A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

Pulling a Life Together

Now I'm alone, the holidays are over, and the job and flat-hunt are on! India is very whom-you-know. I'm slowly networking through layers of people and starting to interview for jobs. The goal is to have a flat by next week and a job or two (ie a non/low-paying NGO job and another paying job freelancing for a law firm or subtitling for a Publishing House) within the next two weeks. I'm ready to be independent.

Speaking of work, India is full of extraneous jobs. For instance, on the Sea Link roadway, when your car pulls up to pay the toll you hand the money to someone standing by the booth. He hands it to a man in the booth, who puts it in the cash register. Then the first man pushes the button to let you pass.

I love the English here. It's a unique mixture of old British with Indian cultural input, with signs on the road like 'Hospital ceilings are boring. Drive safely,' 'Honking won't make a red light turn green any faster,' or the ad on the left for Thums Up soda. Bombay also has its own slang, such as making what Americans know as the 'kissy sound' to call someone to come over to you. My first two Hindi words were ahimsa (nonviolence) and bagh (garden), and of course I've picked up more useful ones like Kitna wa? (how much?) as well.

Today I embarked on a flat-hunting adventure, which involved riding behind a broker on his moped. He first showed me a PG (paying guest) place where you rent a bedroom in someone's house who assures you that you can use the rest of the house too, and when you ask if you can cook they say you can heat up food once in a while, and you realize if you lived there you'd be an unwanted plus one confined to your room. I insisted I wanted an independent or a roommate set up, and was shown a couple 400 square-foot-ish studios in a "hip" suburb called Bandra. In one particularly sketchy flat near the Catholic hospital (which went for about $380/month or R18,000) seven men were opening closets, turning on taps and assuring me the broken window would be fixed ASAP. Talk about extraneous jobs. Luckily I bonded with my broker. Over Elvis. He is keen to help me find a place so I can show him pictures of an old trip to Graceland.

Tuesday I did a tour of Dharavi, the largest Bombay slum. Dharavi is in between two nice suburbs, Mahim and Bangra. I use the term suburb because it's used here, but the neighborhoods are urban, except without high rise towers. This slum of officially 1 million, and actually more like 2.5 million, was considerably cleaner, calmer and had more of community feel than Rio (or Compton). When I say cleaner, of course it's relative--children still play barefoot by the trash heap, there's open sewage in in the streets that flows straight into the Arabian Sea, and most of the local businesses center around very polluted industries. Every waste product of Bombay (and even as far as from Chennai) ends up in Dharavi, where local resident manufacturing ventures recycle and produce any and everything to resell to manufacturers. For $3/day or R150/day for a man or half that for a woman, workers sort plastics by color and ultimately churn out small recycled colored pellets; there are sewing sweat shops where children as young as 14 are paid by the piece. The unfortunates work in industries like aluminum recycling where in a basement incinerator facility they pollute their lungs with toxic gas of melted metal, as if the smog in Bombay isn't bad enough. Still by removing shoes before going into a house, which for a family of five is the size of the studios I was looking at (and without bathrooms or kitchens) and careful upkeep, the homes are clean and diseases are minimized. Hygeine is pretty good, and walking on the street you couldn't easily tell people apart, except for the number of scars on their faces or obvious maladies like smashed-in skulls healed into misshapen-looking heads, or missing limbs or something. Unfortunately, few hospitals in Bombay give discounts, and none give free medicine. Below, a ferris wheel in the slum:

You may have heard that the government is slowly reclaiming the slum land and turning it into high rises; the first couple floors are reserved for the resulting displaced slum residents who arrived in Bombay before 1995, and the rest are sold. Those who arrived after 1995 are SOL and likely to be forced to live in an illegal slum. Dharavi gets water for 2 hours in the morning 287 days/year (or fewer, depending on the monsoons) and has electrical meters hooked up to a network of low-hanging wires used for drying laundry, whereas illegal slums get no utilities.

In comparison, drug money will get you nice things, but also requires guns to protect them. Homes in the slums of Rio look like small American apartments inside, with leather sofas and cable tv, but schools are often entirely teacher-less, with children going just for a free meal at lunch. The only guns I've seen in India have been on armymen. Thankfully, education is highly valued in India, and most slum children finish high school and often do 1 or 2 years of school after. Yet even in a drugstore in Dharavi you find Gilette razors, Cadbury's chocolates and Colgate toothpaste.

Seeing the recycling and sweat shops really brings The Jungle to life. I will always picture this underbelly when I shop here, and abroad whenever I see a Made in China/India/etc sticker. Yet many of the businesses in the slums are built and run by slum residents themselves, which makes me wonder if our rampant consumerism is encouraging some enterprising behavior in addition to horrible labor conditions...

In the glaring bipolarity of Bombay (like most developing countries), Saturday night I paid a $20 cover to get into a dance club called Bling in the basement of a 5-star hotel, after hanging out in a posh lounge by the Sea with women who actually wore dresses and showed the first bit of leg (and shoulder) I've seen in India. In Malabar Hill, the richest part of town only accessible by car where financeers live, is a beautiful park called Hanging Gardens with amazing hillside views of the city, such as this.

I met an interesting German-Israeli couple wandering around the area I'm currently staying, the southern tip of the city called Colaba. Their impression of the US was that Americans all try to live up to an impossible Hollywood-Barbie ideal and life is "too stressy." Also, the universal opinion in Bombay seems to be that NYC is the best city ever, and LA is awful. So much for west coast solidarity. This is a good map to give an idea of the city's layout of neighborhoods. India also does not believe in maps, and most streets are known by their old British names, not the new Indian names on the signs. Navigating is all by neighborhood and landmarks.

I'll close with the following: wandering around Hanging Gardens, I walked past a family who nudged each other, saying 'American, American,' whipped out their cell phones and took pictures of me. I should start pretending to be an American movie star to get into all the nice clubs for free. In the all-white-people-look-the-same mentality here, it would work well. Even sweaty and dressed in $3 clothes, white skin always merits a 'Yes, madam?'

Posted byValerie at 6:45 PM  


Annette said... October 23, 2009 at 1:17 AM  
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Phillip said... October 23, 2009 at 5:55 PM  
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K. said... October 24, 2009 at 12:56 AM  
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Karsten said... October 24, 2009 at 5:38 AM  
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Valerie said... October 25, 2009 at 1:28 PM  
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