Time to go to office. Should I walk to the main road or try my luck just around the corner? There are less autos here, but on the main road they always have already passengers on. Either way, this time I won’t be ripped off! I will insist they use the meter and if they don’t, I’ll just walk away. Well, maybe I’ll agree if it’s just a little higher, say around 10 rupees. Ok, fine, no more than 20. Hmmm, maybe today I’ll make an exception.
This is how an ordinary day starts for me. No more biking or walking to office, like I used to do in Germany. Now the first challenge of my working day is actually making it to office! Finding an autorickshaw, haggling the price (or pretending to – after two years here, I am still terrible at this), hoping the auto’s engine won’t stall in the middle of the road with buses speeding on both sides and that the brakes will hold all the way and we will not have to ‘gently’ slam against a sidewalk to stop. But today I only have to wait five minutes, the auto driver puts on the meter without any fuss and we do not get stuck in a traffic jam: it’s a good day!
The difference of India
When people ask me “How is India?” I normally respond “Different”. How can you otherwise describe in few words the emotional, mental and at times physical roller-coaster you go through each day? You never know what will happen today; this is why it makes very little sense to worry about tomorrow. For someone working well within structures, timelines, plans and logic, India has undoubtedly been a challenge. But it is also a never-ending source of awe and inspiration! For every small (or big) thing that annoys, upsets or at times even outrages me, there are twice as many that thrill me, move me, fascinate me. Every day something extraordinary happens, that opens my eyes, my mind or my heart.
Working in India – My job as Communication Officer
Living in India is a continuous learning process and this is also the part that I like the most about my job as Communication Officer at Welthungerhilfe in Delhi. Every day I go back home having learnt something different, having discovered something new, having unveiled some more beauty. It can be because I do the final quality check of a video on Vocational Education and Training that we have just produced, and I get to hear the story of a farmer in West Bengal who, having now a stable income from the organic vegetables he has learnt to grow, wants to send his children to school – they will help in the farm if they have time but he wants them to get an education first. It can be because I proofread a baseline study focusing on governance in Jharkhand: I had no idea there were still villages with such a high poverty or illiteracy rate! No toilets at home, often not even at school…and I complain because sometimes there are power cuts in my flat? Very often households in these areas are not aware of existing government programmes targeted specifically at them, so our project will try to fill this gap. Or it can be because I revised the Facilitation Guide on Linking Agriculture, Natural Resources Management and Nutrition: did you know that by collecting and storing uncultivated food, mothers can provide a rich source of food security and diversity and help reduce their children’s malnutrition? Amazing!
Living and working in a city full of extremes
So, yes, knowing that breathing Delhi’s air is like smoking 20 cigarettes a day bothers me. Not being able to move around as easily as I was used to and being resigned to spend one hour stuck in a traffic jam to just cover 10 km is a pain in the neck. And, of course, above all I resent the fact that, as a woman in Delhi (which is a city full of extremes), I need to constantly be ‘on alert’ and I have to plan my day around some basic safety rules. I am still struggling with what I perceive as a limitation of the freedom that I, as a Western woman, have always taken for granted while in Europe. I am however definitely very aware now of how lucky I have been so far in my life, as what I am currently experiencing is how millions of women around the world live daily.
But, hey, I discovered a Swiss bakery and they make pretzels!! And I now order organic veggies to be delivered straight to my house. I have at least three favourite pizza places in Delhi and I just found out that we have an espresso machine in the office! Swaroop, our irreplaceable office attendant, brings me chai every morning and my colleagues go out of their way to help me out and make me feel at home – sometimes they forget I am a foreigner, and I do too. So all is good….
And in the end, when I need a ‘reality-check’, I just need to focus on my work, which helps me put my ‘difficulties’ into perspective. Through it, I find constant sources of inspiration and motivation, drawing it from people who, despite their difficulties, are full of resources, strength and even optimism.. Welthungerhilfe, together with our partners, is making a difference here, and I am part of it, so no matter how my day goes, I still go back home feeling that it was worth it.
Now it’s time to leave office. Shall I go all the way to the other side of the road or try my luck in front of the office? At this time most autos will be full.. For sure today I will not give in! “Bhaia, aap meter istamal kariye!” (“Good sir – literally: brother – please put the meter on”). At the most I will give him 10 Rs more than the meter price. Ok maybe 20….Hmmm, maybe today I’ll make an exception.