Hello from Madurai, India! Before coming here on Sunday, my only knowledge of the city was derived solely from the Tamil gangster movies based in Madurai, where men with menacing mustaches would take out machetes from the backs of their shirts and kill someone who had dishonored their family. A city that was notorious for being violent, Madurai has fortunately escaped that legacy today, and my fellow CASI interns and I have fortunately not had any disturbing experiences.
Despite having been to Tamil Nadu many times before, I experienced a slight culture shock for the first time last week. I had just wrapped up a semester of study abroad in Israel, a country much smaller than India (during my time there, I traveled to almost every part of the country), a country much cleaner, with much quieter streets, relatively more reserved people, and at the time I was leaving, a much more pleasant climate (than India at least). My university was right next to a national park, and most of my morning runs in the park usually didn’t entail any human contact. My first attempt to run in Madurai was a disastrous failure that I didn’t even run. I merely left the Aravind Guesthouse at 6.30 in the morning and scurried back home after I saw the activity in the streets.
Besides these minor (re)adjustment issues, Sam, Christina and I haven’t had any major curveballs thrown at us. We started work on Monday, and we’re working on a patient awareness project the first stage of which entails making posters so that patients can better understand each of the processes that they undergo during the screening process. As part of our research, our supervisor Deepa, suggested that we undergo these tests ourselves. So Sam, Christina and I underwent a variety of eye tests. After the third step, I was told that I could leave because there was nothing wrong with my eyes. Christina and Sam, on the other hand, were taken through a seemingly elaborate set of tests, and three hours later, they emerged with blurry vision and new prescriptions.
The next day, we went back the screening unit to observe some more tests. There is one test that looked particularly threatening where a hooked syringe is used to insert saline into the eye. The point is for the patient to feel the saline in the throat, signalling that everything is okay with the passage connecting the eyes and the throat. I jokingly volunteered Sam to undergo the test before I realized that Deepa was serious about us experiencing everything like a patient. On that note, we have scheduled surgery for each of us next week.
Since I’ve started my work with Aravind, I have been thinking a lot about my small role here and what this experience can do for me. I chose to be here mostly because of the location and because I get to be two hours away from my grandmother, and for the opportunity to really fine tune my Tamil. This is not to say that I wasn’t expecting any professional fulfillment, but healthcare is not my field at all. However, being at Aravind is helping me understand that there are some really important skills that I can pick up. Efficiency is one. As someone who likes to run my life just like the Japanese Metro System (being late to something is rarely an option), I appreciate the people here who work long and incredibly busy hours, and I really hope that each working day of mine will come to be as fulfilling, occupying me with meaningful things to do. While talking about strategy and business ideas in abstract terms is really not a personal interest, talking about it with a meaningful goal is much more inspiring. The spiritual philosophy of the late Dr. V, Aravind’s founder, is the philosophy fueling this whole mission, and while some of it may have diminished over the years following his death, I really hope that our time here will help us discover that (especially since we work Saturdays!).