1st week in India: The Beginning…

Monday 1st February 2010

Hi there everyone!
Well, I have finally arrived and have started my new job!

For those of you who don’t know, I have just moved to Greater Noida, which is about an hour and a half outside Delhi, in India, to work for an Indian University as the Corporate Social Responsibility Manager. My job currently involves a number of things, including: improving the living conditions on the labour colony (a slum on campus where the cleaning staff and construction crew live), setting up a volunteer/internship programme with a number of local NGO’s and charities, and coordinating several student groups who want to focus on things like environmental issues, education and healthcare for the labour colony, etc.

On my first day, I was told that the hospital on campus has been dumping their bio-medical/hazardous waste outside the student residences, so I’m now drawing up a strategic plan for waste management on campus as well!

Even though I’ve only been here for a week there’s already so much to say.

The Indian staff here are all lovely, and have been extremely helpful, and the foreign faculty are nice, but a bit strange sometimes! Apart from S and D, a married British couple in their 50’s, and H, my flatmate who is 26 and from Albania, the rest are all single/divorced men in their 50’s and 60’s. Quite a few of them seem to think that the Indian staff are less important, less intelligent and generally less trustworthy that they are, which seems like an odd viewpoint given that they’ve moved to India! I wouldn’t go so far as to call anyone racist, but it seems like the British Raj is alive and well over here, at least inside the University.

I’ve so far been told that “These Indians just don’t understand cleanliness”, “Indians aren’t like us, they aren’t trustworthy”, “you always have to shout at them, if you want anything to get done, it’s the only thing they understand”.
One of the foreign faculty likes to make all the security guards salute him every morning, and said to me yesterday, in front of two senior lecturers from the Indian faculty “Do you know how you can tell if an Indian is lying to you? Their lips are moving.” I pointed out gently that that was a slightly offensive thing to say, and he said “Oh don’t worry, these guys can take a joke”.
– seriously, the looks on their faces was painful, and they definitely were not laughing. They were clearly very much insulted, but didn’t really feel they could tell him that. There’s a very strict hierarchy of staff here – it goes

Chairman and Vice-Chancellor etc (Senior Executive staff)
All Foreign staff and faculty,
Indian faculty,
Admin staff,
Peons and Security Guards,

The peons are like office boys – their job is to get stationery, bring us coffee, and various other random jobs!

Anyhoo, I’ve so far survived my first week, and made a few friends. The Indian staff who work in our office are all lovely, and uber-helpful. I think it helped a lot that I’ve spent time in Nepal, and a lot of the words are the same as in Hindi, so i can say “hello” (Namaste) and “thank you” (danyabad) already.
However what I found really shocking was the reaction I got – everyone was totally blown away that I could say hello and thank you in Hindi, and it immediately made me jump up several notches in all of the Indian staff’s estimation. The entire rest of the foreign faculty has been here for about 5 or 6 months, and not one of them has bothered to learn a single word of Hindi, not even hello! I’m hoping to try and learn some proper conversational Hindi while I’m here, but I’ll have to be careful I don’t generate any resentment amongst the foreign staff – I think I’m showing them up and making them look bad!

In general there’s a lot of bickering and in-fighting within the department, and I have to say I’d forgotten how much teachers and ex-pats like to moan! I suppose a lot of it for me comes from having lived in some pretty filthy student flats in my time, not to mention the orphanage, without water and electricity, so I think our accommodation here is pretty great, but the others have complained non-stop about everything since I got here!

On my second day, the entire foreign faculty basically went on strike and threatened to quit en masse (except for me of course – I stayed well out of it!). Something to do with the terrible conditions we live in and paying too much tax etc. One of the guys was extremely upset that it had taken over two weeks for someone to come and fix his sky/tv box! Considering my job involves trying to get the cleaning staff some toilets sorted out (some of them have lived on the slum for three years without any toilets), I wasn’t exactly sympathetic!

I also feel a bit sorry for H, my flatmate (the Albanian girl). I’ve barely seen her this week, she keeps mostly to herself, but literally every other member of foreign staff hates her with a passion. So far, we’ve chatted once or twice, and she’s been perfectly nice and pleasant to me, and seems fairly quiet, but the others keep on asking how everything is in the flat, and are shocked every time I tell them it’s fine, and that she’s been very nice to me. There are a lot of rumours going around about her, poor girl, mostly spread by these middle-aged lonely men – I suspect they’re a bit jealous, cos she’s very pretty, and 26, so not very interested in them romantically! At least 4 of the male staff have told me that she’s a whore, who sleeps with everyone and constantly has men in her flat. I’d love to know how they know all this, cos I’m living there and haven’t seen anything untoward at all!

I have a couple of theories though – Shahi, the cleaner/odd-job man is always in and out of our flats fixing things and cleaning – and he loves to have a good nose around. He told me that he found a condom in H’s room (un-used, I should add, still in the packet), and he said that having a condom makes you a dirty filthy whore. So that could be how that rumour got started.

Anyhoo, I could write a whole book about my job and the work I’m doing over here, but that can probably wait for another day!

hope you’re all well,
Newbie Maya!

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