If you peek into my backpack or handbag at any point, you will find a small notebook. I stash them in each bag in the hope that there will always be a place to jot down an important thought, at home or on the road.
This year I had every intention of keeping a daily journal—to consciously document my experience in India, to process my thoughts and aid in reflection at the end of this journey. But as my cofellows will agree, daily life as an AIF Clinton Fellow can get in the way. Now I’ve reached the end of my fellowship and my designated daily journal remains empty.
However, my little travel notebooks have been filled with questions and fleeting thoughts from the first day of the fellowship through my flight home to New York. These pop up in places of transition and changes in perspective—in airplanes, autos, and busses, through the Himalayan hills and Hyderabad heat.
As I unpack my luggage, scribbled thoughts emerge from pockets and folds. At the end of my fellowship and the beginning of my life from here on, I find them helpful in unpacking ten month’s worth of service, learning, and leadership. I would like to share a few snippets here.
On the Comfort in Discomfort
Settling in and yet hovering above
To accept what is out of your control
I’ve come to feel a certain level of comfort in India. I have an affinity for Hyderabad, where I studied five years ago and worked this past year. And there are aspects of Indian culture that I settled into with ease—a love of spice and heat, for one. But it reaches deeper, beyond a city or amenity, to a comfort in expecting discomfort.
Power outages, linguistic barriers, bureaucratic dysfunction: these have been common aspects of my life in the past ten months. At first they were anxiety-inducing; later, they were inconvenient; now, they are somewhat predictable. I have found comfort in knowing that, more likely than not, I will be pushed out of my comfort zone by things outside of my control. As a perfectionist, this is both terrifying and liberating. All I can do is take a deep breath and try to keep up.
On Kinship and Belonging
To belong and yet stick out
“Tracking your lineage” like prey that escapes you, an animal to catch and tame
Grow a home like a garden—carefully, intentionally, vulnerably
Like most Americans, I have immigration to thank for my existence. My father’s family came from Eastern Europe to the U.S. in the late 1800s/early 1900s. My mother’s family came from Uttar Pradesh, India to Trinidad and Tobago around the same time. Through conversations with family and some dedicated research, we uncovered as much of our family tapestry as possible.
But the distance between me and my Indian ancestry—physical, chronological, linguistic, cultural—still feels too big to cross. It manifested throughout my fellowship in moments of confusion, culture shock, and miscommunication, unable to escape the label of “other” no matter how hard I tried to settle in. It was “forever the feeling of being outside,” as Susham Bedi describes in her novel The Fire Sacrifice (2014).
As both a foreigner and a descendant of India, I am learning how the notion of “home” can be constructed and nurtured, as well as how kinship is cultivated among loved ones and friends. Intersectional identities are a great gift; I have used these past ten months to continue exploring my own.
On Developing for the Development Sector
How to give unendingly, but still keep enough for yourself to thrive
Embodying compassion for the modern world
To see and appreciate the light you shine on others
Ten months of service in an Indian nonprofit, learning from those with experience, leading a new initiative. I am proud of the work that I’ve done, but how does it fit into the larger development sector? On its own, my project was limited in scope and reach. There were tangible benefits for a specific audience, but the broader impact is harder to pin down.
At our Endpoint seminar, however, I got to see all of my cohort’s work in one place. The poster session was a lively and engaging way to step into my co-fellows’ lives for a few minutes, immersing myself in their daily work and long-term impact. In addition, the senior fellows’ dossier People-Powered Partnerships and this year’s Fellowship Yearbook show our cohort’s work supporting the Indian development sector and current sustainable development goals. It is clear that our individual efforts add up to a great collective impact.
I wrote in my first blog post about the “slow march of progress” in the development world. Ten months later, I have even more questions than I did back then. All my ponderings on familiarity, identity, and otherness, on inclusion and diversity—how have they informed my philosophy of service? What have I gained from this fellowship that can empower others? Am I ready to continue this work on my own?
The questions are still there. But there is also a newfound confidence in my abilities and my knowledge, as well as a renewed dedication to public service. Though the development sector may still be complex, I know that I have developed into a young professional capable of finding a place in it.
On Where to Go from Here
This has been a conscious shift away from the tenor of my previous blog posts, as it should be. Some time after the end of the fellowship, my mind is still swimming in emotions. I suspect it will continue this way for some time to come. (Perhaps until my next trip to India…)
More than anything, these scattered notes have prompted me to challenge my way of thinking: on the relationship between the U.S. and India, on development work, on myself. Part of the beauty of this fellowship is its ability to empower young professionals like me to learn openly with the mental and physical space to grow. I hope to take what I’ve learned and channel it outward, with confidence in our collective ability to make the world a more equitable place.
All images sketched by the author.