Sunday, July 26, 2009

Building partnerwebs from oceans and trees

The new batch of volunteers has arrived. It makes me wonder what I was like when I first arrived. I met them last night for dinner in a place called Defense Colony. Had a wonderful Thai meal with tofu!

My work colleagues have really warmed up to me and I seem to be one of the group as I’m working with a number of them on numerous projects. We all seem to be able to laugh together, overcoming any cultural differences. I eat lunch as often as possible with a group of 5 or 6 people, mainly women, all of us sharing the food that we brought from home. This makes it possible for me to continue to eat a variety of home cooked Indian food, which I do truly treasure. Onky was visiting this past weekend and so I had a number of home cooked meals at his Aunt and Uncle’s house, which is always awesome!

I know that I’ve become much more assertive in India and I think that this will be beneficial to me wherever I end up next. This is not in any sense a mean assertiveness, but more of a, “I’m not going to be pushed around”. You just have to whether it’s dealing with the drivers or getting out of the metro at Rajiv Chowk, getting onto a bus, walking home from Dabri crossing. You just do it or else you get pushed aside. Now, of course there are times, such as when I get on the metro, when I just wait for the mass of people to come out before I get on. This makes sense to me, as opposed to trying to push my way onto to the metro when masses of people are getting off.

Let me say a few words about the auto rickshaw drivers. Because I don’t look Indian, my general assumption is that the price that I will be quoted will always be at least double. Yes, one can ask to use the meter, but often the meter “is not working”. This, of course, is illegal, but with the number of autos in India, this cannot readily be enforced. I use the autos all of the time because the metro is not as extensive as it will be by the end of 2010. I typically take the metro to a stop called “Central Secretariat” and then find an auto. Now if one is in a tourist location, such as Dellihut, one can be prepared for the price to be even more exorbitant.

I used to bargain very “nicely” and this often worked. But now if I am quoted a very high price I very forcefully look the auto driver in the eye and tell him that I do live here and that his price is way out of line. I also tell them that it is not nice to charge so much. Do they understand what I’m saying? Most likely not, but I think that they get the fact that I am somewhat angry about this. Of course, this is very temporary, maybe a show, because I always laugh to myself after this. Never-the-less, I’m done taking nonsense from these guys. But, of course last night the auto driver told me that he was charging the night fee, because it was 10:30 or. I paid 50% above the meter price and he still wanted more. I’m also coming just to pay the guys and walk away even if they want more.

I continually have to remind myself that I’ve only been here since mid-March in the sense that I expect things to be further developed for me in terms of new friends. It is happening, as I become more assertive. One of my new friends Monique recently brought me to dinner at some of her embassy friends. I literally thought that I wasn’t in India given the house and the dinner menu-lasagna, cheesecake, salad, French bread. Of course one can get all of these things in India but as a volunteer I don’t generally look for or see this stuff. It is a very different life, but we are all doing development work from different perspectives.

It will be quite interesting for me to see more of this as I stay here longer, i.e. the differences between VSO or my own type of development work, and as an example, the American government. I can be very creative in my job, have no real script to attune to as I’m building capacity. There is no real party line except that of helping out the NGOs that we partner with. For example I can ask the people that I will be teaching to “create a universe” in thinking about a case statement for a fundraising plan or ask them to draw “monsters” for the threats to their agency as part of a S(trengths) W(eaknesses) O(pportunities) T(hreats) analysis. It will be fun and hopefully they will learn, building organizational capacity.

I’m guided by a humanness, a wanting to connect to others through work fun. There is also the entire other side, of me learning so much from these people who have opened up their hearts and their head to what I might offer. It is so much fun for me, just to be in this environment and I’m loving each day, as they seem to pass so very quickly, no matter what I’m doing.

Last week I was able to do a workshop for the National Trust staff and they were laughing and really enjoying themselves as they drew rock and fishes and birds and trees. While they were having fun and they were also able to talk about what was going on their work lives, which is what I was trying to get to. I now have a better understanding of what individual employees are doing and some of their concerns.

This next week I’m leading a workshop called, “Building partnerwebs from the ocean and trees”. Oh and don’t forget the “Networking Jungle”, down at the waterhole, of course. What does this all mean-it mean taking dust, rain, cows, swimming pigs, kites, mangoes, lot of flies, more dust, mud, smiling faces, lots of sweat and lots of water, basketballs and lots of fun and creating an entirely different world. It’s not fantasy, it’s India. .

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Love for the Game/Love for Life

Is it possible to "love" something other than a person so much, that one just cannot wait to be doing it? It is and it has happened for me with basketball in every aspect of the game. It just so happens that this "love affair" with basketball has blossomed, in of all places, New Delhi, India. It started with a connection to the American Embassy and the YMCA, both in New Delhi, and has grown by leaps and bounds into a full fledged "love affair". The feeling that I get from b-ball is pure joy, at all times, nothing less, total focus on the beauty of the game, and therefore there is nothing else, when I'm involved with it.

Strange? No, not really. It is all about the dance, the team work, the knowledge of the five people on the court and those on the bench being so connected that they could close their eyes and make a perfect pass to a teammate for a layup. It is about the joy of understanding how this is more than a game, how this is a lifestyle. Do we live as individuals? Yes, at times, but more often we live as part of a team, as part of a community. A well executed fast-break or a pass in the triangle offense that leads to two points, shows how we all can cooperate with one another, in fact, it is the only way to truly get along. Yes, egos play a large part in the professional sport, but as recently demonstrated, even with the skills of a Kobe Bryant, one has to play as a team to "win", to be at the very apex.

But basketball is more than winning a championship, it is about the smiles that readily appear on the faces of the Indian children that I've been coaching at the YMCA for the past three months. When they see me, prior to starting playing, they appear with a large smile and slap me a high 5, knowing that yes, this will be tough, as I make sure that we run a bit, but also knowing that for the next 1.5 hours we are going to have some great fun. The game at the Y is about children coming out of their shells and starting to find love for a lifestyle. I actually am seeing the 7-18 year old boys and girls starting to understand the rhythym and heartbeat of the game. I spend a lot of time talking to the children, espousing my love and what they can do to stay in shape for their entire lives, about the exercise and eating right that is needed to continue to live a healthy life. They respond with "yes, sir" and I constantly remind them to call me "Mike" which some are actually starting to do.

The Indian game has a tendency towards a "one on one" type of play with the best players gettting the rebound and sizzling downcourt, with no regard to teammates. However, this past Saturday, one of the boys, who really does have the skills, was slowing it down, setting up his offense, understanding the fact that he was part of a team. I "force" the boys and girls to be on teams together, always considering gender issues. It is slowly starting to work. I "force" the children to develop leadership skills by having them form their own teams. It is not something that comes too easily, but it is happening.

I've found that I do care, that if we are to play, to love, there are so many methods to consider. All that I can do is bring my love, my passion for this sport, way of life, to a few children in New Delhi. What else can I really do as the love is just bursting forth from me and has to get out.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4, 2009
American independence day and I’m in New Delhi. There will be a celebration at the US Embassy and if I’m up to it, I’ll go. I’ve gotten my first real cold in India so I’m just not sure at this point. Regardless,

I’m in love with India! Why might you ask would this be the case, after all, it’s hot and humid, dusty, there is little regard to sanitation, the pollution can be overwhelming, the number of people, especially on the buses and metro, at times, is much too crowded.

These things though are all part of the magic of India. As one looks beyond the things that might be seen as negatives, one can see so much to be in love with. It can be as simple as the walk on my way home where I stop at any number of roasted corn sellers, where for the equivalent of 10 cents I can get a freshly roasted corn, smothered in salt and fresh lime. Children are the main sellers of the roasted corn, over a small, jerry rigged stove, with a few coals. The constant fanning keeps the coals hot, while the corn roaster turns the corn to make it just so.

How about the multitude of doors and windows that keep opening through my job. Every meeting that I have, every person that I meet presents another opportunity for me. I never felt this way in the States, but maybe I wasn’t as conscious of this. I constantly talk about partnerships and others shake their head yes. Maybe there is some caution, but through my persistent nature, I’m getting people to sit down together and dialogue. I wanted a challenge, a job where I could help to make an impact, something on an international level. This job is proving to be all that I had hoped. It is so much helped by my two bosses, who have been so incredibly supported, so open to seeing the possibilities. I love my colleagues and their willingness to share their lunch with me, their willingness to help me to succeed, even though they might not totally understand what I’m doing. I’m so in love with my job, it is so much fun, so much work, but it is so worth it.

I’m so in love with coaching basketball at the YMCA-New Delhi. The children have totally opened up to me, laugh at my silliness, seek me out for guidance and totally ignore what I’m saying. They tell me this is the India way to play b-ball and they are not afraid to give their opinions. I’m working on trying to create leadership and getting boys and girls to be on a comparable level. I’m making some progress on both fronts, but it is slow. I’m learning more about basketball, one of my great loves in life, as I teach the children the basics. I so love when the children get something, a good bounce pass, keeping their heads up when they dribble, moving their feet on defense. I know that one day a week for me for this exercise is not enough but it will do as I feel the connections.

I love my flat and the family that owns it. They have opened up their house and their hearts to me, except for the Great Dane, Great, who refused to get to know me. The flat is so lovely and the owners just keep doing more to improve it, to make it more comfortable. I adore the children that live here, they are so incredibly fun and sweet and have gotten used to me, are no longer shy with me. In fact they will come up and hang out. Last night I was watching a download of the 2nd half of the Lakers-Magic game 5 and one of the brothers came up and just started watching with me. Whenever else could I say that I watched an NBA game on the third floor veranda of a New Delhi flat with an Indian? I love the fact that when I wash my clothes I do it in a bucket and then hang the clothes out to dry. How much less energy am I using now that I live in India? I don’t drive a car, I do use an a/c at times in the evening, but that’s about it. I’ve somehow become much more responsible in my energy consumption.

I’m in love with the little things, with the metro and the many people that I’ve met while traveling on this at times sardine like public transportation mode, with the rickshaw drivers who always try to say that their meters are not working, that they are giving me a good deal, with the cows and dogs who are omni-present, no matter where I go in Delhi, with the buildings that are always covered in dust, with the weather, which makes me sweat like I’ve never sweated before in my life, with the fresh fruits and veggies that I eat on a regular basis, keeping my body healthy. I’m in love with it all.