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Outsiders

|Author: Veronique|


This week we started our first week with our organizations, and in only seven days we've added so many experiences to our time here. We've learned the patterns of our organization and have learned what does and doesn't work there. A few stories of our week stand out, not because they were lessons I hadn't already been taught, but because they've reaffirmed thoughts and realizations I've had. 


I'm working with Biome, and already there are so many things I appreciate about how they do things. They understand the traffic situation here, which is that's it's horrible, and the waste of time that comes with it. Instead of making their employees meet in the same place regardless of where they live, they just work from home and use modern technology such as skype and whatsapp calling, and meet up for field visits and outings. This way, they maximize their time, and people are happier knowing they get to chose how to spend their days. We've appreciated this, because we've already gone on three full days of visits, and have had time to write reports from UTC on half days. 


On our first day, we got to see Biome's only building, used for their architecture firm. There, we got to see their water system, which mostly runs on water harvesting  They have rain gardens, and a roof and terrace which collects water. As we toured the building, Srivalli explained the filter system they had in place to treat their water: mesh holding activated charcoal, above river sand, with mesh between coarse aggregate. It was the exact system that a few environmental and civil engineers and I had created last year during the state environmental competition. It was just another little connection from home that made the downpour of knowledge of the day much more manageable. 


Our first two days of Biome, we were guided by Srivalli and Shubha, two clearly brilliant, valued, and knowledgeable women who are respected at Biome. We were able to ask questions and get in depth, detailed answers, and immediately knew our input would be listened to and considered. When Kayla, Tessa and I went to visit ten government schools to analyze their water harvesting systems and the repairs needed, we met a consultant from Biome, and assumed we would have the same experience. Instead, we had to fight to get answers, asking the same questions three or four times to receive more than one word answers. The consultant was also our translator, and we would stand there and listen to the plumber talk for multiple minutes about the condition of the school, only to receive two sentences of translation. It was the first experience with Biome where we had trouble learning as much as we could. 


On that same day, when we toured different schools in rural Bangalore, we were greeted with the Indian hospitality which still blows me away. We were offered coffee, water, tea, seats, lunch, snacks, asked if we needed anything at every school. It was humbling to see how welcoming people were to the foreign strangers who walked into their schools. But it was also uncomfortable to receive the near adoration and excitement from the kids, knowing that we had done nothing to deserve it. As much as we were warned about getting asked to take pictures, and that it's because we're foreign, seeing kids laugh and scream when they saw us isn't something I can get used to. We've given nothing, no knowledge or service or anything to warrant the happiness that these kids get from daring each other to run up and shake our hands, or when we wave goodbye to them when leaving their school, having learned nothing about them personally and knowing nothing of the challenges they experience daily. 


My time with Biome has, once again, made me realize the privilege I am used to. This week has reminded me that no matter how much I want to know and empathize with the lives that people live here, I'll always be an outsider, and that the work I can do in these next six weeks is limited by this. And I'm forced to come to the realization that this experience has already been invaluable in opening my eyes to the variety of cultures people can go their entire lives without knowing. 


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