Monthly Archives: July 2012

Monsoon? BRING IT.

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Monsoon? BRING IT.

Monday morning dawned like any other Monday: way too damn early. I hit snooze on my iPod alarm a couple times, got up, showered, and went to put on the kettle. It seemed like it was taking a long time for the water to boil. Oh wait, it wasn’t boiling at all. Plugged it into another outlet… still no power… finally dawned on me that it was a power outage. Usually these happen in the evenings, not the mornings. I hadn’t noticed earlier because I haven’t been sleeping with the AC on (it’s too loud, it sounds like it’s powered by 45 hamsters on individual wheels) and I shower with cold water anyway. Yeah, I’m tough like that. So no biggie, I had bread instead of toast and milk instead of tea. My driver was picking me up later than usual because I had to go to the post office first thing to GET MY CARE PACKAGE!!! My family still loves me!!!!

Of course, when my brother was shipping this parcel, he did ask them how the parcel would be handled once it was in India, because previous Fellows had said to avoid India Post at all costs. He was told it was handled by Fed Ex.

It was a lie.

So I got to the post office and walked in, wasn’t entirely sure I was in the post office because it looked a bit like a warehouse, only no one was doing anything. They told me they couldn’t do anything on account of the power outage. Considering the utter lack of computer equipment or electronic anything, this seemed dubious, but they were unhelpful and told me to go to the post office in Kalkaji (not because my parcel was there, but because they wanted to get rid of me). Obviously I didn’t go to Kalkaji, I went to work and decided to try again another time. It was then, when I opened my work emails, that I found out the power outage was affecting ALL of Northern India, 370 million people. That’s a lot of people. The trains and metros were all stopped, all lights out. Commuting in New Delhi is quite the experience to begin with, so this really added to the fun. Anyway, I was fine, we have a generator at work and power was restored by mid-day with only the usual temporary blackouts for the rest of the day. *

This morning, I went for Round Two at the post office. I wish I’d had my camera, but I’ll try to verbally paint this for you.

It was raining. Not hard, just a bit of rain to cool things down and increase the hair frizz factor. I walked into the front door, where I’d gone in yesterday. A woman was sitting on a chair by the door and told me I had to go outside and around back to go in the back door. So I did, there was a guy at the wicket who looked at my handwritten note from the postman and told me to go through the side door where I ended up in the exact same place as I had by initially walking in the front door. Then I was told to go upstairs, so I went up a couple flights to the delivery room. There may not be any babies there, but I imagine a lot of chaos is born in this place.

Picture some paper. Picture a little more paper than that. Now picture every horizontal surface – floors, tables, desks, shelves – covered in stacks of paper a couple meters high. Some of the paper looked really old, like moldy and falling apart antique paper, but then it’s incredibly humid and there’s no AC so maybe it wasn’t all that old. The tables had more recent looking paper, and by that I mean dot-matrix printer paper. I didn’t notice any particular organization of the paper, no labels or files or anything. Of course, some of those piles kinda slid over and made a big papery mess. There was a woman sewing bags shut with a big tapestry needle and a bunch of men – I think they’re the actual postal delivery men – sorting some piles of envelopes. They have desks set up down the middle of the room with cubby hatches for manual sorting and the guys were literally throwing envelopes at each other, like the way kids throw things off “their” side of the room if they have to share bedrooms with siblings. And there was the usual collection of people standing and sitting around with nothing to do. The funny thing is that no one really pays attention to you. I mean, you’re clearly not a post office employee but no one there is interested in talking to you. I was directed to someone, then someone else, but they just sort of wave vaguely in another direction without stopping what they’re doing to get rid of you. After a few minutes, my driver, probably wondering where I’d gotten lost this time, showed up. He also got sent around to a bunch of people who didn’t care about finding this package. I actually spotted it on the floor, I recognized my brother’s handwriting upside-down. Even once we’d found it, there was more milling around while they decided about maybe trying to find a paper for me to sign. I signed and dated something, they actually checked my ID, and, after about 20 minutes total in the post office, we were able to leave. My driver told me later they would have made me pay for it if I’d been alone. If I’d have been able to get it at all, since they were rather disinclined to speak with me.

But, the important thing is I have my package! The box is basically mush, it looks like it was drop kicked across the Atlantic. The homemade cookies are likewise pretty crumbly and a little dry, but they’re not moldy! Not bad considering they were made 6 weeks ago and spent almost 5 of those weeks on ocean freight.

Got my knitting, crewel work, raincoat, and hiking boots. I’m hereby ready to ride out anything this monsoon has to throw at me, like rain, mudslides, and cabin fever boredom. I shouldn’t really be bored though, considering I have only one month before my grant application assignment is due and I’m completely stuck with my sampling methodology. So I need you to send me something else: a kick in the academic pants. Address it to Melinda’s Hiney.

 

You have no idea how hard it is to get hiking boots, knitting, and cookie-eating into a self-portrait.

*update: As of Tuesday afternoon, both the Northern and Eastern grids have failed and more than half of India – 670M people – are now without power. Office generator is still going strong so far. This time the collapse happened at mid-day, and people are now stranded on trains and metros all over the country. You people at home are probably getting some interesting footage. Wonder what kind of evacuation plans they have here…?

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Aside

Well, hello again! As I warned you, nothing’s happened, hence the delay in blog posts. The monsoon is lagging, we’ve been a week with no rain and it’s back up to just the usual hot as hell; they keep calling for thundershowers but so far they’ve been sadly mistaken. I’ve learned to gauge the humidity by the amount of shoulder force necessary to open my front door (I don’t mean merely pushing the door, I mean throwing my entire body into it. I will probably need a running start soon). My indoor gecko is getting around quite a bit so he must be getting used to me and my outdoor gecko (I usually see him on the outside of my bathroom window) is hopefully making short work of the ants in my shower. Mangoes are still good!

Last week I went to the Lotus Temple, a Baha’i worship centre. It’s huge, a big nine-sided concrete structure shaped like a lotus with pools all around. Inside it’s fairly bare, there are stone benches and a lectern and that’s about it. The real draw is the outside.

We were actually just killing time there until the main attraction started: a piano recital in the auditorium of the Information Centre. It was put on by the Canadian High Commission and featured Canadian pianist Berenika playing Chopin, Debussy, and Glass. It was a good concert, she played beautifully and it seemed the audience was appreciative, if not the most attentive. It was nice to hear some Classical that wasn’t on my iPod. 🙂

The recital was only about an hour long, but when we got out we got to see the temple lit up, which was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, we had another appointment to keep so I didn’t have a chance to socialize much with the other concertgoers. There weren’t all that many, to be honest. This event was open for the public, but I’ve found the Canadian High Commission doesn’t really do much to advertise outside of its own circle and a lot of events are for base staff only. There is a certain idea of exclusivity here that I’ve noticed too, it’s much less of a “come one, come all; the more, the merrier” attitude. I tried to go to a screening of a French Canadian film a couple weeks ago but when I called the India International Centre (the cultural arts centre, like the NAC or Place des Arts) I was told it was for IIC members only. And to be a member, you have to be over 30 years of age, be nominated by two other members, pay significant fees, and anyway they weren’t accepting any new members at that time. Someone at work told me it was basically an old boys’ club – who knew they were so into French Canadian films? Another woman here tried to join her local swimming pool but was told it was only for Indian nationals.

This brings me to A Sensitive Topic: living as a visible minority. It does feel strange. I knew it would, but I didn’t know how awkward it could be. There’s a very bizarre double standard here when it comes to white people. I don’t watch TV here, but my friend told me there are ads all the time about skin whitening products and having darker skin is really seen as “bad.”

Meanwhile, in Canada I have no problem being very pale even though tanning is still a popular (stupid, dangerous, etc) grooming activity. Here, knowing that white skin is prized but still having the ole’ White Guilt complex makes for a strange feeling. I do feel like there is a certain resentment here towards white people; I’m not sure if it has to do with the relatively recent colonization or the way expats live here or just the idea lots of people around the world have of the West. I don’t really think there is any such thing as colour-blindness, as much as we may try, but I was brought up to be so careful of colour being a neutral topic that having it raised, however indirectly, is uncomfortable. My friend said she got the impression that being white was an instant upgrade (this was in terms of male attention – they like white girls but I don’t know if it’s because we’re seen as exotic or just “easy”); at the same time, she feels like a target everywhere she goes. I don’t feel like I get preferential treatment, if anything, it seems like the opposite. For example, if I’m buying something I have to wait while Indians are served before me, even if I got there first (there aren’t really lines or “queuing up”). I pay more for things too. The thing is, I’m honestly not sure if this is something to be upset over or not. If I can afford it, I shouldn’t mind, everything is still pretty cheap. It just feels unjust because I know I’m being singled out because of my race and I don’t like that. At the same time, if paying above-market prices for things (rickshaws, fruit and veggie wallahs) allows them to keep the prices lower for people who actually can’t afford the inflated rates, maybe I shouldn’t feel this way; maybe geared-to-income pricing is ok. I’d be a lot more comfortable with that though if I had any faith that the vendors actually did keep prices lower for poorer people – and so long as they’re being kinda jerky with me, I can’t confirm that. But the idea of being racially profiled for anything, however minor, is offensive; you can say “don’t take it personally”, but that’s the very thing that makes it so bad: the impersonal judgment.  You are assessed entirely by the colour of your skin and so many judgments are made on the spot. No matter what colour you are or in what environment and whether the resulting treatment is preferential or discriminatory, there is no way this can ever feel good. The ambivalence towards white people is just confusing. Even though I feel there is some resentment, at every tourist attraction I go to, I’m pounced on by gangs of teenage boys who want to take pictures with me. There must have been 25-30 boys at Lotus Temple and they get REALLYCLOSETOYOU with their arms around you, trying to make it look like a girlfriend picture. They would never touch an Indian woman that way. It’s very conflicting, and I feel sort of powerless because the impression people have of me has nothing to do with the way I actually conduct myself. I feel obliged to say yes to the photographs because I don’t want to be a bitchy white girl, but I don’t like it. Then, when I don’t protest about them touching me, I’m just reinforcing the stereotype that Western women are fine with being touched. I can try to haggle with the drivers, and I do, but even if they come down 10 rupees I’m still not winning. Maybe I shouldn’t argue at all, I feel like I need to make recompense for all the whites who have come before me. At the same time, I’m not a summation of my one characteristic of whiteness, and I resent their judgment. And then I tell myself that racial minorities in North America have to feel this way all the time (or worse) so maybe this is just me paying my dues.

So yeah, not that much new… went to a really good South Indian restaurant last Friday which makes me very excited for Kerala. Work-wise, I’m coming up to my midpoint assessment and last week found myself redrafting my entire scope of work for my objectives. CARE India is starting up the preliminary work for the two programs we’re going to start with and I’ve been assigned to the Dalits (Scheduled Castes, sometimes known as “untouchables”) program. I’m having a hard time motivating myself to do my schoolwork but I know it really needs to get done. I’m having better success with my chapatti in getting them to puff up, but it seems to vary according to the humidity. Tomorrow we’re trying out a sushi place. In short, I’m feeling more at home here, finally, am getting into a routine and hopefully the motivation and productivity will follow shortly!

Lotus Temple and other big white things

Mangoes, geckos, and monsoons continued…

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It’s starting…! On Friday, it was heavy and humid all day… then, as I was getting ready to head out to yoga, it suddenly became very, very dark. And windy, blowing dust everywhere.

It was raining lightly by the time I got to class, then started thunderstorming during class (our instructor shut off the AC and opened the doors to the courtyard, it’s a nice way to practice evening yoga!). We walked home in the rain because it was so nice to be outside and not soaked in sweat. Saturday, I got up and it was COOL OUTSIDE! This is the first time it’s been comfortable outside of the air conditioned bubbles we live in during the summer. So I went for a run in the park. I mean, it’s not the best running weather. It was 26 degrees, “feels like 42”. So I only did 3 laps and when I got home I was soaked and red-faced like only the humidity can do for you. But it still feels a lot cooler and the rain is such a welcome change from living in an oven. The water coming out of tap is cold; I can lean against the tile wall and counter in the kitchen and it’s not hot to the touch.

On Sunday I went to the Mango Festival. It wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be, but I think there were events later in the day. It was a Delhi Haat, which is a big outdoor bazaar with handicrafts. There was an exhibit of the 500 kinds of mangoes grown in India; some of them were interesting-looking but honestly a lot of them look the same.  We bought a case of something that started with a D (chosen completely arbitrarily) and a medley of others to do a tasting at home. For some reason I thought this would be an option at the festival, but it wasn’t.

I got brave and had my first introduction to Delhi chaat (street food) when we got some Rajastani chaat for lunch; I don’t know what it’s called but it’s a pepper stuffed with potato and chutney, battered and fried. It was really good. Since a certain colleague wasn’t around to take an unflattering picture of me eating, I got someone else to do it for me.

The other day, I was eating a mango over the sink like the dish-dirtying averse slob that I am and I felt something drop on my foot. I thought it was a piece of mango (they’re slippery and drippy, ok?!) but when I looked down, it was a GECKO!! I’d like to point out that he found me this time; I didn’t step on him, he stepped on me. He’s little and cute. Here’s a pic; pardon my foot but I left it in the pic for reference of scale. He’s been quite active lately, flitting all over the floors and counters and under appliances.

I feel like I should update you on my work here and not just the fun and random stuff. Hang on to your seats… When my manager returned in mid-June, we had a week-long session with a consultant on developing our knowledge management strategy and becoming a knowledge organization. Here’s what’s happening: CARE India is currently a branch of CARE USA but has been moving towards becoming its own organization, a member of CARE International, for the last several years, and will become independent hopefully next year. I think. They’re referring to this as the “organizational evolution.” Right now, they’re basically operating as two organizations (and if you’re confused about this works, just think how they feel!). Along with this organizational change, the way CARE’s work is planned is also changing. They currently have over 30 discrete projects operating in 15 states across four sectors: health, education, livelihoods, and disaster response. Unfortunately, impact and outcome measures have indicated that this way of structuring the interventions is not actually leading to any lasting, sustainable change in the lives of girls and women. At the end of the projects, which are usually 3-5 years long, the project team withdraws and the community in which they were working often reverts back to the way they were before. There may be some improvement for some people, but not on the scale intended. It’s not for lack of foresight or lack of trying; the ownership of the project is handed over to the impact community and they are prepared for this as they are actively involved in the project management from the beginning, a lot of thought goes into the plan for project completion. At this stage the beneficiaries are ideally empowered enough to keep the work going on their own, and for a while, they do. But for some reason, it doesn’t last. Or the changes aren’t significant enough to really impact their lives. Consequently, the whole CARE organization is shifting from a project-oriented approach to a program-oriented approach. Other organizations like Oxfam and ChildFund are also doing this sort of thing and getting away from the projects. CARE will have programs targeted at specific impact groups which will run for 10-15 years. For CARE India, they will have two programs to start, one for scheduled tribes and one for scheduled castes (dalits) – eventually they will have one for urban poor too. Within these programs they want to focus on several themes, such as migration, gender, and natural resources management. Getting complicated already, right? Now, on top of this, CARE has decided they want to become a Knowledge Organization. What is this, you might ask? Being a Knowledge Organization is really a business philosophy which allows their people (known as Knowledge Workers) to share and leverage their knowledge to meet business objectives. This is usually linked with Organization Development or Organization Strategy and such in most companies and is often driven by a separate team or the Human Resources group because when we start to consider the people and their knowledge as THE key resource in an organization, Knowledge Organization becomes intrinsically linked to talent management, succession planning, etc. Here, though, HR is basically operational and doesn’t have anything to do with this culture shift. Instead, my department (Impact Measurement, sub-dept of Program Quality and Learning) is leading. There’s a lot of confusion about this, in general, and I don’t get the impression people are really looking forward to this change, partly due to job security reasons and also because they think it means more work. Last week, I started working on the content for the Program Approach microsite, but I’m basically working from scratch trying to come up with materials. There’s been a lot of talk about this for a while, but very little (and by that I mean pretty much nothing) has come out of this. The leadership team in their meetings has this way of stating what “needs to be” but no one really comes up with a plan, a path, or a solution. My manager wants me to create some “vibrancy” around this shift; we have to get people talking on the discussion boards and learning to think of themselves as Knowledge Workers, start networking more through the Learning Circles (Communities of Practice) which I’m helping set up, etc. This all ties in, eventually, with our Knowledge Management Strategy and how we really capture and capitalize on the knowledge that exists within the organization so it doesn’t get extinguished with the completion of a discrete project or leave when a colleague leaves the organization. Yes, it’s hugely convoluted and it’s taken me this long to realize that as much as I’m confused about what I’m supposed to be doing, I actually have a clearer picture than most of the CARE India colleagues. Organizational culture change is not my realm of expertise, but coming from Pfizer I do have the benefit of having seen first-hand how it’s done right. Pfizer colleagues, think of all the new initiatives that come out every year, like The Year of the Manager or OWN IT!. There is a lot of work that goes into those, but driving change takes a lot of cooperative effort and buy-in. Getting leadership onboard has been difficult too; people realize this is going to happen so they have to go along with it, but I don’t think they realize the advantages outweigh the initial costs so they’re not excited about it or anything. My position here makes this particularly difficult because people don’t know me, I’m new and an outsider from a completely different industry so sounding credible and convincing is more of a challenge.

Still reading? Wow, someone must be bored at work today if you’ve stuck with me this long! I’ll end the work discussion here. I have no upcoming field work since my scope has been changed in the last few weeks. I might get back to that community mobilization approach work later during my stint, but I don’t know for sure.

As you’ve perhaps noticed, my blog updates are becoming less frequent. The reason for this is that as I’ve become more settled, obviously there are fewer new, crazy, and wonderful (or not so wonderful) things that happen/that I see. I am still trying to get out and do things on the weekends, but some of it is really not going to be all that interesting; I mean, I don’t tell you all the stuff I do on my weekends at home because often it’s quite boring (went to the dog park, cooked something fun, did homework, read a book… who really needs to hear about this?). I have my school assignment due in approximately 7 weeks so I do have to knuckle down and actually do it, and I promise I won’t make you read about that. One person’s sufferance is enough when it comes to grant applications for childhood obesity interventions. I don’t have any long weekends here and travelling is difficult in terms of time needed, so other than the one trip we’ve planned for Kerala in August, I’m probably just going to be in Delhi for the next little while. I will continue to update so you know that I’m alive, just don’t expect anything too exciting. That said, I’m carrying my camera with me constantly now because when the flashflood happens, I want to show you!!

PMS

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The last little while, I’ve been really feeling the water retention. Not to mention the crankiness, headaches, irritability… yes, it’s that time: Pre-Monsoon Season. And it’s not just me. Check out the weather today.

Yes, you are reading that correctly. It’s 51˚C with the humidity. It just feels so thick outside, and from what I understand, it gets worse before it gets better. The monsoon starts in the south first and gradually works its way north. The humidity rises and rises as the low pressure front gets pushed up against the mountains until it finally breaks and Ta-Da! Monsoon rains! We’re expecting that to start in the next couple weeks and continue for the next few months. Mosquito-borne diseases are picking up, with 4 cases of dengue fever and over 60 cases of malaria so far this season in the city. I know it’s not many in terms of the population, but at least I can feel like I’m getting my Lariam’s worth now.

Want to see the fun we had on Friday?

Blowing sand (camera can’t quite capture it). Dust storms are pretty common here, it’s really crazy to see outside. Everyone has to bundle up with rags over their mouths and noses so they don’t choke. The sky takes on this really strange brownish orange haze and you can hear your doors and windows rattling as the dust blows in through the cracks. They’re calling for thunderstorms later this week; I can’t wait for that show. I’m a little worried about what the monsoons mean for work, though. Our office is on a downward sloping dirt side road with a big ditch between the road and the below-street-level entrance. Usually I can just hop down, but I have a feeling that even if the road doesn’t wash out completely, this will be more than a little drainage ditch to jump. We’re probably talking moat. And I’m wondering if the lower level is going to flood completely. CARE only relocated here in October of last year so this is the first monsoon season for this location. One of my colleagues is envisioning a lot of involuntary work-from-home.

For further proof that I’m not being a big Canadian baby, check out the news.

This weekend, I went out every night and basically hibernated during the day. On Friday, we went to a new French restaurant. It was gooooood… had escargot and tarte and canard and lots of good stuff. The next night we went to a South Indian place in Haus Khaz village and had paratha (flatbread) with a mushroom dish, pumpkin, pork, and some other meat which was also good, then yesterday went to a Ruby’s. I had Mexican. Yes, on Canada Day. I didn’t find out about the High Commission July 1st stuff until I got home that night, but it doesn’t look like I missed much, they just had a BBQ at 4:30 and that was it. So I figure enchiladas and Indian beer and Gordon Lightfoot on my iPod counts as a good way to embrace Canada’s multiculturalism from afar, eh? 🙂 Some of the other expat women here really dress to impress when we go out to restaurants. There’s no dress code, and everyone else is pretty casual, so I don’t think I’m totally inappropriate in my capris, loose tops and sandals. I don’t like being looked at anyways so why add to the spectacle by wearing a short, tight dress, right? It did start to occur to me though that perhaps not everyone divides their wardrobe into classifications of “Eating Pants” and “Other.”

 Lastly, Happy Canada Day!! Hope you are all enjoying your long weekend!