Good morning! (FYI, I'm 9.5 hours ahead of y'all...)
Not too long after e-mail “ondu” (one in Kannada!) I fell prey to my first bout of – and we don’t dance around the issue here – traveler’s diarrhea. (Why not grab your attention in line one with some vivid imagery?) Fortunately for me, my malady was a minor one, where I generally experienced just some serious nausea, headaches and a fever, but these issues were solved with some ORS (yech!!! Powder that does NOT dissolve completely and tastes more like a salty bitter orange than the Gatorade we were hoping for) for electrolyte replacement, Pepto (glad I went the pill route) and Advil. My roommate, Noelle, was in much worse condition than I, but we skipped day two of orientation together, sleeping nearly all day and all night; even so, it was nice to have the company.
Since we’ve all been invited to the wedding of the son of the founder (us and 1,500 others, in fact), many of us are on a mission to purchase a saree (assuming we can figure out how to put them on). As you may recall, my first attempt was thwarted when I mistakenly bought the wrong material (I didn’t know that was possible). I had better luck next time, at least to some extent. The sarees initially catching my attention were about $35-40 USD, which is really a rather large amount considering cheap ones are available for $8-20. Of course, the one I fell in love with was upwards of US $100, but I think I wisely chose to not make that my very first purchase. I wound up with a bright electric blue one, $22 or so. The employees at the store were very patient and helpful – the tailor down the street and up the windy stone stairs in a hot, cramped room? Not so much. There were about five people working there at the time, and I think I made their evening. I hadn’t the first idea as to how deep the neck should be, or the back, or the shape, or the length, or the sleeves… the list goes on. And instead of making attempts to help me understand, they mostly just laughed. I had a strong desire to shoot them looks of annoyance, but realizing my saree material was in their care, I refrained. I pick it up July 4 – should be interesting.
While I have not really been laughed at since here, I most certainly have been stared at. Many of the residents have never seen Caucasians, or at least very few of them, and they make no attempts to hide their curiosity. We do our best to blend in by wearing Indian clothing or articles that at least are of similar style, but I think our white skin is rather blinding. For women, while it is crucial that you cover your legs (longer capris are acceptable) and your chest, you are free to bare your arms, though most still at least wear sleeves. Men have been seen in all kinds – in only what Mother Nature gave him to button-up, collared shirts and pants. Dress and what is considered acceptable certainly vary by location.
It didn’t take us long to locate the only “American” food in town. Every hotel (restaurant) here is out of at least something on the menu, and Pizza Hut was no exception, but we were happy to indulge in some sticky, gooey cheese that wasn’t paneer (as scrumptious as paneer is, really). The menu included a picture for every dish, so the salads had us salivating but of course, they were out of all five. We ended up with a cheese, a veggie (they had more combinations of veggie pizza on this menu than I have ever seen at a pizza joint) and a chicken that tasted way too Indian for the point of the evening. After bite one, we knew then and there we’d be back on a regular basis. We also found a restaurant called Olive Garden (no relation to the chain in the states) that we were told had really good American grilled cheese –and they were right. You can even get it with veggies, which I found to be a welcome twist.
Lesley and I moved into our apartment last Monday I think it was. We had been really looking forward to getting out of the dorm and settled into a place where we could cook and unpack. Unfortunately, however, we’re still lacking gas (so we can’t use the little stove top they bought for us), nor do we have any dressers yet to unpack our clothes into, so things haven’t changed much. In fact, in some ways I think we’ve downgraded, as we now take cold showers and fight ants and roaches on a regular basis (though less so than that first night!) We took one night to buy the essentials, which included tape and a marker to label light switches, as there are fifty gazillion and some seem to do nothing at all. It took me a few days but I am now adjusted to the idea of a squatter (though we fortunately located a Western toilet connected to the room being shared by the two Indian fellows). The apartment overall seems like it’s going to be a good one, and it’s located in a nicer neighborhood, so I feel safe. The four of us girls live on the first floor of a home, and the landlord’s family lives on the second and third floors. Our first meeting with the landlord was not ideal, as it occurred around 10:15 pm after we were locked out (they had not yet given us the key to the outside gate, which supposedly was getting locked at 11:30pm – not quite) and had to rouse them from their beds. Our rickshaw driver was really sweet and hung around when he saw we couldn’t get in, so he and a little boy nearby started shouting something in Kannada to no avail, so the kid climbed our 9 ft gate or whatever and ran upstairs to knock on the door. And so we met the landlord.
I’m also starting to settle in more at work (and think I’ll feel much more able to really dig in once I’m totally settled at home). On Friday I had an incredibly informative meeting with a girl who has been there for about five months now, though she had worked for the DF for about eight months before even coming over. She’s here “indefinitely” as a staff member and was really able to clue me in on the structure of the organization, the hierarchy, who does what, etc. I now have a much clearer picture of my responsibilities and who I can approach for assistance or collaboration in different areas. So far I have been assisting a fair amount with the Deshpande Fellows program (the Indian fellows), helping grade papers and providing feedback on their English grammar as well as formatting memos, letters, flyers, reports, etc. Next week I’ll be meeting with Naveen about a social entrepreneurship course the Foundation plans to offer to college students at the various schools in Hubli and Dharwad and drawing up a course plan and resources for that. I’m also currently working on the recruitment aspect of the program, as we’ll have a new batch of about 30 fellows coming in in January. There have been instances of Taryn-as-office-girl, like when my boss’ wife (who is there only for the summer because she’s getting her PhD in the US) asked me to scan a bunch of materials that took me forever to do because the machine is slow and hooked up to someone else’s computer. I did not feel in a position to say no at the time, but if it keeps happening (and it might – she asked the tech guy to hook the scanner into my laptop instead, but I haven’t let him do it yet), something will have to be said. The people here do truly work hard. They may have four tea breaks a day, but someone serves us the tea (chai with tons of milk), but the tea is served to us, so no one really stops working. The hours are long and there always seems to be something last minute added into the “weekend” or evenings. Dibya (the co-worker I’ll probably work most closely with) called me one evening at 7:30pm for help with something, telling me she was still at the office. And the other night when I tried leaving at 6:15 (we start at 9:30am, my Kannada lessons are 8:30-9:30) I got roped into a staff meeting.
I also do miscellaneous tasks, some of which are more interesting than others and ALWAYS last minute. This weekend we had speakers join us on Saturday morning (it’s a work day!) to talk with the DF fellows about their experiences as a social entrepreneur, so I just made sure that students had questions to ask, that the room was ready, prepare a few minutes speech on the Sandbox Fellow program (which I thankfully did not have to deliver), etc. One speaker was N. R. Narayana Murthy, this seriously wealthy Indian man who apparently was recently considered as a candidate for president of India. The other speaker was a man who in a previous life had been a banker with Citibank but realized that his dream went beyond what he could achieve in that profession. He returned to India and started an NGO focused on a new approach to education, where all the learning is hands on. Ironically, while the students were initially most excited and nervous about N.M., they were so excited about the second speaker that they literally followed him out of the room asking him more questions after the Q&A period wrapped up. This man was very engaging and inspiring (and, lucky for me, had impeccable English, having lived in London). One of our fellows is placed at this NGO. Then just the other night I helped set up an event we’re having Sunday evening (allllso last minute). Basically, with all the bigwigs in town for the wedding, Desh wanted to take the opportunity to show them what the DF is accomplishing, specifically through the DF fellow program. Since I’m unique in that I’m both a Sandbox fellow and “on staff,” I helped organize the event, which is being held at the nicest hotel/restaurant in town, Hotel Naveen. So on Friday afternoon three other staff members and I took a taxi to the hotel to arrange the logistics – nothing is easy around here. With all these VIPs attending, we needed everything to be top notch. First, they put us in the wrong room, a room too small to really allow us to do what we wanted (serve dinner as well as socialize), plus it was ugly, with views out one window showcasing the parking lot and views out the other side virtually nonexistent (unless you count the tin roof with rotting coconuts). We also requested round tables (remember, networking going on here) that could seat 6-8, but they only had small plastic patio tables that sat four – MAX. Even that was going to be tight with all the plates you need for an Indian meal. They wouldn’t allow us to hang our posters anywhere (which Desh insisted on hanging – I’m in charge of that, which goes down this afternoon, so keep your fingers crossed) and they didn’t have any centerpieces for the tables. They claimed that they would even have to rent more round tables to make it work, and apparently nowhere has any round tables big enough to seat more than four. Tonight should be interesting.
Thanks to all those who wrote me back ... I'm getting to those! And I'll get some pictures going on my blog as well.