Smelhi Delhi
on Sustainable Dignity (India), 04/Aug/2011 09:59, 34 days ago
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Gina writes:Last week, Corey and I were both in Delhi for 4 days to attend a VSO meeting. Here is a smattering of thoughts about the trip.Train TravelThis was my first trip back to Delhi since our month-long orientation in November 2009. I've avoided going a few times because of the travel time there and back. To get there, we had to take a 4-hour train to another part of Orissa, stay overnight there, then take a 28-hour train to Agra where the Taj Mahal is, then take a 2-hour train to Delhi. The travel itself isn't so bad, since you're sitting on padded air-conditioned benches and can lay down, use your laptop (there are outlets), buy all kinds of food from the vendors coming through the carriages. It's just the length of time that's difficult to deal with.For the 32-hour train on the way back, we were put on a waitlist when purchasing the tickets. This is normal and has never been a problem in the past, since people cancel up until the last day and there are reserved seats released at the last minute. However, this time we never made it off the waitlist! Just before the train left Delhi, Corey managed to get a refund for our original tickets in the air-conditioned class and purchase the last remaining ticket for sleeper class (the non a/c cheaper and fuller carriages that we usually don't consider for long trips). After getting on the train, the ticket checker fined us because only one of us had a ticket and then later told us that the one ticket we did have was fraudulent! We spent the first 7-8 hours trying to be calm and nonchalant hanging out with 10 other people in a group of 8 bunks, but we were both dreading either sleeping on the floor with the rats and cockroaches and mud or possibly sharing one 6 foot by 2 foot bunk for the night. Eventually, Corey talked with the ticket checker and we were given 2 bunks that would be free for the night. Relief... After that, the trip was fine, we slept well, and the train emptied out significantly for the second day. But the stress of not really understanding where we were allowed to sit and whose seat we were actually sitting in illegally and thinking about a long, sleepless night with nowhere to sleep was too much!VolCommThe purpose of our trip to Delhi was to attend a Volunteer Committee meeting. I am the chair of the 4-member committee that works with the VSO India office to address any issues the volunteeers are having and try to improve the whole volunteer experience, increase the impact we're having, etc. It's an interesting committee to lead because 1) it's pretty much all on-line since the members are all over the country, so there's a lot of email coordination and follow-up which can be a challenge; 2) it's a unique opportunity to be invited to critique the activities and processes of the VSO India office (I can't say I've ever been able to tell previous "bosses" what I think they should change and how!). As volunteers being paid only a living stipend, we're invested in doing what we can to make the experience as fulfilling as possible, so we're invited to be an integral part of deciding how to make the whole program better; making appropriate use of this permission is sometimes tricky, since we don't want to tell the VSO India staff how to do their jobs or be confrontational.The 4 members of the committee (plus Corey and another volunteer, who have been working on some things with the VSO India office) met for 3 full days. We ended up 1) developing a monthly progress report that the volunteers would fill out, to help the NGO and the volunteer understand each other's expectations and problems better and earlier; 2) recommending changes to the placement description template that is basically the "job announcement" that we see when we're offered the placement, with info about duties, the NGO, and the location; 3) a few other simple solutions to problems of losing knowledge when there's a gap between 2 volunteers in an NGO and building the confidence of volunteers when they arrive in placement and have a lot of logistics to arrange in a culture that they're new to. All in all, it was a very productive meeting.Other VolunteersAnother benefit to the visit was the chance to see some of the other volunteers that I know and meet some that I don't know. Out of the 50-60 volunteers that were here when we arrived 21 months ago, only 6 are still here! Placements end, new groups come, the number of volunteers is decreasing due to funding changes...all resulting in the fact that I hardly know any volunteers now, except a few through email. I scheduled this meeting at the same time as the in-country orientation for a new group of volunteers, so counting the 5 other volunteers in the meeting, the 4 new volunteers, and the handful of current Delhi volunteers that I saw at a party at the VSO India office, I interacted with about 15 current volunteers and the program staff that I haven't seen since 2009, which was great and made me feel less disconnected to the whole group.American-esque ExperiencesOther than the Volunteer Committee meeting, I had a short list of things that I wanted to do in Delhi, mostly involving American food and typical metropolitan experiences. With a group of 9 volunteers, we went for happy hour at a casual bar (something not possible in Koraput) followed by dinner at a Thai restaurant. It was nice to just be in that environment of ordering drinks, relating to people from a Western culture, and chilling out for a few hours without a rush to finish dinner.Friday was our free day, added on to the trip to make time for errands and such. The day started off with a trip to the dentist for me, just for a cleaning. I wanted to take advantage of VSO's benefit of paying for a dental visit after 1 year of service and wasn't about to consider visiting a dentist in Koraput! Just like Corey's visit to a different Delhi dentist in December, this was exactly the same as in the U.S. -- same look to the office, same routines (albeit a little rougher and completed by the dentist herself and not a hygienist). Cheaper though, the equivalent of about 40 USD. Lunch was cheeseburgers at Cafe Oz! So delicious, exactly what I wanted. The restaurant was casual and simple, but the service was more Western-style, with the same pace and little things like checking whether we liked our food and if we needed anything else. About half of the patrons there were foreigners; it was just such a shock to see places crowded with White faces and to not get the stares that we've become accustomed to in Koraput. After lunch, we headed out to a mall! I generally hate malls and was not interested in any stores in particular, but more the environment in general. It was nice to stroll around in the air-conditioning, check out the Apple store (well, for Corey anyway), and forget about the pollution and poverty just outside the doors. We ended up going to a movie (popcorn! English! quiet and not smelly!) and then getting pizza for dinner from Domino's! An excellent day of non-Indian fun.It was interesting to see how my perspective of a big crazy city has changed since being there last time. Also, I doubt I'll be back in Delhi before our placement is finished, so it was nice to see the program office staff again and to take a trip back to "where it all began". We even stayed in the same hostel as we did during training, it was like deja vu!