A Warm Compliment

I wrote this as one of our weekly journal entries that we send to Nico and Emily.  I was looking through them and decided I’d share some.  While untimely, it’s worth showing the evolution of the trip.  This one was written on March 3rd and in response to experience with being part of a needs assessment exercise called a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA).  The PRA depends on villagers to get an understanding of history and needs before any developmental work is done.

I’m grateful to have had continued opportunities to work with Prashant, a project manager who deals with biogas, over the last few weeks.  From our very first conversation at the Bajaj Foundation headquarters early in our time here, I had asked him why he chose this work.  Sometimes when English isn’t your native tongue, things spill out in beautiful, unexpected ways.  He told me that he saw the struggles of the rural farmers - his own community - and that he “feels”.  I knew I was in good hands when we did our biogas and grocery store field visits.

I was captivated by the way Prashant spoke to the crowd at the beginning of the PRA. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I understood the feeling.  Listening really is a full body experience and whatever energy and excitement in that room flowed through me as well.  It was evident that Prashant was in his element after 10 years of community organizing.  Later, when Manasi roughly translated what Prashant had said, it became even more powerful.  Essentially, he had told the crowd that we were flying up in a helicopter to get a view of the village, and we weren’t coming down until we understood everything that we needed to understand.  He then would point at various people in the crowd - young and old, male and female - and ask them, “What do you see?”  There are certain people in life who I know would help cure the illness that runs rampant in politics.  I saw a lot of my brother in Prashant and I sometimes wonder what people like the two of them could do in our dysfunctional system.

After Prashant explained the purpose of the exercise, we broke down into small groups to conduct the PRA.  My group constructed a 50 year timeline of the village in the areas of education, health, and agriculture, looking at 10 year chunks.  During the entire discussion I really tried to hone my ability to listen.  One of my favorite quotes is especially relevant here, some wisdom from Harriet Lerner: “If we would only listen with the same passion that we feel about wanting to be heard.” Even if you don’t speak the language, you can learn a lot from watching people speak and how the translator responds.  Manasi and Prashant are really good translators for this very reason: you can glean a lot of info from their reactions.

Marcy and I definitely enjoyed the session.  At the beginning the group was very shy but by the end we definitely had a cast of characters.  The way the women would interrupt to correct something always made laugh.  The playful chiding of the young scribes by the old farmers illustrated the age dynamic in India and the group loved it.

I was honored when Prashant told the villagers that he didn’t need to translate as much because we had listened with our hearts.  It was a warm compliment from someone I really admire.  The idea of public service in my own life is still so far off in my mind, but if I ever get there I hope that compliment can still hold.