First day of the program has officially ended and I really can’t believe I made it. I’ve been in Chennai since the 4th and it feels like one long day with 2-3 hours naps in lieu of sleep. We have a great group of students and the group cohesion is solid. These students are fun, flexible, adaptive, and introspective. It has made my life easy.
During the day, India is an ocean of motion (hey that rhymes) and people, vehicles, and animals are bobbing and weaving through traffic and communicating with each other through honking, eye contact, honking, hand motions, and honking. (I recall as I’m writing this that I wrote about honking last time I was here). I feel my body tense up throughout the day (mostly when I am trying to cross the street) and my vigilance turns hyper whenever we are on busy streets. It’s as though everyone in India is saying “me first me first” and only looking out for themselves on the road (hmmmm). The familiar sight of families of four riding on one motorcycle resurfaces – Indian women in colorful flowing saris hold a small child in their arms whilst the older child is wedged between her and her husband. All the while she is sitting sideways on the bike while he leads them through the sea of vehicles – it’s effortless and beautiful. Here I am wincing every time we drive anywhere… makes me feel like an American wimp. It has been 2 years since I was last here and now I am back. My life is completely different now than it was then and I am here in a different capacity. Everything has changed. However, it feels like nothing has changed too. I woke up one of these mornings of this very long day (three days in one) and thought – wow, I am in India. And it does not feel like I am as far from home as I am. And although everything is foreign it doesn’t feel foreign. I cannot read the signs, I cannot speak the language, I cannot drive, I cannot use Indian toilets – yet I feel a sense of comfort. This morning, followed by my realization that I am, after all, in India, I thought – the world is so small. It’s like what Jason said the other night – the world feels like one city and the different countries are the different neighborhoods of the city I live in. It’s a wild feeling.
On another note – Indian women amaze me. Not only because I have fabulous friends who are Indian women but because they are so capable. Many Indian women living in India face oppressive forces characteristic of many cultures that endorse traditional gender roles, yet they are able to juggle and balance so much. Being here helps me understand my Indo-American women friends a bit more. We have heard several lectures by Indian women about their work – and I don’t mean just at work. These women work full time jobs teaching, developing and leading projects, conducting research, raising funds, then they go home and spend hours cooking meals and preparing meals for the next day, cleaning, attending to their children by spending hours helping them with their homework, and then take care of their husbands. Hay zeus – I am tired after just the work part. And on top of all that, getting things done in India is a feat. Schedules change constantly, people change their minds about their commitments constantly, people are communicating constantly to f/u and ensure previously set plans still exist – so working here definitely has a culture of its own.
I’ve had to learn to be flexible the past few days. The theme for this program has been “okay guys, there is a change in the schedule.” We’ve added in activities last minute and just as quickly cancelled others. Although there are sometimes complaints, all in all, it seems to be working out and people are adjusting to changes and being flexible. I think the benefit of just this experience in being flexible will be felt a great deal long after our return home.