Sunday, 16 December 2012

A month of thankfulness

The title of this post might seem a little strange, given that some of the things I'm going to talk about are not things that, at first sight, one might be thankful for. It's been a month of highs and lows, joys and stress, conflict and love. At any rate it's certainly been a memorable time to cap a memorable year. And that alone gives me plenty of reason to be thankful.

There are basically three reasons why I've been quiet for a while. Firstly, in mid-November I went on my first proper holiday since I came to India: two weeks in Nepal, including an eight day trip rafting down 170 miles of the Sun Kosi river. Secondly, while I was in Nepal my grandma passed away, so I flew back to Delhi early and got on a flight to the UK to attend her funeral in Bristol. Finally, my return to work after a longer-than-expected absence coincided with the conclusion of two major projects, including publication of our key report for the year, which has meant that the usual pre-Christmas wind-down this year has been anything but.

So thankful? Yes, my main emotion as I come to the end of this emotional month is thankfulness. I feel I don't spend enough time being grateful for what I have and the people in my life. This month has brought it home to me.

To start with the most obvious reason for gratitude: an extraordinary trip to Nepal. I'm sure I don't have to explain to you why I feel thankful to have such opportunities in my life (and particularly to be able to go on such a trip after a one hour flight, as opposed to the long slog from the UK that my fellow-rafters faced). I'll hopefully put up a post dedicated to Nepal in the near future - it was wonderful, and if I write about it in detail here it will take over this post.

For now, though, I'll just say that one of the best things about the trip was spending a full eight days without access to the internet or telephone. I was pretty nervous about this beforehand. I've spent the last 18 months building up a new initiative and a new team within my organisation, and I'd never been out of contact for longer than a flight journey from Delhi to London before. It felt rather like I was handing over my baby to someone else for the first time. And I've become quite tech-dependent in India, particularly the internet which has been my main means of keeping in contact with my family and friends back home and elsewhere.

As it turned out, those eight days were eight days of tech-free bliss. It made me realise quite how screen-addicted I have become in the last couple of years. I've always used computers for work, but since in Delhi they have come to play an ever bigger part in my life outside work too. And my regular visits to HMV at Heathrow Airport have ensure that even though I don't have a TV connection at home, that screen also regularly features in my day. I don't really want to think about how many hours a day I spend looking at a screen, even though I deliberately avoided getting a smartphone here precisely because I didn't want to become completely square-eyed.

In the absence of the ubiquitous screens that dominate modern life, I had to find other things to look at. Like these things:

As you can see, we camped every night on beaches alongside the river. Luxurious it wasn't, but beautiful and tranquil it certainly was. And I didn't miss my phone or my computer one little bit.

My second reason to be thankful: my grandma. It may seem odd to say that my biggest emotion after the death of someone I loved dearly is gratitude. That certainly wasn't my initial reaction: she played a huge part in my life and I will miss her enormously. It wasn't until I attended the service of thanksgiving for her life, where I gave the eulogy along with my mum, that I realised that I was indeed thankful.

Being asked to give the eulogy was terrifying. Would I say the right things, would the rest of the family feel I had hit the right note, would I reflect everyone's experiences of her? But in the end it was rather wonderful. It gave me a chance to talk about my grandma, to say the things I've always thought but never had the chance to share with others, and to celebrate her. What a privilege.

I'm not going to get too sentimental on here, but I loved my grandma for her strength of character, her sense of humour, her quick wit and her forthright character. She wasn't always easy but she was never, ever dull. I was proud of her. And I'm thankful to have known her for so long.

This is possibly my favourite photo of her, taken almost exactly a year ago just a couple of days after her last Christmas. As you can see, she never lost her sense of fun.

And my final reason to be thankful this month: my brilliant team at work. In the end, what with Nepal, the funeral and my jetlag on return, I was effectively out of the picture for three weeks (though I did what I could while I was in the UK). Two weeks after my planned return date from Nepal we were due to launch our report on the recognition of prior learning (the research phase of which I blogged about in July). A week later, we were due to submit a separate research project to the ILO. Not surprisingly, when I got back to the office there was no time to gather my thoughts.

Nevertheless, apart from a couple of minor hiccups, things have gone brilliantly since I came back. The launch event went off successfully, the report is great, and all the wheels have stayed on the wagon. I can't describe the sense of satisfaction derived from the fact that not only did our project complete successfully, but that it was carried through in the final stages not by me but by the team I put together. A project that I hope will really have an impact - however small - on improving livelihoods in this country.

I'd been worried, when it came to recruitment, that it would be hard to find good staff who could take the initiative and assume responsibility, but I've yet again been shown that I needn't have worried. They are hard working, talented, dedicated and a joy to work with. I hope they realised how grateful I am to them.

There are just five days until I take a break for Christmas - it feels rather decadent coming so soon after my Nepal trip. This year has been a very mixed one. There have been great highs and testing lows. I have seen some extraordinary places and yet sometimes felt stuck in a rut. I've felt loved and lonely by turns. Work has been more central to my life than ever before, but I feel I'm doing something genuinely worthwhile. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the experiences I'm having in India, sometimes I feel guilty that I'm not making more of it or that I'm not coping with it as well as I could. I find myself simultaneously being more encouraging and supportive of my team, but more prone to irritation and temper in other contexts. Less jealous, but more prideful. More relaxed about my future, but more concerned about the future in general.

It seems this is a good moment for re-evaluating a few things in life. The simplicity of that week in Nepal was healthy - the lack of distractions and the peace may have opened a bit of a door. I don't know where it leads to, and I don't know where I'll be this time next year or what I'll be doing. But I feel like starting from a position of thankfulness is a good thing to do.

1 comment:

Sonya said...

What a lovely post. Sending you big hugs xxxx