Travel: The Other Side

We did something completely off the beaten path today by visiting a slum just north of downtown Mumbai. Nick had helped establish a Pre-K school here about eight years ago, and wanted to check on how it was doing. It’s inspiring to see someone put their heart into something and invest their time and knowledge into helping others, and still care enough to check its well-being so many years later.

You can imagine that I was feeling pretty apprehensive about the experience. While I knew that it would be educational, the opportunity to witness a slum in India first-hand intimidated me.

At first, I didn’t want to face the sadness that would overwhelm me, facing the stark truth that the luxuries I enjoy as an American are just that, unnecessary but expected. As one born in the USA, with opportunities afforded to me by hard-working immigrant parents, its easy to take everything we are given for granted. It’s so simple to think that the small unhappinesses and struggles we may experience are insurmountable, but in the cosmos of things, it’s but a small ripple.

Secondly, I didn’t want to make the locals feel like I was going to visit them as a tourist. My features make it impossible for me to fit in and I knew that not only would they be looking at me in curiosity, but they would also be wondering why I was there. I was concerned that the dwellers would feel like they were on display for a camera-snapping foreigner to watch, like they were in a snow globe village.

In the end, Nick and I went; he even commented that the conditions in the slum were a lot better than he recalled. Rather than propped up shacks made of scaffolding and tarp, I saw brick and mortar buildings, with weighted scaffolding as roofing. Along the paths cutting through the streets, you could see clothes drying on a line; there were vendors for everything from flowers and incense for the temple to little snack shops.

One thing that is different about the poor in India in contrast to other parts of the world is that you can see that the government cares. A lot of slums enjoy the benefits of electricity, cable, and running water. And often, despite springing up illegally on government land, the police do not forcibly remove families to make way for development. Rather, there is a government mandate that requires developers to build apartment-style housing to accommodate the displaced, but only if a majority of the slum community votes for it.

Unfortunately, due to funding issues, Nick was not able to find the school he so lovingly spent hours organizing. He had helped with organizing the lesson plans and worked with the sponsoring company to provide all the classroom essentials the students would need. It made me sad that Nick was not able to witness the longevity or expansion of all his good work. ­čśŽ

You may have noted that there are no pictures in this post. This is intentional. Over 2.2 Billion people across the world live in poverty. It is important to Nick and I that we don’t paste more pictures of slums and squalid conditions across the internet. How these people live is not an attraction, it’s not something to be remembered, it’s something, that as a community, and as humans, we work together to put in the past. Rather than something to be framed and on display in an art gallery, this way of life, these conditions, need to end and become a faint memory.

 

 

Travel: India

So, I apologize for disappearing this past year. Unfortunately, certain responsibilities come with being an adult. This includes things such as acquiring a job, paying my own bills, and being thrust out of my mother’s nest into the real world.,

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I’ve gone from growing up in New Jersey, to attending Graduate School in California, and finally settling in Texas. And yet, I feel discontent. During school, hard work paid off by manifesting itself in the form of grades, but a career, and subsequently long hours, is only gratifying in the form of wealth.

 

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Its fact that wealth doesn’t buy happiness, but savoring the little moments, and cherishing time spent with family and friends does. I can’t deny that I am grateful for the niche I have built in Houston. I do enjoy what I do, and there’s a certain thrill I feel whenever I drive past a building I worked on, or when I finished modeling a complex building. Yet, I feel incomplete. There’s a certain yen I have to explore and discover all the beauty and history that our planet has to offer, and it’s not something I can do with my career while chained to a desk.

imageAnd so, with some strategic planning and the benefit of not having to use my vacation days to visit family, I have managed to scrounge up a sufficient amount of days for my next big travel venture. This year, it is India.

imageDespite a 36-hour total travel time to New Delhi, and an overwhelming sense of unspoken questions that I have left behind in Houston, I’m excited to explore this diverse nation with one of my best friends from high school.Because, for me, travel allows me to keep things in perspective.

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I think that as Americans we can become blinded within the bubble that is patriotic egoism. Exploring different cultures and countries allows one to understand what simple freedoms we enjoy and to really appreciate our place in life.