Mamallapuram #3

Thoughts from a volunteer in india
Flexibility – i didn’t know that the flexible schedule i said i expected
meant that i was the only one who was going to have to be flexible
Hierarchy – never underestimate the importance of knowing who is in charge
On do they really want me here – hard to say
i twiddled my thumbs for the five days it took them to find me a computer
even though i gave them weeks of advance notice that i was coming
and what was needed
i’m so hot that i am dripping sweat all over this borrowed laptop
my first day here i found myself on the back of a motorcycle
no helmet, wearing sandals, clutching moorthi who is driving
over potholes, puddles, dodging cows, goats, buses,
and he is DIALING his cell phone yikes
Here’s our library – no paper no pencil no computer but hey sure, go ahead and catalog away
That printer doesn’t work. and it also doesn’t have any paper.
i am working in an inpatient/outpatient mental hospital
i can never tell if any interaction i have with any woman here
is strange only because she speaks tamil and i don’t
or because she is a patient
but so far i am fitting right in
lunch comes at around 2:30 every day
catered by some local occupational therapy kind of thing
yesterday i made the mistake of eating some food at around 2:45
food sitting in the common room, that looked like lunch to me
oh NO madame that was the BREAKFAST
(it had been sitting there since 9 AM)
she was thoroughly shaken up by this breach in protocol
actually, for being hours old, it was quite good – upma and some kind of spicy sauce
right after i ate that, lunch appeared – rice and sambar (spicy veggies)
and curry and some kind of soup that everyone else rejects
when i arrive in the morning, i approach our building
the guard is often chatting with his friends
when he sees me, he bustles over to get back behind his desk
and he jams his official cap back on his head
and then, and only then, does he speak to me in his official capacity
official, but always subservient
the significance of class, and everyone knowing
his/her place are really noticeable here
in any official situation, protocol is essential
this accounts for the excessive bureaucracy
when an american asks for an exception or leeway or some flexibility
the chain of command may be called up and down
and then the shaking of the heads begins
sorry madame, there is nothing i can do
and so often i point out
you could let me in
you could let me use the computer
no madame, that is a decision that is out of my hands
you will have to speak with so and so
(always someone who will be back tomorrow or the day after)
it is an exercise in “not now” and as americans, we learn to expect
“right now” pretty much all the time
the tea seller across the street gave me credit
because i only had a big bill and the tea was 3 rupees
i wonder what the tea seller is thinking about this ‘problem’
the restaurant on the beach also gave me credit one morning for my breakfast
because they couldn’t make change for a bill
indians hate to make change
i think because most of them deal in the 10-50 rupee range
and the tourists and wealthier people have 500 -1000 rupee bills
finished making a list of the books and assigning the most basic of dewey numbers
next week will put pockets, cards, and spine labels on all the books (about 500 books)
will hopefully have some help, as it is a big physical job to process all those books
so far the volunteer highlights are 
the free lunch, and the company dog, bailawan – he looks like some basset got mixed up with the typical indian dog – bailawan means “fat man”

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