Ah, development sector! As much as rewarding, you’re taxing. And when you need to tax, the toll is high. I think on this whilst reading Topher McDougal, doctoral student in International Economic Development at the MIT, on his last adventures in rural India. I remembered that I am yet many lessons away from understanding the intricacies of researching on (economic) development.
Personally, I enjoyed the dynamics of the Indian rural sector (Orissa and Andhra Pradesh), even considering my few experiences with bribery and corruption, but I had a hard time diving myself in the urban setting (Chennai) –when bureaucracy and disorganization hit, you don’t have the mountains, the wild life sanctuaries and the tribal people to cope with.
I have been cruising around rural India for the past month now – a month which happens to correspond with months 7-8 of my wife’s pregnancy, I mention somewhat sheepishly. I have done this with the purpose of gaining some sort of intuitive understanding of the Naxal movement – the Maoist insurgency that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described in 2006 as the single largest threat to India’s internal security.
During my travels to some of the world’s worst shitholes, I have found myself in the crossfire of a gun battle, nearly been run over by an armored personnel carrier, had my computer keyboard eaten by ants, developed dermal boils in 50-degree heat, and had dengue fever, which you treat by lying around delirious, half-hallucinating, feeling like you’re being disemboweled (which you kind of are), and praying it all ends soon one way or another and not really caring which it will be. But I have never been pick-pocketed. (…)Or at least I didn’t (,) (…)because by the time I realized my wallet and passport were missing, my naturalist friends had disappeared.
(…) Now, I didn’t know this, but in Indian police stations, you don’t file a report. You file an application to have a report filed. Any application can, of course, be denied, and in my case, it was, due to the fact that I claimed my wallet and passport were stolen.
(…)You can imagine what the days since have been like, getting an emergency-issue passport from the US embassy, obtaining an exit visa from the government that put the bureau in bureaucracy, etc. I spent the better part of the day today in a government office jockeying to maintain my place in something I’ll liberally term a “queue” (though “mob” may be closer to the mark) to get that exit visa. After 2 hours, I was the first in line at the counter, when a random Tibetan dropped the identity cards for an army of exiled Buddhist monks on the desk of the woman about to help me. She obliged him (probably because it’s bad karma to ignore an army of exiled Buddhist monks, which just happens also to be the reason I only weakly objected to the queue-cutting), and by the time she was finished, it was lunch hour, so I got to perfect my placeholding skills for another little while, telling people edging up along the sides “back off, I’m first” if they looked obstreperous, and “please let me go first – my pregnant wife is waiting for me at home” if they looked nice.
A pregnant wife who, I might add, now has $30 to live on for the next 10 business days until our credit and debit cards have been reissued.
Enjoy the complete version in Topher’s blog: