My name is Caroline and I cannot wait to start my journey working with Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG) this summer in Uttarakhand, India! I am a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences at Penn, studying Global Health/Disease and Creative Writing.
I was drawn to Chirag for many reasons besides their active role in improving the relatively poor local health indicators. I admire Chirag’s place in the community and their dedication to people indigenous to the Central Himalaya region. An important part of my life at Penn is my involvement and research with Native American communities–the health and welfare of indigenous populations has been the fire and soul of my academic path, driving me to focus my energy and find a real passion. It has also complicated my world view and led me to question the ethics of global health, biomedical interventions, and foreign aid. I hope that my academic understanding of NGO partnerships, multi-sectorial development programs, and integrative medicine in rural regions can become tangible during my time at Chirag this summer. I am excited to actually live and work under the organization’s mission: to improve rural people’s quality of life through sustainable health interventions, such as collaboration with ASHA workers and maternal health programs. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to write an honor’s thesis on my work this summer, which will focus on primary healthcare utilization and local healers in the region. I cannot wait to observe and absorb everything happening around me– no preliminary research will prepare me for the experiential learning.
A few big questions I ask myself going into this summer is: What is my purpose here? How can I learn about my own place as a student and a researcher from the the community I will be immersed in? How will this change my way of thinking about health and well being?
More importantly, I think it will change my personal philosophy. It still hasn’t hit me yet–even as I sit in Zurich, plugged in for my 6 hour layover until I finally depart to Delhi. I even tried to make it hit me during the flight over by listening to the entire sitar-filled soundtrack of my favorite movie set in India–Wes Anderson’s “Darjeeling Limited”. I don’t think I’ll be ready until I get there–I keep thinking about the trains.
Yesterday during my train home from Penn to Washington D.C., a pedestrian was struck and killed on the tracks. During the first hour of confusion and delay on the train, I felt many things. First, I felt frustrated that I would not get home on time. There were waves of worry and doubt. I felt neither thirsty nor hungry until I realized that my water bottle was half empty and I that I only brought one small ziplock of nuts to satiate my fast metabolism. I felt out of control–everyone did, it was two hours of chaos and frustration and transient existence.
At some point the girl next to me remarked “I don’t understand why they can’t just clean it up and keep all the trains can keep moving.” I told her I wasn’t sure how long these things normally take but all I could think about was that I’d never been so close to a death like this before. I became disturbed, both at her casual unaffected posture and because I realized I might have been thinking the same thing too. And for fleeting moments I was, but perhaps it was more in relation to the natural progression of my own time and my own world.
Then I thought of India. I imagined how often traffic accidents and deaths like this may happen in the crowded trains and chaotic traffic of the highest populated country in the world. There are so many people, moving and stopping and starting through life. Perhaps my fellow train passengers from Delhi to Uttarakhand would have a different reaction.
I thought about India and how the concept of waiting and time were fluid. We are taught patience from a young age but nobody ever teaches us how to react to unexpected change as if it’s a natural part of life. Those 2 hours lost, or changed, did not radically change my day. But that one person who’s life was lost on the tracks played a definitive role in my life. It made me realize how we are all interconnected despite our relative isolation–something that will likely disappear for me once I arrive in India only to be surrounded by people, constantly. I am excited to feel interconnected, and learn patience. I am excited to spend hours, maybe even days, just waiting. I hope I learn to live instead of “wait”.