A Volunteer’s Adventures Part Two: Hydrogeology and Golpapur

Not only is the campus absolutely gorgeous, but all of the staff and volunteers I’ve met working for and with Gram Vikas are incredible as well! In addition to the 500 or so employees of Gram Vikas, various contacts from all kinds of organizations come through Mohuda all the time. For a traveler exploring the developing world, meeting people from all over the globe working on various projects in the villages is basically a dream come true!

Two such new friends, Marijn and Roelof, are hydrogeologists staying here for about two weeks to train people in the villages to test water quality. From the Netherlands, Marijn and Roelof have taught me so many things, one of which is a culinary tip from their hometown: how to turn every Indian dish into something sweet by adding jam or sugar! Besides amusing the dining hall with our strange creations, they invited another intern and me to go on an explorer mission with them last Sunday!

They explained to us the adventure they were planning: GoogleMaps shows the earth in this part of Orissa as being darker in a western part and lighter in an eastern part, pretty much separated by a distinct line that they imagined was a different kind of rock or deposit from a river or the ocean. Armed with a large print out of the area, a jeep and driver from GV, and a GPS system we were going to figure out why. They tried to play it off as though it sounded boring, but I thought they were essentially proposing an exploration mission that would rival that of Christopher Columbus!

So with excitement in the air and our explorer’s gear in hand, we climbed into the Qualis around ten in the morning ready for a day of real, live exploring! The four of us and our driver, Babolo took up all of the seats in the jeep so it was a little crammed especially as we wound around the dogs and people in the streets. Mixed with lots of trying to explain to our driver where we wanted to go, Marijn explained to me so much about water projects and systems of all kinds, the science and engineering about how water actually arrives to most of the taps, and ground water. I was ecstatic all day long! I have been working around water- fundraising with BPR and now here, for a few years, but something about seeing the projects and hearing about the processes from my new Dutch friends really illuminated the world of water to me.

Throughout the morning, we stopped at a few sites where holes had been dug in the ground for random purposes and surveyed the soil. Marijn and Rudolph showed us how and why certain parts of the earth were red and others gray. We took pictures of the rocks and my specific job was to make GPS readings at each site so we could make a more accurate map to compare with the google image. Everywhere we went a crowd of confused Indians huddled around us really baffled as to why four foreigners were maneuvering around piles of poop to pick up dirt and take pictures of holes!

We stopped at one of the GV village water towers and in addition to surveying the area, picked up about four new members to our team who were to help us navigate the tricky roads in that part of the region. So, for the next hour or so, nine of us crammed into the jeep and looked for differences in water sources and rock and earth colors. Most of the time we were going a different direction than we had planned because of road blocks and communication barriers but the adventure didn’t disappoint in showing us great new things like long-tailed, kangaroo-like monkeys and all kinds of mountainous and rocky terrain from rock quarries to brackish water bodies. It was wild and fun and fascinating!

After some photos and marking a few more points we returned to drop off the extra people at their car. The villagers were waiting for us with sodas and tons of kids crowding around the jeep looking at us. Even though our communication with the kids was limited to, “How are you,” and “What’s your name,” they were thrilled to hear us try to speak to them. Most of the 20 minutes we sat with them was just us smiling really big at the kids and them returning the gesture! It was such a fun morning!

The next few hours continued with much of the same, convincing our driver to take us down certain roads to spots we thought would lead us to a point on the map, making some notes and pictures, and then continuing on. From the highway our driver turned down a tiny narrow street totally covered in foliage which eventually led us to a huge lake. It was amazing that he could ever know that that tiny road from the busy highway could lead to the lake!

There we took a water quality reading. It was tricky to find a part of the lake where someone wasn’t bathing or doing laundry to be able to take a sample, but eventually we found a fenced in area that would be as clean as it would get. We tested the PH as well as the levels of carbonate hardness, nitride, and iron among other things and learned which pollutants may cause some of the levels to be higher- again I was learning just how important the link is between water and sanitation, but this time with chemical numbers to back this up!

Our last stop was Golpapur. In the spring Golpapur is known for giant sea turtles mating and laying eggs on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Here we ate at a delicious Indian restaurant. We had my favorite, Paneer Butter Masala and another mushroom dish with hot, puffy naan. I also tasted the best sweet/salty lime soda! After a late lunch and a walk along the beach, we drove the hour-long return back to campus. The day was filled with exciting adventures and sightseeing. I felt like a sponge soaking up all of the knowledge my new friends could teach me and I was exhausted as I returned to my room. In perfect Indian style, my wonderful neighbor heard my return and knocked at the door with a steaming cup of chai. Oh, how I love India!

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