How My Job as a Cultural Prostitute Changed the Way I Think About Money

On white naiveté at Indian weddings.

Eva Keiffenheim
ILLUMINATION
Published in
5 min readFeb 11, 2021

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Photo by Kumar Saurabh from Pexels

It’s August 2014, and I’m 22 years old. The Airbus A380 just landed at New Delhi Airport. With a stolen flight blanket under my arm, I’m walking through the jet bridge. I’m about to start a new life.

It’s my first paid internship abroad, and I’m excited because I don’t know yet that breathing Delhi air is equal to smoking 44 cigarettes a day and that I’ll soon have the worst job of my life.

I’m still in this moment of excitement when I hop into an overpriced cab and drive towards my new home.

I think about my university friends. They landed exchange semesters and scholarships. I didn’t. I failed one exam and didn’t qualify for the application. Yet, I still wanted to live abroad.

I applied for 49 business internships around the world. I spent weeks on research, cover letters, and CV optimization. I was positive to find a job abroad that will pay my living costs.

Hiring managers weren’t as optimistic. Turns out my previous jobs as a mail carrier, metalworker, cleaning lady, and retail sales assistant didn’t qualify me for a consultancy internship.

Ultimately, two offered me a paid internship. One job in Singapur, where the $500 monthly salary would have only paid the apartment for a week. And the other one here, in Delhi, at $350 monthly, from which I can pay for a shared apartment and food.

I gaze outside the cab’s window and feel genuinely proud, free, and sweaty.

A week later, I’m in a Riksha. I’m again sweaty and on my way home. It’s only been a few days, but I‘m in the middle of my second Riksha crash. My 3-year old MacBook had two severe bumps from the first, and I’m unsure whether it’ll survive the second crash. I can’t afford a new one, so I carefully hug my bag in front of my chest to protect it.

While hugging my computer and inhaling the bus gases right next to me, my excitement about being free and independent is gone. I’m pondering about last night's conversation. Another intern asked me to join a weekend trip to Rishikesh, the Yoga capital of the world.

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Eva Keiffenheim
ILLUMINATION

Learning enthusiast, TEDx speaker, and writer with +3M views | Elevate your love for learning with my free, weekly Learn Letter: http://bit.ly/learnletter