Elizabeth in India

Elizabeth is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering in the Lyle School of Engineering. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship for summer 2013 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. Elizabeth will be working in Bangalore, India, with the Leave UR Mark organization on a water conservation and literacy design project.

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Service before self

With my co-workers

With my co-workers

With a co-worker

With a co-worker

My boss has taken to calling me Strong Lady this week. I mentioned to a co-worker that I am a second-degree black belt, and the news got around the office fast. Now everything I do suffices as a reason to call me strong. It is nothing other than a compliment to me, but it can sometimes be a little off-putting when it’s mentioned after I finish my meals. It’s all in good spirits, though, and in all seriousness, it means a lot.

I have needed to be strong a lot during my time here. For starters, the amount of bug bites covering my body is enough to cause a mental breakdown by itself. There is no relief! Additionally, rickshaw drivers and local restaurants constantly rip me off just because I look completely clueless, which to their benefit, is more often the case than not. At first this made me mad, but then I realized that even if I get scammed out of 50 rupees, it is only the equivalent of one dollar. Most of these people need that dollar more than I do.

With co-workers

With co-workers

In general, all of the obstacles I face derive from the fact that I am experiencing withdrawal from Western culture. I miss daily showers, my car, and meat. Three weeks is just not enough time to assimilate into life in another country. I guess it is a blessing I have five more weeks! Even though it is not the easiest thing I have done, I have daily encounters that remind me that it is all worth it.

My second boss (for lack of a better description) and I spend a lot of time in the office together. For days we sat in silence, until one day I mentioned that I was going to go see the new Superman movie (which I did not enjoy, but I’m no movie critic…). That spurred an hourlong discussion of our favorite movies, which are Finding Nemo, Forrest Gump, and Gladiator. We have also enjoyed conversations regarding Metallica, traveling, and family. Our developing relationship is contributing to a stronger work environment, and he is always willing to answer any of the questions I may have.

India5

A farm with WLF’s system (on right) compared to one without (on left)

I also get to talk to many of my boss’s clients when I travel to project sites. So many of the farmers, industries, and homeowners express their gratitude toward the work Water Literacy Foundation is doing. I have seen firsthand the difference between farms that have implemented rainwater harvesting systems, and those that have not. Despite occasionally feeling estranged, I am constantly reminded that the work I am doing is to help others. These same obstacles that I face provide the best opportunities to grow. The white board above my workspace appropriately displays the phrase “Service before Self.”

As part of my personal growth, being apart from Western culture has sparked re-interest in past passions and hobbies. For example, for six years I practiced Taekwondo to the point of becoming a second-degree black belt, as mentioned above. I quit only because I chose to focus my energy on percussion and high school drumline. I was a percussionist for seven years before coming to college. Being separated from the things I love, though it had to be as drastic as traveling to India, made me realize the importance of holding onto those aspects of my life. Those things are such a huge part of who I am, and I would hate to lose that. So, I have resolved to teach myself the ukulele and begin taking Jujitsu classes. Maybe it’s ambitious, but I have done it before, so I believe I can do it again. ☺

Snickers the cat

Snickers the cat

This week the office got a new kitten. He is my friend, and he keeps me company. No, I am not a crazy cat lady; in fact I am allergic to cats. However, sometimes the office is empty, so I am ecstatic to have any form of companionship. The family has not named the cat and probably will not, so thus, he shall be named Snickers. Honestly, I am afraid for Snickers because of all of the stray animals surrounding the office. So I think I will take it upon myself to take care of him. Though this does not have anything to do with providing water to people in need, I would be upset if anything happened to him.

This update hopefully provided more insight into my personal experience in India. I hope to focus more on the work I am doing, and the cause I am fighting for with more detail next week. As a last remark, my weekend travels took me to Goa this past week. It was absolutely beautiful, and I can now officially say I have been in the Arabian Sea!

Weekly cultural update: I have ridden on the back of a motorcycle multiple times this week. Indians do not believe in helmets … sorry, Daddy.

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