In only the first two months of my Pulse assignment I have felt more sets of emotions than I felt in the last two years. Working for CHAI has been refreshing, fulfilling and an enriching experience. I came here with unknown expectations and to say that it has exceeded my expectations will be an understatement. I have learnt an awful lot, not just technically but also culturally. I have learnt a lot about myself too. I love that my work is at the core of healthcare i.e. an imperious effort to reduce maternal and child mortality. The impact of our work is clear to see. It is even more evident when one visits the health care facilities in the rural parts of the country. People at CHAI are kind, generous and understanding and at the same time sharp, clever and on top of their work. People are collectively working towards the same aim of really improving public health. The passion for public health here is infectious and the kind of motivation it drives is unhindered.
Work aside, these last couple of months have taught me an important lesson. Take absolutely nothing for granted. Even having a blog portal like this to share what is going on in our head is a privilege that very few of us have. We don’t know what we have until we don’t have it anymore. The happiest kid I saw in Nigeria was in the most rural part of the country. He looked like he was around 5 years old and running around on the street barefoot with a torn shirt but he wasn’t poor, in fact his happiness was so pure that to me he was the richest kid I had met in Nigeria. He knew nothing better or worse and he was truly in celebration with whatever he had. Perhaps he was not old enough to understand the materialistic world yet. Perhaps he never will. Perhaps he will change when he is older. Who knows and who cares. It is about what he is now. He is happy and that is exactly what all of us want to be. I know it is unfair but I couldn’t help myself but compare him to kids of the same age in the UK, who are more dependent on gadgets, gizmos and toys (I recognise this massive generalisation). The point I take from this is that being happy is a state of mind and it doesn’t depend on materialistic purchases. Perhaps it’s an immature outlook but it certainly is what I am thinking right now. Cherish everything that you have. Even if you think you don’t have much, you still have more than enough and certainly a lot more than what many other have.
By now you probably know that I grew up in North-East India. I left my family to go to University in South India – same country but 2000 km away from home. After four years of University I left India and moved to the UK and for the last 9 years I have been living in Cambridge, before I decided to take the punt and come to Nigeria in June 2017. So you see, I am pretty used to moving around and living on my own with annual visits to see my family who are all in India. This move to Nigeria however, has probably been the hardest one so far. I don’t exactly know why. Perhaps I am a bit older now and these adventures keep getting more and more challenging with age, especially if one does these on their own. One possible reason is that every other time I moved around it was a change for me and my family too, so we both adjusted. First it was distance (moving to University) and then it was distance and time-zone (moving to the UK). This move to Nigeria is a change just for me and not for my family as for them my interaction stays the same. The distance and time-zone is same as the UK. So for once I am in it on my own and it’s not easy.
I recall talking to another Pulse volunteer about how I was missing home and they suggested London is only a 6 hour flight so I can even go for a weekend if I wanted to. I nodded at the suggestion and even contemplated booking a flight for one of the long weekends. It then struck me that there is a slight confusion here, where is home? All of my family, including extended family is in India and I am thinking of visiting the UK when I want to go home? I only then realised that no matter how much I complain when I am in the UK about the weather and the traffic I actually unknowingly have built a home that cannot be replaced. I am more British than I’d like to accept and I am also a true Indian and that is shockingly truly possible.
I know I have written about a lot of different things here and all of this might sound a bit crazy. I started with not taking anything for granted, then I wrote about a kid I met and then I followed that by my own journey into the unknown and then finally I wrote about what is home. I will attempt to connect the dots and hopefully show how all of these fit together as a collage. It is indeed about not taking anything for granted. Public health related work gave me a true perspective of how privileged we have been to have access to good healthcare. Meeting people with very little material wealth but undefeatable hope taught me a true meaning of happiness. And self-reflecting on my own journey canvased to me what is really important in life for me. I never believed I took anything for granted as I come from a humble background but I actually did. I didn’t appreciate how much I had invested in the last 9 years, simply by living and being there. I have some of the most beautiful friends, who are as close as my family and I miss them. I wish them all the best and I can’t wait to see them again. I will also see my family soon so I can’t control my excitement because it will be that time of the year – Diwali, festival of lights. I am not very good at keeping in touch with people and that has influenced my emotional balance here.
I am sure the next few months will teach me a lot of other life lessons along with many technical skills. These will undoubtedly go a long way in shaping me as a person and sketching my long term career path. Through my experience I hope to always cherish and celebrate whatever I have. Nothing is too little unless we think it is. Moreover, this experience has only strengthened my aspiration to contribute enormously towards public and global health.
It was that moment when home suddenly meant ‘flying to London’ and not India. I still don’t know when this actually happened.