Returning to the place that you were born seems romantic, nostalgic and exotic at most. One might expect to find themselves, find their “roots” or even where they want to go in the future. But these are not the feelings that are evoked for me. I am looking forward to a more realistic understanding of India, one where I begin to see the intricacies of a country on the brink of simulateous breakdown and revolution.
This is why I chose to apply to be an America India Foundation fellow. After having visited South Africa and India several times in short intervals, I look forward to developing a more intimate relationship with a place that I will call home for ten months.
In my past my two years of graduate training as a public health professional, I struggled to bridge the concepts of theory and practice within the context of global public health. Professors seems to specialize in either “researcher” or “practice”. But given my experiences with public sector development efforts in South Africa and India, it became evident that there was a need for a coherent understanding of a country’s systems of knowledge and practice. For this reason I am so thankful to collaborate with a governmental agency called Society for the Elimination of Rural Poverty based in Andhra Pradesh India on research-based efforts. It is my hope that a flexible yet supportive fellowship agency such as American India Foundation will fulfill this gap in my education.
I feel of most utility when I am of service to others. Service can be such a vague and subjective term but to me illustrates the essence of sacrificing immediate needs or desires for greater purposes and goals. I look forward to being immersed in rural development efforts from the areas surrounding Hyderabad and collaborating with those who have been doing this work for so long. Further, a beautiful quote from Baha’u’allah, a 19th century philosopher, emphasizes the utility of this service for the the purpose of unity among human beings: “…so powerful is the light of unity that it can illumine the whole earth”. It is my hope that these coming ten months will be full of sincere conversations, new relationships and deep-rooted connections with all of those around me. Although people are so similar all around the world, learning the particularities of Indian relationships will be enlightening.
As I engage in these relationships a critical component will be communication, which I know will be a challenge for me. True partnership seems very difficult without a plethora of communication efforts and strategies. Unlike most non-native interns, I am able to speak the local language of Telugu. Nonetheless, understanding the direct translation of words and even some cultural meanings cannot compare to the intimacy that one develops with their native tongue. I may misinterpret gestures, subtle body language and shared jokes. What has been interesting about my previous visits is not that people expect me to “fumble” because I am American, but rather that they expect me to understand to a degree beyond my capacity. It was with great humility that I often explained my incompetence with regard to many locally-generated meanings.