Saturday, January 21, 2012

The slums of Mumbai, it's not what you think

My first day in Mumbia,

First I went with Rajiv to the Cancer Research Center where he works. At this facility they do treatment, experimental treatment, research and more. It was kinda sad to see the children in one of the buildings, but at least it's set up so that their families can stay with them. I saw the radiation treatment facilities and met two patients as they were being treated. Saw the plant nursery, water treatment facility, the hospital, the follow up clinic and so much more. Went to Rajiv's office, huge with a great view. Had a wonderful lunch of fried rice, chicken curry and some other side dishes. Then I went to the research center where I met all the people that do genetic research for cancer. After lunch we were riding around the facility on a golf cart when we saw a group of four people and some excitement. They just caught a five and a half foot king cobra. Got some goo photos, and wow, what a snake!!

Then I took the train in general class compartment (this is what you see on tv, very crowded) for one hour to south Bombay. Rohan, Rajiv's son, met me and took me on a tour from 1pm to 1am. First to his college campus, very nice. Then on a train ride to the slums. This was the highlight of the trip, more on that in a minute, then off to south Bombay to see the sights and eat lots of good food.

With the slums of Mumbai being the largest slums in all of Asia we had plenty of choices of where to go inside the slums. Nine months ago Rohan did some volunteer community service in the slums teaching English at a community center so we decided that this would be the best area for us to go explore. Now, I have to tell you, I didn't know what to expect but I was thinking that what I was going to see would be horrible, dirty, smelly and with lots of people begging for help. My trip was nothing of the sort, in fact it was the most pleasant tours I've taken in all my years of traveling, it was an eye opener and it was touching.

Rohan and I took the train for about 30 minutes and got off at a very small station, we continued on food down the road about one kilometer and then turned off onto a small road that led us into the slums, only about two blocks off the main road. Rohan was taking me into the neighborhood where he taught English, and soon we were walking among the small homes where everyone stared at me, but with smiles and nods of the head. They hadn't seen a foreigner in their neighborhood before and word got out quickly that I was there. I had an entourage of boys and girls following me, adults came out of their homes to say hi, shake my hand and ask a few questions. The community center was closed but we soon found some of Rohan's former students, one went on to finish top in her class and another is now in nursing school. Rohan was very moved to see the progress of his former students, and I was surprised to learn that almost all the kids here spoke some English. Though only a few children can go to the community center to learn those that do come home and teach their siblings. We were invited into one home and served cold sodas, chocolates and given a tour of the home. The home next door we were also invited and given more sodas and snacks, and yet another house we were served tea and snacks. At the fourth home when we were offered yet more soda I had to politely refuse, when I said that if I had another soda then I would have to go to the bathroom and the whole house started laughing hard. You see, here in the slums there may be only one toilet for a couple hundred people, they knew it wasn't something I wanted to experience.

A surprising note. The homes are very well kept, many of the families have all the amenities including television, refrigerator, dvd player, satellite tv and more, clean clothes and working family members. It's really not that bad. The only thing they really lack is a different place to live, but after visiting I'm not sure that is necessary. What they have is a very tight community that looks after each other with very warm hearts. The reason they live here is that housing is so expensive in Mumbai. Imagine that you are on your current salary and that the cheapest place to live per month is three times your annual salary. Then what do you do?

After the slums we took off for the dobi ghats (open air laundry facility). HUGE, pretty cool. Then to the mall so we could find a clean bathroom. HUGE mall, very nice, very busy. Then to the famous mosque on an island. Very nice! Then to Marine Drive which is a very long sea wall where people sit and talk and meet. It's one of the few places where you'll see young indian couples kissing in public. Then to the beach where we sat in the sand for an hour talking. Also had the corn on the cob with chaat masala and lime (Raymond, remember?) and it was outstanding. Then a cup of chai.

Then off to the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel. Very cool, especially at night. Then to Leapolds where we had beer, peanuts and fish and chips. Talked for over an hour. It was so busy we had to share the four person table with two other Indian guys. It was fun. Leapolds is where the terrorists shot up the place not too long ago and there were numerous bullet holes as reminders of the tragedy.

Then off to ExtravganSEA for dinner. We had the grilled prawns, seafood soup and masala crab. Outstanding. And after another beer we made it back to the train station at midnight to catch the last train to Rajiv's home, an hour ride away.

The best part of the day? All of it, but Rohan was without a doubt the best tour guide I've ever had anywhere. His perfect english, complete knowledge of Mumbai including the history, Jewish community, the good, the bad, all of it, and his personality is what made the day come together. I told Rohan many times that he should consider being a part time tour guide. I would have easily paid $100 for the city tour, and equally as much for a tip. It was one of the best days in India.

Rohan showing me around

Outdoor kitchen, though most homes have indoor kitchens

Makeshift craddle

The crowd of young men that followed me

Barber shop

And the crowd of boys that followed me

The  first family to invite me into their house

Another family that invited us into their home

The dobi ghats (laundry baths)

When there isn't laundry to wash, there's bathing to be done

No comments:

Post a Comment