Patna, Day One

I went to sleep exhausted and happy last night, and woke up five hours later. I’m not sure if I’m still jetlagged, or if my adrenaline is running on overdrive. No matter. These early mornings have been wonderful for reflection and resetting.    (MWY)

My original plan was to leave at 6am for the new resource center in Muzzafarpur. Last year, the LDM community here in India decided that having a physical space would really help them keep in touch with each other and share knowledge. They’re in the process of launching three of these, one here in Patna, one in Muzzafarpur, and one in Ranchi, where I’ll be heading later this afternoon. Muzzafarpur is a hub that leads to many places in the state of rural Bihar, which makes it an ideal location. I was going to get a feel for the area and the space itself.    (MWZ)

Muzzafarpur is about a two hour drive from here if traffic is good. Unfortunately, traffic has not been good, thanks to ongoing construction and generally horrible road conditions, and I need to be at the airport by early afternoon, so we decided to change plans. I’ll get a chance to visit the resource center in Ranchi tomorrow. It’s probably a blessing in disguise, because I’ll get to participate in the last day of the Patna workshop, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with the leaders here.    (MX0)

I feel lucky to be spending so much time in Bihar. It’s the poorest state here in India, with high crime rates and low education, a product of bad luck and leadership. 60 percent of the people here in Patna do not have toilets. Yet there’s an unmistakable vibrancy to this city. The poverty here is blatant, but not overwhelming. When I walked around North Philadelphia last year, I felt deflated, like all hope had been squeezed out long ago, and that was in a neighborhood that was supposedly turning around. Here, I feel alive. Maybe it’s because my experience here has been so sheltered, colored by the protective sheath of my guides. Maybe it’s because I’m spending so much time with such inspiring local leaders, people who are out in the field every day trying to make other people’s lives better, people who could have left long ago like so many others in their position, but stayed because this is their home, and they love it. Maybe it’s because there are some small signs of turnaround here in Patna and that a sense of optimism is slowly creeping in. Maybe it’s because the people here simply appreciate what it means to live.    (MX1)

Narendra Gupta and Cheryl Francisconi wanted to check out some Madhubani artwork, a regional specialty that consists of intricate line drawings and colors on canvas and cloth, so Sanjay Pandey took us to the shopping district. While there, I escaped for a bit to explore the area and get a feel for the street life. The roads here are mesmerizing, especially here in Patna where the streets are bumpy and narrow, roundabouts are everywhere, and the traffic consists of a panoply of pedestrians, bicyclists, rickshaws, cars, trucks, dogs, cows, and the occasional monkey.    (MX2)    (MX3)

Afterward, we drove to the Mahatma Ghandi bridge, said to the be the longest river bridge in the world, which spans the Ganga River. It wasn’t far, but it took about an hour to get there, as we navigated horrendous traffic and road conditions and breathed in enough carbon monoxide to kill a small animal. I wouldn’t have traded that experience for the world. Seeing the Ganges first-hand, a river with so much history and cultural significance, was awe-inspiring, even in the dark and fog.    (MX4)    (MX5)

Cheryl, Narendra, and I had dinner at the hotel, where we enjoyed good food, my first drop of booze on this trip, and great conversation. Narendra is fascinating, and his stories are adventurous and inspiring. As I get to know him better, it’s becoming more and more apparent that I’ll need to devote an entire blog post just to him.    (MX6)

All of my meals so far have been in hotels, on planes, or catered, and while the food has been excellent, I’m starting to get antsy. Prior to coming here, several of my more worldly friends, who know my adventurous tastes, told me not to worry so much about what or where I eat. I was cautious, however, primarily because I want to be at my best for this whole trip. Caution is starting to lose to curiosity, however. Cheryl is starting to get a sense of how I like to eat, and she’s been tempting me with stories of street food and Ethiopian cuisine. I am having way too much fun.    (MX7)

Key Questions for our First Gathering

It’s morning here in Patna. I slept for about five hours last night, and I’m finally starting to feel adjusted. I’m also starving, always a good sign, and I’m craving something new and delicious. Now I’m shifting around my room, trying desperately to find a consistent WiFi connection so that I can publish my entries of the past few days.    (MWU)

In a few hours, our first workshop starts. My main goal for these next two weeks are to meet as many of the leaders as possible, to learn what makes this community tick, and to think about ways to further catalyze it. In particular, I’m wondering what words like “community,” “collaboration,” and “leadership” mean to these folks, and I’m looking forward to their stories.    (MWV)

Arrived in Patna

We arrived safely in Patna a little after 9pm, after enjoying a very tasty airplane meal on a flight that was just 90 minutes long. Every airline should serve Indian food. They also handed out these chewy, tangy tamarind candies. I’m not usually one for sweets, but I tried one at Cheryl’s insistence. They were tart and delicious. I’m going to have to see if I can buy a bag.    (MWQ)

We stepped off the plane into cool, misty air. Patna is in the state of Bihar, which is north of Delhi, and the weather is noticeably cooler. There were a number of mosquitoes milling about, making me glad that I’m taking my malaria pills.    (MWR)

Narendra Gupta explained that Bihar has some of the richest agricultural lands and natural resources in the country, and yet historically, it has been one of the poorest states, with a history of violent tribalism. Many of the fellows who are participating at tomorrow’s meeting work in rural areas of Bihar and have given up their weekend and travelled far to attend.    (MWS)

Jor Bagh

I spent the afternoon working in IIE’s Delhi office, located in Jor Bagh, a charming residential district that contrasted sharply with the Delhi I had seen the night before. On the ride over, Sanjay explained India‘s political situation regarding health care, education, and other infrastructural challenges.    (MWF)

India is a study in contrasts. There is tremendous economic disparity. Over a million people in Delhi (about eight percent of the total population) live beneath the poverty line. The infrastructure is poor, to say the least. The roads are bad, the power unreliable, the water scarce and undrinkable. And yet, India has a burgeoning population of skilled and intelligent Knowledge Workers, especially in technology.    (MWG)

To its credit, the current government is trying to do something about its infrastructural woes. It has committed to tripling its expenditures (percentage of GDP spent) in health and education over the next five years, and similarly increasing its expenditures in other areas, such as potable water.    (MWH)

After enjoying a delicious lunch of samosas, dhokla (which I tried for the first time), and gulabjamun, Cheryl Francisconi rejoined us and introduced me to Ajit Motwani, the new head of IIE India, who regaled us with stories of his eclectic past and who introduced me to lime water, water with lime juice, sugar, and salt, sort of an all-natural Gatorade.    (MWI)    (MWJ)    (MWK)

In the afternoon, Cheryl and I took a taxi to the airport, where we experienced an incredibly surreal traffic moment. At one point, we crossed a six lane bridge, with rickshaws and buses pulled over on the sides and middle of the road. No one was paying any attention to the lanes, and no one was slowing down either. It felt like I was playing one of those racing video games, except with quadruple the traffic. And yet, it didn’t feel disorderly either. Somehow, everything just worked.    (MWL)

As we watched similar madness in the terminal later, I observed to Cheryl that Open Space must feel comfortable to folks in India, because they’re so used to ordered chaos. That sparked a long conversation about process and culture that continued well into our flight to Patna.    (MWM)

At the airport, we met up with Sanjay Pandey and Narendra Gupta, who will be a guest participant at the meeting over the next few days. Narendra is from Chittorgarh, a small town in the state of Rajasthan, and his background is fascinating. I’m looking forward to chatting more with him and watching him work tomorrow.    (MWN)

The Game Plan

I met with Cheryl Francisconi, the leader of the LDM project, first thing this morning to go over the game plan. Cheryl is wonderful, a smiling ball of positive energy, and it felt great to see her in person and to give her a hug after many months of remote communication.    (MW9)

Shortly afterwards, Sanjay Pandey, the LDM country manager for India, joined us. Sanjay is coolly competent, and his demeanor belies his passion and vision. It’s clear that the LDM community in India is ahead of the game in terms of building stronger ties and working on projects together, and Sanjay has played a huge role in facilitating this.    (MWA)    (MWB)

I’m really looking forward to learning from the leaders both here and Ethiopia. That may sound weird, coming from the guy who’s supposed to be the consultant on this project, but the reality is that this community knows far, far more about what it wants and needs and how to get there than I do. I’m here to learn from them, to share what I learn, and to connect people and ideas where I see fit.    (MWC)

My schedule is packed solid, with constant meetings and travel in-between. I will not be doing much sight-seeing. It’s a work trip, after all. Then again, I’m here to learn about the people and the culture, and I expect it to be incredibly enriching. Both Cheryl and Sanjay expressed regret that I would not have more time to explore the country, but I quickly dismissed them. I’m getting a chance to see parts of the country that most people never get to see, places like Patna (where I am right now) and Ranchi, and to spend quality time with amazing people on the ground whom I would never otherwise get to meet.    (MWD)

If I have any regrets, it’s that Sanjay is taking care of me too well. I haven’t had to worry about lodging or food or transportation. My trip has been completely stress free. I will have zero advice to offer future visitors (including myself), because I haven’t done a damn thing myself.    (MWE)