A Calcutta Christmas

Early in November, I was invited to accompany friends from Pune to their hometown for Christmas. Which is how this year I celebrated a Calcutta Christmas.

Park Street at night

Park Street, Calcutta at night

To be fair, my holiday began in Pune. As I mentioned on the 23rd, I attended an Akanksha sports day at our Matoshri English Medium School (MEMS). The children normally have an outrageous amount of energy. Divided into teams and locked in fierce competition, the energy carried through for hours. It was fun to be reminded of my own elementary school days, when sports day included roaming around the schoolyard, playing tug of war, racing, and eating frozen treats at the end of the day. The MEMS sports day operated on a slightly smaller scale (due to lack of space and equipment), but the infectious energy and joy was the same.

Second time with this picture, but it's too cute!

Second time with this picture, but it’s too cute!

Although I came with the intention of helping out, I spent the morning and early afternoon watching the events and cuddling with children. Some of my favorite moments at the school will be sitting on the ground with a child pressed on both sides, two in my lap, and one hugging my neck from behind. Christmas cuddles!

Christmas Eve was a normal day filled with anticipation. I went to the office, as usual. I felt the travel/holiday excitement hit me, and I listened to Christmas music for the first time this December while counting down the minutes till 5pm.

Christmas morning began with a jarring awakening at 3:15am. Direct flights from Pune to Calcutta are not common, so my departure time was a brisk 5:55am. Having scheduled a cab for a 4:15am ride, I dragged my sleepy self out of my nice, warm bed and shivered my way through a barely warm shower.

(Please note that I use the traditional spelling for the city – Calcutta – as opposed to the current spelling, Kolkata. As far as I can deduce, the situation is much the same as the Mumbai/Bombay, Pune/Poona divide; people understand you either way, and it’s more of a personal preference. However, I am sticking with the traditional spelling because that is the version that my Bengali friends use. Andddddd not gonna lie – I love the alliteration of the phrase “Calcutta Christmas.”)

I was particularly curious to see what awaited me in Calcutta after spending my summer in Dhaka. The state of Bengal originally consisted of what are now Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Indian state of West Bengal. In 1947, the Bengal region was divided into the Indian West Bengal, East Pakistan, and West Pakistan. The separation was to create individual areas for the Muslim and Hindu populations in the region. Then, in 1971 East Pakistan separated from West Pakistan and became Bangladesh. (A great name – it literally means the country of Bengali. There is great pride in the Bangla language there.) There is a ton of history between 1947 and 1971 that I am not covering, but it is a fascinating and tragic period for the region and worth looking into if you’re a history buff. I had no prior knowledge of the regional turmoil in Bengal until my stay in Dhaka during the summer of 2014. The Liberation War Museum in Dhaka is an excellent stop for the Bangladeshi perspective on that time, and I began to explore the history after my visit there in June.

Calcutta taxi cabs

Calcutta taxi cabs

Calcutta is certainly more similar to the architecture and atmosphere of Bangladesh than Mumbai, Pune, or Delhi. Watching the city unfold before me during my cab ride from the airport to my friend’s house in the posh Park Street area, I was struck by the classic look of the city. This may sound stereotypical, but Calcutta looks the way I imagined an Indian city: the narrow streets, the old fashioned taxis, the flow of people. I fully admit that this bias might be based on my summer in Bangladesh, since I received my acceptance into the 2014-2105 AIF Fellowship during my stay in Bangladesh. There are definite difference between Calcutta and Dhaka; infrastructure in Calcutta is better maintained and the city is cleaner than my memories of Dhaka. I enjoyed the contrast, and I am fully happy with my decision to explore the Bengal region further.

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Christmas day was a time for reunions, chatting, and feasting. After arriving at my Fletcher friend’s house, we spent hours chatting. As with my Goa weekend, I found the Fletcher conversation to be thoroughly refreshing and informative. I then popped down to the metro and traveled to my AIF co-fellow’s apartment for a Christmas feast of bruschetta, pumpkin soup, chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, and a delicious variety of cakes and cookies. I had several AIF reunions while also meeting new friends. Conversations meandered as we lazily ate our way through the early evening. Holidays away from home are never easy – somehow, it doesn’t quite feel the same without family and snow – but I am incredibly grateful for the network of friends I have in India.

After 20 straight hours of go-go-go, I crashed for the night. Around 2:30am, I had an unpleasant awakening of intense pain. My left ear was throbbing so hard that my teeth ached. The left side of my throat radiated pain, and my lymph node was the size of a tender golf ball. Somehow exhaustion won out over the pain, and the intensity had diminished somewhat by the time I awoke in the morning. However, I was feeling sick, sluggish, and overall not too happy. All I could think about was how painful an earache would make my return flight to Pune and how awful it would be to be sick during all of my upcoming travels. Fortunately, my friend’s father came to the rescue and recommended an over the counter antibiotic that I started right away.

I had made plans to meet a German friend for some morning sightseeing, so I dragged myself out around 11. We meandered our way to Victoria Memorial, chatting and taking in our surroundings as we walked. She is currently based in Darjeeling for research, so it was extremely interesting to hear about life in the mountains. Victoria Memorial is a stunning building, and I enjoyed the site even through my haze of illness. It is curious to see how many remnants of the British remain and characterize Calcutta.

Victoria Memorial

Victoria Memorial

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Afterwards, we headed to the India Museum, the oldest museum in the country (or so I was told). We had been warned that the museum was a bit strange and perhaps best experienced while under the influence of something strong, so our curiosity had been peaked. The museum is indeed very trippy. The exhibits remind me of the set up of New York’s Museum of Natural History, with large diorama-esque cases that depict animals in their natural habitat. These examples of taxidermy are not stellar, and the pulled facial features, with their glossy eyes peering in different directions, walk the line between hilarious and downright bizarre. The material itself was normal, but the execution was indeed rather creepy.

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My second lunch in Calcutta was a plate of vegetable momos (dumplings) and vegetable thukpa (a clear soup with thin noodles). The warm broth soothed my throat and aided conversation, but afterwards I returned to my friend’s house for a 5-hour nap. I awoke to meet my host, my friend from Pune, and some of their school friends and devour an egg-chicken kati roll. Kati rolls are sinfully delicious. Imagine an oily, thick pita bread (but better) with a layer of egg that wraps around veggies, chicken, and a tangy hot sauce. The paper it was wrapped in was completely soaked in oil, but the taste made it 100% worth the clogging of my arteries. The heavy meal sent me back to bed for another full night’s sleep.

Thankfully I woke up on Saturday feeling exponentially better. After another massive breakfast prepared by my friend’s mother – who is the kindest women and who managed to feed me a week’s worth of food in 3 days – I ventured out for a quick solo trip. I made my way up to New Market, a famous destination for shoppers. I wasn’t in the mood for shopping but I wanted to try to capture the bustle with my camera. After getting an annoying amount of attention from shopkeepers in a short period, I gave up and bee-lined my way to the exit. I did snag a couple of cheap scarves on the street to protect my throat from the cool breeze.

Fruit stand near New Market

Fruit stand near New Market

Lemonade stand

Lemonade stand

Entrance

Entrance

Roads near New Market

Roads near New Market

Breaking away from the crowds, I wandered along Park Street, marveling at the various Christmas decorations while keeping my eye out for the Park Street Cemetery. It was a bit further away than I had anticipated, but walking through the gate made all of my direction inquiries to bemused shopkeepers and policemen worth it. The cemetery is just breathtaking and a nice break from the crowds of Park Street. The tombstones are memorials that stand taller than my 5’6” build. Crows dart from tree to tree, cawing and snapping their beaks. Some of the tombstones date back to the 1700s, which delighted my American sensibilities. (Seriously, I always get excited to see history that predates the independence of my own country. It makes me giddy to imagine having such a long history.) It was, needless to say, very cool.

A sample of the Christmas decorations along Park Street

A sample of the Christmas decorations along Park Street

Side Park Street Cemetery

Side Park Street Cemetery

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I then went to lunch with my friend and his father. The hospitality of my friend and his family cannot be stressed enough. They were amazingly kind and welcoming during my stay. I am blessed to have so many incredible friends, here in India, at home, and abroad!

The lake near our lunch spot

The lake near our lunch spot

After lunch my friend joined me for another jaunt in Park Street Cemetery, followed by a visit to the Mother’s House, the home, workplace, and tomb of Mother Teresa. Reading about her life and connecting her work with the history of Bengal was a humbling moment. Regardless of all else, she truly worked for the poor of Calcutta during a tumultuous and difficult time. The pictures of that time period are sobering; I cannot imagine what it was like to live and work in Calcutta during those years. Although I am not follower of any particular religion, I said a prayer and sent appreciation for the path that led me to her tomb that day.

Mother Teresa's tomb

Mother Teresa’s tomb

A memorial post to Mother Teresa along Park Street (not near the Mother's House)

A memorial post to Mother Teresa along Park Street (not near the Mother’s House)

My last day in Calcutta was a quieter affair. There were many conversations, and I went to Howrah Bridge for a walk with my friend. We ate a late lunch with his family, and then it was more or less time for me to head to the airport.

Howrah Bridge

Howrah Bridge

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For all of my travels, I am a cautious traveler and always try to give myself extra time. While I was in a cab heading to the airport, I received a text from the airline: “Your flight is rescheduled to 20:10.” (The original departure time being 19:30.) Not too bad, I figured. I would still arrive in Pune before too late.

However, within 30 minutes another message came: “Your flight is rescheduled to 20:50.”

After checking in and going through security: “Your flight is rescheduled to 22:30.”

At that point, I started getting worried about a potential cancellation. I knew it wouldn’t be the worst experience – I could always get a taxi back to my friend’s house – but it wouldn’t be ideal. I was fortune to meet a couple on the same flight as me, and we went to find out more information. Winter travel in the north of India is fraught with delays and cancelations due to bad weather. Even though Calcutta is in the east side of the country, our flight was delayed in Ahmedabad or Delhi – it was hard to get a concrete answer. The desk at the gate quickly became a scene of frustration and much anger. I sat back and watched, somewhat amused, somewhat worried. After lots of yelling, we were given a free dinner, as per Indian flight rules. (If a flight is delayed more than 2 hours, the airline must provide a meal. Not too bad, if you ask me.) Concerns over taxi availability in Pune arose, which worried me the most. The couple that I had met was extremely gracious, and offered to help me get home.

After some tedious airport hours and a drowsy flight, we arrived in Pune after 1am. My new friends and I grabbed a taxi, and they dropped me at my place before heading to their home. I got home after 2am and was too wired to sleep right away. I finally faded off to sleep around 3:30 and managed to sleep through two alarms before rushing off to a normal day at work: chai, meetings scheduled and canceled on the same day, venting over still not having the right data from schools, and a simple lunch of idli sambar. And thus the week begins, with a Pondicherry adventure beckoning on the horizon.

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The Beaches of Goa and Fletcher Reunions

Goa is the smallest state in India (measured by area), but it is by far the most recommended places that I’ve been urged to visit thus far. Especially given its proximity to Maharashtra, many of my colleagues and friends here in Pune have highly spoken of the beach/party atmosphere in Goa. Even getting from Pune to Goa is rather easy; you can take a plane, train, or bus. Despite all this, I didn’t have any real plans to travel to Goa before last week. It was in the back of my mind as a destination, but I hadn’t taken any plans forward.

Anjuna Beach

Anjuna Beach

But when I got a message from a former classmate from Fletcher, saying that she and another classmate would be visiting Goa, I figured it was the best opportunity I’d get. With the help of my coworker, I booked two overnight buses. Honestly, I was rather nervous about traveling alone overnight in a sleeper bus, but it turned out to be one of the nicest public transportation experiences I’ve had on a bus. Sleeper buses are wonderfully convenient for overnight travel, as beds replace chairs. Curtains cover your bed, and it’s relatively easy to close your eyes and drift off to sleep. In fact, I didn’t feel too tired either day after my bus rides. Which is MUCH better than I can about Mega Bus’s overnight bus from Boston to Philadelphia.

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Anjuna Beach

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Baga Beach

My friends and I spent Friday walking between beaches in Goa, eating delicious seafood, and enjoying the time for Fletcher conversations. Friday nights should always end with sipping drinks and staring out at the sea. (If only!)

I also spent quite some time riding pillion on a motorcycle. We managed to fit all three of us on the bike for short trips. It’s really quite fun. I’m seriously considering motorcycle classes back in the US…

Blakeley Hall Residents, 2013-2014

Blakeley Hall Residents, 2013-2014

Saturday was saved for sightseeing. We woke up slowly and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with lots of coffee. There is something glorious about sitting in a hotel, coffee in hand, just staring at the lush, green atmosphere and enjoying a wandering conversation with friends. Those kind of slow mornings remind me of so many places and so many delightful people – Heather in Guatemala, Katie and Mollie in Colombia, Stephen and the family in Puerto Rico. It’s a mixture of mildly humid heat and the bitter taste of black coffee. I’m glad to have a morning in Goa to add to this collection of holiday mornings.

Mid-morning we tested our mettle with the public transportation as we traveled down to the historic old city of Panjim (Goa’s capital). The highlight of the old capital was an absolutely delicious lunch of Goan food: chicken vindaloo (Goan style), masala fried fish, pork sorpotel (spicy chopped pork), rice, and bread. To compliment the food (and cool my burning tongue), we sipped feni, a Goan liquor made from cashews, and Limca, a sweet lemonade soda that is very popular here in India. To round out the meal, we shared bebinca, a layered pudding cake, and two bowls of a creamy pudding (I sadly didn’t jot down the name, and Google search is failing me at the moment). So say that we were stuffed is an understatement.

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Feni and Limca in the short glass and water in the tall glass

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Desserts!

We meandered around a little and then made the journey (this time via ferry, bus, and auto) back to the hotel. After a short rest, we went to Chapora Fort for sunset. The fort itself is famous for a scene from a Bollywood film. We quickly found a nice vantage point and claimed our seats. What we did not anticipate was the smog that blocked the sunset into a vague, hazy pink-orange glow. Even without a clear sunset, the conversation and relaxation more than made up for the view.

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Sadly, after dinner, I had to head down to Panjim for my overnight bus back to Pune. It was hard to say goodbye, but it made me excited for future Fletcher reunions – two more in the next few weeks!

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So happy holidays to all! I’ll be spending my Christmas in Kolkata with AIF fellows, Pune friends, and a Fletcher classmate. Certainly not a traditional holiday, but I am looking forward to it nonetheless.

Diwali Shenanigans

I have many more words to say about the past four days, but pure exhaustion has muddled my brain. On a whim I bought bus tickets to Mumbai and spent Wednesday evening until Saturday afternoon with a bunch of crazy and motivating AIF co-fellows. It was a jumble of debauchery, exploring, and coming to understand a little more of the kaleidoscope of Indian culture. Amazingly fun and completely exhausting.

So for now, a barrage of pictures until I can summon the energy to voice my thoughts.

Entering Mumbai: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Entering Mumbai: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Barbed wire alternative

Glass, always a good alternative for barbed wire

Beautiful architecture in West Bandra

Beautiful architecture in West Bandra

Larry buying Diwali gifts for our hosts

Larry buying Diwali gifts for our hosts

Rangoli on the streets of Bandra

Rangoli on the streets of Bandra

Rangoli

Rangoli

And then fireworks!

And then fireworks!

Rangoli at our Diwali celebrations

Rangoli at our Diwali celebrations

Diwali feast

Diwali feast

Enjoying the spread

Enjoying the spread

Aftermath

Aftermath

Mumbai train station

Mumbai train station

The boys on the train

The boys on the train

Clock tower (South Bombay)

Clock tower (South Bombay)

South Bombay

South Bombay

The buildings in South Bombay are stunning.

The buildings in South Bombay are stunning.

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The Gateway to India

The Gateway to India

Taj Palace Hotel

Taj Palace Hotel

Making cane juice on the streets of South Bombay

Making cane juice on the streets of South Bombay

Peanut Chutney (South Bombay)

Peanut Chutney (South Bombay)

South Bombay

South Bombay

South Bombay

South Bombay

Happy Diwali!

Happy Diwali!

The contrasts of Mumbai

The contrasts of Mumbai

Masala Dosa

Masala Dosa

And my welcome home sight on my way to get groceries.

And my welcome home sight on my way to get groceries this morning – goats. Well played, Pune. Well played.

And now back to normal life – work, writing, and goat watching?

A Weekend at Ashram Paryavaran Vidyalaya (APV)

This post travels back in time to 9/5 – 9/8. I had written a post in my notebook, and I am finally getting around to transcribing my reflections now. Better late than never!

A morning view of the Himalayas

A morning view of the Himalayas

APV. What an introduction to the Fellowship.

As part of orientation, the AIF Team took all 40 fellows to an alternative school in the remote Himalayan region of Uttarkhand. The school’s educational strategies deviate from India’s memorize-or-die pressure cooker system. The children are taught meditation as part of their daily routine, and music is incorporated into lessons. Subjects such as math and history are explained with unique techniques. For example, I sat in on a class that taught algebraic factoring through volume and cubes. It was fascinating!

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One of the most stunning moments of my brief time at APV was sitting in the classroom for the first time. After a brief moment of meditation, the children started singing. it was absolutely breathtaking. Forty fellows, the AIF staff, the children, and their teachers were all crammed into a single room without chairs. We sat, body to body, the music utterly enchanting. Knee to knee with other fellows, a young girl pressed against my legs, I saw a glimpse of life in this rural Indian school. It made me ache with excitement to head to my own schools and my own students. (Present moment note: the students at Akanksha schools are ADORABLE and I love them to pieces. It is so much fun transitioning from “Jessica Teacher” to “Jessica Didi,” and I will certainly be writing about my first experiences at the schools this week. Soon. I hope.)

Bells at the Goddess Temple

Bells at the Goddess Temple

I think the best summary that I can give of this retreat must be stolen from one of my peers here: I haven’t been this relaxed in a long time. Between the early morning and evening meditation sessions, hiking the Himalayas, viewing a Goddess Temple, playing soccer with the APV kids, yoga-ing, and talking with the other fellows for hours while staring at the most beautiful valley imaginable, I feel more free than I have in ages. Keeping this calm in Delhi and then Pune will be the real challenge. (Present moment note: Hmmm, will have to keep this thought in mind more… Certain bureaucratic processes are testing any zen moments I had previously!)

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

This excursion is by far the best way to start this fellowship year. So far everything has been amazing beyond all expectation. I cannot begin to imagine what this year holds for me. (Still can’t!)

India is Osmosis

Recently time has slipped away from me. It feels like a moment ago I was staring down two and a half months in Dhaka. A second ago I was landing in the United States for a short reprieve at home. But somehow now I am not only in India, but I have been here for three days and the time is spiraling away faster and faster yet.

It has been a whirlwind of meeting other fellows, talking with my contact at the Akanksha Foundation, meandering down the quiet streets of south Delhi, ignoring the pesky annoyance also known as jetlag, and eating as much paneer as my stomach can handle per meal. For now, all forty AIF Fellows are housed at the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra International Youth Hostel where we are trying to frantically remember everyone’s names and power our way through the foreign registration process. (Lesson one in India: bureaucracy is a force to be reckoned with. Lesson two: never expect the internet to work when it needs to. It will start working precisely when you want to go to bed.)

Everything still feels like a dream, to be honest. We are in a bubble – surrounded by English, guided by AIF staff, and housed by VYK. The streets are quiet, given that we are currently neighbors to embassies. The rains have cooled Delhi, and while it is still extremely humid, everything has been tamer than Dhaka thus far. I am realistic enough to realize that this grace period of calm will end soon, but I am enjoying it while it lasts.

Despite nagging flutters of nerves at the thought of moving to a foreign city alone while some of my peers will depart together, I am eagerly anticipating my “real” entrance to India. I am beyond excited to join the Akanksha Foundation, my placement organization for the year. Akanksha is based in Pune and Mumbai, where they run after-school centers and schools for underprivileged children. At the moment, it looks as though my projects will focus on monitoring and evaluation of school projects that are scaling up this year. One project will focus on literacy and language acquisition and retention. Another project will test methods for encouraging independent learning in young children (preschool and kindergarten ages). Another option is assisting with a scale up model for an Akanksha school(s) in possibly two new locations. And these are just the ideas selected by the organization – they are leaving things open until I arrive, thus enabling me to explore the schools and organization myself before finalizing my projects for the 10 months. There are so many options, and all possibilities seem infinitely exciting at the moment.

During one of our sessions we were told that India is osmosis, that you learn from this country without realizing it. I’d like to think that I have already started to internalize the tiniest portion of this country.

Reflections on a Summer in Dhaka

Please note – this is reposted from the Blakeley Fellowship website. The Blakeley Fellowship sponsored my internship at BRAC, thus enabling me to accept an unpaid internship for the summer. I am extremely grateful for the support! This is the blog post I wrote as a final reflection on the time I spent in Dhaka. The original posting can be viewed here.

As I begin the last week of work at my summer internship at BRAC, a development agency headquartered in Dhaka, Bangladesh, it is hard not to be overwhelmed with amazement that my time here is coming to a close. Summer in Dhaka has been everything one might imagine of life in this South Asian city – incessant noise, daredevil streets, the beautiful call to prayer, the pounding heat and hair curling humidity. It has also been a summer of invitations, iftars, a newfound gratitude for cloudy days, an addiction to sweet milky tea and a growing willingness to throw myself into a street filled with oncoming traffic. It has been a summer of mobile money and planning, of working and waiting. I have learned to strive to achieve my goals but to slow down and recognize the need for patience. It was a summer learning to live in a developing country. The fierce competition of the streets belies the disregard for time. A half hour? Forty-five minutes? A day? Two weeks? Time has a different meaning here. Even the lethargic opening of stores baffled me at first, before I slowed down my mornings and learned to savor the morning hours before rushing into the bustle of the day.

BRAC Centre

BRAC Centre

Dhaka teaches those who live in this crowded, vibrant city to appreciate the duality of life. Everything comes with a price. The rain cools the city. The downpours also create rivulets of mud on the bumpy sidewalks that inevitably cover my salwar kameez with droplets of street dirt. The hot, scorching sun creates the type of heat that will make you sweat while lying in bed naked with the fan on full blast. The same sun dries the streets and makes the walk to work dusty but clean. When in Dhaka, it is an art to appreciate the good in every situation and release the frustration of the bad. (And in general, Bangladesh is an excellent way to hone one’s sense of humor. There’s nothing like tackling a cockroach-infested room after a day in the field to help you see the absurdities of life. Or so it seemed at the time – in hindsight, it may have been the exhaustion showing itself…)

Traveling from Gulshan 2 to Banani

Traveling from Gulshan 2 to Banani

This is a hard city to live in. It pushes at you, mentally and physically, with car horns and the press of bodies upon bodies. There is so much need here, need that is sharply highlighted by the oases of luxury apartment buildings with swimming pools shimmering on rooftops. The contrast makes my head spin each time I come face to face with the stark differences between worlds here. Poverty in Bangladesh is a systematic need that cannot be solved by one person. Mentally I know this, but it is hard to shake the sneaky feeling of shame that starts to stick to you after walking past beggar after beggar, the same people stationed everyday on their specific tile of sidewalk by handlers in the early morning hours.

Old Dhaka

Old Dhaka

Perhaps I came with the expectation that working at BRAC would provide some sort of mental peace, an image coming from the idea that I would be doing my miniscule part to improve life in Bangladesh. More likely I didn’t comprehend the reality of life in Dhaka until I was immersed in this strange, scary, beautiful, and complex culture. It’s amazing how fuzzy the start of my summer seems now that I exist in the peculiar twilight zone of those who are about to leave a country.

The famous rivers and boats of Bangladesh

The famous rivers and boats of Bangladesh

I did have certain expectations for my work at BRAC. I came to assist BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab (SIL) with its Innovation Fund for Mobile Money. Which indeed I have – but of course not in the manner I expected. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting SIL’s Innovation Fund to encourage the transition from cash to mobile money within BRAC. SIL is facilitating the process change to mobile money within BRAC; it is not implementing the mobile money pilots. Rather, other BRAC programs are implementing pilot projects. To be selected for an internal “grant” from the Innovation Fund, programs needed to submit an idea regarding how to incorporate mobile money into a project to an Innovation Challenge run by SIL. BRAC employees voted on the projects in the challenge, and then the list was narrowed to semi-finalists in May. Final projects were selected on June 1, right on time. Idealistically, I expected to head straight to the field and see bKash, the first and most commonly used mobile money platform in Bangladesh, being incorporated into projects. Instead, I have come to see the tremendous complexity that accompanies changing a system. The transition from cash to mobile money requires coordination and cooperation between many departments, and at an NGO of BRAC’s magnitude, that is no small hurdle. Steadily, SIL has progressed with the final seven mobile money pilots that were selected, but the programs are just starting implementation of the pilots now.

A BRAC office in Mymensingh

A BRAC office in Mymensingh

I have assisted by applying some hard gained skills from Fletcher’s DM&E series: formulating indicators, definitions, baseline plans, and evaluation plans. I have also put these skills to use by designing and piloting an internal knowledge management database for BRAC pilot projects. SIL is a dynamic team, and I have been fortunate to work with several team members on multiple projects simultaneously. Mobile money has been a huge focus of my summer, but my attention has also been dedicated to knowledge management systems and research. I have gone to the field, but not as often as I had originally hoped. Yet I gained knowledge and experience that I could not have imagined when accepting my internship in March. The task of incorporating mobile money into an organization is much more intricate a challenge than I could have anticipated from Medford.

My lovely co-interns and I in wedding garb

My lovely co-interns and I in wedding garb

I am grateful to have spent my summer at BRAC in Dhaka. My time here has been both enlightening and difficult; at the risk of sounding trite, this internship has been a learning experience. Fortunately, it is immediately applicable to my next challenge: working with the Akanksha Foundation, an educational NGO, in India. While in Bangladesh, I received word that I will be an America India Foundation William J. Clinton Fellow in Pune, India from September 2014 through June 2015. My return to Fletcher has been postponed for a year. And while a (large) part of me yearns to reunite with my friends and professors in Medford this fall, all of me is ready to see India.

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After my summer in Dhaka, I’m ready.