Arriving in Madurai, I was determined to create a stable schedule in order to find familiarity in the new environment. To my surprise, Madurai was very similar to Guntur – the town I grew up in as a kid. The people, the food, the scents, and the environment all seemed familiar with language being the largest distinguishing factor. Walking into Inspiration, the hostel we would be staying at for the next nine weeks, I immediately noticed something that would shape my time in Madurai. From the hostel’s peaceful aura to the clean food, rooms, and amenities, we had everything we needed – nothing more and nothing less. I noticed the same pattern during our orientation at Aravind the following day. The hospital was the cleanest I had ever visited in India which is incredible when you account for the pure number of patients Aravind serves, yet once again everything was very simple from the waiting areas to treatment facilities. There were no luxurious VIP suites or extravagant food bars and for someone like me who craves simplicity, I felt very comfortable and wanted to adopt this concept of simplicity into my routine.
Working at Aravind Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm left little for me to plan on the weekdays. Within a week my schedule became wake up, call my friends and family, eat breakfast, go to work, go to the gym, hand wash clothes (the current vain of my existence), and sleep. On the weekends, we are not traveling, I visit the breathtakingly beautiful Meenkashi Amman Temple and indulge in dosas, pooris, and paneer. However, it didn’t take me very long to realize that even though I had a routine, every day brought something completely unexpected. The rest of this post is dedicated to three of those unexpected situations.
The first two days in Madurai, my co-interns and I made it a priority to explore the city. We were forced to explore the city when the files on my SD card corrupted, rendering my pictures from Delhi useless. In accordance with standard Cherry practices, I read reviews and found raving reviews describing what I believed was the best data recovery services in Madurai and quickly Whatsapped the store’s number. I received a text back saying, “Hi, this is an American number. We are a service from Madurai”. Rookie mistake. I knew I was going to be ripped off, but I went anyway because I like pictures and of course, the stellar reviews.
Co-interns Anjali and Nadha accompanied me on this pursuit. Expecting a well established store, we arrived at the address but could not find it. We spent approximately 15 minutes going back and forth on the street before the auto-rickshaw drivers who were giggling at us took matters into their own hands and led us to the building. Everything seemed normal until we were led upstairs into a dimly lit hallway at which point I wanted to turn around and leave. However, at the end of the hall we could make out a small poster only half stuck to the door sporting the “Extreme Solutions” title. We walked in to find a room with perhaps the highest ratio of hardware devices to square feet I’ve ever seen. There were SD cards, DVD players, chip readers, dismantled laptops, and hundreds of manuals in every shelf, desk, and region of floor. It didn’t take us very long to put together that Extreme Solutions’s capital was one (very intelligent) man, a single computer, and large quantities of hardware.
Regardless, the one man show was able to recover my pictures for what seemed like a reasonable price and I made sure to leave him a nice review :)! Extreme solutions was an extreme store that solved extreme problems.
Lodhi Gardens and Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi
Mid Level Ophthalmic Personnel (MLOPs at Aravind):
Aravind’s hyper-efficient system of care would not be possible without their mid level ophthalmic personnel who are mostly young women from surrounding villages (some start at 16) rigorously trained to perform specific tasks in the chain of care whether it’s counseling, dilating eyes, or ushering patients. I knew these women were amazing as it is because growing up in a village environment, I could imagine some of the socioeconomic challenges they faced, but it wasn’t until I spent a few hours conversing with the MLOPs in the glaucoma clinic that I truly understood how incredible they are.
My task that day was to understand how patient counseling in the glaucoma clinic operated, so the MLOPs began explaining to me in English how the system worked. It took me an hour to realize they also spoke Telugu, my native language. Once I began speaking in Telugu, our conversation picked up and one explained to me how she was currently 18 years old and began working two years ago. I complimented her on her Telugu and asked how she learned to speak it so well within two years. She then proceeded to give me a list of languages she learned to speak from her time at Aravind which included: English, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi. I was absolutely blown away because she was able to learn four new languages within the span of two years without any type of formal education.
Aravind’s amazing workforce from our project supervisors to the doctors to the MLOPs continues to surprise me everyday with their utmost dedication, incredible skills, and tireless attitudes. It goes to show the incredible culture of the organization and how their mission to eradicate needless blindness is embedded into every part of their system.
Co-intern Anjali and I along with another intern from Berkeley decided to join a gym close by as a way to maintain our routines from home. The closest gym (great reviews in case you were wondering) turned out to be a boxing gym led by a man who used to coach the Indian army. We awkwardly walked in on our first day and paid our dues to learn both boxing and work out in the gym. Within 15 minutes of running on the treadmill, the coach ordered us off and began giving us a list of weight training exercises to do. We then realized that for 1500 rupees a month we also paid for a personal trainer.
A few pictures from our quick trip right outside Madurai to Samanar Hills – a hill rock complex which houses caves where the Tamil Jain monks lived along with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and Jain sculptures.