Almost there - Almost to NGO land

Kanniyakumari Travel Blog

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View from the Tip of India

Kerala

I was going to be working in Madurai, but instead was flying with Cynthia back to Trivandrum for a meeting in Kannyakumari.  Kannyakumari is a beach town at the southern tip of India.   It is home to 3 seas, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal.  In its own ironic way �" India worked her magic.  When I was I Kovalam, I opted out of the 4 hour bus ride to Kanyakumari because I wanted to relax on the beach.  Now my first stop on the new phase was Kanyakumari… 

 

 

On the way though, we stopped to pay respects at a coworker’s mother’s funeral.

  It was a few hour detour, but was much appreciated.  I sipped black tea while we sat quietly on the porch.  I said I was very sorry to hear about the loss, but it must have looked strange to see a white person, a stranger, at a rural Indian funeral. Needless to say, no photos. 

 

I was tired, another 14 hour travel day, and dozed the last few hours in car.  When I was a baby and couldn’t sleep, my parents put me in the car and drove me around the block to put me to sleep. I blame that conditioning on my current vehicle-narcolepsy.  Whenever I’m in a car, boat, plane, train, and occasional motorcycle, I fall asleep.  So again, struggling stay awake, I relented and passed out. 

 

I woke up just before Kanyakumari.

On the feet of Swami Vivekananda.
  We checked into the hotel, met my roommate, Leo, and relaxed before a strategy meeting the next day.  I was not very excited about another meeting; I just came from 4 days of meetings. But I figured, I could fake it through another few 8 hour meetings.  But I was very mistaken by 1. Being able to fake it through the meeting; and 2. For thinking the meeting was going to be 8 hours long.  In fact the meetings began at 9:00 and ended sometime between 3:00 and 7:00 a.m.  This was the biannual strategy meeting and the future of the NGO was being deliberated by all the senior staff.  Everyone was Indian, from all over the country, and they all spoke in acronyms.  So the director of the IHRE talked, followed by the CHRM.  Eventually, over the next few days, everything began to make sense, or I was so delirious that I thought it did.
 

 

The next day I met Henri.  Henri is the Executive Director of the NGO, my supervisor, and Cynthia’s husband.  He is a man of great stature…he’s 6’4.  He has a commanding voice, a keen eye for detail and analytic dissection, and when he sees something he disapproves of �" he lights into it with a thundering voice, some belittlement, and constructive criticism.  I initially was very surprised and taken back.  I though, shit! This is going be my supervisor, I hope I don’t screw up!  But I soon realized that he did not act out of malice, he just expects everyone to give 100%.  He isn’t angry, just passionate.  Henri warmly welcomed me to the NGO with a huge bear hug.  I will learn a lot from Henri and this organization, and I really hope I can endure his wrath should it befall me.

Tea break during our marathon meetings. Salma, Manohar, and Anitha
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I attended the strategy meeting for 3 long days.  There were approximately 50 people there.  I tried desperately to remember everyone’s name, but by the end, everyone started looking alike.  They all wore similar haircuts and mustaches.  I took to writing down the names in my journal, my personal cheat sheet.  I met the interns working at the NGO �" Riskhan, Jihvantha, Yosodara, and Salma.  They have since become my closest acquaintences.  Anitha and Ananth are staff, but also part of our little group.   The meetings were held mostly in English, but some Tamil also. I required a translator for the Tamil.  I also quickly realized that no one understood my English…which is really strange because I thought I spoke it relatively well.

Where is Waldo? Anitha, Salma, Yoshodora, Jeevanta
 

 

By the end of the third day, the end of the strategy meeting, I was wiped.  I already had pulled an all-nighter, was running on an average of 4 hours of sleep/night, still living out my bag, had not done wash since before Mumbai.  That’s when I learned that the planning meetings were beginning the next day… Another 3 days of grueling meetings putting together concept and program plans for the next 6 months and the NGOs plan to go national. 

 

Long nights blended together as I stole sleep on the floor cot while my other two roommates took the bed.  It was my choice.  I was really hoping to get some yoga in, but lack of sleep and crowded room was…unsuitable.

Boat ride, safety first.
  But the long hours helped me begin to form some good friendships with my future coworkers.


The interns were given a reprieve for one day, and we took advantage by going to the Vivekananda Statue and temple off shore.  A short boat ride, in the rain, and we were there.  For a few hours we played and explored, before jumping back into meetings.  But made for some good photos and a much needed  break.

 

Valentines Day fell during the meetings.  It’s not a big holiday here, and so meetings carried on as usual.  One thing that always struck me as a bit…”weird” (not that it’s culturally correct to say such things) is the male to male affection. One hardly ever sees a man and women hold hands in public, certainly never hug, and kissing, well that is reserved for Bollywood movies and fantasy.

With my new family: Me, Yoshodora, Riskhan, Anitha, Ananth
  But men to men affection is common.  Men hold hands, walk arm in arm, arm over the shoulder, hug �" its all OK; and sign of brotherhood.  So as I met my new friends and was walking to get some tea, I was surprised when my friend Ananth grabbed my hand.  “OK”, I thought to myself, put your preconceptions aside, and take the sign friendship.  I cupped my hand, and held his leaving that little pocket of air (and space) between us.  That lasted for a moment, then he turned his hand, interlaced his fingers, and just like that, I was walking hand in hand with my first man on Valentines Day.  And I thought I wouldn’t have a date!  This is a common form of expression and friendship, and as I’ve been here, it’s become more common, and more comfortable.  But, to make me feel at home, the NGO got together and whipped up an impromptu Valentines Day party.
Marathon Meeting
  No one believed me when I told them that in the U.S. we celebrate by lighting a beach bonfire and skinny-dipping.   We had cake and lollipops.  Couples got to go first, but even the engaged couple was embarrassed to take cake together �" it’s just like that.  So there was one couple, and the rest of us singles eating cake.  The sentiment was so warm though, and we all enjoyed our little break before diving back into work. 

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View from the Tip of India
View from the Tip of India
On the feet of Swami Vivekananda.
On the feet of Swami Vivekananda.
Tea break during our marathon meet…
Tea break during our marathon mee…
Where is Waldo?  Anitha, Salma, Yo…
Where is Waldo? Anitha, Salma, Y…
Boat ride, safety first.
Boat ride, safety first.
With my new family:  Me, Yoshodora…
With my new family: Me, Yoshodor…
Marathon Meeting
Marathon Meeting
Convention of Advocates
Convention of Advocates
Anitha, Salma, Riskhan
Anitha, Salma, Riskhan
Kanniyakumari
photo by: jasonhoffman