Every time I travel from U.S to India, my friends ask me how was the trip and I would truthfully reply- confusing. I joke that it takes me a week to transition in either places once I land because they are so different. You can notice it even while you travel during your at-least-18 hours of commute. The layovers or transit periods are transitions in the true sense. You can observe the environment, people and behaviors slowly changing as you approach the other country.
This time I made this journey during my winter break because my friend, Pragya Mishra and I are working on our thesis which is focussed on reducing patient wait time in the public hospitals in India. Our agenda for the next three weeks is to study three hospitals and test strategic use of trained volunteers, information and technology as a guidance system for misdirected patients. Yes, three weeks and three hospitals.. oh, also in two different cities.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that this was on my mind for most part of my journey to India this time. My flight lands at the Mumbai airport. It’s a new terminal so I was looking forward to seeing it. From my first step in, I see a huge crowd around the guards at the closest desk asking for directions. I look for signages and silently join in the crowd. After asking for directions a forth time I finally clear immigrations and am successfully on an elevator to go to the departure terminal.
My flights delayed for two hours. So I spend 7 hours at the airport and finally make it to my home town! Finally after 25 hours! As I walk towards the conveyor belt to pick my bag, I stop to see which belt is my flight’s baggage being dropped at. Nothing. No signs, no digital boards except for a board that has a number for each belt. Not really helpful. So I look around and realised I am surrounded by confused families. I go to the nearest official and ask him which belt is our bags being dropped at and he laughs and said ‘oh it’s not this one? maybe they moved it to the last one!’ I take this half convincing reply to the families and we move to the last belt and wait. We are awkwardly looking at each other when they ask me if we should go look at the other belts. We are literally just walking around hoping that we shall find the answer by moving from one belt to the other when an official finally screams out loud to announce which flight’s luggage is being delivered on which belt. There is an immediate reaction as people start picking up their carry-on bags and moving towards the right belt. In my head I was missing New York already. We are waiting around the correct belt now when suddenly the belt stops. There is silence. Everyone looks at each other.
One man exclaims loudly in Hindi ‘Let’s forget it now and come back tomorrow’ and everyone bursts out laughing.
All this while I was imagining the email I would write to Pragya when I get home. I would write about how I could draw parallels from my experience at the airport to our project. People rely on human interactions for directions. Within the 5 months that we have, we cannot change behaviors but we can use these human interactions interlaced within the current system to create effective impact. We planned to do this by recruiting trained volunteers to guide and direct the patients in the hospitals.
Even when we spoke to people in the medical field to get their feedback on our ideas, we were told to design for the context. ‘Whatever you design, make sure you account for the time it would take for you to accomplish it in India. Make it relevant to the context of India.’ So it seems like we are headed on the right track!
But when the person cracked that joke and everyone around the conveyor belt started laughing and talking I realized something very important. This chaos is also what gets people together. People thrive on these social interactions. So no matter how chaotic a situation may look like to someone from the outside, it is an experience that everyone is sharing. There will be situations when this experience will bring them together and that is where the true potential to make or break lies. When the needs, values and goals of the people align. I am not suggesting that these moments make the situation perfect or shouldn’t be improved. I am only suggesting that just because the experience seems chaotic doesn’t mean it needs to be changed completely. Look for the good and get inspired from that.
And that is exactly what I wrote to Pragya. In the coming weeks, we will hopefully be gaining a lot more insights while building a robust method to understand and intervene in a complex system. Feel free to reach out to us if you would like to know more about our work or have any questions for us! We would love to chat!