Ode to Quan Quan

To my co-intern Quan Quan, whom I promised a well-deserved shout out. So few of my memories with Quan Quan are outside of India (as of now), and so few of my memories in India are without Quan Quan. As I reflect on my time in this country, separating the two is nearly impossible.

To our countless unfortunate, unglamorous adventures which likely won’t be the first ones to surface when asked “how was India?”, beginning with our confusion as we took our first steps in Pondicherry nonetheless:

Much to our surprise, the bus from Madurai had not dropped us off outside Aravind as we were told. It was 5:00 am. We proceeded to “Aravind Guest House”, which we now know is a remote, beach-area guest house in the complete opposite direction of Aravind Eye Hospital. It just coincidentally shares the same name as the clinic. 500 rupees later, the desk boy at this Aravind guest house (who we had no choice but to awaken at the then-ungodly hour) informed our tired, sweaty, desperate souls that indeed we did not have a 10-week reservation at their establishment. Alas, we trudged on to a main road about a quarter mile away with every belonging we had brought with us overseas. Another rickshaw. More communication issues with the driver about Aravind Eye Hospital. Finally, a call back from someone at Aravind to Quan Quan’s ancient Nokia phone, someone who could clear things up with the driver in Tamil (as much as one can with the Nokia’s questionable sound quality). 500 more rupees shelled out, and we had arrived at Aravind at last. We wandered aimlessly around the hospital campus grounds until we gathered enough strange looks as foreigners with large luggage for the right person to notice. Approximately two and a half hours after getting off the bus, we entered our new home for the next ten weeks. Anger and frustration had left us speechless, but in the heat (literally) of the moment we did not direct it on each other. We soundly slept.

To the looks we have shared being pushed around like sardines on the public bus:

Panicked glances, like when google maps revealed we were headed in the opposite direction of our scheduled surfing lesson to which we were already running late.

 And other times, looks indicating we were both at ease, laughing at the comedy of the language barrier as the woman next to us addressed us in Tamil as if we were natives and had known each other for years.

To the bickering, not unlike the way my sisters and I poke and prod at each other, which made me feel a little closer to home:

Quan Quan picked out the pomegranate Olivia and I had been eyeing all day from the fruit bowl. She brought it to the housekeeper, Malika, to cut up. Malika returned, bringing the pomegranate in a single bowl and setting it in front of Quan Quan as Olivia and I watched, wide-eyed with envy. Quan Quan smiled matter-of-factly. Olivia and I threw up our arms, jeering, “Why do you the pomegranate! That was for all of us!” as Quan Quan defended herself, “Well I was the one who picked it out and brought it to her!” Malika, innocent and alarmed and not knowing much English, had no issue interpreting our immaturity. “Madame! Madame! I will cut another, no problem!” she said, settling us down.

 And the numerous spats that resulted from only having each other to validate our recollections—“How do you NOT remember how much we paid the driver of the fifth rickshaw we took two weekends ago!!!”

 In fact, our bickering is the reason for this very composition. Having introduced me in her own blog, Quan Quan felt simply BETRAYED I hadn’t done the same.

 On a more serious note, to the support that not all co-interns may give, or even need to give, each other throughout their temporary employments:

Navigating the workplace across the world brought a new challenge every day. In the peak of my dilemma of trying to get a Stata package (see previous post), Quan Quan must have heard me vent about it at least twice daily, in one way or another. She offered tips and listened to me without ever complaining that I sounded like a broken record.

When it felt like our projects were moving at a rate slower than the line at Allegro Pizza on a Saturday night, I would have surely gone insane without the comedic relief she never failed to provide.

Interning so far from home also meant being immersed in a new culture outside of the professional realm. Some norms were perplexing to our western-born minds, but I couldn’t have asked for a better, more open-minded person to discuss with and help me wrap my head around new ideas.

I began this post by saying separating my time with Quan Quan and experience in India would be nearly impossible. But it’s more than that. It’s like trying to take the chili powder out of a nice tomato chutney— not only would it be extremely difficult to do, but no one in her right mind would want to remove the vital flavor from the dish in the first place.

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About Maggie Taylor

Double majoring in economics and health & societies in Penn's Class of 2019. Hailing from Iowa City, Iowa. Interning at Aravind Eye Care Systems in Pondicherry, India.