Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cultural Differences

The past 2 weeks have flown by, but I have become so adapted so well to the environment that I feel as if I've been here for a long time. I have become really close to both the Indian and MIT students that are here and really love the company and conversations I have with the community members. Besides documenting their work, I have helped them out with theirs, become a part of the community, and become a part of the project. I participate in the brainstorming sessions, help out with the surveys, and go everywhere the group goes.

For the past couple of nights we have been eating dinner at the canteen, the university's dining hall. We made friends with a large group of Indian girls who were very cute and excited to see us. They were telling me how much they love ice cream and were astounded when I informed them I wasn't a big fan of sweets.... And they took delight in me trying to sing some songs in Hindi and trying to do the dances associated with them. They were also fascinated to learn that being skinny and tall is considered gorgeous in the U.S. For many of them, being in a university in Delhi was the first time they had ever left their homes - with OR without their parents. Most of them were studying to be airline hostesses.

I feel like when I get back to the US it will be a sort of culture shock, seeing all the waste and unappreciation... petty worries.. the luxury of toilets and toilet paper.. .and being able to eat whatever i want when i want (well, almost), being able to drink clean water without getting sick...

I find my interviews with the MIT girls very interesting. They're pretty informal because I've gotten to know them well, and I've spent a lot of time with them so a lot of things they mention I was there to experience. It seems like such a short amount of time when I count the days that have passed, but I feel so comfortable that it feels like it has always been this way. Some of the girls have been convinced by this experience that they do NOT want to be physician and others that they do NOT want to work in a developing country (that they'd rather work to help a developing country, but in america). They find the change is too much for them. I get the opposite feeling, where I'm even more convinced that my "calling," if you will, lies in traveling and visiting different people and helping them in person and making their words heard. (The tricky part is being a good mother and a good wife while doing this since I do want to have a family.)

I was able to also interview community members in the camps via translators. The main question I asked is if there is one thing they could change about their lives or their childrens' lives, what it would be. Their answer was predominately that they want their children to get a good education and "be something," but when asked more specifics, they didn't know what to say. They did not know what they would need to give their child a good education (besides money) and they did not know exactly why getting a good education got their kids to "be something."

From the results of the surveys the groups are doing, I gathered that 2 of the main problems in these camps are the waste disposal system (both of human waste and product waste) and of getting a good education. The community members do not realize that the quality of education matters. Overall, one of the greatest problems seems to be that people don't know how to fix the problems. They are of such grand scales that it seems impossible to fix. The Indian government has given up on trying to improve the living conditions of the camps, and instead have begun to build new camps to relocate the inhabitants. They are in such dismay that it would be more cost-efficient and effective to build a whole new camp. However, this is very slow and does not seem to be progressing. None of the people that I interviewed.. the MIT students, the Indian students, the NGO staff, the community members... none of them seemed to have any concrete solutions or even little steps that we could take to help improve the living conditions or quality of life. There are so many problems of such grand scales that it is a daunting task to figure out what CAN be done. And then to get it done. I hope to take one step into this and produce a comprehensible source from which many problems can be seen and potential plans for solution can be taken to be attempted (I apologize if the wording on that was a bit confusing.. I will clarify in a later post).

Interviewing the Musheer and Dharani, the 2 male Indian students in the groups was an interesting experience as well. They found the biggest problem they've encountered working on this project to be the gender difference. Any conflict or difference of opinion within the group they thought was due to the gender difference versus the cultural difference (India vs. America). The MIT students on the other hand thought the conflicts and difference of opinions due to the cultural differences. I brought this up during a delicious lunch of vegetable noodles, and the group came to a consensus that it must be the 2 combined. The cultural difference of the genders is a big part, as neither of the boys had EVER worked in the same group as even a single girl. The whole idea was new to them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think one of the things you want to explore is why a country like India, leading producers of engineers and scientists--the leading choice for software development, one of the earlier technology leaders in nuclear weapons and satellites, can't solve a trivial problem like sewage treatment? It is certainly not a difficult problem to solve--so why can't they?