Namaste, Mumbai

It’s probably some kind of internet sin to blog about arriving somewhere without having any pictures, but I’m going to do it anyway. My first days in Mumbai have been thrilling and exhausting, but I haven’t yet worked up the courage to take my camera out with me. I cover myself – neck to ankles – but walking alone still draws a lot of attention. There are cat calls and grabbing, children who follow me, and even people reaching in the window when I’m in a taxi. In any case, I’m still building up the resolve to take my camera out and get some good pictures.

I’ve met some kids on the street, and living in the slums – I met some boys who started following me and calling at me in the market, and when I stopped to talk to them, they had a lot to say (though I didn’t understand all of it). I wish I had had my camera for all these moments, but I’m torn because (besides the above mentioned concern) I don’t want to be insensitive. It’s unfortunate because it is unlikely I will find these boys again.

So far Mumbai has been incredibly exciting. It is a demanding city – always having to be alert and aware. I thought at first I might have trouble with the roads – the cars drive on the left, and as Laura can attest to, last time I was in London this was almost the end of me – but the traffic is so loud that there is no way I could make this mistake. Honking in Mumbai is equivalent to being in Mumbai: make some noise or you don’t exist and you will be hit or crashed in to. There are people swarming everywhere, and I must have become desensitized to life-threatening taxi rides because now I mostly just consider them a nice adventure and respite for my dirty feet. I am totally enthralled by these giant white cows everywhere – there’s one that is just chilling on the side of the road right by the apartment every time I walk by, so that’ll be the first thing I get picture of. They look nothing like the cows back in Wisconsin, not that I was expecting it, but it’s one of those little foreign joys that help a city worm its way into your heart.

I was on the fence about taking antimalarials in Mumbai because I understand that certain governments (UK, Germany) don’t recommend it for the city, while the US CDC does. But with the constant rain, my tendency to attract every mosquito in a 10-mile radius, and my hanging around the slums a few days a week, I decided I should start some doxycycline. It’s cheap as dirt here – 15 rupees for 10 pills – so I went to a chemist yesterday and got a month’s supply. I started today and learned my lesson the hard way – take it with food, or suffer the stomach-wrenching consequences. (This I should have known from Pius.) Speaking of the stomach, the food here is incredible! There is a delicious veg-restaurant only a 10 minute walk away, and while I appreciated the challenge of being a vegetarian in Kaz (*cough*), I am really just like a pig in the mud here. My flatmates have already taught me to make the most delicious chai that ever existed, and today I learned how to make chapati from scratch.

I probably should have expected this, but it turns out that several of the organizations I had been in contact with in Mumbai are fronts. I don’t think they expected me to actually come to Mumbai, because now that I’ve arrived, I’ve been told not to come around. I’m considering just going to some of the listed addresses next week, to check things out further. It’s likely they just receive checks there. Other than that, I’m going to keep trying to talk to kids who are living in the street and in the slums. There is a slum literally a stone’s throw away from the entrance to where I’m staying, so I hope to develop a relationship with some families there, or at least with the women and children. The legitimacy of my most promising contact in India, an all-girls orphanage in Odisha, is also now highly suspect. Their website has been suspended, and I found several articles in New Delhi papers that report on the investigation of an orphanage with the exact same name (although this may be a coincidence). As I have no other contacts on that side of the country (and it would be a 50 hour train ride from Mumbai), I am re-evaluating whether it is safe for me to travel there alone. I am seeking an independent verification of the existence of the orphanage, because at this moment, I have only had contact with the “founder”. When I inquired about other people – from India or abroad – who may have visited the orphanage, he abruptly ended the conversation. So I am continuing to try and sort that out, and if not, to develop another plan, which will probably involve heading south, where I’ve had contact with some UK agencies that provide outreach to children living in slums by providing them with food and education.

My philosophy reading has been going slower than I expected, as I’ve been out a lot, trying to take in the chaos that is Mumbai in monsoon season. However, I’m working my way through some Stoics and will post soon on Spinoza’s TTP, Marcus Aurelius, and eventually Kierkegaard.

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