About Hanna Pfershy
Hanna is a sophomore pursuing a degree in Biomedical Engineering. After graduation, Hanna is considering her career options as an engineer/ researcher or in the healthcare field. She is passionate about holistic medicine and has recently acquired her certification as a yoga instructor. Hanna will be spending 4-5 weeks interning in Kasaragod with the Institute of Applied Dermatology, an organization with a focus on research and application of integrative medicine – combining the benefits of Allopathy with Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Yoga and other traditional Indian medicines to treat difficult skin and sexually transmitted diseases. Hanna’s final project will focus on how this organization has innovated and modernized classic Ayurveda medicine by combining it will Allopathic and Homeopathic treatment to fit the present conditions and needs of its patient population.
So it’s only been a week since my last post, and I haven’t done too many new things in that time, so I thought I would just talk about they few things I did and random things I’ve seen and learned about in India.
So I had to exchange money from my card and that was an absolute mess. It was after work time so I rode partway to the city with the girls, and they stayed with me while I attempted the exchange, and then I had to ride back to the institute alone while they went to the train. I rode back on a very public and cramped bus, and Swetha just gave my money to the woman sitting in the first window of the bus and told her to take care of me. So as the bust got more crowded and I was pushed towards the middle, I was relieved to see that she had given my money to the collector and that I wouldn’t get thrown off the bus. But then she got off the bus and I was like “I really hope I remember where to get off”. I knew the bus ride was about 20 ish minutes, so I was feverently staring out the window looking for everything and anything I recognized, because it’s not like they announce the stops and if they did it wouldn’t be in English. I ended up getting off at the right stop (Hooray!) and I can now say I have navigated Indian public transformation kind of alone.
Then on Saturday we had an all day excursion, which I enjoyed but it was very repetitive. It was a 14 hour trip and I think we were out of the car for a total of maybe 4-5 of those hours, the rest was driving on extremely bumpy roads in stop and go traffic. We went to four temples and an anatomy and pathology museum.
The first temple we went to was basically for the view because it was at the top of a mountain. It was very beautiful and we fed some wild monkeys. The next temple was very crowded and popular, with a lot of shop stalls and such. We ate lunch there (it’s usually free) and a bunch of people gather in one room. This one we sat on the floors, there were marble walkways with one inch raised marble lining them which is where you sat. I turned around and looked at people eating, and asked Amrutha- “Are we eating off of the floor?” She says “Of course not!” I pointed behind us to the people eating off of the marble walkway people came in on and she goes “Oh my god are we eating off of the floor??” Luckily they had optional plates but surprisingly very few people took them. Though the marble was “cleaned” with water, I was not about to try that. That was an interesting adventure. The museum was very cool and had lots of dissected human and animal bodies showing the anatomy and then lots of diseases. Also some anomalies like conjoined twins were preserved there. Very interesting. The next temple is called the Thousand Pillar Temple, and was built about 600 years ago. Finally we drove aways home and stopped at a temple after nightfall. There’s a little walkway to the temple which is out in a small man made lake. There is a crocodile in the lake (always only one) that they claim is vegetarian and is holy. Unfortunately we didn’t see it because it was dark out.
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view from a temple on top of a mountain
SO MUCH RICE. Kerala is known for having every single dish be full of rice and coconut (considering how many palm trees they have here it’d be ridiculous not to use them so often). Every day three meals a day I eat a variation of rice and spicy vegetables, along with some chipati at lunch and dinner (think Indian tortilla). Every day. Every meal. No exceptions. For breakfast the rice is prepared differently, as a spongy rice cake a little smaller than your fist, or as a rice pancake (it looks and has the texture of the cooked whites of an egg-- actually pretty good). Lunch and dinner is plain old rice and then a chipati. The vegetables change every day which is good, they use some that we don’t have in America and I’m kinda sad I won’t be able to cook them. They also spice every dish with green chile. Now this is the type of chile whose oil coats absolutely everything in your mouth. First it burns your mouth, then your lips, and when you swallow you feel it coating your esophagus all the way down to below your sternum. I’d say I’ve gotten pretty used to it (surprising considering how I hated spicy food), and I’m wondering if I’ll enjoy my first food back without it or think it’s bland. We will see. What I will definitely miss about Indian food is the freshness of it. I have maybe had 2 items that have been packaged since being here, and it’s been bread in Varanasi and some biscuits for tea here. I know in America a lot of what we do to food is for convenience, but I think we are missing out on the benefits and general tastiness of freshly harvested food. We add so much extra to our food, just to make it easier and I think that that is another area in which we think we are being brilliant but just making things more complicated and less good. After coming here, I realize we do that often: we think we’re making something better just by making it more complicated.
So, now that I’m settling into a schedule here at IAD there’s a lot less exciting things to write about. My days are basically the same: work 9-430 ish and then chill in my room all night. The only thing to break this up is Sundays, because I get to go home with one of the girls each weekend because they have the day off.
My first weekend I went home with Amrutha, she lives with her mom, dad, and pregnant sister-in law. Here they treat guests very well, and insist on you eating food until your stomach rips at the seams. She also added ayurvedic drugs to my water (I honestly have no clue what they were supposed to do) and it didn’t necessarily make the water taste bad, just wrong. Because your brain knows that it shouldn’t smell or have a taste, so when it does you just feel extremely uncomfortable drinking it. I solved this problem by not breathing through my nose when I drank (because I guess the drug is actually tasteless), and then quickly afterwards I would take a bit of food so it ended up not tasting out of character. (The drugs would also sit in your mouth, so even if you were done drinking, if you breathed through your nose you could still smell it). Overall interesting experience. Also, as people know the water isn’t safe to drink here so people without filters (basically everyone) have to boil the water. Now, trying to soothe the burn from the chile I mentioned earlier with warm water is probably one of the least refreshing things ever. Continue reading →
My first week in India
Day 1 7/20 Mumbai
It has only been 20 hours since we got here and yet I feel like it has been over a week. Me and Vai arrived at 3:15 am and waited over an hour for our bags to find out that the bags were still in Boston (due to a flight delay and therefore a quick connection). Then we had to fill out paperwork and go through customs which took another hour, and we didn’t arrive to her Aunt’s place until about 6. We then slept until about 1 pm, and that is when our day started.
Atya (Father’s Sister) and Vai’s uncle and cousin, lived in a building two stories with many “houses” next to each other (think like a condo). Each house is actually just two rooms, the front room is the bedroom and the back room is the shower and kitchen. The bathroom is communal down the hall (which I somehow managed to avoid). Total, the house is probably the size of one and a half normal rooms in a US house (and more than just 3 people can live in one of these houses). Me and Vai stayed in a similar house down the hall. We slept on 1.5 inch thick mats on the ground, and the same thing but smaller was used as a pillow. These can be rolled up during the day which creates the versatile space. Even just being here for one day, I realized we have too much in the US. They have everything they need to live life, and it perfectly suffices. Though it is small, it has everything you need. And here we are in the US complaining that our living rooms, laundry rooms, bathrooms, garages, patios, and kitchens aren’t large enough. All that space that isn’t necessary and no one is occupying most times of the day, and yet it needs to be bigger. I’m very lucky to have been able to live in a real residential home of India, because it’s a rare thing to experience and grasp as an outsider.
I think the most unique thing about India I have seen so far is the vast difference in wealth, and yet the extremely close proximity of it. To give you a picture: I was in the car looking out the window to my right, and in the background (maybe 400 yds out) is a huge apartment building that looks nice, and is probably 20 stories or more. Then in the forground 20 yds away lining the street is slum looking residency-- tarps for walls and roofs held down by weak string and bricks, slabs of tin from old building for some protection and separation, and lots of people and trash. This type of juxtoposition happens everywhere you look.
We visited the old Taj Hotel (one of the nicest hotels in India) where there is security at the entrance (and the buckets you put your stuff in to get x-rayed like at the airport are velvet lined), the staff treats you like you walk on water, there are stores in the lobby (of course only Dior, Loius Vitton, and the likes), and the hedges are trimmed perfectly. And then right outside is a child begging and across the road is a beach strewn with trash. It’s very different that there seems to be no spatial segregation of wealth.
Off a main road in Mumbai
Day 2-8 Varanasi Continue reading →
The Taj Hotel
So I know I’m kind of skipping around on these posts, but my travel week has so much info and is taking so long to write and some people wanted to know how my first days at the institute are going, so here’s that.
I arrived Thursday at about 1:30 pm after an overnight trip from Varanasi (yet only 5 hours of that were flying). I got about 2.5 hours of rocky sleep in a foreign airport next to a bunch of other young drowsy travelers and I will say it was not ideal.
My first impression as I got driven the 1.5 hours from the airport to the institute was that people were right- the north and south are like completely different countries. Though the basics were the same (driving, traffic, selling, people, clothes, etc) everything was much more toned down. (I am now realizing you have nothing to compare it to because I haven’t posted the other one describing the north, so come back to this once I post that haha, or maybe I’ll make another post describing the differences) So we are driving- and wow it is so green and gorgeous here. It is mountainous and hilly and there are palm trees everywhere (which makes sense why every dish has coconut in it). The drive was nice, and I saw many houses that were gorgeous. Like mansions to our standards (with an Indian vibe flare). These were more in the back roads when we were driving to the institute.
So I got to the institute and the public relations officer, Sajith, basically knew I was dead tired and gave me the rest of the day to rest in my room, which is in the facility. No shame I went upstairs and just cried because I had no clue what I was doing (and anyone knows me knows that when I don’t get enough sleep I am extremely susceptible to the water works). I didn’t know anyone here, what I would be doing, what they would want, or just anything. I felt completely blind without a clue and you all know how that’s hard for me too.
At least this place has freaking awesome wifi.
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I applied to this fellowship for a few reasons: my friend Morgan did it last year and told me how amazing it was, I have never really travelled outside the country (I don’t think an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican really counts), with my engineering schedule I can’t travel abroad, and because I had recently become a yoga instructor. Now the yoga is what made the fact that it was India so enticing since it started there. Yoga is used as part of the healing process in Ayurvedic medicine (more on that later) and so I also got interested in Ayurveda- which is what I’ll be researching. Since Ayurveda (and therefore yoga) started in India thousands of years ago, what better place to study it?
So I’m not really sure what I’m going to be doing at my internship sight, they weren’t very specific. I’m nervous that they’re going to expect more out of me than my two years of introductory courses. I wanted to work with this organization because of their unique specialty in combining Western medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, very few places do that to the degree of the IAD. I’m not necessarily interested in the dermatology aspect of the institution, just their methods.
My final project is understanding what aspects of Western medicine and Ayurvedic medicine the IAD has taken from each to optimize the treatment of their patients. I find this so interesting because the two types of medicine are complete opposites. Western medicine sees symptoms and treats with a medication that was manufactured in a lab. Ayurvedic medicine tries to heal by balancing the body. People are seen as being composed of three doshas- fire, water/earth, and air. When any of these are out of balance the body gets sick. The doshas are very specific to each person, the doctor takes into account many aspects of the person’s body, life, and well-being, so the same symptoms from different people may not require the same treatment. Ayurvedic also treats with more natural remedies instead of manufactured drugs. So I’m very curious how IAD combined two medical practices that have such a different mindset and methodology.
IAD is located in Kasaragod, Kerala. Kerala is in the south west corner of India and Kasaragod is at the northern tip of the state, one hour south from Mangalore. I will being in Mumbai and Varanasi for the first week and a half, then I will go to my internship on August 1st for four weeks. I still don’t feel like this trip is happening, Everyone keeps asking me if I am excited and of course I said yes, but really it still feels like the trip is over a month away. I don’t feel like I’m going to be taking my first steps across the Atlantic any time soon, and yet I leave today. We will see when it hits me that I am going to be in a different country very far away.