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. ūüė¶

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: Chaos of Delhi

imageAfter finally meeting up with Nick at the Delhi Airport around 6 AM (his flight was delayed by 2 hours on his way out from Dubai), we hopped on a Metro to reach our hotel.  Emerging from the metro station, I was quickly overwhelmed by the site that greeted us. It can best be summed up in one word: Chaos.

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India is the most populous democracy in the world, with a staggering 1.2 billion citizens. However, despite being the world’s 10th largest economy by GDP, and the 3rd largest by PPP, this nation struggles to align its modern ambitions with its financial limitations.

 

After securing its independence from British rule in 1947, a period during which Mahatma Gandhi yielded significant influence, ¬†India continues to face the shackles of corruption of corruption and poverty. It is home to the largest concentration¬†of people living below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.25 a day.

Chronic malnutrition of children is rampant across the nation, and the socio-economic disparity between this nation’s states has only continued to grow. India can only tax about 0.1% of its population, and then these¬†funds are directly used to feed its poor, leaving little flexibility for the money to be allocated elsewhere. ¬†It is a sobering reality to see all the day-to-day battles these individuals have to endure.

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The street clamours for attention with the loud yells of the rigshaw drivers bantering for business and the constant beeping of horns as cars dodge each other, and people, as they drive the street.

 

We decided to take a rigshaw to our hotel, since we were a little disoriented after our tedious travel. I’d describe riding in a rigshaw as a harrowing experience, filled both with excitement, adrenaline, and an ounce of fear. There is little regard for right of way, and the drivers bravely weave their cars in and out of traffic. We like to laugh and call it taking a gamble on life, akin to playing a round of Mario Cart.