I have had this reaction – uttered in tones ranging from absolute lack of comprehension to sinister suspicion – countless number of times. When does this happen? When I am asked my profession. By relatives. By acquaintances. By strangers trying to make polite conversation. The answer invariably stumps most.
Sometimes, I say ‘social worker’. There is a moment of silence. Maybe, it marks the end of their hopes of a dizzying career for me. Then the questions come out, hesitatingly for a few and but like torrential rain for most. ‘So, you do exactly what?’ ‘And you get paid for it?’ ‘How much?’ ‘By whom?’ ‘Are foreign agencies involved?’ Here, invariably, the voice drops – ‘The church…from abroad, na?’
Sometimes, I say – ‘consultant’. Often, nodding of heads follow. Some then state approvingly– ‘Aah…for the corporate sector. Very good.’ Then, I have to jolt them from that surety! Now, I get to pick from ‘NGO sector/not for profits/development sector’. And that quizzical look returneth. When I add, helpfully ‘child protection’ and ‘adolescent health and nutrition’, it does not help. Does not help at all.
After years and years of this torture, I have (I think) developed nuances in my tone. So now, my tone does more of the talking. Sometimes, it suggests – Yes I do this. End of discussion. Very rarely – Ok…I am willing to tell you my entire professional story. I have found that being open, particularly while traveling – is often downright dangerous. Before you know it, someone has asked you how to ‘open an NGO’ and also shared that it has been their sole burning ambition for varying periods of time. One may even be assailed with episodes of their goodness and voluntary-ness in graphic details. These are possibly the only times I wish I did something else for a living!