Playing host


So…. Nothing much new here. Just posting so you all know I’m still alive.

Last week a HR person from CARE headquarters in Atlanta was here for a visit. She was actually one of my interviewers waaaaaay back last December and we’ve kept in touch since I got the position. Anyway, she was really nice and I was happy to finally meet her face-to-face. This was her first time visiting a developing country, and it was really interesting from my perspective to see someone else go through the initial shock phase, with all the “oh my GOD!” and “what was that?!” and covering her eyes in the rickshaw in preparation for certain vehicular death. She did really well, actually; and I think I took care of her pretty well too. You become pretty protective of newcomers; her hotel was only 1km away from my apartment but there was no way I was going to let her walk alone, or cross the street alone, or take a rickshaw alone. I was pretty sure CARE India would just leave her to her own devices to fend for herself, and sure enough, they did, so I wanted to make sure she had someone to take care of her a bit so she didn’t have to eat alone in her hotel every night.  It’s certainly what I would have wanted when I first came here. Talking to her was interesting too in that she revealed that a lot of the issues I’ve encountered here are actually systemic CARE issues rather than India issues (even the “taking care of visiting colleagues” part…). The lack of strong leadership and preference to operate by consensus rather than decisiveness (which doesn’t work when no one values decisiveness as a trait anyway), the “big clunkiness” of their operations, and difficulty with strategy are organization-wide, it seems. Working for a non-profit has been a big eye opener for me in a lot of ways. I think we have a tendency to think of NGOs and people who work in this sector as somehow more virtuous or something: it’s not true. Some people are just here because it’s their job, like in any other line of work. While many people are passionate about the issues, I’m sure, I don’t think that colleague engagement is particularly high here and I don’t think it’s a priority for the organization. I don’t feel that the staff has a strong sense of their corporate identity or is particularly attuned to their own work culture, and even though I’m well aware that my ideas of “productive work” are rather narrowly defined in the broad scheme, I do think CARE could demand more of their colleagues. Apparently my manager here told the HR colleague they’re very happy with my work here. I guess this is good, but I was honest and told her they need to raise their expectations a bit because I’m certainly capable of more. There just isn’t really any drive to excel. Is it the lack of a financial bottom line? I would think that the poorest and most vulnerable women and girls would be “bottom line” enough but it seems like we’re so removed from the field work that it’s difficult to translate that into day-to-day motivation. I understand that expectations in this line of work need to be realistic, social change doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes stamina to truly care about issues in the long term and I think there probably is a lot of fatigue and numbing that comes with this work because it can be pretty depressing. But then I wonder, can you be truly effective in this role if you’ve emotionally checked out? Where’s the balance between not being able to sleep at night because the world is such a sick, sad place and complete apathy? There must be a place for tempered optimism and hope, right? I know I’ve certainly wrestled with this, not just recently because I’m here, but ever since I started reading newspapers. I guess I’m just surprised I don’t hear anything about this at CARE when it seems like it would be an important consideration.

Last week a new colleague joined our Impact Measurement/Knowledge Management team. He’s a volunteer from a pharmaceutical company, like me, and will be here for three months. He’s a physician and is just the nicest guy, bringing extra homemade food for me for lunch, giving me ideas for things to do in Delhi, and offering up his wife’s kitchen instruction skills. He’s struggling with trying to understand how to form concrete objectives here and figuring out what exactly he’s supposed to do… Sound familiar? Anyway, I’m really looking forward to working with him and hopefully we’ll find a way to be corporate-style productive in this setting.

I’m sorry the tone of this post isn’t as positive as usual. I’m finding that I fluctuate between being pretty happy here and mildly irritated, and today is an irritation day. Some days I love the crazy rain, and other times the thought of wading through the muck disgusts me. Most of the time the traffic doesn’t bother me at all, and some days the deeply held belief here that honking in unison makes the light change faster really gets on my nerves. I’m also sick again, so that’s probably a big part of it. A lot of people are getting sick here, actually. I can’t believe how hard it is to stay healthy here, every time I’m doing well some bug decides that I’d make a good host and sets up residence. I’m fine, don’t worry; I’m just getting tired of rice and bananas!



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