Hello again friends! I sit here not quite sure where to start. So maybe I will just start out with some fun stuff and hit the heavy later on!
No coconut tree climbing for me today, but I did get a brief lesson in one of the widely used languages, Kannada! Let me tell you, my language learning skills have not improved overseas. I am fascinated with Kannada, however am starting to wonder if it is something I should just observe and enjoy rather than try to “master”. It was a brief lesson, basic phrases and learning a song to be sung by our group when we venture out on field visits. There will be more lessons to come, so I’m not writing it off yet, but certainly don’t expect fluency upon my return. Dhanyavadagalu! (Thank you!)
I’m also pleased to report that I’ve only had a few mosquito bites and that the malaria meds seem to be doing their job thus far. I did have a run-in with a few ornery ants yesterday that bit me repeatedly, leaving my finger red and burning, but that went away after an hour or two 🙂 Thankfully the gecko that has taken up residence in our bathroom has no urge to attack. It seems pretty content for now just watching me from the ceiling.I guess I’d rather know where he is than have to guess……… 😉
Still tired, but not as bad as I expected! Though I refuse to acknowledge that it’s jet lag! We have a morning and afternoon tea break that is customary in India. We pause our classes and enjoy a cup or 2 (or 3…. they’re small) and light snack. So the 3 opportunities for coffee throughout the day may have a role in the lack of jet lag. 🙂 I may work to implement such coffee breaks in the U.S. upon my return.
Another thing I didn’t mention in my last post was how much I am enjoying the food here. The staff on campus cook our meals for us everyday. We have breakfast and dinner with various people who live or work on campus and then enjoy our lunch with all of the staff that work here. It’s a great way to branch out and get to engage in new conversations every day! The food is always delicious, and I am proud of myself for tolerating it so well. For those of you who know me, spicy food is not one of my fortes. Before I left the states I resigned myself to the fact that I would need to put my game face on and eat it. This has definitely helped me to enjoy all the new foods I’ve been trying! They’re quite spicy, but I never have any problems eating them, though my mouth is usually on fire by the end of the meal 🙂 I’ve decided that I need to start carrying around a tiny notebook to record the names of the dishes I enjoy so that I have an idea of what to order when we are eating out! This would have been helpful yesterday for sure!
As I mentioned in my previous post, yesterday we had an “Alternate Tour of Bangalore” scheduled. We left campus around 7:45 and walked about half an hour into the city where we stopped for breakfast. We ate at a small cafe and had our teacher, Roshen, order for us. I should also mention that we’ve had a lot of discussion about poverty levels in India, and about how little people must live on each day. We were given 30 rupees for the day and had to eat 2 meals with this money. (30 rupees is approximately 50 cents in the U.S.) Our breakfast cost us 10 rupees so that was nice! After breakfast we all got on a bus (didn’t need to use our rupees) and rode to a nearby neighborhood. People seemed curious as to why there was a group of 20+ white people riding the city bus, I’m sure we were quite the sight! I felt like a guest on the bus and definitely out of place. We got off deeper in the city and met up with two other staff members from Visthar, Asha & David. From there, they escorted us to one of the slums in the area.
We spent the next few hours walking through the slum and observing the conditions the people were living in. It felt uncomfortable to be in such an invasive position, as we were literally walking through the essence of these people’s lives. We broke off into 2 smaller groups which helped. Many people stopped to watch us and were curious as to why we were there. David translated for us telling them that we were students from the US and he was ensuring that we see the people of India and not just the surface of it. Many of the people seemed to be pleased with this explanation. It was definitely hard to walk through and see all the people who were just trying to earn a living by doing various trades. We saw garbage sorters/collectors sifting through piles of trash trying to find something of value to sell. There was evidence of entrepreneurship as well- people who owned shops to tailor/iron clothes, women cooking and selling food, produce vendors, and other small shops. Without minimizing the severity of the situation, I do feel that I was equipped to cope with much of the poverty that surrounded us. I was reminded of many of the mission trips I’ve gone on at home. Evidence of poverty is everywhere, we need only open our eyes to it.
We also stopped at a school and talked with the headmaster. He told us about the school system and the law that mandates that children 14 and under are given free and compulsory education. However, he also told us that there are around 1,000 children in the area, yet only 82 came to school that day. There are several schools in the area, however it is nearly impossible to monitor attendance. In this particular public school, children are give iron tablets, vitamin A, and a midday meal with free milk as a supplemental Healthcare initiative. The children are also given free textbooks. He then went on to say that more parents choose to send their children to private schools which do not provide all of these amenities to children while also charging high rates. Private schools offer English as well as consistent teaching of classes and material. (Teachers do not show up regularly to public schools.) We ended up parting when he mistook us for missionaries, and started asking us what we could do to help the school and the poor children. What a difference in school systems compared to what I’m used to!
It was an insightful experience walking through the streets and having such an intimate experience with the people of the slum.This slum was described as a midscale one; there are better slums, and much worse. I am glad to have been able to tour this one, and am anxious about others that we will surely encounter. I reminded myself to look for the good in the situation and not try to decide what constituted happiness. These people made the best of their situations and reminded me how privileged I am. Be sure to take the time to count your blessings too!
After our slum tour, we were taken to an upscale mall nearby. (Well-played Roshen!) We walked into the mall and felt as if we were walking backing into the U.S. There was popular music playing that I listen to often at home, advertisements depicting great trends, and ritzy stores everywhere we turned. We ventured up to the food court to see what we could afford for lunch. Much to our dismay, there was nothing available for our remaining 20 rupees! We couldn’t even find something for under 100 to share between 5 of us. I was frustrated by the fact that this mall was so close to so many slums and that many of the people in the area couldn’t even afford food here, much less get past the guards at the doors preventing any “low class” people from entering. The distribution of wealth is shocking. I don’t understand how there can be slums next to million dollar houses and industries. We stayed outside the mall to debrief as a group for awhile. After a few minutes Roshen decided we were getting too much attention and decided to take us to a more affordable area for lunch. We later learned that this “attention” we were getting was actually a group of security guards who had surrounded us and were suspicious of why we were there. Apparently there have been many riots at this and other malls that have bulldozed slums and built on the razed property. (Insert frustration here.)
We went to a small cafe and ate lunch. This is where it would have been helpful to know names of food! I had Asha order for me; whatever I had was delicious! 🙂 Here we were approached by a few beggars, and kind of floundered on how to handle that. I’m sure there will be many more experiences like these- not that it makes it any easier…
When we got back to campus we had a pretty low key night, which was nice because we needed to process our events of the day. The staff had prepared homemade pizzas for us, which was fantastic! Some “home comfort” was just what we needed.
Of the things that my eyes were opened to, one that made me think the most was learning that fresh water is a major issue for the people of India. For people in upper class apartments, it costs approx 6 rupees/kiloliter and they have running water. People outside the city (slums too) pay 25 rupees/kiloliter and need it delivered. For those in the rural and often poorest parts, they also need water delivered and pay a rate of 200 rupees/kiloliter. I’m frustrated that such a basic necessity is denied to so many people! Especially at such outrageous prices to people who can’t afford it anyway! It’s WATER! With my 30 rupees I wouldn’t have had enough to buy additional water for the day, let alone medical insurance, or cover other living expenses! WOAH PERSPECTIVE.
Today was not as intense as yesterday, though we did start out with an organized debate about a social justice issue involving Coca Cola Co. and a Indian Village affected by their business. (I won’t go into details, but it was insightful!) We discussed notions of justice as fairness for a great deal afterward as well. It reemphasized the importance of identifying different angles to every scenario.
I’m currently trying to figure out plans as to where I would like to travel for my fall break, as we need to have those in order soon! Lots to do!
I’m pretty sure I will be apologizing often for my rambling on here… I have so much I want to share but am omitting a ton of it to save you all from going blind from staring at a computer screen this long, or potentially falling asleep from boredom. Thanks to all who powered through to the end. No promises that they’ll ever be any shorter. I’ll do my best 🙂
🙂 Lots of LOVE to you!!