Our car bumbles along the dirt road, its tiny wheels barely surviving the bumps. The four of us unload at the high school teacher’s house, and the teacher leads me, my translator and our driver through dirty yards and alleyways to a pile of sand. We’re looking to find a certain sized grain to put into a water filter, and me being an American engineer need to give my blessing on the sand (the idea of me being a supposed expert on construction materials still gives me a chuckle). We sift through the sand, I nod, the translator nods, the teacher nods, our driver nods, and we start filing the sand bags. As we struggle to carry the bags back to the car, the teacher and driver tell me through the interpreter about a woman who could carry our 75lb sacks on her head as if they were nothing.
The car loaded, the teacher leads us to his house for the mandatory chai break. We pass by some women managing cowpie production, and see them arranging the 12″ diameter pieces of poop into neat rows, letting them dry in the ample winter sun. We sit on a wicker bed / bench in the courtyard of his home as the teacher and driver go to prepare chai.
My translator works for a company called Evalueserve, an outsourcing firm in Delhi. One of his bosses is an alumni at the University of Hartford, which is the school who organized this Engineers Without Borders work project. The alumni arranged a deal that let employees take the day off if they agreed to volunteer to translate for us. Generally nerdy, all have been very helpful and good natured.
“So, what department do you work in?”, I ask, making conversation. Most of the translators had worked in business development or sales.
“I work in the Intellectual Property division.”
To fully understand the meaning of what happens next, it is best to understand the usual response to hearing of my stated profession. Indifference, confusion, dismissal, walking away, statements akin to “So you have a big stamp?”, blank states, condescension, statements regarding the US governments efficacy at accomplishing anything, etc.
“Interesting. I also work in IP. I’m a patent examiner.”
“You … you are a patent examiner?”, he says incredulously.
Cautiously, I respond in the affirmative.
“Oh my! I can’t believe I have met a patent examiner!” he bursts, nearly jumping out of his seat. “We read about you! You do searches and apply the law and … I can’t believe I met a real live patent examiner!”
Both of us sit with someone shocked expressions and talk about IP business practices until the teacher and driver return with chai and Indian sweets. I sit on my bench, drinking chai, the translator still beaming at me, watching random children peek over fences to stare at me, and quietly enjoy this Indian parallel universe where being a patent examiner is cool.