Yesterday was our first day in the town of Bhimavaram and we set out on a “warm-up” interactive team exercise: a “scavenger hunt”, including capturing photos of quintessential Indian experiences such as bartering in the market and riding a bicycle rickshaw, gathering evidence/artifacts of social problems and solutions, and interviewing the locals to practice our primary research skills. Fewer people speak English in the rural areas, so Mike and I were paired with our “interpreter” who was a former school headmaster provided to translate the Telugu spoken language. Our experience with the interpreter created some personal frustrations since he seemed to have a well-meaning but misguided tour guide attitude, wanting to be the host and curator of our experience as opposed to our safety net if we needed assistance. In this type of situation, I find myself tending to take a backseat instead of asserting myself, and I ended up feeling somewhat coddled and even slightly bored. Combine this with the fact that I’ve been having moments here when we are in our guest house rooms or in the classroom, surrounded by the familiar faces of my cohort, I feel as if I could be anywhere in the world, and I forget we are in India . This morning I had the realization that my serious case of detachment can only be blamed upon myself: our guides/hosts are here to make us feel as welcome and comfortable as possible, and I am the one responsible to push myself to feel challenged, to learn, to work on my leadership development competencies, and to have the sort of experience that I have apparently been expecting to have happen to me.
The team, accompanied by the Byrraju staff, spent the morning in Bhimavaram City and the afternoon in a nearby village.
I’m a firm believer in experiential learning to anchor theoretical knowledge; a big shocker since I’m India. One of our required readings, Out of Poverty by Paul Polak, offers 12 “practical solutions to poverty” which include:
- Go to where the action is.
- Talk to people who have the problem and listen to what they have to say.
Sounds a lot like experiential learning, doesn’t it?
In my opening post, I talked about perceptual lenses and the importance of being mindful of them. Despite that awareness and the intent to be watchful, it took being out in the field to realize I was still looking through the the lens of my own context.
One of our survey questions was “If you were to dream of a much better life, what would that life look like?” I found the scale of dreams in the responses to be surprisingly small compared to what I realized later that I had been expecting. The rikshawala (rikshaw driver) we spoke to, for example, didn’t want to do anything else but keep pulling rikshaw for the rest of his life. Another person who had a water buffalo that produced income-generating milk, would have liked another water buffalo.
Try as I might, I could not get away from my own cultural context, expectations and assumptions. Perhaps it’s a function of the lifetime exposure to the halo effect of the American Dream. The underlying question I’ll be thinking about in the days to come is who decides whether the dreams expressed by these people are either appropriate or self-limiting?