Student - May 11, 2017

The guest is god in India

Who? Wietse Wiersma, MSc student of Earth and Environment
What? Five months’ internship at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
Where? Anand, India

‘There is loads of fun to be had here. Dance festivals can go on for ten days! With singsongs, feasting and fireworks. People are very friendly. They have a saying: ‘The guest is god’. As a visitor you are valued highly and you come in for a lot of attention. People want to shake your hand, have their photo taken with you, or invite you for a cup of tea. One of the most important things I take away from this experience of living abroad is that travelling puts your own life in perspective.

The coastal villages where I am doing research are closely linked but they are remote from the rest of the world. The groundwater is salty, which makes the communities dependent on freshwater ponds in the villages. The water from these water tanks, as they call them, is important for all sorts of things: irrigation, livestock, drinking water, washing, spiritual purposes and biodiversity. By raising awareness, we hope it will be possible in future to use these ecosystem services more extensively to improve life for the villagers.

In order to record the value people place on the water tanks, I first needed to go into the field. Most people only spoke the local dialect so I went with a researcher from the institute. I made a list of questions beforehand, which were translated at the office to make communication easier on the spot.

I live in an apartment at the institute, together with other international interns. It is nice that I can share my experiences with people who are in the same boat. When it was decided from one day to the next that a lot of Indian banknotes were no longer valid currency – to combat corruption – there was chaos in the city. It wasn’t unusual to wait for over an hour to change money. We were lucky ourselves because the ATM we went to happened to have just been filled. I mainly hung out with the other international students. The work culture at the institute was disappointing. My colleagues assume everyone does their own thing and they don’t explain much. I have to do everything myself. That has advantages and disadvantages.’