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June 16, 2008 / calebdresser

Mirror, mirror

I don’t think I can adequately communicate what I’m running into here. I came here expecting to lend a hand in the work, partly to learn and partly to contribute to other people’s projects. It is very clear, however, that I will be doing little serious work outside my own experiments. The class system is rigid, and while I have yet to hear the word “caste”used, the mentality is very much present. In our fieldwork scientists stand by the side of the field and direct operations while field workers mostly do as they are told. Laborers earn 100 rupees a day, or about $2.30 in American currency. The labor is hot and backbreaking, not to mention the exposure to pesticides and other chemicals. Their days can last as much as twelve hours.



While I’m grateful to come here as a scientist and not a field hand, the whole mentality is still a bit of a shock. Watching people give orders and others meekly obey is a little weird, and some things even seem to go without saying. While watching land preparation with a few of the scientists, one of our field crew brought us chilled bottled water… in the middle of a field hundreds of yards from the office. The men who were busy building paddy-bunds – backbreaking, dusty work – were given none, and what should have been a refreshing drink was sour in my mouth. I’ve had a knot in my stomach all afternoon, and its not from what I ate… and as I write this someone who has worked a much more honest day’s labor is serving me tea at my desk. I’ve tried to do my own dishes after lunch, offered to help with tedious work, but every time, someone seems genuinely uncomfortable and concerned that I am doing so. I now refrain from trying; I don’t want to threaten anyone’s job. It seems everyone has been assigned a very specific role, and does not cross the boundaries into another’s domain.



At the same time, everyone with whom I work seems happy. Fieldworkers and lab staff alike gather daily at my desk to smile and laugh as they try to teach me Hindi. When there is little to do, people will often sit together in the tiny IRRI site office, which is the only room at the university with AC. They sit and talk, or quietly pass the time in the luxury of cool air.


Written Friday, June 13th, 2008. Posted late due to internet problems


One Comment

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  1. Winslow / Jun 17 2008 8:30 pm

    What a situation to be in. I can’t imagine what that setup must be like to live in, but you describe it well. America is a very different place than large parts of this world.

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