I'm not going to tell you how it is, I'm going to tell you how I want it to be. I'm not going to tell you that every time I assess “needs” in the slum, I may be extending and consolidating colonialism in my own little way. I’m going to tell you that my colleagues and I constantly strive to act in responsible and empowering ways, giving agency back to our “disadvantaged” and “marginalized” target population. I’m not going to tell you that every time I go out of the house, getting a rickshaw, getting a meal, getting a coke, getting a check-up, getting our kids into school, I rely on my white face, my blonde hair, my blue eyes, my first language, that I use all these things as convenient stand-ins, as proxies, as a quick reference that I don’t belong, but what’s more, that I should be privileged for my difference, that my striking not-belonging is not a handicap, no, it’s something to be striven for and it’s a shortcut to accessing one last reserve of colonial power. No, I’d rather tell you that I constantly chafe at this, that being shouted at in the street, that gathering stares as I walk to work, that having people touch me, look at me, ask me for a hand-out, that these minor inconveniences more than make up for all the other minor and major hardships I am spared for the accident of my birth as a white, relatively well-off, Anglophone American male.

I will be one of the first to tell you that, by offering our children the opportunity to go to college (and even high school) in the United States and Europe, we are offering them the infinite possibilities that should be accorded to every person as a human right. What I’ll omit, however, is that behind this push for education, for travel, for a “global perspective”, lies the nagging implication that Indian education and even languages, by virtue of their local-ness, their particularity and their provinciality, are inferior and to be avoided whenever possible.

I won’t tell you that I worry that I’m lazy and ineffective, that I’m undertrained, underprepared and generally come from too privileged a background to know and get done what needs to be done. I’ll tell you that I’m doing the best I can. I’ll make grand statements about the “lessons I’ve learned” that I need to worry about my own mental health, my own physical health, and my own family. I’ll tell you that public health is a field you learn on the ground, that classrooms only serve to separate you from what you’re really supposed to be working on. I’ll tell you that my trips across the globe are necessary, that they’re something I just have to do. I’ll tell you that the days off I take when I feel shitty, run-down or otherwise decide that I don’t want to leave the house are necessary for my own well-being, and that without my own health, how can I improve the health of those around me? I’ll conveniently leave out the fact that I’m lucky enough that my next meal doesn’t depend on what kind of business I got in the market that day, that trips across the world (twice a year!) are something that a vanishingly small proportion of the global population can aspire to, that my cold wouldn’t even register on the sickness scale of those with whom I work.

I won’t tell you that my job is as much about me as it is about anything else. I’ll leave out the fact that I feel like a failure if I’ve not achieved a life outside of my country of origin. I won’t tell you about that certain macho pride I get when I talk about the worms, the germs and the bucket baths I take every morning. And of course I’ll completely ignore the fact that, even after years of moving between South America, the United States, Europe and India, I still feel the draw of the “exotic” and wish I could travel to the Taj, the lakes of Kerala, the bathing ghats of Varanasi and the ridiculous glitziness of Bombay. Of course I’m a tourist in my own home, but that’s not something I’ll admit to readily.

Instead I’ll feign boredom when I tell you about the buffalo herds I duck through on the way to work. I’ll pretend that the festivals, feasts and processions that I don’t understand are pure everyday annoyance, just something that prevents me from completing my “very important work”. I’ll tell you that my reasons for traveling to India have nothing to do with all those Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Rohinton Mistry novels I read in high school, oh no, I go to India because I want to right the wrongs of that seemingly-limitless procession that has beaten a well-worn path northwest to southeast for unknown ages. I don’t go to gawk, to exploit, to “find myself”, to export or to feel superior to those around me. No, I go for a genuine desire to leave the world a bit better than I found it, I go out of solidarity and compassion, and above all I go for well-thought-out reasons. I think therefore I am different. I won’t tell you that I doubt my own reasons. I won’t tell you that much of the previous horde held similar ideals. I won’t tell you that I’m terrified to find out how my “good intentions” are being twisted, perverted into providing just a nicer shade of paint for the old pesky power dynamic.

Of course I worry out loud that I’m forgetting the lessons taught in my universities. I don’t remember as much comparative health, statistics or critical theory as I used to. There is a worry that I keep inside, however, that these things never meant anything, that they don’t go far enough, that they don’t see the whole problem, that they don’t strive hard enough for the right solutions. That they’re descriptive, and I need something prescriptive to give my life structure. That maybe I’ve learned the wrong things, and there’s no university in the world that teaches the skills I need for my self-appointed position.

I’m not going to tell you that I constantly second-guess my conversations, my education and my career choices. I’m going to tell you that this is the best job I’ve ever had. I’m not going to tell you how it is, because honestly, I’m not sure myself.