Yifan Xu, a second year Sociology major at the University of Chicago, hails from Beijing, China. She joined MHT as a writing and communications intern in July 2018 and supported MHT project teams in writing case studies, blogs and preparing project presentations.
Describing her journey, she says~~~~
As soon as one enters Ahmedabad the bustling of motion engulfs all five senses. Everywhere the traffic is flowing, honking, pumping out the shrill smell of gasoline, mingled with greased sweetness of food and tea, sold on hand pulled carts. Buses. Rickshaws. Bikes. People are always going somewhere. Even the cows and monkeys are in perpetual movement. That was my first impression of this ancient city: old historical buildings stand quietly in the backdrop as the living hurry along.
In Mahila Housing Trust (MHT)’s office, time slows down sometimes. The workday begins with singing a prayer together. A multitude of voices merge into one hushed tune, low and serene. Some let their eyes close, some clasped one palm against another. All sit on the same floor, pronounce the same syllables. When the carpet is rolled up, it is as if one has wakened again, ready for the real day to start.
I worked on a variety of projects during my first month, ranging from creating graphics to combing through excel sheets. Looking behind these tasks the organization of MHT shows itself as a community as well as an institution. Whenever a question arises I can walk up to the desk of my supervisor, simply ask for clarification. When people work on a project together, they really do it together. I have worked at the desk of my supervisor, and at times multiple people will be operating on the same computer screen. Group effort is not demarcated from individual action.
At first, I was frightened by the disappearance of private space, yet gradually I grew to appreciate the intimate work style. There is less stress on presenting one’s best to the supervisor, on showing others the final, perfect product. Rather, each project is a collective endeavor, where each thought and doubt are shared among all members. The invisible barriers of rank and seniority is broken when people physically sit right next to each other, whether it be for work, lunch, or prayer.
In the field, the accelerated tempo of life picks back up. Working in the slums for the first time, I had to learn much about the cultural situation on the spot. From how one should dress and gender dynamics, each community have their own unwritten rules. Even something as simple as crossing the road is different: one carves one’s path through spaces between of moving cars instead of waiting at crossroads for a green signal. One always has to be ready to learn.
As a result, I’m constantly exposed to new people and traditions, and am continuously adapting. Eventually, I find myself fitting into the city landscape, where diverse sounds, people, and transportation devices hum in harmony.