“You’re living in a place you left behind, going around in circles all the time, can see the way your head, it’s like your blind, so open your eyes and…time realigned just what you got, you fall asleep and then the moment’s gone, so open your eyes….You’re always looking over your shoulder.. Keane, Looking Back
Listening to my new favorite song by Keane and K’Naan, sitting in 1-A, my own private compartment with nobody else here, on yet, another delayed train, this time from Patna to Delhi. It’s 2:30 PM and I should have been in Delhi hours ago, but now hope to get in by 7 PM. The train was delayed to start with, should have left Patna at 7:10 PM, it finally got to the station at 9:30 PM on Platform two, instead of three, and we sat on the train until 10:35 PM when it finally left the station. Once the train left, the conductor looked at, what I thought was my 2A ticket, and said you’ve been upgraded. What joy, a big compartment, with only one other person, this is the way to travel.
I contrast all of this with poor Len, who left Patna around 8 PM, on a train that was due to take at least 40 hours, with no a/c, no fans, a sauna, and with no confirmed berth to herself. The train will most likely take more than two days. I can’t talk to Len because my phone has no rupees left. In retrospect she should have come to Delhi with me and then taken a train from there.
But, it’s India, expect the unexpected and be prepared for adventure, no matter where you are in this remarkable country. (We’re riding through very rural areas and I just spotted a dirt b-ball court).
Len and I have just spent a number of days together, co-facilitating workshops in Ranchi, Jarkhand and Patna, Bihar, two very poor states, somewhat politically unstable, with lots of poverty, and with Naxalites having a stronghold in many areas. Three other VSO pals-Efren, Manny and Mabel also attended the workshop in Ranchi and were actively involved. I have to say after doing so many solo workshops, it was great fun to have my VSO friends involved and adding to the workshop experience. I picked up a few exercise in Ranchi which I added to the Patna workshop, some more hands on activities that really helped to drive some points home regarding strategic planning.
I continue to love this work, and although I use power points, which I’m always revising, I’m constantly having to think on my feet, revising what I do based on the level of the participants, who might be co-facilitating with me and the necessity of translating what I’m saying into Hindi. (Now passing some mud huts, lots of green fields).
I keep thinking how there is so much more of India to see and experience, especially through the work that I’m doing, capacity building. I think about the moments of total happiness that I’ve experienced from the most seemingly mundane things and about living in “foreign” countries for the rest of my life and what this might mean for my relationships.
But, in reality, what is capacity building? I think about this a lot as it is at the core of what VSO volunteers do. I haven’t come to any final conclusions about this, but it is in some sense helping to build confidence in individuals so that they can take risks and think about how to expand their horizons. I not only encourage and motivate people to build their capacities, but in fact, I’m building my own capacities.
I do this through the openness that comes from the joy, sorrow, anger, grief, bliss of having lived 53+ years on this planet. As with anybody who has lived this long, my wounds run deep and I do, at times, experience this depth. But the fact of the matter is that the wounds have also helped me to come out of a “shell” that we all tend to build around ourselves, based on our life experiences.
In the capacity building workshops throughout India, more than 15 to date, I squirt just about anybody with my “holi” Nemo fish water gun, encourage people to do Bollywood dancing, ask people to stand and stretch and do the “lion”, all of the time watching others come out of their shells and engage in the work that we’re doing. Of course there are still those who don’t turn off their cell phones and have conversations while we’re working, totally ignoring everybody else in the workshop and I’ve actually taken some of those phones but haven’t had the guts to keep one yet.
All of this though is about building relationships, about laughing together, about sharing different ways of doing things. While in Ranchi and Patna, Len and I had conversations with at least four people, three of them women, about arranged marriages vs. love marriages. This goes so far below the surface of our skins and has helped me to see the complications and depth of this institution in India. (As I tend to do when I feel close to someone I hug many of the workshop participants when we part ways, because I feel a connection and I also know that I may never see these people again. Recently one woman sent me a text stating that this was the first time that a man had hugged and kissed her goodbye. She said that it was joy for her. How can we not part ways by showing our affections towards one another if this is the result?)
Helping others to develop, providing opportunities for others to build their capacities is something that we all do, and VSO has helped me to become more conscious of this. In many ways though I’ve always been doing this whether in my professional or personal life.