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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Life in Chennai #5: The anatomy of a weekend

So much of what I think and experience is mundane and most certainly uninteresting to anyone, however since it is so much of a part of life and since I’m filling pages of it in my journal, I thought I might as well share a little segment of memorable experiences and thoughts over a weekend. It is Saturday and I’m at work as usual, so the thought appeals to me. This is a test of sorts: can I spin a tale that is interesting and engaging to read despite being about nothing really interesting or insightful? Editing it myself, I’m thinking the answer is no, no I can’t. And you know, that’s OK. But it’s written now. So enjoy. And if you’re disgruntled at the end, well here’s an IOU from me for 10 minutes of your life back: put down that donut, coffee or cigarette! There, now we’re square again. ;-)

Saturday morning
It is a day of contradictions. On one hand I am feeling energized, passionate and excited, on the other, I feel loss and disappointment – a funny pair to combine. The entire office has convened today to talk and brainstorm about sustainable development, corporate social responsibility and the future of the non-profit arm of our little team and my little world and work, the Institute for Sustainable Development and Research. I like visioning. I like thinking about what development and sustainability means and really like the chance to play with the many ideas I’ve been rolling around in my head in the past couple months, mostly in isolation. I like that Pooja, the other valiant non-profit employee, and I share and support each other’s views on what sustainable development and CSR are and aren’t, their potentials and their realities. But I don’t like that my CEO does not share similar views, or rather, we don’t share his. I had given thought that there might be a place for me here with this agency after my contract. The idea of taking an organisation that is still mostly virtual and a glimmer of hope into a real agency of bricks and people and programs really appeals to me. But it is not here. It became clear over the course of the day, really for the first time, where my CEO wants to take the organisation and that he has a different vision and a different approach to how to get there. He views development and CSR through a different lens. It is not that one is right and one wrong, but the two are irreconcilable. It is my CEO’s dream and passion to start this organisation and take it this direction. And I have my own dreams I am following. I cannot let mine down to join his. In the long run, that is of course OK. This step will lead to another and it was never meant to be an end. But today I am disappointed there is no Easter Bunny.

Saturday afternoon
It is a day of contradictions. On one hand I am feeling the most distance to my boss. On the other, I feel the closest bond with the other staff. Most of us have convened impromptu in the adjoining lunch room for coffee and it has turned into a frank discussion. I understand better than ever before, the motivations and perspectives of my colleagues about the company, its strengths and weaknesses, about who they are and where they come from, about what they want and where they want to go. It is good. They are good people. I wish they were all staying. I wish I was. We’re not. Oh well, there is always email and people to visit next time I pass through.

Saturday evening
I’m heading out and I put my socks back on. I hate socks. I’ve come to realise this. I have to wear nice shoes to work. And even on Saturdays when I feel justified in dressing down and coming in flip flops, I still can't because if I want to meet friends at a restaurant or clubs right from work, they require close-toed shoes. So I end up having to wear socks most all the time. It is a funny thing to develop an aversion to I know – it is not like I didn’t wear socks every day for most of the year every year since running around barefoot as a kid – but there it is. I feel like it is completely unfair that I’ve come 12,000 km to a tropical country where most people go open-toed or even barefoot and I still have to put on damn socks. And I’m volunteering, which is of course completely irrelevant to any issue of sock waering and I know that, but I childishly use it anyway to comfort myself in my silent tirade. I also know the hatred of socks pins me into the hippie, Birkenstock-wearing camp, so don’t say it. Let me have my little rant. India with socks. What is world coming to? Thankfully women can still get away with those cute flip flops and strappy heels. ;-)

Saturday night
I’ve just stepped into another world. It is still Chennai, the sometimes-cheesy mix of Bollywood pop hits in the rotation proves that, but where did all these white people come from? My friend Preiya has invited me to join her and her colleagues out for drinks and dancing, but I had no idea how many of them there were. All Canadians, many are apparently here for training with a few like Preiya here on long-term contracts. There are like 20 of them! I haven’t seen so many foreigners in one space in months. It turns into a great night, which is good because after the day, I need to blow off some steam and clear my head. I find solace in a group that is amazing open, welcoming and unpretentious, confirming my faith in the niceness of Canadians. I find momentary transcendence taking Eminem’s advice and losing myself in the music (see previous post). I find smiles and rejuvenation, drinks, dancing and laughs.

Saturday night, late
I am lazily ensconced in a hotel room with the remnants of the night’s revellers. I am happy with the way the night is drifting on. I am quite happy with the treat of a Canadian Rye and coke, a liquor one cannot get here. But I realise that my French sucks. Those remaining are mostly French Canadian or bilingual and the conversation has switched completely to French. I am sad to discover how much I’ve lost. I’m only following about half. But oh well, that’s OK, it is also 5am and I’ll admit I’m quite fuzzy so in my defence, I’m not following any language particularly well. But being content and comfortable, I most tune out and chill with them until dawn. I’ve always enjoyed greeting the sun sitting around with a group of friends, some tunes and conversation. That I can’t follow all of this one is immaterial. Time to go home though and sweet sleep. And at least by waiting until morning, I’ve missed the auto driver’s exploitive “night time” fare hikes.

Sunday afternoon
I’m up and moving. I’m down the street picking up a Pepsi and a bar of chocolate. It’s that kind of day. As I wander down, my auto wallah guys on the corner wave. I wave back and then realise that that means I’ve just walked right past the shop I was heading for. Oh, it really is that kind of day. Since I’m going this way anyway now (and now feel slightly sheepish), I continue for awhile, enjoying the movement and back lost in thought, before circling back to the desired purveyor of sugary consolations. Actually, truth be told, it is really Coke and chocolate that I crave, but the shop doesn’t have Coke, so I’m forced to compromise on my choice of salve. He doesn’t give me trouble for taking home the glass bottle, if I promise to return it. I’m grateful as I only have limited compromises in me today. I wander back home. The neighbour boys are watching football on our TV and look at me a bit perplexed over how long I was gone to simply drop down to the shops. Good thing they hadn’t wanted anything. I shrug and don’t explain. These things happen. OK, well they happen to me at any rate. Time is a very gossamer commodity and I don’t know what I do with it half the time. I really wish it was like sands through the hourglass (spot the reference) that you could hold and count although perhaps that wouldn’t help any more than my watch. Some have called me a dreamer. They’re being really nice. And you’re being really nice for reading this which has to be one of the most frenetic and random posts yet. Of course bars are meant to be topped, so stay tuned… ;-)


erica said...

I like this one a lot. It's funny how a little slice of "day in the life of" goes so far to sum up the whole experience. And this is an excellent line: "Time is a very gossamer commodity."

alexis said...

Hey McKay, you're a very good writer and I've enjoyed reading your adventures.

(I'm the small dot in Northern Alberta on your cluster map)