Helene and I have left Gram Vikas.
Our departure takes place exactly four months after we arrived, wide-eyed, on Gram Vikas’ lush campus at the beginning of winter. I won’t lie: we had hopes of staying here one year, so this is us cutting it short. It’s hard for me to reconcile my emotions on the subject, as I feel both relieved, anxious, happy, and defeated at the same time.
On Leaving Early
In the winter of 2002, as Helene and I were considering moving to Shanghai, I had a long, meaningful chat with my friend Mathieu, in an Irish pub in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges. I told him then about my fear of failing to adapt to China, of having to run away before I truly had a chance to call it home. And the words he told me then stuck with me to this day:
“Even if you end up only staying six weeks in China, you’ll be someone who has lived six weeks in China. Leaving won’t take that away from you.”
And so, here I am. I am someone who has lived for four months in rural Odisha, volunteering for a rural development NGO.
And that’s a huge success, and a life experience that will stick with me for years to come.
There are other successes I can count on. Overall, my time at Gram Vikas was very positive and successful. I quickly found meaningful work within the organization, and we made fast friends with volunteers and colleagues from India and abroad. I wrote multiple grant applications for Gram Vikas, which will, in all likelihood, help Gram Vikas tremendously with the financing of their operations. I leave on a positive note, and I sense a gratitude for my contribution from many of my colleagues, including Gram Vikas’ founder and executive director, Joe Madiath.
But Helene was not so lucky. Through a series of unfortunate exchanges, she ended up without any possibility of helping Gram Vikas, and thus was stuck at home, with nothing to do while I toiled away in the office. And as the Gram Vikas campus is remote, with no easy means of getting to town and little in terms of entertainment value, she knew it couldn’t last. Frustrations mounted for me as well, and seeing my life partner in an unhappy position ground at me until we reached a breaking point. Coming to Gram Vikas was a joint adventure for us, and although I appreciated her patience while I was busy in the office, we had to come to the inevitable conclusion: this was not working out for us.
It was time to move on.
The Shifting Road
So here we are. Sunday morning, we bid farewell to this exciting, exhausting, frustrating, magical chapter of our life, and went off into the great unknown once more. Helene yearns to teach in South Korea again, her first home abroad; I figure I’ve dragged her to enough places that I owe her at least to follow her to a modern country like South Korea.
As for myself, I’m divided as to whether I want to pursue international development. A big part of me wants to, but I need time to distill and ponder this experience. Another part of me wants to shift gears and explore other options.
When I look back on my life, I see a straight road, with clear markers along the way, all pointing to the same destination. But whenever I look ahead, all I see is mist and curves.
Maybe one day I’ll look back on this time and find that the mists have cleared from this part of the road, leaving only a straight line. But for now, all I can do is walk forward in the fog, and keep my eyes peeled for the goal.
What About This Blog?
I’ll likely write some other posts, summing up my experience in international development, as well as some advice and thoughts that someone else out there might find useful. Then we’ll see where Helene and I want to take it.
Whatever happens, blogging will remain a constant in our lives. We’ll inform you of our plans when they emerge from the mists.
But for now, we are taking a well-deserved break in Puri. Out there is Kolkata and Manick’s bench, then a plane to Thailand, in search of Happy Places.
Beyond that, it’s all in the mist.