More than just a pretty face

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Hope you enjoyed the long weekend and have some great turkey sandwiches for lunch today!

It’s been a busy few days since the 2010 GHFs arrived for a visit. Very interesting to see India through their eyes, meet their friends, and visit their old stomping grounds since the CARE office changed location from this swanky neighbourhood…

To this somewhat rougher area.

My driver can’t get down the street now, so we have to hike over these piles of rubble and jump the “moat” they’re building when the “drawbridge” (whatever door or post or plank they can find to lay down over the ditch) isn’t available. Fun times!

On Thursday night we went to Nizamuddin Dargah, which is the tomb of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin to see some live Sufi music, Qawwalis. To get there you have to go through the Nizamuddin bazaar, which is like a whole different world. I couldn’t really stop and take pictures because it was so crowded and we were trying to stick together, but all the shops are very close together, and we’re going through winding alleyways covered in awnings and tarps, upstairs, downstairs, having to duck under hanging drapes and climb over animals and children. The place was packed full of people and stalls – and this was at 9pm. When we got close to the dargah we left our shoes with a shopkeeper and came out of the bazaar to this:

There were tons of people there, even late at night. We walked around a bit, but women can’t go into the buildings so we just stayed in the courtyard area. We had been warned it could be crazy there once the music started, people can go into a frenzy and be overcome and you really have to watch yourself, but I guess it wasn’t the night for crazy. The music was beautiful though, and it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to see and hear from where we were sitting on the floor fairly close to the Quawwals.

On Sunday we met up with some other CARE colleagues who worked with our former Fellows for lunch, then went to a Kathak dance performance at Purana Qila, the oldest fort (mostly ruins now) in Delhi. It was a great backdrop for a beautiful performance. Kathak is one of eight forms of Indian classical dance; it comes from the North and has more Persian influence than some of the other Indian dance forms. It involves a lot of pirouettes, thought to be influenced by “whirling dervishes,” and demanding percussive footwork; the dancers wear many, many bells on their ankles to emphasis this. We weren’t able to get seats so we were standing in the back but it was only an hour long, so probably only lost 1lb in sweat and gained 20 bug bites :).

hard to get a good pic of the dancers while moving, but the castle looks nice!

It’s still hot here with daily highs in the mid-30s, if anyone was wondering. As I was making chapatti last night before bed, I thought that is one thing I will not miss about India: sweating in the kitchen. And the bugs – we had ants again yesterday and I’m getting drain moths coming up through the pipes in the kitchen and bathroom. I’m trying to decide whether to just deal with them or put mothballs in the drains like everyone else does and then try to deal with the smell of camphor in the house. I bet you Canadians still have that good turkey smell in your houses…

Work-wise, things are moving slowly, again. I’ve never had to push so hard for things to happen at work. I’ve been working on a couple presentations for the management here to try to describe the plan for implementing our Knowledge Management strategy and path for becoming a Knowledge organization. The thing that kinda gets me is that we had a consultant here waaaaaaay back in June who was facilitating these discussions in the office. We didn’t get the full report from him till August, and I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but it’s actually not finished, there’s some copyediting that wasn’t finalized, references missing, etc. The problem with this document is that it’s 17 pages long and doesn’t say anything useful about how to move forward, there’s just not much real content [CARE likes to hire former CARE colleagues as consultants, which is, IMHO, poor practice]. So when I’m making up this presentation for the leadership team, I’m basically making up the implementation plan as I go along. The Livelihoods Learning Circle is going nowhere. I can’t make people talk to each other. I laid out three options (make it happen, allow it to fail, delay until we get managers more onboard) and we still haven’t come to anything. I think we’re kinda doing all three (this presentation I’m working on for the managers, then force the LLC to happen – which I know it won’t – and allow to fail then hold up the failure as an example of what shouldn’t happen. I’ve reached the point where I have no problem using shame as a tool). It’s pretty clear to me that no one actually cares about this and I think this is a really good example of the importance of objectives, alignment, and strategy in an organization. I can think of no other place where it’s perfectly acceptable to go 4 months with zero progress on something to which upper management has already committed. There is so much wasted effort, starting, stalling, restarting… foresight and planning is so critical for an organization’s overall work plan and when you don’t have that, it’s really hard to convince people that something is a priority. Even when this same management team was the one who said it was a priority to start with! I mean, it wasn’t my idea to call CARE India a Knowledge Organization or try to turn them into one….

We went to a movie last night called Baraka. It’s 20 years old but it’s really good, I’d recommend it. I don’t really know how to describe it, it’s a photodocumentary with no plot, actors, or narration but has scenes of different religions, nature, people and cultures. Makes you want to travel a lot more when you see just how beautiful and interesting the world is. One thing I noticed though is for the Indian scenes (I’m thinking of the footage of Varanasi), while I still want to go there someday, I realize now that this interesting visual is just a small part of the experience. I think this is what has contributed to the West’s over-romanticization of India in some ways. You see all these people bathing in the waters, performing rituals, cremations, boats, cows, and can’t help but be fascinated by humanity and that whole collective conscious Life Is So Beautiful feeling. But then I’m trying to imagine what it would be to actually be there: surrounded by millions of people crushed up against you, the overwhelming smells, the cacophonic noise, the complete chaos, the heat, having to watch where you step, beggars hanging onto your clothes. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to go someday because that is the experience, but I think it almost becomes harder to appreciate the visual when the entire sensory experience is so overwhelming. It takes a long time to adjust, as I’ve found here. At first you can’t really “see” anything because the amount of processing required just isn’t possible. I guess this is why people take a lot of pictures, but I’ve never been a picture person, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I think for me, the visual experience isn’t always the thing I remember best or even want to remember best, it’s the whole experience of the presence with the sounds and smells and people and weather that I tend to want to look back on. And India has certainly provided its fair share of that experience :).

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