It’s the beginning of the third and final week with the Design Abroad program. Three words come to mind: exciting, scary, and stressful. We have been faced with numerous challenges along the way. The biggest, and initial one being: how can we just enter a community we know nothing about and expect to find out what they need?
There have been some obvious barriers (low speed wi-fi, anyone?) but joking aside, more prominently language and cultural barriers are at their strongest. Very few speak English and there are so many cultural norms different to ours. Religion is very engrained into the lifestyle. This is something that is not practiced to that extent in the place that I grew up and where I live. It is difficult for me to grasp.
Additionally, ethnographic research has proven to be able to show us what we (a western group of people) might think of as a problem. However, it takes asking, conversation and involvement with the locals to find out where our place is to help through design.
Through many interviews we also found out that the answer won’t just be served to you on a golden platter, but rather in fragments that have to be pieced together over time. Participatory design is a process and it takes a team of great minds and great leaders to work with along the way. There is no creative brief to tell you who your target is or what you need to answer to. There isn’t a formula, and that has been a hurdle I have faced. We must segregate ourselves from the organized, western way of thought, and enter each day with a neutral lens.
This morning we began defining what our goals and objectives over the next five days will be as we wrap up the program. The next four days will be busy and chaotic for everyone, but it will be well worth it. I’m excited and curious to see what will come of our time in India.
As I sit here and recall the events of today — I have a greater appreciation for tomorrow. I have been exposed to a way of life that is unfathomable to the people that I know back home. It’s a way of life that has the channel changed on it when we get over feeling sad. This is a place we can barely begin to perceive.
The moment I stepped off our air-conditioned van, the heat and smells of the slums we visited today hit me like a brick wall. As I looked around in all directions, I saw fields of garbage being roamed by stray dogs, goats and cows. Next to that were storefronts, a restaurant, and a bar or two. And most notably, humans living amongst it all.
As we turned to walk up the side street, I could feel the energy from the glances of the locals. This energy is not negative, nor positive. It felt neutral to me. After all, they can only be left to wonder. Who are we, and what is our right to be there anyway? This is not our community, or our home. I am caught staring back multiple times and can’t help but notice the eyes of both children and adults. Rich, chocolatey browns, emerald greens, and gold gleam in the bright afternoon sun. Behind these eyes lie both innocence and curiosity.
I have yet to speak with anyone personally. However, the bright personalities of the children I saw, combined with the colours of the buildings, temples, structures, and clothing are all so vibrant. There are so many things that are happening at once in this place. So much order amongst so much chaos. With all of this going on, will I ever truly grasp the complexity?
I am excited to immerse myself more into these communities as the program moves on. There is much more to see before I can gain a sense of what I’m feeling right now. As an outsider, it is easy to dissect certain elements I see on the surface but I am curious to know how deep I will be able to dig.