The Shanghai Residency Pt-2 : Finding Tom Purcell

Tom Purcell joined Peace Corps at age 23. It was the summer of 1965 and his first assignment was to go work in Bassi, a small village in North India, about 20 miles east of Jaipur. The villagers, none of whom spoke English, took him for a British when they saw him the first time.  Sensing a faint resentment that had built for him, the headmaster of the local school explained it to people that he was from “umreeka”, a different country that was also a British colony once. A lot of people then didn’t know about the US and then he would  make a reference to Hiroshima. I personally find it amusing how those people knew about Japan when they didn’t know the US but that’s a separate discussion altogether.

Many years later, in the 1990s, I spent my early teenage years in Bassi. It was then I came to know about Tom Purcell. I also came to know that my father who was a college student back then often played the role of his translator. He was in fact 1 of the 2 college students in the whole village who spoke some English and thus being given the responsibility was inevitable. Tom lived in the village for about 2 years and worked tirelessly during his stint. People, who knew him, remembered him fondly – he’d helped start scholarship program at the local school, helped set up first public lavatories in the village, and most importantly, he was master at consensus building for solving problems compared to the other “foreigners” before him who came to rule, always used force and often guns.

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An Intrinsic Reality

A lot can happen in a year.  I say that knowing it’s completely cliché, but it also seems eerily timely at this moment.  It was about a year ago that I sat working at my consulting job and the meeting reminder for a monthly Senior Consultant meeting popped up on my computer.  It was a Friday just like today.  Unlike today, I was sitting at my desk already frustrated with what the meeting topic would be over.

You see, after one very long project and many man hours worked, people were starting to feel the burnout.  We had thought for years that after Go Live we would see the reward of our labor and finally get some much needed rest.  Unfortunately the long hours didn’t stop, rewards were fewer and harder to come by, and ultimately we were all feeling let down and led astray by our management.  In January of 2010 we began to see turnover.  It started with a handful here and there, but it became a trend.  After several months more than 50 people had left from our project alone.  Even our offshore team experienced a high turnover.

On this particular Friday, the Atlanta VP had called a meeting to speak with all of the Atlanta Senior Consultants.  It was an open forum for us to ask him questions and to give him our honest feedback.  Or so we were told.  As I got up from my chair to go to the session I was frustrated and anxious for the dog and pony show to be over.

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