So…India! While my focus and energy is all-in for my experience here in Udaipur, my internal clock seems to remain in Manhattan. So, good morning to you! It’s about 4:45am here, and the day will likely bring about temperatures of about 45 degrees Celsius – things seem to be in sync.
First impressions? I can offer some general first-glance observations, and then perhaps some bigger questions (ie. related to school) that I’m starting to ask myself. I do have to put the disclaimer out there that after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, it will forever be my point of reference. Bear with me as I work through this comparison.
Well, it’s hot. Suits me quite nicely, especially after a bit of time in the Sahel and the general fact that I hate being cold. The monsoons are rumored to come in about 2 weeks’ time, and I think everyone here is waiting on bated breath for the event. Evidently, it cools drastically, but I’m personally not really looking forward to the critters that will likely surface with the rains. Ah well! Udaipur as a city has a natural beauty given its location at the foot of several mountains and skirting around three main lakes. The actual town is built straight onto those mountains in such a way that reminds me of the “ville perchées” in S. France. I’m surprised to find similar flora to that in Niger: neem, eucalyptus, and plain trees. Also, a few brush-ey type plants that probably have names I just don’t know what they are. It’s likely that the dry sandy soil suits these types of plants just fine anywhere. Oh, and underfed cows here look like underfed cows everywhere else, and they are universally entitled to occupy the entire road. Life is public, vibrant, full of commotion, and providing me with energy despite my total lack of sleep (I also must give credit to the endless supply of chai and coffee).
Last night, I moved in with my homestay family. They were described by our facilitating organization, Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) as a “traditional Rhajput family”…whatever that means, I suppose I will learn. All I know after about 5 hours around the house is that my host brother, Harsh (short for some much longer, more complicated name) speaks brilliant English, by host mom Rheka is a fantastic cook, my host grandfather is very welcoming, and my host dog, a Pug, snorts alot.
Ok, onto the thinking part. INGO and LNGO partnerships. There is an underwhelming visible presence of large INGOs (Care, MercyCorps, Plan, StC etc). I have yet to see their headquarters, expats who run the show, or big white Land Cruisers, as is the case every time you turn the corner in Niger. From what I have gleaned in two days’ worth of orientation, it seems to me that they are here, in a big way, but just “behind the curtain”; they are funding the endless pool of local NGOs . This is very interesting to think about. There seems to be an infinite number of locally based NGOs, focusing on every facet of development conceivable. I imagine that those who extol participatory development done by searchers rather than planners would be jumping in their seats to see the apparent grassroots, bottom up action being taken here. However, ever the cynic, I am curious to see the limitations on how local and organic the work done by LNGOs actually is if they are being funded by INGOs (or, even more, bilaterals). I think it goes without saying that with funding from INGOs comes guidelines and timelines that encroach upon the actual vision of local actors. So, who wins out in Udaipur? If anyone out there can speak to this, particularly in the Indian context, I’m all ears.
I’d be tempted to banter on about my conflicting thoughts on whether development issues are actually quite the same everywhere and thus can be addressed by similar approaches, or if a one-size-fits all approach is rubbish (my original belief). Also, there is some interesting stuff going on here with education and processes of “learning by unlearning” typical school structures and exploring intellectual development in very unstructured ways. (Attempting to break the idea of the school that “flies around the world” as my TA from last semester called it). Perhaps next time. But alas, the sun is rising, and I think I’d rather work out for a bit before the temperature is too scary. Namaste y’all.