Well I’ve been MIA for a while prepping for a “life sabbatical.” On Saturday, I arrived safely in Hyderabad, India. As with most big changes, it was bittersweet to leave Beaconfire but I decided to pursue a path I’ve been interested in since before starting business school: the intersection of making dollars and making change.
Since most of you reading this got the super quick version, here’s the regular quick version: I’ll be here until early May working on various online constituent relationship management, user experience and content strategy projects for a social enterprise start up called GreenMango. The company was started in 2008 by two young American women with backgrounds in micro-finance who felt there was a place for low cost, valuable services for small businesses (in addition to the now popular loan model). The idea is to bridge the “informal” economy – unregistered businesses which consist of individuals with trade skills but no access to the internet or marketing abilities – with consumers, or “shoppers,” who are looking for cooks, carpenters, cleaners, etc. for their homes.
Needless to say, living in India is going to take some getting used to. Though I have yet to uncover all the ways, here is a sampling of my first few days.
- Brushing my teeth with bottled water. As you may know, the most persistent threat to a foreigner’s health is water, like in much of the developing world. Of course, the autos don’t drive in proper lanes and malaria is an issue, but water impact everything you do. Because of this, I pour water into a mug and hold it in my left hand while brushing my teeth, which is both for swirling my toothbrush and so I can resist the instinct to turn on the water.
- Having a “tea lady.” Yesterday was my first day of work and one of my few American colleagues asked me how I want my tea – with or without sugar and with or without milk. “Actually, you have to have it with milk. Do you want sugar?” I said, just a little. She replied, “This isn’t Starbucks. It’s either with or without.” I had three cups of it because Lakshmi brings it over to me whenever she sees I drank the last cup. It’s pretty awesome. There’s also a guy who goes and buys your lunch. While this is a bootstrapping start up, I wonder if this is kind of what it feels like to work at Google?
- Walking away from a negotiation over 20 cents. Typically an auto ride costs about 50 cents to one dollar for a 3-5 mile ride and people in India generally hate to overpay (and often think they are overpaying). Before getting into an auto (which is just a scooter that fits people in a back seat), you have to negotiate the price and 10 rupees too much is commonly a deal breaker.
- Not having Internet access at home. I started a book (Half The Sky which I highly recommend) just two days ago and I’m on page 213, a rarity for me. The first day not having Internet was painful, but now I’m wondering if this kind of disconnecting is just what I need. My roommate is not sharing this revelation, however, so he’ll likely get us access so I can do late night/early morning Skype calls with people.
- Feeling like Will Ferrell in Elf when he says “You have a big coat. I saw a dog today. Does your friend have a big coat too?” Seriously, I am like a five-year-old, announcing my random observations and asking dumb questions. For example, I am called “maam” by my colleagues at work. I’ve heard YMCA three times my first day (and Grease and Kung Fu Fighting and other 70s gems a few times too). And I’ve seen many more goats and camels than other white people. Some of the goats were eating trash next to a guy peeing on the side of the road and the camels were being ridden by 4 little boys giggling with delight and selling rides.
- Walking with purpose without any. As I was warned, I am stared at everywhere I go. I don’t want any extra attention or to let people smell fear so I walk the same way I would in the U.S. – with intent and speed. The problem is that there are no sidewalks so I have to make sure I’m not hit by an auto, I don’t step in a mud puddle and don’t make eye contact all while figuring out where I’m going. It’s exhausting but will hopefully get easier as time passes and I have a sense of direction, both literally and figuratively.