Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Slumdog Millionaire

There is so much here in Mumbai to take in that is so foreign to anything I have ever seen. By the end of the day I am utterly exhausted beyond imagination. It is like my brain is learning something new and incredibly difficult each day just by witnessing these things. I don't even think I can attempt to recount the events. Jen described it wonderfully, it is like trying to describe a taste of something to someone who had never eaten that before, like a strawberry. After today, I am now thinking it is like describing a strawberry to someone who cannot taste at all.

I went on a tour of the largest slum in India, Dharavi. I felt torn about this, that it would just break my heart and seem a disrespect and violation of the resident's privacy. Jen explained that the money went to the community and we read the debate that the folks, Reality India, gave about how it was to educate people about what was actually happening in this community and what the industry was there and the work that was being done....the tour was fascinating. The guides for the tour were young men from Dharavi and the community center that the Reality India tours created and funded taught Dharavi residents the computer and language skills to continue to college and help with job placement.

Dharavi was incredibly intense. The feeling I am left with is the remarkable pride of these people, they work hard and everywhere I went I was greeted warmly. The "tour" is kept small, there were three of us. I could go on and on about the fraction of this amazing place that I saw. One million people in Dharavi which covers just over one half a mile. Most of what we saw was the recycling of plastics. What the companies make and the pittance of what the workers are paid and the conditions they work under is a crime. The industry makes 650 million after taxes a year and pays out 150 rupee a day to the workers which is $3. The residents who stay do not want to leave Dharavi due to the close sense of community. Most of the residents work outside of Dharavi. It is mostly migrant laborers from other villages in India that do the industry work inside Dharavi.

The ride to and from Dharavi was in itself an epic adventure. The four lane highway is just a guideline at best. Most times there were six or more cars careening around and down the highway. Anyone who has ever had me as a passenger in their vehicle knows how challenging that can be. I decided to NOT look at the road at all ahead of me if I didn't want my heart to explode and to focus instead upon the other mind boggling scenes we zoomed past. It was the best call I could make.

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