"how to start, from where?". a colleague said this sentence to me in response to one of many questions i had about the field, and it has been stuck in my head ever since. i have been in india for five weeks now, and this phrase very accurately describes almost every part of my time in india so far -- how to tackle my to-do lists, how to tackle housing, how to tackle keeping in touch with the people i love.... and how to explain what i've been up to. here is my attempt:
1) in my first three weeks, i met with eight organizations in total. i went to the field with some and had formal interviews with some. it was at times insanely hectic, and at other times insanely stressful in terms of how to prioritize all the orgs. i have had a great deal of difficulty figuring out which options are the "best" ones, since i came to india with a specific career goal in mind. all eight are doing great work, but i finally narrowed it down to three. if you've spoken with me in the last month, you'll know that all 3 have captured my interest for entirely different reasons... and i finally decided that it might be best to aim to work with all 3 before i leave india. i'm going to stay open and flexible; who knows how things might change!
2) i started work last week. it was lightning fast! if you know anything about the indian pace of doing things, i was lucky enough to even have 8 orgs agree to meet / interview me. to then receive a contract and a start date of 2 days later was even more surprising! in the most pleasant way :) the organization i'm currently working for provides prevention, care and support services for HIV/AIDS in the state of Karnataka. it is _exactly_ the area of work i came to india in search of: access to care for infectious disease. i have not yet figured out a succinct way to explain the work i'm doing specifically, so if you're interested in those details holler and i'll try and share!
3) most people start their jobs by reading training manuals and familiarizing themselves with the org (read: swimming through piles of documents prepared for "training purposes"). in a rather unconventional move, i spent my first 4 days on a strategy and teambuilding retreat. it was a strange experience, in that it was essentially a vacation with strangers... but strangers that i would then be working with. rather bizarre! luckily, it ended up being an exceptionally amazing experience. we started by attending a meeting with all the NGO partners of our org, which was taking place in Mysore. we then headed to a Karnatak hillside station -- Coorg. there was hiking and waterfalls and laughter.... and whisky. there were also substantial discussions about how to shape our unit and our work, and i must admit that the gravity of the challenges within this field feels daunting. by the end of the second day, my head was buzzing and perhaps even a mild frustration kicked in at some of the more social, cultural barriers we're facing. nevertheless, the retreat was an exceptional bonding experience. in a team of 8, it can easily be expected that there will be at least one person whose personality doesn't mesh with yours, or whose ideas are harder for you to grasp, or some such minor complication. if all the things leading up to this job haven't been lucky enough, i have also been extremely fortunate to find a GREAT team. all 8 individuals are really quite fabulous people. for those of you who have spent an entire weekend with a bunch of Konks and then experienced the withdrawal (and email threads lamenting the withdrawal) thereafter, you'll understand the level of fun we had in Coorg -- i was in similar withdrawal when i returned! with the email threads to match. and from 4 days with complete strangers. how lucky can one girl get? :)
4) clearly, i love my co-workers. i'm part of 2 units, and i spent most of last week with one, and most of this week with the other. they are truly all amazing, giving, caring humans and it is a great atmosphere to be immersed in. in case it's not abundantly clear, i love my job. not only are the people inspiring, it is an indescribable feeling to be using all of my past experiences for the exact cause i was aiming to use them -- all my schooling, past employment, my interests.... they are all playing their part now, and in a more useful way than i'd realized. the only word i can think of is exhilaration.
that said, the travel is insaaaane. i was in Chikaballapur yesterday, and headed back to the villages again today. i'm off to Hassan again on monday, and then Mysore, and then either a week-long conference or Mangalore. the point is, i travel a LOT. so in addition to my poor keeping-in-touch habits and shoddy internet connection.... i am spending a lot of time travelling / exhausted from travelling :)
f-i-v-e) i am going flathunting this weekend! my grandparents have been kind enough to put up with me for the last month (hahaha, that is a play on words since the phrase "putting up" in India refers to where you're living). the major downsides of this arrangement are that my place of employment could not possibly be farther from where they live, and i am constantly increasing their stress levels by staying here. the upsides are that i'm getting an insane amount of time with my grandparents (who were the primary reason i came here instead of delhi), i'm learning an insane amount about our family through stories they've been telling me from the past, and i'm basically being pampered every second of my day. we'll see how it pans out, but for now i think getting my own flat is a way to minimize the stress i cause and the work i create simply by living here, and yet still be close enough to visit frequently!
the area i'm hoping to live in really makes me smile every time i think of it. it is full of large trees and pretty parks and flats. perhaps best of all, its residents do not feel menacing in the slightest. because i want to live alone, i'm paying more attention to my comfort level in potential areas (specifically with the men) than the flats themselves. B'lore is developed enough to have decent flats in almost any area, but the most important aspect to me is to be in an area that i will feel comfortable being on my own doorstep as a female. i think i have found such an area, that is also roughly equidistant from my workplace and my grandparents, and my fingers are crossed to find a flat within my budget this weekend :)
i have so much more to say, but i can already hear MRK screaming about the length of this post. i will write a more thoughtful post soon. for now, please please please bear with me for taking so long to respond to emails and phone calls and text msgs. i have a long weekend coming up, and i intend to use it to catch up on my sleep and my nearest and dearest. love you to all.... and Happy Easter / Passover!