Day #2

It is Day 2 for us (Lydia, Dominique, Gared) in India and already I feel as though I could write a book. This is shaping up to be a very intense adventure to say the least. I realized the intensity of this experience for the first time as our plane descended over one of the largest slums of Bombay. Nothing can quite prepare you for India.

Thankfully our travel plans all went very smoothly. After getting off the plane in Mumbai we crammed into the back of a jeep to ride the 4 and 1/2 hours from Bombay to the city of Pune and the Ashraya Initiative for Children (or AIC)--the orphanage and Center where we will be volunteering for the next two weeks. Driving through Bombay was one of the most intense things I have ever experienced...partly because I was jetlagged...but I seriously could not shut my eyes for a moment. Everywhere you look something... shocking (for lack of a better word) is occuring: whether that is men driving oxen and carts down the center of a high-traffic street, or a massive open-air truck piled to the top with logs speeding down the freeway...with people chilling on top of the logs. As Gared put it: there are no rules here. Everything is happening at the speed of light and using your horn isn't an option...it is a necesity. There is so much life and energy here and it is crazy. Overwhelming and crazy. There was not one Westerner or white person in sight. Thoughts were racing through my brain, but the primary one was simply, What are we doing here? We stick out like sore thumbs.

We made it to Pune and AIC safely and in one piece. AIC is located on the outskirts of Pune. Their home houses around 15 or so children who live there full-time. The school program in the slum or "The Center" serves around 100 kids. The Center is where we will be spending the majority of our days volunteering with AIC. This morning our work at the Center was optional as the staff figured we would be recovering from jetlag and wouldn't want to wake up early. As it turned out we were all up anyway due to the blasting Hindi music at 5:45 am this morning coming from the Hindu temple down the street. According to another volunteer, this happens every morning and we will get used to it. Power outages are also common and happen several times a day (I am lucky if I can get through this blog post!). After breakfast, we crammed into an auto rickshaw with other volunteers for the short commute to the Center and we spent the morning with around 10 children of all ages in a classroom doing interactive art and English projects. The children at the Center are just learning English and the language barrier is significant. They are all very eager and enthusiastic about any and all of the activities we have for them, however, and it is a joy to work with them. We will be busy here and I think two weeks will pass us by all too quickly.

After our work with the children this morning the three of us decided to take a rickshaw to a big, commercial road one of the volunteers told us about called MG Road where we could go to an ATM and just walk around. It was more of a shopping area for people who have money to shop. Very crowded streets. Lots of traffic and activity. This is where we encountered intense culture shock. As we were walking down the road peeking in and out of shops, trying to find an ATM, we were bombarded by beggars. All children... many of them carrying babies. I have heard of this happening very often in India, but I was not prepared for it. I was expecting to feel sorry for them--thinking I would want to give them money and that it would be difficult to turn them down. This was not the case. They are aggressive. They pull at you. They hit you if you don't give them money. We could feel their resentment and even anger there on the surface. We are white. We are American. We obviously have money--but we won't give them anything. We can't give them anything--for many reasons. It was weird and hard. It is frustrating and we were tired and hot and just trying to find a rickshaw to take us back--but couldn't get the kids to leave us alone. It is tempting to shove them off, yell at them, or push them back. Indeed if it is really bad sometimes this is the only thing you can do. But they are just children. Just like the ones we are working with at AIC. The only difference is the ones at AIC were pulled off the street and rescued. But for the others, begging is all that they know. This is something I am still processing through. More to come on this I am sure. For now, this is what it is.

It is time to go to the house and eat dinner with the kids. I hate to leave on an intense/depressing note, however, so I will leave with this: the kids at AIC are just a joy! They are welcoming and beautiful and the ones living at the home speak great English, so they are especially fun to interact with. They each have so much energy and are so life-giving. The place we are staying at is wonderful. Simple. But wonderful and we are so blessed and thankful to be here. We are safe, we are healthy, we are in India and I am thankful.

Until next time, Namaste!



Capt. Austin Maness said...

so freaking jealous.

Oona said...

Your making an effort to understand the resentment of the beggar children is your first step to surviving India :)