Journal - India (Week 6)
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
The following content is from the journal I kept during my internship with UNICEF. It documents my reflections during a field trip to India in 2006.
Sixth Week: July 17-July 22
Monsoon and Flooding Patna
With two days of raining, the city of Patna was flooded. The rickshaw we took went across a flooded city, and the rickshaw riding was more thrilling than a roller coaster.
On the Roads
India is a country with a vast variety of things on the roads. Trucks, cars, auto rickshaws, motorcycle, bicycles, rickshaws, cows, buffalos, horse, donkeys, and people. Even in heavy traffic, all of them figure out how to make their own way. There is an order in the disorder.
Books and Reality
People say that I am from a great university in America. I thought that I learned a lot from the great university.
In my class at my university, I wrote a paper, concluding that poor infrastructure is the most binding constraint on India’s development.
But when I came to Patna, I found out that in the States, I had had negligible knowledge of what poor infrastructure really means.
Poor infrastructure means that it takes an hour by car to go to my target village in the distance of only 10 km.
It means that I could not have access to my sample village because it is dangerous to walk 1 km of ridge way in a torrential downpour.
It means that I cannot make it to our selected village because the flooding in the village is up to my waist.
Getting Used to Things
When we first saw the hostel, we prayed that this would not be the place where we will stay for 2 months.
After we got to know that this is THE place we would be stuck in for 2 months, we denied the reality and tried to find a nice hotel nearby.
After we got to know that we did not have other options, we tried to get accustomed to the hostel that was given to us.
After a month, another group of interns visited our place, and they were shocked at our room’s poor facilities: not having a running shower, no A/C, frequent power cuts, and filthy bathrooms. But we were shocked by their responses.
For us, our hostel was so homely and we did not find anything wrong with taking a bath using baskets.
When people think that “there is nothing we can do,” they psychologically want to adapt to the new environment. That way, they can reduce unnecessary stress from the uncontrollable circumstances.
But, when people just feel so comfortable to their status quo, they would not find a reason to move forward. Their self defense mechanism works so well in a way to satisfy themselves with the current situation.
Then what’s the difference between living a humble life and keeping human dignity?
Our temporary residency is living a simple life at the level of people. But if we plan to live here for a long term, we should take action to improve our place. Development starts from questioning our status quo and believing in the possibilities of a different life, that there are other options made available to us.
From a long journey, my supervisor came back. When he saw us, he gladly approached us. With greetings, he shook hands with my male colleague, Bhupendra, and then another male colleague, Ashish. I was next and I had already put my hand forward. But his hands stopped after Ashish. With a little bit of cultural shock, I had to grab my supervisor’s unwilling hands, firmly shook his hands and put it back. Next was my female colleague, Deepika, but my supervisor didn’t shake his hands with her. Deepika watched my shaking hands with the supervisor while laughing inside.
Value of Time
Today, we had to interview a block educational officer.
I thought that we had to make an appointment. But our local person, Bhupendra, told me,“No, we don’t have their number. Plus, there’s no concept of appointments here. We just have to go and find them.”
Then, the hide and seek game with the officer began. We went to her office. She was not there. They said she would be at a school. We went there. The headmaster at the school said she already left.
Tracking her down in five places, we still couldn’t find her.
Finally, we just had to go to a block office where she might come.
In the Zip car, we were waiting.
Dark clouds were hanging low, and it started raining.
I had a flashback to my first day in Patna.
Interns were meeting with our supervisor. We sat in his office.
He welcomed us, explained about the organization, and introduced us to other people. Then he was soon occupied by other office work.
He was speaking on the phone, talking to managers, and writing a letter. 30 minutes had passed. And we just had to sit in there just like the other people quietly waiting for him. I am a person who could not stand a minute doing nothing. So, I felt like I had to remind him that we were there.
I called him, “Sir?”
But he couldn’t hear me.
So, I had to slightly bang on his desk,“Excuse me sir!”
At the moment, everyone in the office who was like a ghost seemed to wake up.
“Is there anything you want us to know?”
Our supervisor seemed to be frozen, and he mumbled “No...”
I asked again “then can we leave?”
He said, “Yes...”
So we were liberated and had time to do our work.
The rain was getting heavier, and coming into the car without windows. We kept waiting for the block officer not knowing when we could meet her.
My friend Deepika sighed,“I could’ve done so many things today.”
I nodded. I felt so relieved that I brought a Hindi language book that I could read while waiting.
"People here don’t value other people’s time.”
After a pause, Deepika continued, "That’s why India is so behind.”
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