The Night Before Work| May 12, 2013
You can smell India from so far above the ground that the cars are still close to invisible. Or at least, it certainly seems that way: logic would suggest that the pungency of dust and spice and heat and color all together can't rise thousands of feet to assail the nostrils of apprehensive airplane passengers.
Still, even if the scent of India doesn't permeate aircraft in flight, it does overcome the jet fuel as we cross the tarmac, and infiltrates the polished walls of Indira Gandhi International Airport. It's an odor that promises excitement, and there's no doubt that India offers that in bucketfuls; it promises adventure, and while I'm not here to backpack in tiger reserves or trek in Kashmir, I'm hoping that living and working in Delhi for three months will bring its own rewards on the adventure front.
I will be working in the legal office of the South Asian Regional Office of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) for the next eleven weeks, a position that Dean Bob Kaplan helped me to find. The IFC is a member of the World Bank Group, which itself is comprised of five different organizations that try to help alleviate poverty by providing various types of loans to developing countries. Unlike the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA), who provide debt financing and concessional financing to the governments of developing countries, the IFC provides loans and equity investments to private enterprises who seek to invest in those developing countries served by the Bank. Additionally, it provides advisory services to governments and its client companies regarding business, environment, social impact, sustainability, infrastructural development and the use of public-private partnerships.
I perceive three great challenges to be overcome during the next eleven weeks. First: the heat. The sun's well up by 6 in the morning, and the temperature rises early; by 8am, you would be a fool to attempt to stay in one place indoors without at least a fan running. By noon, the temperatures hit the low 100s, and from what I can tell the day doesn't tend to get cooler; even when it does rain, which it did for approximately ten minutes this afternoon, it turns the dry heat of the desert into a muggy morass. I've already given up the battle to minimize my power bill; without the air conditioner running it's not really even possible to sleep at night. I have also realized that while I can generally get away with drinking somewhat less water than the recommended 8 cups a day in Virginia without feeling the effects of doing so, unless I'm at least doubling that here I will send myself to an early and painful death by way of heatstroke. As such, I anticipate that water and air conditioning will constitute my two highest expenses; and yet, as I type this tonight, there are hundreds of millions of people in this country (and so many other countries) who--far from being able to complain about the cost of continuous access to power and clean potable water--imagine them only as luxuries to which they may only aspire. That's enough to give anybody pause--I only hope that I can do more than lip service to the idea that there needs to be a change in this disparity of access to basic goods and services. I'm sure I'll have more to report on how IFC helps on this front.
The second challenge is the language barrier. I own it was an oversight to move to Northern India without being able to either speak or read Hindi, but fortune smiles on me: Mr. Kalra, the elderly gentleman in whose home I'm staying this summer, is a Hindi teacher, and he has already offered to give me some lessons. This will be a very good thing, as I find I'm pushing my knowledge of the language when asked to count to five. (Caveat: mere liye teen glass chaai laana? Or, may I have three cups of tea?) Mrs. Kalra's English is worlds better than my Hindi, but still broken; they're a perfectly lovely couple, and I'm excited to get to know them better--and to learn their language from them!
The third challenge, though, is I think going to be the most daunting. The challenge is work. It's figuring out how to navigate working at an organization whose principles of development I've heartily disagreed with in the past, without feeling like I'm compromising my own principles in the process. It's figuring out a whole new way of working with the law--I think I know a touch of legal business theory (a semester of International Business Transactions and a semester of Corporations will do, right?), but when it comes to transactional practice, all I can do is throw my hands up in the air and hope that I can cobble together some kind of "understanding golem" without making a complete cake of myself. I don't know yet quite what the work will entail--I've been informed that, because the fiscal year is ending on June 30, there's a whole lot of documentation that needs to be cleared both in terms of moving into monetary disbursement as well as setting up official project timelines.
All that said, I reckon I'm game for anything the next three months throw at me, so here's to badaa adventure! I hope you'll enjoy reading about my summer exploits--and I hope we can learn something together.