Singapore is a strange yet interesting place to experience a 16 hour layover in between flights from India and the Gold Coast of Australia where I have recently arrived. It’s a mecca for travel and a melting pot for cultures from around the globe. Upon arrival, I found myself starving after refusing to buy a $14 turkey sandwich from my low-budget airline. Luckily I also found myself surrounded by restaurants with countless choices of different cuisines inside of the airport. Of all the choices, I couldn’t force myself to part ways with the amazing smell of Indian spices and I sat down and ordered my “go-to”, my “Kerala heaven on a plate”: lacha paratha and a beef biriyani. I took my first bite and it took me way back…
It was close to two years ago when the seed was planted and my father told me of the great initiatives that Crist and Amie Inman were doing with Raxa Collective in India (besides Costa Rica, Ghana & others) and that I intern for them. As graduation grew nearer, the idea became more attractive and after an hour and a half skype conversation with Crist, and Amie’s reassuring “Indian informational email”, I committed to the Idea. Little convincing needed to be made and Crist is a conversational genius and he will tell you what you want before you have a chance to say it. But enough of “petting the monkey” as he would say.
I really want my audience to learn about my time in Kerala after college, which for me, (and I would think for many other graduates), is exciting, scary, and a time of realization that we (the graduate) are in a new phase of life. Throughout childhood we’re given a simple purpose – to complete preschool, then middle school, off to high school and finally college. This is all we have known for 20 plus years, but now what? After completion of the “shoulds”, the path begins to fade and what remains is an open playing field with countless opportunities but also countless decisions to be made.
My one clear thought had been that after I graduated, I would go as far away from what I knew as possible. Arriving in India was exactly that and the world that I knew was set aside. You are instantly humbled by not speaking the language, not knowing the customs, and being in a place where a relatively unknown religion dictates many things.
In my previous posts I wrote that I’d spent the majority of my time at Marari Pearl Resort after visiting Fort Kochi, Thekkady and the Backwaters. Crist and Amie had mentioned some goals that they wanted me to achieve, which included among other things setting up beach activities and a mouth watering burger recipe to add to the menu. But I’ve never mentioned what my own goals were and if I accomplished them. In my introduction to this blog, I gave a short description of myself (a hospitality management graduate from Costa Rica), my plans, and goals, most of which appeared after reaching the resort. My only real goal before I arrived was to experience and learn from as many departments as possible.
On a practical level, I was able to shadow the Front Office, Housekeeping, Service and the Kitchen. I learned that it is essential to experience all the departments at least for a brief time to move a company forward as an employee. But my most fulfilling learning experience happened in the F&B side, which I’ve always been drawn to. Our F&B manager Renju was the most invaluable addition to my learning by allowing me to experience EVERY detail of his job.
On a personal level, I wanted to leave something behind to the staff and for myself. When I first joined, I was treated differently, which wasn’t surprising since I was the only “Caucasian” working on the team. Even if unspoken, the caste system is present in Kerala, and theoretically, I am at a “higher level” to many. I was called “Sir”, given special attention and personal output in conversations were limited. For my sake to learn more from everyone and to enjoy my time and for their sake, to learn from me, I took it upon myself to break these barriers.
During college, I worked at a Japanese restaurant where, despite the Japanese culture, the concept of hierarchy was on the other extreme to India’s. The owner of our restaurant worked with us, asked us if he could go to the bathroom and ate rice with tempura bits while on a timed break. A little extreme I think, but I like the principle behind the system. I tried as hard as possible to show that I could do what was needed of me. And boy let me tell you that the team from housekeeping, especially Rose, deserves some double high fives for how hard they work!
But all in all, I believe that major barriers were broken and that I truly got to know, respect and understand the Indian culture. It’s hard to say exactly what I left behind for each individual person, but to be waved goodby by your new best friends and blinded by all their camera flashes is a heart warming feeling.