I never expected to be writing this quarter one update from Kathmandu, Nepal, a country that was not even in my proposal. But my time in India quickly turned into a vast, roaming voyage that brought me to eight states and two union territories. It seems I rode the inertia all the way out of the country. I wouldn't change a thing I, but it was a distinct way to begin my Watson year.
There are many upsides. I was constantly stimulated, and for every experience, I had three times as many ideas. I received a master class in diversity. I once road the overnight train and woke up confronted with a different language from the one the night before. I learned how to make friends quick, a skill I've long wished to improve. And I learned how to travel light. I cannot wait to downsize my luggage permanently before heading to Myanmar.
As I look back on my first three months in India, however, I am even more struck by my variety of approach to the project than the variety of location. At times, I was taking a very "formal method." Researching online, contacting leaders in my field, conducting interviews, and writing up reports. An example of this can be found here. When that felt like a waste of the Watson's unique opportunity, I got out of the city and more directly into the action–traveling with local activists and NGO's. An example of this can be found here.
Unfortunately, due to India's position as a developing nation, these experiences were still one layer removed from what I would have preferred. Every visit to a local village was a trip "to the field," which brings a corresponding set of rules, procedures, and decorum. They were fascinating experiences, but still kept significant distance between myself and the people I was trying to learn from.
This distance troubled me greatly, and four years of liberal arts education had trained me to instantly see this distance as a power imbalance. I often felt ashamed by the way I was interacting in these situations. This feeling of shame did stifle progress on the substance of my project, but I realized trying to understand such feelings themselves was a valuable use of time. An example of that can be found here. No doubt, my language deficiency was the biggest barrier here. As such, I am actively hypothesizing how to spend more time in a Spanish speaking country and would hope to enroll in intensive language study while there.
Now that I am three months in, I can imagine the coming nine with more certainty. I find myself once again creating expectations. Primarily, I am hoping my next quarter to be more continuous. There is an exhilaration that comes from constantly being on the move, but also a fragmentation. Every experience has the adrenaline-induced euphoria of being "the first time," but the knowledge gained from those experiences does not layer well. It's almost impossible to put the pieces together into a larger narrative.
And by and large, I think that's okay. I mentally prepared for this to be a year of questions, not answers. I don't have the tools that come with making answers, namely a dedicated team and lots of time. I am a team of one and my timetables are limited. With these cards in my hand, I think my strongest moves are observation and curiosity, more than certainty and decisiveness.
But still, there are ways I plan to adjust for the coming quarter. I feel like I've started ten different books, but not gotten past the first couple chapters in any of them (this is not just a metaphor, it is also a reflection of my actual reading habits). In Myanmar, I would prefer to open fewer books, and instead gain the understanding that comes with seeing each to completion.
But first, I must finish my time here in Nepal. Today, I enroll in a ten day silent meditation retreat outside of Kathmandu: no cell phone, no books, no talking. It's the ultimate "digital detox," in fact its really a deprivation of stimuli of all kinds. To be honest, I am nervous. Historically, I have not meditated frequently, and I hate sitting still. But the course actually feels like a natural outgrowth of one aspect of the Watson, which is the ample time I've had to myself.
The course almost formalizes that and gives credence to the difficult process of looking inward. I am not entirely sure what I'm going to find, but I am excited to find out. And I am sure it will influence where I end up next!