We’re about halfway through our third week at Mathru. We, the Powerpuff girls (as Vivek has taken to calling myself and the two other white girls), have more or less adjusted to life in India, and don’t need to be babysat to the extent we used to be. I am no longer scared of autos and generally will fall asleep in them on the shoulder of whoever’s next to me, Maddie has been getting directions from strangers on busses, and Avia can eat spicy food and (sometimes) understand Indian accents.
We are now in the thick of our work, and have been making progress as well as hitting obstacles. We have written several new modules for the tutors, and are in the process of adding Hindi and Kannada (the language local to the state Karnataka) Braille patterns. For me, beginning to add the Hindi letters was quite a learning experience, as they all looked more or less the same to me, and many have extremely similar sounds, but according to Vivek, I was able to recognize about 80% of them with the help of the Internet. Things like this are what I really like about this internship, however. Every day presents a new set of challenges, and I’m always learning and being exposed to new things. I can’t think of any other internship where in a single day, I’d be interacting with blind children, troubleshooting computer issues, learning a new alphabet, and writing C++ code (or in the case of yesterday, meeting a former Indian supreme court justice).
While we’ve had a myriad of fantastic and unusual opportunities here, we’ve also had a unique set of challenges. As many people following along at home have probably noticed, the telecommunication spirits are not on our side. Reliable Internet is far harder to come by than bottled water, and our house is a dead-zone for the prominent mobile carrier. Posting this blog post took about 15 minutes, although I wrote it offline. Electricity at Mathru comes and goes, and several team members have been shocked (painfully) while programming the SABTs*. Most programmers try to keep bugs out of their code, while we try to keep literal bugs out of our computers so they don’t interfere with the wiring. I think however, we have been taking it all in stride pretty well.
Once we accepted the fact that none of us would have Internet at home, we learned to enjoy the peace and quiet, and have been reading, doing excessive amounts of crossword puzzles, going for walks, and playing games. We’ve also gotten creative, and sat in the lobby of a local hotel (a hotel, which being California themed, played nothing but “Hotel California” on loop) for an hour to read the English newspapers since we can’t get news at home . While the unexpected shocking is unfortunate, it has become the primary fictitious method of death in our games of Mafia (a game that involves certain players acting as the mafia, trying to kill off the villagers before they are identified), and we can laugh about it. The bugs are a little less fortunate, but it put things in perspective when we discovered bugs had taken over a bag of rice (which we decided to filter as best as possible and still eat), as most of the tech team agrees we would rather eat a bug or two than have one fry our computer (but actually). All in all, we’re having a great time, learning great new things, and getting really good at rolling with the punches that field research can deal.
*To clarify (and perhaps ease the minds of concerned parents): This is not a normal occurrence, and was most likely due to a combination of lack of grounding, the circuit board being exposed, and the fact that it was connected directly to a laptop (which was connected to the wall). We had set it up this way to load the code onto the SABT board (with AVR studio and a JTAG programmer). We have since figured out how to do this without getting shocked. Moreover, in normal use, the SABT is powered by 4 AA batteries and the circuit boards are enclosed in a plastic case so there is no risk of shocks or any form of harm from the SABT to users.
(this is what happens when we don’t have Internet: credit card vs. 3d object checkers)