Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 3

It is the end of my third day here and my head is swimming with all that has been happening.  If someone would have shown me the pictures of Mumbai, one year ago and told me that that was where I would be I would not have believed them.  Unless you have been here and actually spent time walking these streets, you just cannot imagine this.

As soon as I walked out of the airport and upon arriving, the first thing that hit me was the smells.  Cardomom, jasmine, coriander, curry?  Like the whole city is cooking and burning incense at the same time.  Really, the sensory overload is... overwhelming.  The sounds, smells and sight of millions of people walking the streets side by side with cars, motor bikes and ricksaws is mind boggling.  And this was at 12:30 at night!  There was no easing into this country! 

Sunday being my first day and feeling a bit like in a dream, mostly from lack of proper sleep and time zone difference, was a good day for getting my head together and a grip on my surroundings.  The weather is beautiful, sunny and in the mid eighties!  I am told that there are two months that are the best months for visiting and that is December and January.  After that, it starts getting hot again and by April and May, sweltering with the heat. Monsoon season then runs from mid June to September.

I wanted to get an understanding of how the term "slum" is defined.  I spent the morning discussing this with Walter and then spent the afternoon going on a guided tour of Dharavi, one of the largest slums in all of Asia.  It is in the center of Mumbai and has over 1 million registered members with another million that is estimated who are not registered.  It was requested that no cameras be allowed so as to respect the privacy of its residents.  You must understand that all the pictures that I have taken are from another slum and not Dharavali.  While it was disarming the level of poverty, I grew to have great respect for the slums.  There are a number of misconceptions about it and having read only articles, I found it very interesting.  I really wanted to begin understanding it as I would be working with these people for the next two weeks.    While it is certainly is not the safest thing for a foreigner to walk there alone, it is by comparison to the ghettos of Los Angelos or Detroit, far more safe.  Rarely is there violence on the streets and gunshots are almost unheard of.  The slums are a defined area much like neighborhoods.  In Mumbai alone, there are hundreds of them and each one is run as a tight community.  Residents care for each other, often cook together, share responsibilities and respect each other.  Not once did I have a child come up asking for money or food.  Apparently, there is a difference between living in the slums and living on the streets.  It is the people that live on the streets that you will see begging or possibly try to steal from you. 

One of the other visiters that was in our group, asked the children if they wanted a cookie that he had in his bag.  They all went running away.  The guide explained to him that children are told never to take anything from strangers.  That moment stuck in my head and changed the way I saw the children immediately.  The girl that is in the photo has the same sweet expression that I saw on almost all the children.  They would come running up and ask in English "how are you?", "what is your name?".  They love to shake hands and stand there waving as you walk away.

Now, I am not trying to paint a pretty picture of the slums.  It is so painful to see the garbage that covers the grounds and the children playing in the dirt where the sewage lies.  The sight of so many people living in rooms eight by ten feet and one public toilet that services 15,000 thousand people a day is heartbreaking.  The poverty of people living on, in one month, less than what I make in a day or even in one hour is astounding.  The pictures that I have taken are no where as destitute as what I witnessed in Dharavi.

Contrary to what is usually understood, most people who live in the slums do have jobs but cannot afford to live in the metropolitan areas of the city.  These are people like taxi drivers, maids, cooks, etc...  Also, what is a large part of the slums is purely business.  There is the residential districts and then the business districts.  An unbelievable amount of money is made from there.  I will never look the same at a product that is "made in India".  Industrial manufacturing is procured there with minimal labor costs and finished products then being sold to major corporations.  We are not talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, but billions.  I saw people tanning leather, collecting plastic and making them into recycled plastic pellets, the cleaning of gallon paint cans to be returned to the corporations that refill them, the embroidering and dyeing of fabrics, the list goes on.

The slums continue to grow at an alarming rate.  Many of the people come there from the countryside and villages with the hopes of making money.  Some are lured by the Bollywood, movie making industry.  Others, come because their life in the countryside is even more destitute.

I am finding that Mumbai and perhaps the whole of India is full of contradictions.  The people that come into the clinic are in such a way that you would never know it.  Their hygeine is carefully maintained and rarely do they ever smell.  As I swab their skin to prepare them for needling, the cotton always comes up clean.  Their clothes are clean and carefully pressed.  It is such a contrast to the conditions of the streets, the cars, and anything else visible from outside the home, where garbage, dogs and excrement proliferate.  The insides of the homes are kept immaculate.  The floors washed daily and provisions neatly arranged. 

More tomorrow... It is 2:30 in the morning and we have between 30 to 40 patients to treat.  I wanted to get this out to help you understand some of the basics as I had to learn.  Of course, there is still a mountain to be said but for now, I've got to sleep.  To my parents, I know you are reading this but to let you know that I am well taken care of here.  Someone is always with me and I am fed clean food...  To my son Tenzin, whom I hope will read this, I miss you very much.


Miriam's Mom said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight. You write so beautifully. Be safe and take care.
You are such a kind spirit

Kelly Hora said...

Hello Anne, thank you for posting a link to your blog on ND. I was in India earlier this winter, though not in Mumbia. Your pictures pull on my memory for sights and sounds...please let's talk about your time in the clinic when you return to the states. I am planning to return to India next year and would like to learn about volunteering as an acupuncturist. Be well. Kelly Hora

Unknown said...

Thank you so very much for sharing your adventure and enlightening us as to how the world really is outside our fantasy. You do write so very beautifully. Look forward as your experience comes to life..

Unknown said...

Anne, having you here, working with you, sharing with you at our clinics for the last three days has been a great pleasure for all of us. Your simple and generous attitude, your knowlegde, your desire to teach what you know, your curiosity and interest for others... have already made you part of our team, part of our family. I am delighted to see how our (your!) patients have adopted you at first sight! You have just arrived and I already hear people ask when you will be back. Enjoy!

Alan2102 said...

Miriam's Mom said: "You are such a kind spirit"

Yes, I've been noticing that myself. :-)


Unknown said...

Such beautiful pictures, Anne!

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