Shoot, you guys. Just when you think you start to get a handle on things they throw another new change your way. Today, that new change was my first day of real work. I was placed, happily, with the community health unit that is currently working on a UN-funded project that is essentially the hardcore, final steps to get the “malaria free” stamp in a country that’s 99.9% of the way there. The work itself is really cool, and I’m learning a lot about the healthcare system and the approach to disease eradication- all very relevant stuff. However, yet again, I’ve been smacked in the face with the “real world” workforce that I’ve all but dodged for the past 21 years. Man. You come up with these fancy ideas of what you want to do when you grow up, be a doctor, help children, whatever it may be, but you never actually have complete job descriptions that fits exactly what you are qualified for in exact situations where you are excited about every aspect. Which I’ve known, but get to experience a little bit and hopefully use that to drive my job-car after graduation. For one, desk work is an unfortunate component to most jobs, especially NGO work. Staying engaged when you’re reading through the 104 page report on Malaria Eradication In Sri Lanka, Round Eight, is a conflicting challenge. I really do like what I get to do here, but there are certain challenges that one would face in any new job. Here’s a chronicle of my first day.
Excluding the wonderful co-workers and very interesting project itself, I had a typical case of first-day-of-work blues. For one, my particular office is the only one that’s not at the headquarters where we live, it’s about two and a half miles up the road. Which would be fine for any local that new the bus system, a little less than fine for a new volunteer that can barely pronounce the district I live in, let alone the one I’m headed toward or the route to my actual office. A pricey taxi ride later, I get there. Great. Oh But Wait. The entire 200-page mandate that I was delicately allowed to borrow if I return it? Left it at home. How about that notebook or even a pen? In my other bag sitting on my bed. Swell. I did get my own desk though, right under the Antarctic Machine I think they call the A/C. They told me it’d be much more comfortable than the office with only a fan, but I’m not sure they knew that unlike your Sri Lankan that knows humid weather and would value a chilly workplace, I am a cold-o-phobe that would relish in the toaster oven they all called the “bad office.” So there it sat, at the end of the hall, empty and lonely. Mocking me and my goosebumps.
I uncomfortably struggled through the day trying to find peace among all of my co-workers that know minimal English, trying to gauge if I actually like the idea of working, and dealing with an overactive bladder. I made it though, if only by pure repetition of one of my favorite quotes by Betty Bender, Anything I’ve ever done that was ultimately worthwhile initially scared me to death. And I survived. And crossed Day One off my to do list.
Oh but then I had to get home and the entire office left half an hour before my taxi was supposed to get me. With trusty Ipad soduku in hand, I meandered around the lobby until he arrived. Remember when I said the word “taxi?” What I actually meant was tuk-tuk. Essentially a three wheeled, semi-enclosed motorcycle taxi. That I had to pay entirely too much for but is considered a small luxury among Sri Lankan transportation. How so? Well, my friend, it comes complete with a vodka holder in the drivers seat, a flashing Buddha on the dash if you’re lucky, and the uncanny ability to pass within centimeters of a tractor and avoid collision. On my way home today I experienced the following (over the course of two miles, mind you): my very friendly driver honking at a police car, my very friendly driver missing the public bus by a sliver in order to speed past said police car, running over a yellow balloon that happened to survive an epic game of Frogger across the 8-lane highway and the sighting of a “Sri Lanka Airforce” sign that was (mistakingly??) placed in its heavy-duty cement right in front of a fancy bakery.
I feel utterly disappointing in my lack of photography, but lesson learned. Next time there will be more visual evidence on my part. [this is a tuk tuk, not mine though]
Anyway, I think what I am actually doing will be really great once I get the hang of it. Once the feeling of being new and confused subsides, I think I will be able to do some real cool work with this unit. Also, I’ll end on a bright side:
In Sri Lanka we have these ladies that I like to call Tea Fairies. They appear twice a day, frequently when you are starting to feel like you are too drained to function, and provide magical cups of tea that change your world. Right when you realize you’re in a new place, a weird office, in the middle of some meeting in a far away land, they appear. They find you. And sometimes they have cookies. And in my humble opinion they’re probably the primary reason that this country is so friendly, healthy and essentially getting high marks in all categories.
Hope all is well in Virginia, and in all of your worlds. I do have a pretty good internet connection now so I can check email, skype, insta etc. (hey bill nelson pruitt. I left the gram out just for you :)
Oh ps. I get to go on my first field visit tomorrow, leaving Moratuwa for Anarahdapura! Here’s a visual