Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's Kinda Like a Big Deal

Welcome to the Third Installment of The Organic Indian! I am writing to you live from Delhi, where I landed the day before yesterday. My first thought when I landed was, "Shit, here we go again," thinking ahead to the generous servings of heat, hard work, and homesickness that lay ahead. But as I was driving in the prepaid taxi from the airport, another thought came to me: "Let's do this!". I felt a gust of confidence. I have been here before, and it's always been an amazing experience. I'm ready for another big serving of amazing.

One of the things I like best about spending my summers in India is writing this blog. For those who are newly visiting this corner of the blogosphere, the main thing you need to know about this blog is the intended audience: my friends, family, and occasionally my future children; and that I try to be real to what I'm feeling at the time. I don't really care about being thorough with my facts or politically correct or whatever (I proofread posts minimally). As I've said before I reserve the right to take back anything I say on the blog. Often when I sit down to write I am thinking of someone specific in the audience. Sometimes I write to my brother, or sometimes to Joachim, or sometimes to my parents and cousins and aunts/uncles. I try and give you a sense of what's going on with me, the things going through my head and heart, etc. both as a way of staying connected but also to keep a record of formative times of my life. I also try hard to entertain and be funny. That is still a work in progress.

It's fun to see the names of the people I email every year to kick off the blog. Many of the names are the same, but there are always new people in the mix. You kinda get to see the rolling group of people who come in and out of your life. This year I've sent the word out to a bunch of people from school (hi guys!). As always, feel free to pass on the link to anyone who you think would be interested in reading.

This trip to India is special because I will be here through the fall. Yes, 6 months! I have taken a temporary leave from school to stay till January. The main reason for the extra stay is for me to crank out most if not all of the work in India I need to get done before I propose, prepare, and defend my PhD thesis. I will be concentrating my time on work I began last summer in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with an NGO called DSC. We built and piloted a system for farmers in rural Gujarat to access agricultural information through an automated phone system. One of the most interesting parts of the system is that it has a voice-based question and answer forum. Farmers call in and post questions, listen to the Q&A of other farmers, and can also answer questions of other farmers themselves. The initial response to the system by farmers was very enthusiastic, so the goal this summer is to take the project to the next level... we want to make the system available to all of rural Gujurat. More on that as we roll along.

One final story that I have to leave you with. My mom dropped me off to the airport in San Francisco. On the 2-hour drive from Sac, we got to talking about raising kids, and she told me a story from long ago that I had never heard. My mom's first job ever was working at Security Pacific Bank as a teller in Fremont, CA. My parents lived in Livermore, and there was only one car. So my dad and her would drive into the Bay together, he would drop her at a bus station, he would continue on to his office, and my mom would take the bus the rest of the way to the bank. When she started, she was a timid, shy young woman straight off the boat from India. She hardly spoke English. When she started at the bank, there were two women there that really took her under their wings. One was the branch manager, named Linda. My mom told me that one time early on a customer who she was helping starting getting irate and impatient with her, and started hurling abuses. All kinds of vulgar stuff. So Linda comes over and asks if there's a problem. Customer says that he doesn't want to deal with my mom anymore, and wants to talk to someone else. Linda replies that she is confident that her employee is helping in the best possible way, and that anyone else he talks to would offer the same exact service. The guy continues to abuse. So Linda tells him, "Look, either you can calm down and speak to her, or you can take your business elsewhere." So the guy cashes out the $80 left in his account and walks out! My mom still remembers the way Linda stood up for her... those kinds of things stick with a person. The other woman mom worked with, Alice, was Chinese. When my mom started, her English was weak. Alice told my mom, "Look, when I first came to this country, I was just like you. I will make sure that you learn English, I will take care of you." My mom never forgot that either. So much so that years later when she ran her own check cashing business, she hired a small, frail Mexican girl named Rosie who had no qualifications to handle money, spoke no English but had something inside of her that reminded my mom of herself. "Just like how Alice took care of me, I knew I had to do that for Rosie." I was floored. Here I was, about to pull the old pay the Bay Bridge toll for a stranger trick to show off to my mom how I know about pay it forward, and she drops a story about how she has been living it.

Blessed. That's how I felt as I kissed my mom goodbye at the airport. So I start these 6 months in India knowing that I'm riding the good karma of having two amazing parents, and you all, my amazing friends. I look forward to the adventure.

And yes, this blog is a big deal:
Third time's a charm baby
After 2 classics, another stripe up on my arm baby


  1. oh yea... it's back baby! Save travels Neil.

  2. Nice story! Look forward to hearing about your adventures.

  3. nelly.. you are a dork... send your mobile number when you get it...

  4. nice! happy trails, and look forward to hearing more ...

  5. rockstarrrr !! Loved your mom's storyyy ! looking forward to more writings and finally seeing you in INdia and traveling together:)

  6. Neil - thanks for sharing...your mom sounds amazing. Now we know where you get it from.


  7. Awww Rosie! I remember her, she became like family. Safe travels Neil! I'm catching up today on all your blogs!