedly went down the walkway. Chao was pretty shaken up, and insisted that we get some new sticks to fight off any monkeys. We bought two monkey sticks, and safely made our way down the steep pathway. Safe and sound, glasses chewed slightly, we returned to the hotel unharmed.

Since then we have both been terrified of monkeys everywhere.

Project Schedule/ Status according to Matt:

Day 1: PLanned-Site survey Actual- Site Survey

Day 2: Planned-Rebar 1 Actual-Rebar 1….. First contact with the monkeys. Max wounded

Day 3: PLanned- Rebar 1 Actual- Rebar 1

Day 4: Planned- Formwork lift 1 Actual- Formwork lift 1….. Fended off first monkey invasion

Day 5: PLanned-Formwork lift 1 Actual- Formwork lift 1…. Max recoveres, 2nd monkey attack

Day 6: Planned-Pour Day Actual- Pour Day!… Truce Negotiated with the monkeys

Day 7: Planned- Rebar 2 Actual- Rebar 2

Day 8: Planned-Strip and place forms Actual- Strip and Place Forms 2

Day 9: Planned-Pour Day Actual- Strip and Place Forms 2…… small zombie outbreak

Day 10: Planned- Rest Day Actual- Pour Day

Day 11: Planned- Rebar 3 Actual- Rest Day….. Zombie Outbreak quelled.Trip to Mussoourie

Day 12: Strip and place forms

Day 13: Pour Day

Day 14: Rebar 4

Day 15: Strip and place forms

Day 16: Pour Day

Day 17: Rest

Day 18: Disassemble forms


On the 22nd of August in the year 2014, 19 year old Max Morris was hit by the accursed “travel bug”. Symptoms included “a civil war between the north and south after every meal” (so eloquently described by Matt Ryan) as well as a slight fever. Luckily Max remained in high spirits and is now made a slow but steady recovery.

On the 23rd of August the “travel bug” claimed it’s second victim: Matt Ryan. The bug seemed to be of the same variety as Max’s. Making a marvelous recovery, Matt is almost back to 100%. He plans to hike one of the Himalayan peaks in the near future.

A week after Matt’s case another team member, Gina, fell ill. She is taking some medicine and is optimistic that she will recover soon.

Traveling to a different country is fun. However, it is also a huge change for the body. Different smells, foods you cant pronounce the name of and fatigue the body experiences from full days of travel and work can make one feel sick. This “travel bug” is an unfortunate reality for many who experience traveling to countries such as India. However, our team has made the best of it and we have chosen to remain in good spirits. The travel bug won’t bring us down!

A Typical Day in Sainji

6:30 AM- wake up and get ready for the day

7:20- walk over to Kunwar’s house for breakfast

*Kunwar is the head of the NGO that our team is partnered with

8:30- work on the project

12:15 PM- lunch break

2:00- continue working on the project

6:00- head back up when work is complete and spend time with the community members

*especially the kids

7:00- dinner time

9:00- get ready for bed then go to sleep

Road to Sainji

It was quite a blur as we took the 6 hour train from Delhi to Dehradun and the two hour jeep ride from the train station up to Sainji. All I remember is Max painting watercolors while waiting for the train (a huge hit with the locals), the all too comforting AC that we had on the train ride (had me wishing I brought a jacket) and Matt falling asleep (and almost falling out the window!) as we snaked up the switchbacks to Sainji. It was past eleven PM as we rolled into our final destination. However, despite the tiring day, we were stoked to finally be in Sainji. We arrived!!!

Day in Delhi (*New Delhi that is)

We all were up by 6:30 AM, ready to start the day. However, unfortunately for us, New Delhi isn’t a city for early birds. Restaurants only begin to open their doors around 8AM for breakfast. So after a little bit of forced down time, our team walked over to a place called Sams for a bite to eat.

“What to order? What to order?” The question repeated itself as I scrolled through the menu options. After a bit of debate, I settled on a pretty safe choice: Cornflakes with banana. There will be plenty of time to try exotic Indian food; for now, I will give my stomach a break and enjoy a more familiar breakfast. Of course, I spoke too soon. As my dish was placed before me, I was surprised to find that my basic order of cereal came with an Indian twist: warm milk. I was not the only one to find my plate surprising. Matt, who ordered the “American breakfast”, found spiced potatoes and chunks of meat -unrecognizable as ham- in front of him. Luckily, we both enjoyed the meal.

Once everyone licked their plate clean, we decided to split up and tackle a few chores. One half of the team scoured the markets for a few cell phones to use in country while the others went to the chemist to buy malaria medication. The tasks took most of the morning to complete; lunch time rolled around before we knew it.

Hailing a few rickshaws, we drove across Cannought Place and entered a nice establishment called Sagar Ratna. Now that it was lunch, I couldn’t wait to try some exotic food. According to Chao and Will, you can’t go wrong with dosa: a southern Indian dish made up of bread that’s thin like a crepe with taste and crunch of pizza crust and stuffed with various vegetables. While reading the menu, I noticed that there was an option to order a 4ft long dosa. I asked around the table and Matt was up for the challenge. Together we ordered the monster dosa and 20 minutes later it lay before us. Just a few inches short of matching Chao’s height, the dosa was huge! It took a while, but I am proud to say that we ate just about all of it (Matt eating the vast majority). After desert we left the air conditioned restaurant, into the wall of New Delhi heat, feeling very full and satisfied.

Will felt tired so he went back to the hotel while the rest of us decided to do a bit of sightseeing. We first walked over to central park. A giant Indian flag waved overhead, pigeons flocked on the grass and couples sat underneath trees enjoying the shade. While it was not nearly as grand as central park in New York, the place was still nice. After we got our fill of the park, we took a few rickshaws and rode down to Jantar Mantar. According to our Lonely Planet book, the buildings at the site are supposed to align with the stars and planets. That’s about the most we understood of the place. Without a tour guide, it was hard to interpret the purpose of the structures. At least the architecture looked nice and made for some cool photographs. Feeling tired from all of the excitement, we went back to the hotel and by 5:30 PM we were out. A great end to the day.