A Volunteer’s Adventures Part Three: A Day in the Life

In addition to learning thousands of things about water and sanitation, I am also having the greatest time learning about Indian office life and sipping chai about six times a day! I usually wake up around seven to the lovely sound of water buffalo and goats cruising along on the road outside my window. I cart the water for a bucket bath from a tap in the center of campus back to my room- barely understanding the burden of hauling it from miles away and increasingly more impressed at how so many Indian women can carry these vessels all those miles on their heads while also gracefully holding up saris! Even though my task is so small, I am keenly aware that this is something I would have never had to do back home and it is giving me the slightest insight into life for so much of the world.
My room in the guest house is about ten minutes from the main office and dining hall. Breakfast is served by the wonderful cook we call, Na Na, around 8:30 – usually puri or idlly, but sometimes my favorite, opma or the odd choice, chowmein with ketchup (this is something most people back home would really never eat in combination let alone for breakfast!). The work day then officially starts at nine. I somehow scored a great little office on the second floor overlooking the courtyard in the center of the main building. There is even a little pond in the center with a turtle swimming around.
Everyday at ten, the lovely office employee, Joyo, brings little cups of chai to all of us at our desks and consequently ten might be my favorite time of morning!

When I’m not drinking tea, I am poking around the PWX site, exploring the different features, thinking of ways to make things easier or more understandable, and sorting out what Gram Vikas already has uploaded to the site and what else needs to be. Much of my time has been devoted to talking to different people in the office trying to locate records on different computers or actual hard copies of information for various projects on the site. I’ve been focusing on getting my hands on some interviews, videos, and photos to try to bring the sites alive and show the life of villages with or without water and sanitation. Collecting all of this information has proven a bit tricky since it isn’t always centrally located or accessible, and so my goal is to use PWX to add another element of organization and a fuller picture of projects for a non-profit that has really done some amazing work and has a lot to showcase to the world.
In addition to updating the Gram Vikas projects on the site and the welcome interruptions of chai, I spent a few days working on a water award application for Gram Vikas. Again throughout the project I learned more and more about this organization’s practices and other WASH systems for rural development, but I was also introduced to a British/Indian form of English quite unlike my native American English. For an English major with a mother who is a professional proofreader, this was quite a task! Words like “whomsoever” and “alongwith” seemed as foreign to me as the little chili peppers I picked out of my meals. Naturally I had to edit for British spellings throughout as well – in American English we write, “feces” while in British English the same word is spelled “faeces.” There are little sayings too that still confuse me: “fill up an application,” “go to office,” and “I’ve been in my home,” – those tricky prepositions always switching with different forms of the confusing English language! Many other parts from grammatical intricacies to crores and commas were different as well so in addition to picking up bits of Oriya, I’m really happy to have discovered this new form of English.

Besides punctuation and pronunciation differences, there are many office customs here that differ from the American offices I’ve worked in. There are, of course, the 10am and 4pm daily chai breaks which I have already explained my new love for, but other office practices are taking some getting used to for me. For instance, as an American woman shaking hands is always a little confusing for me, sometimes in certain offices we wear shoes and sometimes it is customary to leave them by the door, and here people always take lunch breaks whereas back home lunch usually meant shoving something down in front of your computer screen – these are just some of the quirky little differences in the day-to-day functions of an office in a new place. Then there are the power outages that remind me again that I am indeed out here in a village! They happen several times throughout the work day, and now I’m so used to them that when the power flicks off I just keep working away until the internet cuts out and then I read for a minute until it all comes flashing back on and we can start the whole process again!
Everyone stops for an hour lunch break at one and the work day is officially over at 5:45. In the evenings I have often continued working just trying to finish up these projects but sometimes I play cards with new friends or read until dinner which happens at 8:30 in the evening. Since we usually eat at 6 or 7 back in America, this late night meal is definitely a transition too! All of the curries and dals and pakoras have been delicious at the mess and all of the staff I have met through Gram Vikas have been so welcoming and wonderful! Only a few weeks left in my new home, but I have really enjoyed the learning experience – about water, but also about culture.

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