Far away, still feels like Home: Letter to the Motherland!

Room 403,

Hotel Ontur Butik,
Ankara, Turkey

Dear India,

its 6 AM, 4 degrees C, the streets of Ankara are mostly depopulated. Its not cloudy so i can celebrate a beautiful sun rise. I know you are awake, and have got your day started already. I tell you that I do hear occasional sounds of cars passing by, but its still quite silent. Quite silent for someone who is used to waking up to the honking of horns, shouting of fruit sellers in morning. Its not quite that noisy as you are. But i assure you, its still quite the same as you in many other ways.

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i am not alone here, so don’t worry about me. SSC 2015 team is absolutely wonderful, i enjoy their company a lot. Everyone on the team is exceptional. We meet everyday, share what we are seeing, learning, and laugh at whatever we possibly can. We know what we are here for, and we know we can achieve it by helping each other. We are all from distant lands, far from you. But our mission unifies us.

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Around 96 hours after the touchdown in Ankara, and i feel like i have been here way too longer than that. Fellow SSC participants whom i have never met before, feels like i have known for years. Maybe that’s what makes this mission so special. As the feeling sinks in, as we understand each other better. It truly does feel like home. It feels like you. The same as i feel on your streets and with your people.

I am doing well, and eating well too. I really enjoy taking a walk around the blocks here . I tell you, the earth below the feet feels the same as its there on your soil. The city lights are a little more brighter than its at our place. But the smiles on the faces are still the same. Yes Yes. now i know what you must be thinking, that the problems are not quite the same. But i tell you my friend, many of those really are.

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As the time passes by, i feel more and more confident about contributing back to the society in a way i want to. I will return with some wonderful memories, unforgettable experiences. We will sit down, talk and see how we can use those to help our own country men.

You are far away, but i still feel like home.

Regards,
Amitoj

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Flying Broom Day 1 – Off to a flying start!

8.45 AM: Team Symantec heads out to meet the NGOs partners for the very first time.

Go Team Go!

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9.00 AM: The session kicks off with the NGO representatives introducing their organizations and expressing their excitement about the Symantec collaboration.  It was eye opening to see how the three organizations and their causes were so interconnected.

12.00 PM: We make our way 4 floors up to the roof top restaurant and share lunch with the flying broom staff.

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1.30 PM: We walk through a vibrant area of town to the flying broom office.

2.00 PM: We enter Flying Broom office – a fairly large space with 5 rooms and a kitchen. We are introduced to the staff and entertained with endless glasses of Turkish tea.  After the meet and greet, Özlem the festival coordinator and our main point of contact, takes us on a tour of the office.  The magnitude of the task at hand unveils itself as we see shelves and shelves and shelves and shelves of binders and documents and brochures and video tapes that need to be digitized, archived and made accessible to Flying Broom staff and selectively to the public online.

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2.30 PM:  We are acquainted with the Founder of Flying Broom, Halime Güner as she eloquently describes in Turkish, how she created the organization to take forward the mission of women’s empowerment. Özlem kindly translated this for us into English.

2.45 PM: The Flying Broom team squeals with delight when Team Symantec presents them with some logo souvenirs, chocolates from Dublin and sweets, tea and Ayurvedic cosmetics from India.

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3.00 PM:  An intense brainstorming session begins.  Travis, Amitoj and Archana delve into the depths of their experience to define the problem statement, the emerging scope of work, and an initial set of questions to further clarify the needs and requirements of Flying Broom.

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4.30 PM: We reach out to Flying Broom for Q&A and find out that their bandwidth is severely limited due to a number of upcoming events related to the International Women’s Day, on March 8 2015.  We manage to get Özlem, the project coordinator, to spare some time to get answers and help clarify the evolving scope.

5.10 PM: Good news!  The Founder drops in to inform us that a neutral candidate has been elected to monitor the Turkish Government’s enforcement of the EU Commission’s “Istanbul Agreement”, a document which lays guidelines for ending domestic violence and child marriages.

6.00 PM: Just as we are finishing up a long day, we are invited to join the Flying Broom members at the Romanian Embassy for a reception in honor of Women Artists in Ankara.

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Amitoj basks in the limelight of photo-ops with VIPs, having been assumed to be a member of the Indian Embassy.

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8.30 PM:  Team Flying Broom finally has a chance to relax over dinner enjoying vegan Sushi.

10.30 PM: But the day is not over as we have to finish this blog!

So here we are wrapping up close to midnight after a very long yet fruitful and exciting day.

01:40 AM: The End.

… and the beginning of an exciting journey.

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First Impressions …

The first 24 hours in Ankara have been a panorama of emotions. The excitement of being in a new place. Discovering the first bits of a new language and culture. The camaraderie of team members joining from different parts of the world. Learning about IMG_0863the inspiring journeys that brought these people here. Seeing a path get slowly laid out for our month ahead.

To me Ankara feels foreign and familiar all at the same time. The amalgam of traditional and modern; the mix of opulent and modest; the mosque around the bend from the pub; and the blend of colors in the city are remarkably reminiscent of cities in India. The Turkish language too shares roots with Urdu and I find myself recognizing some words here and there! To top if off, Samet from Pyxera Global, our unofficial guide, is a complete blast and has been showing us a great time through the neighborhood and the city. That’s him holding the cat above, which btw just strayed by!

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Ready or not…

The time has come. After months of pre work, group meeting, sub group meetings, and client meetings, the time has come. The Symantec Service Corps assignment in Ankara, Turkey awaits, and I am filled with a myriad of mixed emotions as I begin the end of my preparations, to go. I am inspired by this incredible opportunity to work with fellow colleagues, from around the world, for a great cause. I am excited to meet new and interesting people from differing backgrounds, with fresh ideas. I am enthusiastic about engaging in a new (to me) culture, with a deep seeded history stretching all the way back to the cradle of civilization. I am also quite anxious for the uncertainties ahead, but I am truly grateful for the support and encouragement I have received from friends, family and colleagues, alike.

As I take a quick break from packing, and ticking the ‘to do’ items off my endless check list, I sit down, and switch on the television. Locked Up Abroad comes on, and I immediately change the channel. On the next, Air Crash Investigators has just started, and I begin to think that it is in my best interest to turn off the television, and return to my list. How do I pack for 30 days?  Will 8 pairs of pants suffice?  Should I bring gifts? Where will I do my laundry? What will I eat? Where will I be fortunate enough to travel to, in my time off? Will I be successful, working with the client? Will everyone get along? Deep breath…relax…relax…breathe.

I suppose I could go on with an Academy Awards length list of thank yous, but I won’t. I would however, like to offer a whole hearted thank you to everyone at Symantec, Pyxera and Flying Broom, for making this opportunity possible.

So, ready or not, the time has come, and I am elated with excitement for what lies ahead, for my colleagues and for me, in Ankara, Turkey.

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To Turkey!

Three days from now I will be joining an amazing group of people from Symantec offices the world over, coming together in Turkey to form the Symantec Service Corps 2015, or as we have dubbed ourselves, “Team Ilerleme” – Turkish for Progress. If you’ve read what Rachel and Patty, Sohini and Patricia have written before me, you know that we will be working with three grassroots non-profit organizations based in Ankara.

Even before I begin it, I am unshakably certain that this will be the most amazing journey. So how do I start writing about this! Hmm … the engineer in me wants to break the overwhelming feelings down into small blocks. To begin with, I am overcome with the feeling of gratitude. Gratitude towards Symantec, which even in times of change is standing by its corporate responsibility and investing in the global community. Gratitude towards Pyxera Global and the CSR team at Symantec who have been preparing us for the past seven weeks and have converted 9 people, geographically distributed, into a close knit team – thanks Eric, Dan, Ashley, Patricia and team … these are the only 7am conference calls that I will miss :) I am also grateful to the 8 other people on our team who have generously taken the time from their lives to contribute to such amazing causes. And lastly I am thankful to my team at Symantec, who happily agreed to pick up the slack while I am out.

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Next time you log into the Symantec VPN with a push notification or a six digit code, these are the folks that made it happen :)

The next bucket of feelings is excitement. This is going to be a phenomenal learning opportunity. We will all be stepping outside our comfort zones, both from a cultural as well as skill set perspective. We will be working with a very different set of constraints than what we are used to and I am certain that we will all come out of it enriched in more ways than we can imagine. This next month will be a time of self discovery – am excited to figure myself out a bit better. To top it all off, Turkey is a beautiful, colorful, culturally and historically rich country. I have been reading Orhan Pamuk’s, Istanbul – Memories and the City. It paints a mesmerizing picture of Istanbul; cant wait to walk the streets which have seen the steps of the Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires! Oh and of course,  sample the cuisine.

Next up is a small dose of trepidation! Not so much the fear of the unknown, but the feeling that I might take more from this experience than be able to contribute to the cause that we are going to work for. Also, this will be the longest that I will be away from work. I might go through a work withdrawal phase!

And before I close this out, of things I will miss; its  just a month, but still – happy hour with friends, the gym at Symantec, a big bowl of green leafy salad and others that I am sure I will find out once I am there!

Onwards it is for us … follow along.

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The countdown begins

The last month has been a whirlwind of excitement, frantic preparation, lots of learning, and mostly, gratitude. I’ve learned so much about the ins and outs of serving as a consultant and furthermore, the idiosyncrasies of serving non-profits in rapidly growing markets. What I am most excited for though, is all that I will learn from my Turkish counterparts and the collaborative relationships we’ll get to form. I can’t wait to see Turkey through their eyes and soak up the rich culture, history, working style, and food. I know that I am going to learn and grow so much and that I will come back a different and better person. Only a few more days…I can hardly wait!

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
-Rabindranath Tagore
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Getting ready for Turkey!

Counting the days on one hand until I leave for Turkey. Excited for the assignment ahead, meeting new people, and visiting a country I’ve never been to.

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